James Ussher on God’s Love

Excerpts from James Ussher’s Body of Divinity (London: 1658), 64-67. A modern reprint is available from Solid Ground Books.

What is the Love of God?

It is an Essential Property in God, whereby he loveth himself above all, and others for himself, 1 John 4. 16. Rom. 5. 8. John 3. 16. Titus 3.4. Mal. 1.2,3.

What manner of Love doth God bear to his Elect?

It hath three adjuncts or properties.

First, It is free without desert.

Secondly, It is great without comparison.

Thirdly, It is constant without any end.

How is the Love of God said to be free?

It is free two ways, First, because nothing caused God to love us, but his own Goodness and Grace: And therefore St. John saith, that his Love was before ours, 1 John 4. 10.

Secondly, It is free, because God in loving us, did not regard any thing that belonged to his own Commodity: For, as David saith, Psal. 16. 2. he hath no need of our Goods; but only to our own Salvation he loved us.

Wherein doth the Greatness of God’s Love appear to his Elect?

It appeareth two ways. 1. By the means which God used to save us by, that is, the Death of his Son: And so St. John setteth forth his Love, John 3. 16. 1 John 3. 16. when he saith οὑτω, that is, So, (as if he should say, so vehemently, so ardently, so earnestly, so wonderfully) did he love us, that for our Salvation he spared not his own only Begotten Son, but gave him to the Death of the Cross for our Salvation.

What else doth set forth the greatness of God’s Love unto us?

The consideration of our own selves. For he did not only give his only Son to Death for us, but it was for us being his Enemies. And this Circumstance is used by the Apostle to express the same, Rom. 5. 7, 8.

Where find you it written, that God’s Love is constant and perpetual?

That is manifestly showed in these Scriptures following, Hos. 11. 9. Joh. 13. 1. Rom. 11. 29. For as God is unchangeable in his Essence and Nature; so is he unchangeable in his Love, which is his Essence and Nature: And therefore is God called Love in the Scriptures, 1 John 4. 8.

What use must we make of God’s Love?

First, It filleth our Hearts with Gladness, when we understand that our God is so loving, and Love it self: And what is this but the beginning of eternal Life? If eternal Life consist in the true Knowledge of God, as our Saviour Christ saith, John 17. 3.

Secondly, Out of the Knowledge of this Love, as out of a Fountain, springeth the Love of God and our Neighbour. For St. John saith, He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is Love, 1 John 4. 8.

Thirdly, When we consider that God loveth all his Creatures which he made, it should teach us not to abuse any of the Creatures, to serve our Lust and beastly Affections. For God will punish them which abuse his Beloved; as he punished the rich Glutton which abused the Creatures of God, Luke 16.

Fourthly, We are taught to love all the Creatures, even the basest of all, seeing that God loveth them, and for the Love he beareth to us he made them: and we must (if we love them for God’s Sake) use them sparingly, moderately, and equally or justly. To this end we are commanded to let our Cattle rest upon the Sabbath Day, as well as our selves: to this end we are forbidden to kill the Dam upon her Nest; and to this end we are forbidden to muzzle the Mouth of the Ox which treadeth out the Corn, Deut. 25. 4. 1 Cor. 9. 9.

Fifthly, We are taught from hence to love Mankind better than all other Creatures, because God doth so: and therefore we must not spare any thing that we have, that may make for the safety of his Body, and the Salvation of his Soul. And for this Cause, we are commanded to love our Enemies, and to do them good; because our good God doth so.

Sixthly, From God’s Love, we learn to prefer the Godly Brethren, and those that Profess sincerely the same Religion that we Profess, before other Men; because God’s Love is greater to the Elect, than to the Reprobate: and this doth the Apostle teach us, Gal. 6. 10.

Seventhly, Whereas God’s Love is freely bestowed upon us, this teacheth us to be humble, and to attribute no part of our Salvation to our selves, but only to the free Love of God.

Eighthly, From hence ariseth the certainty of our Salvation. For if God’s Love was so free and great when we were his Enemies; much more will it be so, and constant also to us, being reconciled to God by Jesus Christ, Rom. 5. 10.