The Religious Affections: Part III (Point 9 and 10)

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My thoughts (and quotes) from the ninth and tenth points of Part III

[ix] Gracious affections soften the heart and are attended and followed with a Christian tenderness of spirit

[In other words, a Christian has a tender heart, holding God in holy reverence, and with the heart of a little child ]

[x] Another thing wherein those affections that  are truly gracious and holy differ from those that are false, is beautiful symmetry and proportion

[In other words, the affections of hypocrites shows monstrous disproportiona great partiality with regard to the several kinds of religious affections and a lack of uniformity ]

Point ix  SOFTENED HEART AND TENDERNESS OF SPIRIT

How it is with false affections

False affections eventually harden and desensitize the heart to become less tender, less affected, less moved, more careless, and less discerning of evil. They become less afraid of the appearance of evil, than they were while they were under legal awakenings and fears of hell.

Instead of making the Lord Jesus a Saviour from sin, they make use of Him as a minister of sin. They trust in Christ to preserve to them the quiet enjoyment of their sins . . . just as Jude 4 says: For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.

They regard God as their buddy, as someone almost equal to them. They are like the Pharisee who prayed with confidence wheras the publican stood afar off and said, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

How it is with true affections
Gracious affections turn a heart of stone more and more into a heart of flesh.

A holy love and hope make the heart tender so that one dreads sin and anything that displeases God, making one diligent in holiness and strict with themselves. But this is not a slavish fear of hell but something that comes from ones holy affections towards Almighty God.

The tenderness of a true Christian is like that of a little child:

  • His heart is easily moved (So is a Christian in spiritual things)
  • He is apt to be filled with sympathy when others are in distress (So is a Christian)
  • He is easily won by kindness (So is a Christian)
  • He is easily filled with grief. (So is a Christian with regard to the evil of sin)
  • He is easily affrighted at the appearance of outward evils, or anything that threatens his hurt. (So is a Christian apt to be alarmed at the appearance of moral evil and anything that threatens the hurt of his soul)
  • He does not trust his own strength when he meets enemies or wild animals. (So a saint is not self confident in engaging spiritual enemies, but flies to Christ)
  • He is afraid of the dark, afraid to be left alone, afraid to be far from home
  • He is afraid of superiors and dreads their anger
  • He approaches superiors with awe. (So do saints approach God with holy awe and reverence)

Then what about holy boldness in prayer? This is found in eminent saints and is not in the least opposite to reverence. No boldness in poor sinful worms of the dust, who understand anything of the greatness of God and the lowness of themselves, will prompt them to approach God with less fear and reverence than spotless and glorious angels in heaven, who cover their faces before His throne, typified by Rebecca who  takes a veil and covers herself when she is about to meet Isaac for the first time. Like Elijah, the great prophet . . .  wrapped his face in his mantle in the presence of God, and as Moses, when God showed him His glory, made haste and bowed His head toward the earth and worshiped. Like the woman who had much of the true love which casts out fear . . . came with humble modesty, reverence and shame, standing at HIs feet and weeping behind Him . . . and washed his feet with her tears.

True grace tends to promote convictions of conscience. Grace helps one to discern the sinfulness of that which is sinful, and to receive a greater conviction of the heinous and dreadful nature of sin. It makes a man more convinced of his own sinfulness. Grace helps one to understand how sin is contrary to the will and law and honour of God . . . Grace helps one to see the infinitely hateful nature of sin, which was not discernable when one was merely under legal convictions.

Gracious affections promote this tenderness of heart that includes not only a godly sorrow, but also a gracious joy.

Gracious affections is accompanied by:

  • Less fear of God’s punishment, but increased fear of God’s displeasure
  • Less fear of hell, but increase in fear of sin
  • Less fear for one’s spiritual state, but increase in jealously guarding one’s soul
  • Less fear of natural evil (having his heart fixed, trusting in God, and not so afraid of evil tidings.)
  • Less self confidence (more holy boldness), and more modesty.
  • Less apt . . . to be shaken in faith; but more apt . . . to be moved with solemn warnings

He has the firmest comfort, but the softest heart. Richer than others, he is the poorest of all in spirit: the tallest and strongest saint , but the least and tenderest child among them.

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Point x  AFFECTIONS WITH SYMMETRY AND PROPORTION

The saints have affections that have a certain symmetry and proportion. Hypocrites on the other hand have affections that are not only deficient but also have a monstrous disproportiona great partiality with regard to the several kinds of religious affections, and a lack of uniformity, like an unevenly cooked food. Of Israel’s hypocrisy, God said: Ephraim is a cake not turned.

The saints affections may not be perfect in this symmetry and proportion due to:

  • imperfection of grace
  • lack of proper instructions
  • errors in judgment
  • natural temper
  • defects in education, etc.

Believers take after the Lord Jesus, grace for grace. There is something of the same beautiful proportion in the image which is in the Original.

You observe symmetry and beauty in the things God has made. Take the human body for instance. So it is with the affections of His people.

Types of asymmetry

A most confident hope but devoid of reverence (whereas a holy hope and a holy fear go together in the saints)

Rejoicing without trembling (unlike how the disciples departed quickly from the sepulchre (of Jesus) with fear and great joy)

Joy without mourning (Joy and comfort of saints is attended with godly sorrow and mourning for sin)

A great show of love to God and Christ . . .  without a spirit of love and benevolence towards men

A great deal of benevolence to men . . .  but having no love for God.

Showing great affection to their neighbours and . . . ravished with the company of the children of God outside the home but uncomfortable and churlish towards their wives and other near relatives at home.

Abnormal racking agonies for the soul of some single person while at the same time lacking in compassion to mankind in general.

Often give to the poor, but have no love or concern for the souls of men.

Showing great love for men’s souls but not compassionate or charitable towards their bodies

Much affected with the bad qualities of their fellow Christians but without being proportionately affected with their own defects and corruptions.

But this by the way: Edwards digresses at this point to talk about how one must attain the lesser first before reaching for the greater.

An ordinary man of common sense will worry first about a calamity he personally faces than that which a neighbour faces. So too the normal reaction of a sensible regenerate man will be to see his own defects first.

Another case of lesser first, greater next. A Christian who cannot give to the Lord in a little way must not boast of giving their all to Christ. He who cannot suffer a little inconvenience must not speak of  suffering in the extreme for Christ.

Those who are not true Christians will strangely run, with an impatient vehemence, after something of less importance, when other things of greater importance are neglected. (The desires and longings of saints, on the other hand are sensible and proportionate to the excellency of those things, importance or necessity, and the nearness of those things)

Some have hatred and zeal against some particular sin (whereas in the case of saints, hatred and zeal is against sin in general)

False zeal is against the sins of others, but he that has true zeal, exercises it chiefly against his own sins; although he shows also a proper zeal against prevailing and dangerous iniquity in others.

People of false religion are religious only by fits and starts . . . raised up to the clouds in their affections, and then suddenly fall down again . . . become quite careless and carnal . . . This is a lack of consistency, like the Israelites who said, All that the Lord hath spoken will we do and be obedient,” but then quickly made themselves a golden calf. )

Other comparisons

  • They are like a rivulet after a sudden downpour of rain that is dry after a while (Whereas a true saint is like a stream of living spring, which though it may be greatly increased by a shower of rain and diminished in time of drought, yet constantly runs.)
  • They are like like comets that appears for a while with a mighty blaze (Whereas true saints are like the fixed stars that are steadfast in their orbs.
  • Hypocritical affections are like a violent motion (Whereas gracious affections are more a natural motion, like a stream of a river that in general has a steady and constant course.

If persons appear greatly engaged in social religion, but have little of the religion of the closet, and are often highly affected when with others, but are little moved when they have none but God and Christ to converse with, it looks very darkly upon their religion. Gracious affections are of a much more silent and secret nature than those that are counterfeit. It is not that there is not much in Christian conversation, and in public worship that tends greatly to refresh and rejoice the hearts of the saints . . . but their hearts delight in retirement and secret converse with God.

Examples of saints in solitude with God

  • Jesus retired into mountains and solitary places to pray to His Father
  • David prayed: “When I remember Thee upon my bed, and meditate on Thee in the night watches
  • The principle manifestations that God made of Himself and His covenant mercy to Abraham, were when he was alone.
  • Isaac received . . . Rebekah . . . when he was walking alone, meditating in the field.
  • Jacob was retired for secret prayer, when Christ came to him, and he wrestled with Him and obtained the blessing.
  • God revealed Himself to Moses in the bush, when he was in a a solitary place in the desert, in Mount Horeb.
  • Moses was alone on that same mountain when he was admitted to the highest degree of communion with God.
  • So it was with Elijah and Elisha, they all conversed alone with God.
  • Jesus was transfigured when he was with only three select disciples
  • The virgin Mary seems to have been alone when she was visited by the angel Gabriel.
  • The Mary who was the first to see the risen Lord did so when she was alone.
  • John was alone in the isle of Patmos when he had wonderful visions of Christ

[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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