LOVING THE LORD SOULISHLY
However, let us issue a warning here. Do not think that we can love the Lord by our self. The Lord rejects all that comes out of our self. Even our love for Him is useless. On the one hand, if a believer does not have a deep love for the Lord, He is grieved; on the other hand, even those who love the Lord can grieve Him because they love Him in their souls. If a believer exercises his soulish power to love the Lord, this love is not pleasing to the Lord. The believer’s love, even for the purpose of loving the Lord, should be completely under the control of the spirit. Today there are too many who love the Lord with a worldly love; it is rare to see a love that is of God. What does this actually mean?
Believers primarily receive the things of God with their human hearts. They speak about their Father God; they call the Lord their "dear Lord"; and they remember the sufferings of the Lord. When they do this, their hearts are filled with joy and the sensation of love for the Lord. They think that this feeling is from God. Perhaps when they think of the cross of the Lord, they cannot help but shed some tears, as if they have an unspeakable, burning love toward the Lord Jesus. But these things pass through their life like a ship that sails through the sea without leaving any trace. Such is the love of many believers. But what kind of love is this? This is the kind of love which only causes one’s self to feel happy. This is not loving God but loving the feeling of happiness. The outward appearance of the Lord’s sufferings moves their heart, but the truth contained therein does not influence their lives.
How powerless have the sufferings of the Lord Jesus become in the hearts of today’s believers! When they think about these things, they become proud of how they love the Lord and of how others cannot compare with them! When they talk about these things, they are like heavenly people. But, actually, they have not yet left their pitiful self one bit. When you listen to their talk, you think that they love the Lord very much. You praise and admire them. But actually they love themselves completely. The reason they remember the Lord, talk about the Lord, and long for the Lord is just because this makes them feel happy. When they do this, they feel happy. They do these things because their goal is to obtain happiness. It is not for the Lord. Such remembrance causes their "spirituality" to feel comfortable. Therefore, they continue to remember the Lord in this way. This is soulish and earthly. It is not from God. Therefore, it is not spiritual.
What is the difference between spiritual love and soulish love? It is very difficult to tell the difference outwardly. However, every believer can distinguish the source of his own love. The soul is our self. Therefore, all that is soulish cannot be separated from the self. A soulish love towards the Lord is one that is from the self. Loving God for the sake of obtaining a happy feeling for the self is loving God soulishly. If the love for God is spiritual, then there is nothing for the self mixed in with it. This is loving God for His sake, for the sake of loving Him. Any love for God that is for self-happiness or any other reason, totally or partially, is from the soul. Moreover, if we look at the fruit of this love, we can also tell its source. If it is soulish, this kind of love does not have the power to help a believer to be permanently delivered from the world. He has to labor and struggle to stay away from the attractiveness of the world. However, if the love is spiritual, worldly things and matters are naturally abandoned because of this love. The believer looks down upon them and reckons them as something to be hated. He no longer has his eyes on the world because the glorious light of God has blinded his fleshly eyes. After having this experience of loving God, he does not esteem himself highly because of it; rather, he humbles himself, as if he has diminished before men.
The nature of God’s love is forever changeless. Our love is very changeable. If we love God with our own love, our love toward God grows cold when we feel unhappy. After a long period of trial, it surely fails because the believer loves God with his own love; he loves God for his own sake, for his own happiness, etc. Therefore, when he cannot obtain the expected happiness, he shrinks back. If it is the love of God, no matter what situation or position he is in, he still loves God without any change. "Love is strong as death;/jealousy is cruel as the grave/...Many waters cannot quench love,/neither can the floods drown it" (S.S. 8:6-7). If a believer truly loves God, regardless of his circumstances and feelings, he still loves God. Soulish love ceases when the effect of the emotion ceases; spiritual love is strong, cruel, and does not let go.
The Lord often causes a believer to experience what he considers to be painful in order that the believer would not love God for himself. When the believer loves the Lord with his own love for himself, he has to sense the Lord’s love in order to love Him. But when the believer loves God with God’s love and for God, God does not let him sense His love. Instead, God wants the believer to believe in His love. In the beginning of one’s Christian life, the Lord always attracts the believer to feel His love in many ways. After the believer experiences this, He leads him to take a much deeper journey. God does not let him feel His love, but He causes him to believe in His love. We should pay attention to the fact that deeply tasting the Lord’s love is a step which must be experienced by every believer who desires to go on in a deeper way. Only by the attraction of the Lord’s love can the believer leave all for the Lord and come forward to the Lord. In the initial stage of the believer’s spiritual life, it is necessary and helpful to have the sense of the Lord’s love. This is something the believer should pursue. After the experience of feeling the Lord’s love and after a suitable period of time, the believer should not "hold on" to this kind of feeling. Otherwise, his spiritual life will suffer damage. There are different kinds of experiences for different stations on the journey of the spiritual life. It is appropriate and profitable to have a certain kind of experience at a certain station. But if a believer desires to maintain the experiences of the previous stations up to the last station, he would have to go backwards or remain at a certain place. After the believer feels the Lord’s love, the Lord wants him to believe in His love; therefore, shortly, but not immediately, after he experiences the feeling of His love, God no longer causes him to sense His love. Then He wants him to believe that His love is still unchanging. If, after an experience of feeling the Lord’s love, a believer suddenly does not have the same feeling, he should realize that this is the time for him to believe. He should not be alarmed.
(Spiritual Man, The (3 volume set), Chapter 27, by Watchman Nee)