One of my historical heros is the hymn writer Isaac Watts (1674-1748). Two years ago, my oldest daughter, Megan, surprised me with a 1798 copy of a book Watts had written on the priority of loving God from the heart.
Like most Puritans, Watts never lacked for words when it came to titles. He called his treatise “Discourses on the Love of God And It’s Influences On All The Passions: With A Discovery of The Right Use and Abuse of Them in Matters of Religion. Also, A Devout Meditation Annexed To Each Discourse.”
I read through the book in a few days, and was encouraged by the pastoral, biblical, and clear way he promoted the use of emotion in our faith and warned against its dangers. In this section he comments on the difference between simply knowing about God from reason and loving Him from our hearts.
“Suppose we had been left merely to the exercise of our reason and judgment, to inform us when it was proper to eat and drink, without having any such appetites as thirst and hunger: It is possible indeed, that life might have been maintained, but we should have been often ready to neglect the proper seasons of food, and nature would have been supported but in a feeble and languishing manner, without such regular and constant nourishment as we want, and that too without any sensible delight. But the keen appetites of hunger and thirst are implanted in our very natures, to awaken us to take our solid and liquid food, and that with constancy and natural pleasure. It is for the same end, that all the passions were wrought into our constitution by our great creator, that we might have some more vigorous principles than the mere power of reasoning to animate us to activity on all just and proper occasions.
“Suppose I was told that my house was a fire at midnight, and my cold reason informed me, that in a little time I and my goods might be consumed, it is probable I should think of using some method to save myself: But the passion of surprise and fear exerts itself in a moment, and hurries me out to make an immediate escape. Fear was wrought into human nature for such purposes as these. In such a fright we can always move mountains, and perform wonders, to the utmost limits of the strength of man, in order to save ourselves or our dear relatives from the flames. Cold reasoning, without passion, would have no sovereign and powerful effects.
“Thus it is in things of religion. A cold information that misery will be the consequence of sin, or even a rational conviction of the distant danger of hell, without the passion of fear, would never animate the man to cry out, with such importunate inquiries, “What shall I do to escape everlasting burnings?” It is this passion of fear that constrains him to fly for his life to the hope that is set before him in the gospel, and to make him escape as Lot did from Sodom, without looking back on the allurements or sin.
“I might give instances of the like kind in the affection of divine love. I may learn by reason that God is to be honored and obeyed, because he is my Creator and my Lord: I may be convinced of the Beauty of virtue, and the excellency of religion, and that all the precepts of it are reasonable; yet these precepts will carry but a feeble sway with them and have a very imperfect influence on my practice, in opposition to all my carnal interests and corrupt inclinations, if I have nothing to move me but the mere use of my reason, telling me it is a proper thing to obey the great God. This will not do the work if I have now affectionate love to God as a Father and a Savior.
“It is a knowledge and belief of the truth of the Gospel, joined with love to Christ my redeemer, that makes me zealous to fulfill every duty. Christianity itself is thus excellently described by the apostle, it is “faith working by love” (Gal 5:6). A mere knowledge of any person will not make us grow like him, but love hath an assimilating and transforming power: The divine affection of love will work perpetually within us, and never cease till it has made us like our beloved object, till it has made us holy as God is holy, and formed heaven within us.”
May our knowledge of God always fuel our passion for God, and may our love for the Savior always motivate us to know Him better.