Of the second and third degrees of love
So then in the beginning man loves God, not for God’s sake, but for his own. It is something for him to know how little he can do by himself and how much by God’s help, and in that knowledge to order himself rightly towards God, his sure support. But when tribulations, recurring again and again, constrain him to turn to God for unfailing help, would not even a heart as hard as iron, as cold as marble, be softened by the goodness of such a Savior, so that he would love God not altogether selfishly, but because He is God? Let frequent troubles drive us to frequent supplications; and surely, tasting, we must see how gracious the Lord is (Ps. 34:8). Thereupon His goodness once realized draws us to love Him unselfishly, yet more than our own needs impel us to love Him selfishly: even as the Samaritans told the woman who announced that it was Christ who was at the well: ‘Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the savior of the world’ (John 4:42). We likewise bear the same witness to our own fleshly nature, saying, ‘No longer do we love God because of our necessity, but because we have tasted and seen how gracious the Lord is’. Our temporal wants have a speech of their own, proclaiming the benefits they have received from God’s favor. Once this is recognized it will not be hard to fulfill the commandment touching love to our neighbors; for whosoever loves God aright loves all God’s creatures. Such love is pure, and finds no burden in the precept bidding us purify our souls, in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren (I Peter 1:22). Loving as he ought, he counts that command only just. Such love is thankworthy, since it is spontaneous; pure, since it is shown not in word nor tongue, but in deed and truth (I John 3:18); just, since it repays what it has received. Whoso loves in this fashion, loves even as he is loved, and seeks no more his own but the things which are Christ’s, even as Jesus sought not His own welfare, but ours, or rather ourselves. Such was the psalmist’s love when he sang: ‘O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is gracious’ (Ps. 118:1). Whosoever praises God for His essential goodness, and not merely because of the benefits He has bestowed, does really love God for God’s sake, and not selfishly. The psalmist was not speaking of such love when he said: ‘So long as thou doest well unto thyself, men will speak good of thee'(Ps. 49:18). The third degree of love, we have now seen, is to love God on His own account, solely because He is God.