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Voices From the Past on Loving God Rightly

This entry is part 27 of 34 in the series

"Doxology: A Theology of God's Beauty"

Read more posts by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

It would be an insurmountable task to gather the collective thought of Christians on the topic of love for God. Suffice it to say, that many Christians have spoken frequently on the degree and nature of rightly ordered love. They have spoken not only on the required order of Christian loves, but on their kind. Correspondent love is not a novel concept.

Augustine is best known for speaking of the ordo amoris.

When the miser prefers his gold to justice, it is through no fault of the gold, but of the man; and so with every created thing. For though it be good, it may be loved with an evil as well as with a good love: it is loved rightly when it is loved ordinately; evilly, when inordinately. It is this which someone has briefly said in these verses in praise of the Creator: ‘These are Thine, they are good, because Thou art good who didst create them. There is in them nothing of ours, unless the sin we commit when we forget the order of things, and instead of Thee love that which Thou hast made.’ But if the Creator is truly loved, that is, if He Himself is loved and not another thing in His stead, He cannot be evilly loved; for love itself is to be ordinately loved, because we do well to love that which, when we love it, makes us live well and virtuously. So that it seems to me that it is a brief but true definition of virtue to say, it is the order of love; and on this account, in the Canticles, the bride of Christ, the city of God, sings, “Order love within me” (City of God, XV, xxii).

Similarly, Augustine writes of how love itself is worthy of love.

Because in men who are justly loved, it is rather love itself that is loved; for he is not justly called a good man who knows what is good, but who loves it. Is it not then obvious that we love in ourselves the very love wherewith we love whatever good we love? For there is also a love wherewith we love that which we ought not to love; and this love is hated by him who loves that wherewith he loves what ought to be loved (City of God, XII, xviii).

Augustine refers to loving what God loves, to the degree that God does, in On Christian Doctrine:

Now he is a man of just and holy life who forms an unprejudiced estimate of things, and keeps his affections also under strict control, so that he neither loves what he ought not to love, nor fails to love what he ought to love, nor loves that more which ought to be loved less, nor loves that equally which ought to be loved either less or more, nor loves that less or more which ought to be loved equally. No sinner is to be loved as a sinner; and every man is to be loved as a man for God’s sake; but God is to be loved for His own sake (On Christian Doctrine, I, xxvii).

Perhaps best known among his quotes on love is Augustine’s saying: “He loves thee too little, who loves anything with thee which he loves not for thy sake” (Confessions, IX, xxix).

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) wrote On Loving God. He likewise speaks of loving God for himself: “We are to love God for Himself, because of a twofold reason; nothing is more reasonable, nothing more profitable” (On Loving God, I).

Similarly, he writes, “You want me to tell you why God is to be loved and how much. I answer, the reason for loving God is God Himself; and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable love” (Ibid.).

The anonymous author of Theologia Germanica, most likely writing in the late fourteenth century writes,

And where a creature loveth other creatures for the sake of something that they have, or loveth God, for the sake of something of her own, it is all false Love; and this Love belongeth properly to nature, for nature as nature can feel and know no other love than this; for if ye look narrowly into it, nature as nature loveth nothing beside herself. But true Love is taught and guided by the true Light and Reason, and this true, eternal and divine Light teacheth Love to love nothing but the One true and Perfect Good, and that simply for its own sake, and not for the sake of a reward, or in the hope of obtaining anything, but simply for the Love of Goodness, because it is good and hath a right to be loved (Theologia Germanica, XLII).

Thomas Traherne (1636–1674) expresses the idea of ordinate love being the same as Christlikeness.

Can you accomplish the end for which you were created, unless you be Righteous? Can you then be Righteous, unless you be just in rendering to Things their due esteem? All things were made to be yours; and you were made to prize them according to their value: which is your office and duty, the end for which you were created, and the means whereby you enjoy. The end for which you were created, is that by prizing all that God hath done, you may enjoy yourself and Him in Blessedness…For then we please God when we are most like Him. We are like Him when our minds are in frame. Our minds are in frame when our thoughts are like His. And our thoughts are then like His when we have such conceptions of all objects as God hath, and prize all things according to their value. For God doth prize all things rightly, which is a Key that opens into the very thoughts of His bosom (Centuries of Meditations, First Century, XII).

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David de Bruyn

About David de Bruyn

David de Bruyn pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minnesota and the University of South Africa (D.Th.). Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.

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