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May Love Bind Thee Fast to the Lord

Johann Gerhard

(Translated by Rev. C. W. Heisler, A.M.)

ROUSE thyself, O faithful soul, and love thou Him who is the Highest Good, in whom is every good thing, and without whom there is nothing truly good. No created thing can really satisfy our souls’ desires, for no creature possesses all of perfect good in itself, but only that good in which it participates. A rivulet of goodness from the divine fountain may flow down to it from above, but the fountain itself always remains in God. Why then should we desire to leave the fountain and follow the rivulet? Every manifestation of good in the creature is but an image of the perfect goodness which is in God, nay, which is God Himself. Why then should we desire to leave the reality to grasp the image? The dove sent out from Noah’s ark could not find, amid the raging waters, a place of rest for her feet (Gen. viii. 8). Thus our souls, amid the vast multitude of earthly comforts, can find nothing to satisfy fully their immortal desires, because these things are so very frail and fleeting in character. Does not that man do himself injury who loves anything beneath the dignity of his nature? Our souls are far more noble than any created thing because redeemed by the passion and death of God. Why then should we stoop to love the creature? Would not that be inconsistent with the dignity to which God has exalted the human soul? Whatever we love, we love because of its power, its wisdom, or its beauty. Now what is more powerful, what is wiser, what is more beautiful, than God? All the power of earthly monarchs is from Him and is subject to Him; all human wisdom, compared with the divine, is foolishness; all creature beauty in comparison with God’s is absolutely deformity. If a very powerful earthly sovereign were to send his messengers to seek in marriage a maiden of humble birth and fortune, would not that maiden act very foolishly to reject the hand of the king, and take up with his poor messengers and servants instead? And God, through the beauty of the works of His own hands, desires to call me to Himself and to incite me to love Him alone; why then should my soul, which Christ the heavenly Bridegroom seeks to unite to Himself, cling to a mere creature, as the messenger of this spiritual union which He desires to make with me? These creatures themselves exclaim, “Why dost thou cling so fondly to us? Why dost thou seek thy highest good in us? We cannot satisfy thy longings. Haste thee to our common Creator.” We dare not hope that the things of earth will reciprocate our love; nor do they first love us; but God, who is love (1 John iv. 16), cannot but love those who love Him; nay more, he even anticipates all our desires and all our love with His own love. Ah! How much then ought we love Him who first so dearly loved us. He loved us before we had any being, for it is because of His divine love that we were born into the world. He loved us when we were yet enemies (Rom v. 10); for it is because of His divine love and compassion that He sent His Son to redeem us. He loved us when we had fallen into sin; for it is because of His divine love, that He does not instantly deliver us over to death, when we transgress against Him, but patiently awaits our conversion. It is because of His divine love that above what we deserve, aye, even in very opposition to our just desserts, He is leading us to His heavenly mansions. Without the love of God never couldst thou come to a saving knowledge of God. Without that love all knowledge would be worthless; nay more, it would be harmful to thee. Why does love exceed the knowledge of all mysteries (1 Cor. xiii. 2)? Because the latter may be found even in the devil, but the former only in the godly. Why is the devil the most unhappy being? Because he cannot love the Highest Good. Why is God, on the other hand, the most happy and blessed of all beings? Because He loves all things, and takes delight in all the works of His own hands. Why is the love of God not perfected in us in this life? Simply because we love only as we know; and in this life we know only in part, and as in a riddle (1 Cor. xiii. 12). In heaven we shall be perfectly happy, because we shall love God perfectly, and we shall love Him perfectly because we shall know Him perfectly. But no one may cherish a hope of loving God perfectly in the future life, who does not begin to love Him in this life. The kingdom of God must begin in the heart of man in this life, or it will never be consummated in the life that is to come. Without the love of God we have no desire for eternal life; and how then can we become sharers of that highest Good, if we do not love it, if we do not desire it, if we do not seek it?

What thy love is, that thou art; because thy love changes thee into itself; love is the very strongest bond, because the lover and the object loved become one. What is it that has joined together a righteous God and lost sinners, so infinitely removed from each other? Infinite love. And that the righteousness of God might not be rendered of no effect Christ interposed His infinite ransom. What is it, moreover, that unites those so far separated from each other, as God the Almighty Creator and a believing soul, the work of His hands? Love. In Heaven we shall be united to God in the very highest degree. Why? Because we shall love Him in the very highest degree. Love unites and transforms; if thou lovest carnal things, thou art carnal; if thou lovest earthly things, thou shalt become earthly. But flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. xv. 50). If thou lovest God and divine things, thou shalt become divine. The love of God is the chariot of Elijah ascending to heaven. The love of God is the delight of the mind, the paradise of the soul; it destroys the power of the world, conquers the devil, shuts the mouth of hell, and opens wide the gate of heaven. The love of God is the seal of God upon His elect and believing children (Rev. vii. 3). God will not acknowledge as His own in the last judgment, those who are not sealed with this seal. For faith itself, which is the sole means of our justification and salvation, is not genuine unless it shows itself by love (Gal. v. 6); it is not true faith unless it be also an unwavering trust, and such a trust is impossible without the love of God. A benefit is not recognized for which thanks are not rendered; we are not truly thankful to Him whom we do not love. If thy faith is genuine it will recognize the great benefits conferred by Christ, thy Redeemer; aye, it will recognize and render thanks; it will render thanks and it will love Him.

The love of God is life and rest to our souls; when the soul departs through death the body dies; but when God departs from the soul through sin, the soul dies. On the other hand, “God dwells in our hearts by faith” (Eph. iii. 17); He dwells in our souls by love, because the love of God is shed abroad in the hearts of the elect by the Holy Spirit (Rom. v. 5). There is no peace of mind without the love of God. The world and the devil are its greatest sources of trouble, but God is its true and highest rest. There is no peace of conscience except to those who are justified by faith; there is no true love of God except in those who have a child-like trust in God. Therefore let the love of ourselves, the love of the world, the love of the creature, die in us, that the love of God may dwell in us; and may God begin that love in us in this life, that He may perfect it in life eternal.

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