I had been musing on this seeming inconsistency when I just heard these words on the radio.
“Spirit of God, who dwells within my heart,
wean it from sin, through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as you are,
and make me love you as I ought to love.”
The hymnist equates the love for God with the coming of the Spirit of God. His desperate, but eternally effectual plea is, “make me love you as I ought to love.” This plea is effectual for it is totally congruent with the pantheon of covenantal love.
The apostle who’s only response to the divine unction was, “Who are you Lord?” writes “...God's love has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:5 He would also maintain, “For who is able to resist his will?" Romans 9:19
He is the one who suddenly found himself embraced in the strong cords of divine love on that road to Damascus. A love so sure that he was held forever secure in its unyielding grasp. “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever.” Psalm 136:1
The love of God - even the love for God - is a gift, not a reward. We can only give to God what He has given us to give to Him. There is no other acceptable offering.
If love be a matter of man’s fickle choice then the worth of the object must take its central place. It is only the love that proceeds from God that is truly capable of loving without merit being its raison d’etre.
Our hymnist continues...
Teach me to love you as your angels love,
one holy passion filling all my frame:
the fullness of the heaven-descended Dove;
my heart an altar, and your love the flame.
This psalmody is wholly congruent with the testimony of scripture. ‘Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father."’ Galatians 4:6 ‘We are His children, not by the exercise of our will, but by the will of God. “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”’ John 1:13 Notice that we are His sons by the exercise of His will and the subsequent result is the coming of the Eternal Spirit - not before.
Would there be an inherent ability to love - then we might possibly be able to will ourselves to love, i.e. make a choice. If the futility of such transcends our abilities, our gaze and our petition must intrinsically be toward the One of whom is its beginning and its fulfillment. Thus the exhortations to love which are a aplenty in the Word of God.
Paul also writes: “For the love of Christ constraineth us;...” 2 Corinthians 5:14 Sometimes I just love the old language. This one predates the King James, for it is from the Geneva Bible - the Bible of the Reformers. Their note on this verse is “Wholly possesses us.” It is they - who in their day and to whom we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude - delivered the church from slavish legalistic fealty into the glorious liberty of the children of God. More recent translations put it this way: “For Christ's love compels us...” I remembering reading a commentator once who said it like this: “controls like a fever.” When one is in the grip of an intense fever, he is under the control of something that is decidedly outside of his self-will.
This effectually drives the final nail into the coffin of vain boasting. And the believer is thus made the beneficiary of a hope that does not disappoint. “That no flesh should glory in his presence.” 1 Corinthians 1:29 GSB
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:10-11 NIV
Our love for God - and our subsequent love for one another - has its genesis in God Himself. Thus it is this ability - when all other giftings and attributes pass away - which will remain.
Turning to another hymnist - Charles Wesley:
God only knows the love of God!
O that it more were shed abroad
in this poor longing heart!
“We love, because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19