by James Smith, 1858

"I love the Lord, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy." Psalm 116:1

Real religion is always experimental and experimental religion is always practical. As it is the work of God in the soul of man it always leads back to its Author, and up to its source. As it flows from the love of God it manifests itself by love to God; and we have just as much real religion as we have love to God. Love is the one thing necessary to harmonize and make happy the whole of God's intelligent creation. Love rules in heaven and consequently all is harmony and happiness there. Love is not to be found in hell and consequently there is neither harmony nor happiness there. Love is imperfect on earth and therefore harmony is not perfect, nor is happiness complete.

To produce love, and so to restore the church to harmony and happiness, is God's great design in the covenant of grace: and all he does for us, or works within us is intended to produce love. David could now say, "I love the Lord;" and he could give a good reason for loving him too, "for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy." We also love the Lord: not perfectly as we should; not unfailingly as we would; yet we love the Lord, and therefore we appropriate and employ David's words.

Let us notice   First, The Profession.

"I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy;" not simply for what he is in himself but also for what he has done for me.

David loved God therefore he knew him. We can love the unseen but we cannot love the unknown. To draw forth our love to him, God has manifested his attributes; revealed his disposition; and has made a full unveiling of himself in the person of his Son. God is love. God is gracious. God is merciful. God sympathizes with man; desires to be re-united to man, and to pour the fullness of his blessing into the heart of man.

When we see what God is in Jesus, what God is to us, what God is willing to do for us, what God desires to confer on us then we love him!

David loved God for he needed him. He saw that God was necessary to him. He had needs which God alone could supply, aspirations which God alone could satisfy, and a capacity which God alone could fill.

Just so, we come into circumstances in which God alone can reach us, help us, deliver us, and satisfy us. And we are brought into these circumstances, in order to teach us that God is necessary to us. We cannot be what we ought; we cannot do what is required; we cannot enjoy what we wish without God!

David loved God, therefore he had applied to him. Real religion consists very much in personal application to God for what he only can do, for what he only can give. David had applied to him for deliverance from deep sorrow, terrible fears, and alarming dangers. He was driven by necessity, and he was impelled by a principle within.

Just so with ourselves guilt drove us to him for a pardon, the sorrows of death drove us to him for peace, and the pains of hell drove us to him for salvation. We were obliged to apply or perish. We did apply, and not in vain.

David loved God for he was regarded by him. "He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy." God always hears the cry of need from his redeemed children; he always attends to their appeal of misery.

Just so, we cried and he heard us; we called and he answered us; we entreated and he appeared for us. He brought us up out of the horrible pit, he delivered us from the proud waters that went over our souls, he rescued us from the hand of him that was stronger than we!

His eye was upon us in trouble,
his ear was open to listen to us in distress,
his arm was made bare to deliver us in danger,
and his hand was opened to supply us in need!
Therefore we love the Lord.

David found God to be true to his word, faithful to his promise, full of condescension and infinite love. And so have we! We took his word upon credit at first but we have proved it to be true since. We believed him to be faithful once but we know him to be so now. We had heard of his condescension and love in days past but we have realized it in many instances since then.

Yes, we love the Lord and this proves that we know him, need him, have applied to him, and have been regarded by him. We love the Lord, for we have found him to be true and faithful, full of condescension and infinite love!

Second, the Characteristics of True Love.

True Christian love is grateful love. We love him because he first loved us. The loving Christian is always grateful. Where there is much love there is much gratitude. When filled with love we praise God for every drop, for every crumb. Our smallest mercies appear large, and God gets thanks then for that which is scarcely acknowledged at another time.

True Christian love fixes upon God as its supreme object. It loves others subordinately; but in its powerful exercises it passes by, and ascends above all others, and centers in God alone. It looks around earth, it ascends to heaven, and gazing upon all there, exclaims, "Whom have I in heaven but you, and there is none upon earth that I desire beside you!"

True Christian love is sincere. It hates pretense, it abhors a sham, it inspires the heart, it influences the whole man, it regulates the life, it owns God everywhere, it aims at God's glory always. The loving Christian is what he professes to be, for he will never profess to be what he is not.

True Christian love is growing. We grow in the grace of love, as we do in every other grace. When we first loved the Lord, we imagined that we could not love him more; but our love has become more deep, more genuine since then. The excitement has passed away but the everyday life now proves that we love the Lord. As vegetation grows as light increases, as the body progresses unto perfection; so love, that fruit of the Spirit, grows and will grow until it becomes the all-pervading principle, the ruling power that regulates the whole man.

True spiritual love is always grateful; it makes God its supreme object, it is sincere, and increases more and more until it sits sovereign upon the throne of the inner man.

Third, the Proofs That We Love the Lord.

We prove our love by our praise. We must commend the beloved object. As we love to think of him and desire to look upon him, so we love to speak of him. Love God, and not speak of him! Impossible. Love Jesus, and not commend him! How can that be? We must thank him for his condescension in noticing us, for his love in saving us, for his mercy in listening to us, for his power in delivering us, for his infinite kindness in promising that we shall see him and be with him forever. Praise him! O yes, with the heart, with the lip, with the life shall we praise God if we love him!

We prove our love by our sympathy with him. We love what he loves, and we hate what he hates. We aim at what he aims, and seek what he seeks. If he is dishonored, we grieve. If he is glorified, we rejoice, If his work goes on, we are happy. If his cause is under cloud, we are sorrowful. We love to think as God thinks, to speak as God speaks, to act as God acts. Our hearts and our desires center in him, our joys and our sorrows are regulated by him; and our highest object is to honor him to the utmost, and induce others to do so too.

We prove our love by our confidence. We can trust him. We can rely upon him. We can confide in him. To him we commit our souls. With him we entrust our all. We take his word. We expect his blessing. We cast our cares on him. Just in proportion to our love to God will be the strength of our confidence in God; and in proportion to our confidence in God is our love to God.

We prove our love by our submission to him. Love always submits to the loved one; and if persuaded that he has strength of mind, firmness of purpose, decision of character, sufficient resources, and depth of affection it leaves everything to him. Now this is the case with our God; and therefore if we have right views of God, and real love to God, we shall say, "Let God reign, let him do what seems good to him." And at the worst, with Aaron, true love will hold its peace. Rebellion, repining, and complaining show lack of love; for deep and pure love is a certain cure for all these evils.

We prove our love by our activity. You cannot keep true love still. It is always thinking, purposing, planning, and acting to please and gratify the loved one. How active was Paul and why? "The love of Christ constrains us!" said he. Oh, if we had much love we would need little exhortation, only direction. We would seldom need reproof, except it were for excessive exertion. Heaven is all activity, activity for God, and that just because heaven is full of love.

We prove our love by our liberality. Love will give anything, it will give all to its object. Jesus did so, and loving believers do so too. What can we withhold from him who has our heart? If our love was but pure, powerful, and rightly directed we would not be reluctant to give but ready to bestow, and slow to hoard for ourselves.

Let us, then, examine. Do I love the Lord? Do I praise him, sympathize with him, place confidence in him, bow with submission to him, actively employ my talents for him, and liberally contribute of my substance to his cause? In proportion to our love will be the power we display in these particulars. O infinitely loving and lovely One; fill, O fill us with love to your ever-blessed and adorable self!

Love is FROM God alone. It is a grace he confers, a work he produces, and a fruit of his Spirit in our hearts. "The fruit of the Spirit is love." No love no Spirit of God. Little love little of the Spirit of God. No love no saving religion. Little love little religion, little of God.

Love is LIKE God. "God is love, and he who dwells in love, dwells in God, and God dwells in him." The principal feature of God's image, as drawn by the Holy Spirit on the heart, is love. We resemble God just in proportion to our love and only in proportion to our love.

Love is FOR God. God claims it. He says, "Love me." He created us to love him, he redeemed us to love him, he asks us to love him. There is nothing that he prizes so much as our love.

Love, if true, always has God, God in Christ, for its OBJECT. It will not rest short of him. It will not be satisfied without him.

Love LEADS to God. Coming from God it always leads back to its source. It leads the thoughts, the desires, the aims, the affections, the whole man to God. It will never allow us to find satisfaction in anyone, or in anything but God. Like the eagle, it loves to mount on high and soar far above other birds. Like our own lark, the higher it mounts the sweeter it sings.

Spiritual love, therefore, is only satisfied with God. Nor will it let its possessor rest satisfied with anything less than exact likeness to God, and the full enjoyment of God. Love will ultimately be perfected in the presence and glory of God. It will be always panting, praying, and striving until it enjoys full perfection in God's glorious kingdom. The language of this love is, "As for me, I will behold your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake with your likeness!"

Reader, do you love God? You did not once. You do not now as you would, if you do love at all. Oh, to love God; for love is holiness, love is happiness, love is true devotion, love is heaven! "This is the love of God;" or this proves that ours is really love to God, "This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 1 John 5:3 that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not grievous."

Do not I love you, dearest Lord?
Behold my heart, and see,
And turn each cursed idol out
That dares to rival Thee!

You know I love Thee, dearest Lord;
But O! I long to soar,
Far from this sphere of mortal joys,
And learn to love Thee more!