But to bear good-will to our enemies, to pity them that hate us, and to pray for them that despitefully use us and persecute us, is, after all, a strange doctrine in the account of a selfish world. If the love of God be not in us, self-love, in one shape or other, will have possession of our souls. Hence infidels have treated this precept as extravagant, and imputed the conduct of Christians to affectation. Conscious, it seems, that self-love is the governing principle of their own actions, they imagine it to be the same with all others. The general prevalence also of this spirit leads them to expect little else from one another, and to act as if it were a law of nature for every one to love himself supremely, and all other beings only as they are subservient to him. Nor are infidels the only persons who have spoken and written in this strain; many of the advocates of Christianity have so formed their systems as to render self-love the foundation on which they rest. Neither God nor man is to be regarded but on our own account. On this principle, however, it would follow that there is no such thing as glorifying God as God, nor hating sin as sin, and that the gospel has no charms on account of its revealing mercy in a way of righteousness, any more than if it had revealed it in a way of unrighteousness. If our love be directed merely “to that which relieves us,” it would be equally worthy of acceptation, in our account, let that relief come how it might; and thus the character of God as “the just, and the justifier of them that believe in Jesus,” forms no part of the good news to sinful men: the glory of the gospel is no glory.
There is much meaning in the words of the apostle John—“We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” Every false system of religion originates and terminates in self. This is the character of the spirit of error. But if we be of God, we shall love him, and every image of him in creation. Those objects which bear his moral image, such as his holy law, his glorious gospel, and his renewed people, will occupy the first place in our esteem; and those which at present bear only his natural image, while there is any hope of their recovery to a right mind, will be the objects of our tender compassion, and their salvation the subject of our earnest prayers.
It is thus that we manifest ourselves to be “the children of our Father who is in heaven;” who, till sinners are fixed in a state of irreconcilable enmity to him and to the general good, “causeth his sun to rise and his rain to descend” upon them, whatever be their characters.
If self-love be the spring of our religion, it is declared by our Saviour to be of no value, and that it will issue in no Divine reward. How should it be otherwise, when it differs not from the spirit of the world? The most abandoned men love those that love them. If this were true religion, we do not need to be taught it of God; for it is perfectly suited to our depraved nature. But if true religion consists in being of the mind of God, or in being “perfect, as our Father who is in heaven is perfect,” it is absolutely necessary that we be born again, or we cannot see the kingdom of God.
Excerpt from: “Love to Enemies (Matt. 43-48)” in Illustrations of Scriptures: The Sermon on the Mount.”
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 574–575). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.