The Religious Affections: Part III (Point 7 and 8)

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My thoughts (and quotes) from the seventh and eighth points of Part III

[vii] Another thing wherein gracious affections are distinguished from others, is, that they are attended with a change of nature

[In other words, when the elect are saved, their very natures change]

[viii] Truly gracious affections differ from those affections that are false and delusive, in that they tend to, and are attended with, the lamb-like, dove-like spirit and temper of Jesus Christ.

[In other words, the elect receive a nature that is like that of Jesus, full of love, meekness, quietness, forgiveness and mercy  ]

Point vii Change of nature

“But we all with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory . . .”

This kind of power that brings about such a change in the lives of individuals can only be divine. This happens only in the case of the saints. Other power can bring about an alteration temporarily.

Scripture representations of conversion do strongly imply and signify a change of nature:

  • being born again
  • becoming new creatures
  • rising from the dead
  • being renewed in the spirit of the mind
  • dying to sin and living to righteousness
  • putting off the old man, and putting on the new man
  • being grafted into a new stock
  • having a divine seed implanted in the heart
  • being made partakers of the divine nature

In the case of a man before conversion and in the case of a man with a false conversion, it is possible for him to be restrained from sin. But when  converted, his very heart and nature is turned from it unto holiness . . . he becomes a holy person, and an enemy to sin.

If a person who claims to be converted appears selfish and carnal, as stupid and perverse, as unchristian and unsavoury as ever; it is greater evidence against him than the brightest story of experiences that he may have to tell. For neither a fair story, nor a broken one, avails anything; but a new creature.

There will be a change and the change will be a permanent one. A swine that is of a filthy nature may be washed, but the swinish nature remains; and a dove that is of a cleanly nature may be defiled, but its cleanly nature remains.

Conversion does not entirely root out the natural temper . . . Yet conversion will make a great alteration even with respect to these sins. The grace of God is powerful and able to correct the natural fleshly weaknesses of the elect. These sins shall no longer have dominion over him, nor will they any more be properly his character. In fact true repentance will cause him to detest his sins.

Some argue like this: The affections I experience must be from God, because when I don’t have them, I feel very empty. Surely this must be because of the fact that when God departs, all is gone. So the feeling must have been from God in the first place.  This argument is without basis. When a person is converted, the Holy Spirit is united to the faculties of the soul to become a part of the person, dwelling in him. In the soul where Christ savingly is, there He lives.

But the soul of a saint receives light from the Sun of Righteousness, in such a manner that its nature is changed, and it becomes properly a luminous thing; not only does the sun shine in the saints, but they also become little suns, partaking of the nature of the Fountain of their light.

The saints not only drink of the water of life that flows from the original fountain, but this water becomes a fountain of water in them, springing up there and flowing out of them.

The transformation is a continuous process: As it is with spiritual discoveries and affections given at the time of conversion, so it is in all subsequent illuminations and affections of that kind; they are all transforming. “. . . to be transformed by the renewing of their mind”

It is to believers that the commandment is given to put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of their minds;  and to put on the new man . . .

If someone experiences high affections and then is left with a dead feeling, something is wrong. True high affections will leave behind a lasting effect of a sweet savour and a relish of divine things on the heart, and a stronger bent of soul towards God and holiness . . . because they have been with Jesus, just as Moses’ face continued to shine long after he had been with God.

Point viii Lamb-like, dove-like spirit and temper of Jesus Christ

Blessed are the meek

Put on therefore as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits.

These are the characters of the Lord Jesus Himself, the great Head of the Christian church.

Behold thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass . . .

Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart

The Lord Jesus is portrayed as the Lamb.

True Christians are Christlike

. . . changed into the same image, by His Spirit

. . . to be conformed to the image of the Son of God . . .

As we have borne the image of the first man, that is earthly, so we must bear the image of the heavenly . . .

Christians all receive of HIs fullness, and grace for grace. This is almost as if we ought to mirror each grace of the Lord with a grace in our persons. Edwards calls uses the word ‘answerableness’ and speaks of such an answerableness as there is between the wax and the seal. . . character for character.

Christians’ lives is such that it is not they that live, but Christ that lives in them.

These are they that follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth

For as many as are in Christ have put on Christ

True Christians have the nature of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit descended on the Lord Jesus as a dove. The dove is a noted emblem of meekness, harmlessness, peace and love. But the same Spirit that descended on the Head of the church descends to the members.

Christians also have an anointed from the Holy One.

They are anointed with the same oil. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, that went down to the skirts of his garments. . . . the smell of the same sweet spices, Christian affections, and a Christian behaviour, is but the flowing out of the savour of Christ’s sweet ointments.

The church’s dove-like temper and disposition is illustrated thus: Behold, thou art fair my love; behold thou art fair, thou hast doves’ eyes

The dove that Noah sent out of the ark, that could find no rest for the sole of her foot until she returned, was a type of a true saint.

To be as little children

. . .  Christ represents all His disciples . . . as little children

Suffer little children . . . for of such is the kingdom of heaven

Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water  . . .

Little children, yet a little while I am with you

Little children are innocent and harmless . . . men need not be afraid of them . . . they do not lay up injuries in high resentment, entertaining deep and rooted malice.

Little children are not  . . . deceitful, but plain and simple. . . They are yielding and flexible and not wilful and obstinate

Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

What about Boldness for Christ?

If we must be gentle like lambs and doves with the sweet ointments of a peaceful and loving spirit and be as little children, does it mean that we are to appear as weak and powerless people? Is there nothing known as Christian fortitude or being soldiers for Christ?

True Christian fortitude consists in strength of mind, through grace, exerted in two things; in ruling and suppressing the evil and unruly passions and affections of the mind; and in steadfastly and freely exerting and following good affections and dispositions, without being hindered by sinful fear or the opposition of enemies.

The  . . . surest way . . . to make a right judgment of what is holy fortitude . . . is to look to the Captain . . . great Leader, and Example, and see wherein His fortitude and valour appeared.

How did He show His valour during the time of His last sufferings, when His enemies in earth and hell made their most violent attack upon Him? . . . Not in the exercise of any fiery passions; not in fierce and violent speeches . . . but in not opening His mouth when afflicted and oppressed, in going as a lamb to the slaughter . . .  praying that the Father would forgive His cruel enemies because they knew not what they did; not shedding others’ blood, but . . . with love shedding His own.

When Peter displayed a contrary nature to this and cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave, Jesus gently chided Peter and healed the injured man.

Edwards makes an interesting observation: A true soldier of the cross is willing, if need be, to become unpopular in his church and group for the sake of Christ. This is the opposite nature of a person who appears to be bold in order to look good in his church group.

To openly confess one’s faults requires boldness too.

Such things are vastly greater evidence of holy boldness than resolutely and fiercely confronting opposers.

Christian Zeal

If Christian love (the sweetest and most benevolent thing that is, or can be, in the heart of man or angel) is a flame, then its heat is Christian zeal.

Christian zeal opposes evil ‘things’ not persons. And the first evil thing he is mindful of is his own heart. Only secondarily does he look at the sins of others.

Forgiveness, love, and mercy

These characteristics are absolutely a part of the temper and character of every Christian.

Forgiveness: Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. The parable of the unforgiving servant illustrates this principle.

Love: A loving nature is a distinguishing mark of Christ’s disciples: A new commandment I give unto you that you love one another; as I have loved you . . .  By this shall all men know ye are my disciples if ye have love one to another.  Edwards lists several scriptures about love including this. If a man say I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen.

Mercy: True saints are those whose true character it is that they are of a disposition to pity and relieve their fellow creatures . . . Of true saints the Bible uses phrases like: showeth mercy and giveth, showeth favour and lendeth, given to the poor, hath mercy on the poor, giveth and spareth not. Another scripture is: Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction. One more scriptures is: Whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? . . . unless this is Christians’ spirit and practice, there is no hope of their being accepted and owned by Him at that day.  Isa 57:1 uses righteous man and merciful man synonymously.

True Christians are not perfect, but . . .

The remains of a contrary spirit may be evidenced in a Christian, but he is properly dominated from it (the lamb-like, dove-like spirit and temper of Jesus Christ), and it is truly and justly his character.

Nothing can be invented that is a greater absurdity than a morose, hard, close, high-spirited, spiteful, true Christian. Let us not make excuses for people. If someone consistenly shows an absense of the lamb-like, dove-like temper, we must conclude that they are not yet regenerated. We must learn the way of bringing men to rules and not rules to men, straining and stretching the rules of God’s word to take in ourselves, and some of our neighbours, until we make them wholly of none effect.

Some allowances must be made for men’s natural temper . . . but the change made by true conversion is wont to be more remarkable and noticible.  In the  which ye also walked sometime, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.

[Tim Challies has a blog feature called Reading Classics, where he and many other online friends read a selected Christian classic in a synchronized way and share their views. The classic being studied currently is The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards.]

Click here to get to other posts in this and Tim Challies’ blog

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