This excerpt is taken from John Owen’s book “Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

Now, in these two things there is some resemblance between that mutual love of the Father and the saints wherein they hold communion. [2.] There are sundry things wherein they differ:— 1st. The love of God is a love of bounty, our love unto him is a love of duty. (1st.) The love of the Father is a love of bounty,—a descending love; such a love as carries him out to do good things to us, great things for us. His love lies at the bottom of all dispensations towards us; and we scarce anywhere find any mention of it, but it is held out as the cause and fountain of some free gift flowing from it. He loves us, and sends his Son to die for us;—he loves us, and blesseth us with all spiritual blessings. Loving is choosing, Rom. 10:11, 12. He loves us and chastiseth us. [It is] a love like that of the heavens to the earth, when, being full of rain, they pour forth showers to make it fruitful; as the sea communicates its waters to the rivers by the way of bounty, out of its own fulness,—they return unto it only what they receive from it. It is the love of a spring, of a fountain,—always communicating;—3 a love from whence proceeds every thing that is lovely in its object. It infuseth into, and creates goodness in, the persons beloved. And this answers the description of love given by the philosopher. “To love,” saith he, “ἔστι βούλεσθαι τινὶ ἃ ὀίεται ἀγαθά, καὶ κατὰ δύναμιν πρακτικὸν εῖναι τούτων.” He that loves works out good to them he loveth, as he is able. Gods power and will are commensurate;—what he willeth he worketh. (2dly.) Our love unto God is a love of duty, the love of a child. His love descends upon us in bounty and fruitfulness; our love ascends unto him in duty and thankfulness. He adds to us by his love; we nothing to him by ours. Our goodness extends not unto him. Though our love be fixed on him immediately, yet no fruit of our love reacheth him immediately; though he requires our love, he is not benefited by it, Job 35:5–8, Rom. 11:35, Job 22:2, 3. It is indeed made up of these four things:—1. Rest; 2. Delight; 3. Reverence; 4. Obedience; By these do we hold communion with the Father in his love. Hence God calls that love which is due to him as a father, “honour,” Mal. 1:6, “If I be a father, where is mine honour?” It is a deserved act of duty. 2dly. They differ in this:—The love of the Father unto us is an antecedent love; our love unto him is a consequent love. (1st.) The love of the Father unto us is an antecedent love, and that in two respects:— [1st.] It is antecedent in respect of our love, 1 John 4:10, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” His love goes before ours. The father loves the child, when the child knows not the father, much less loves him. Yea, we are by nature θεοστυγεῖς, Rom. 1:30,—haters of God. He is in his own nature φιλάνθρωπος,—a lover of men; and surely all mutual love between him and us must begin on his hand. [2dly.] In respect of all other causes of love whatever. It goes not only before our love, but also any thing in us that is lovely. Rom. 5:8, “God commendeth his love towards us, in that whilst we were yet sinners Christ died for us.’ Not only his love, but the eminent fruit thereof, is made out towards us as sinners. Sin holds out all of unloveliness and undesirableness that can be in a creature. The very mention of that removes all causes, all moving occasions of love whatever. Yet, as such, have we the commendation of the Father’s love unto us, by a most signal testimony. Not only when we have done no good, but when we are in our blood, doth he love us;—not because we are better than others, but because himself is infinitely good. His kindness appears when we are foolish and disobedient. Hence he is said to “love the world;” that is, those who have nothing but what is in and of the world, whose whole [portion] lies in evil. (2dly.) Our love is consequential in both these regards:— [1st.] In respect of the love of God. Never did creature turn his affections towards God, if the heart of God were not first set upon him. [2dly.] In respect of sufficient causes of love. God must be revealed unto us as lovely and desirable, as a fit and suitable object unto the soul to set up its rest upon, before we can bear any love unto him. The saints (in this sense) do not love God for nothing, but for that excellency, loveliness, and desirableness that is in him. As the psalmist says, in one particular, Ps. 116.], “I love the Lord, because!” so may we in general; we love the Lord, because! Or, as David in another case, “What have I now done? is there not a cause?” If any man inquire about our love to God, we may say, “What have we now done? is there not a cause?” 3dly. They differ in this also:—The love of God is like himselfequal, constant, not capable of augmentation or diminution; our love is like ourselves,—unequal, increasing, waning, growing, declining. His, like the sun, always the same in its light, though a cloud may sometimes interpose; ours, as the moon, hath its enlargements and straitenings. (1st.) The love of the Father is equal, etc.; whom he loves, he loves unto the end, and he loves them always alike. “The Strength of Israel is not a man, that he should repent.” On whom he fixes his love, it is immutable; it doth not grow to eternity, it is not diminished at any time. It is an eternal love, that had no beginning, that shall have no ending; that cannot be heightened by any act of ours, that cannot be lessened by any thing in us. I say, in itself it is thus; otherwise, in a twofold regard, it may admit of change:— [1st.] In respect of its fruits. It is, as I said, a fruitful love, a love of bounty. In reference unto those fruits, it may sometimes be greater, sometimes less; its communications are various. Who among the saints finds it not [so]? What life, what light, what strength, sometimes! and again, how dead, how dark, how weak! as God is pleased to let out or to restrain the fruits of his love. All the graces of the Spirit in us, all sanctified enjoyments whatever, are fruits of his love. How variously these are dispensed, how differently at sundry seasons to the same persons, experience will abundantly testify. [2dly.] In respect of its discoveries and manifestations. He “sheds abroad his love in our hearts by the Holy Ghost,” Rom. 5:5,—gives us a sense of it, manifests it unto us. Now, this is various and changeable, sometimes more, sometimes less; now he shines, anon hides his face, as it may be for our profit. Our Father will not always chide, lest we be cast down; he doth not always smile, lest we be full and neglect him: but yet, still his love in itself is the same. When for a little moment he hides his face, yet he gathers us with everlasting kindness. Objection. But you will say, “This comes nigh to that blasphemy, that God loves his people in their sinning as well as in their strictest obedience; and, if so, who will care to serve him more, or to walk with him unto well-pleasing?” Answer. There are few truths of Christ which, from some or other, have not received like entertainment with this. Terms and appellations are at the will of every imposer; things are not at all varied by them. The love of God in itself is the eternal purpose and act of his will. This is no more changeable than God himself: if it were, no flesh could be saved; but it changeth not, and we are not consumed. What then? loves he his people in their sinning? Yes; his people,—not their sinning. Alters he not his love towards them? Not the purpose of his will, but the dispensations of his grace. He rebukes them, he chastens them, he hides his face from them, he smites them, he fills them with a sense of [his] indignation; but woe, woe would it be to us, should he change in his love, or take away his kindness from us! Those very things which seem to be demonstrations of the change of his affections towards his, do as clearly proceed from love as those which seem to be the most genuine issues thereof. “But will not this encourage to sin?” He never tasted of the love of God that can seriously make this objection. The doctrine of grace may be turned into wantonness; the principle cannot. I shall not wrong the saints by giving another answer to this objection: Detestation of sin in any may well consist with the acceptation of their persons, and their designation to life eternal. But now our love to God is ebbing and flowing, waning and increasing. We lose our first love, and we grow again in love;—scarce a day at a stand. What poor creatures are we! How unlike the Lord and his love! “Unstable as water, we cannot excel.” Now it is, “Though all men forsake thee, I will not;” anon, “I know not the man” One day, “I shall never be moved, my hill is so strong;” the next, “All men are liars, I shall perish.” When ever was the time, where ever was the place, that our love was one day equal towards God?

 Owen, J. (n.d.). The works of John Owen (W. H. Goold, Ed.; Vol. 2, pp. 28–31). T&T Clark.

Olde Timey English

BOUN’TEOUSadjective [See Bounty.] Liberal in charity; disposed to give freely; generous; munificent; beneficent; free in bestowing gifts; as bounteous nature. It is used chiefly in poetry for bountiful.

IMMU’TABLEadjective [Latin immutabilis; in and mutabilis.]invariable; unalterable; not capable or susceptible of change.

God’s Love Produces Fruit

John Owen says, “(God’s love) infuseth into, and creates goodness in, the persons beloved.” This statement is nearly a simple restatement of the Apostle John’s “We love Him because He first loved us.” This statement is valuable to our thinking about the source of our love for God. Where did my love for God originate? Was I born with an uncanny desire for God while others were born with an equally compelling desire for idolatry? If we are to be “gospel people,” our reply must be, most certainly not. I have not received God’s love, grace, and mercy because there was something in me that attracted God to me. Never. I have loved God because I have felt His love for me. I am like a potted flower in a dark room that feels the sun’s rays through a window; therefore, I grow, stretching and reaching for all the sunlight I may encounter. God’s love is like the nourishing sunlight; without it, I would surely perish. 

My Love is Reciprocal

John Owen said, “Our love unto God is a love of duty.” Mr. Owen does not mean to tell us that the feeling of duty is always what motivates our love for God. Certainly not. Christian people may attend church, sing, give, pray, and participate in religious activities because they feel obligated. However, that motive must eventually give way to better motives, or those activities will become drudgery to maintain. So then, if Owen does not mean that we should love God because it’s our duty, then what did he mean? John Owen meant for us to consider that we love God because we have received good from Him and not because we have a naturally altruistic heart. Again, this is nearly a simple restatement of John’s “We love Him because He first loved us.” 

Immutable Love

I want to invite you to read this quote from Owen slowly. Then, reread it. Savor its content because it is soul nourishing truth that we must not hastily pass over. Owen said, “His love is immutable; it doth not grow to eternity, it is not diminished at any time. It is an eternal love, that had no beginning, that shall have no ending; that cannot be heightened by any act of ours, that cannot be lessened by any thing in us.” God’s love is unchanging. Gods love does not diminish. His love is not won by any good in us. His love is not lost by evil in us. God’s love is the overflow of His character that touches us. God is immutable, and therefore His love is unchangeable. While some people will misinterpret the benefits of this Immutable love of God and imagine it to be the cause of mischief, Owen rightly sees this Immutable love as a precious balm to the broken heart that cures mischief rather than creates it.