How would you finish [this] sentence? “One thing have I desired of the Lord; that will I seek after _________.” What is the greatest desire and longing of your heart? In the answer to that question lies the explanation for much of what we do – our choices, our priorities, our use of time, the way we spend money, the way we respond to pressure, whom or what we love. [King] David’s answer (see Psm. 27:4) reveals why God could say, “This man’s heart beats like mine.”
Spiritual emotions result in Christian practice because their object is the loveliness of spiritual things, not our self-interest. People have a defective Christianity because they are seeking their own interests in it, not God’s. So they accept Christianity only to the extent that they think it serves their interests. By contrast, a person who accepts it for its own excellent and lovely nature, accepts everything which has that nature.
Persons need not and ought not to set any bounds to their spiritual and gracious appetites, [instead they ought] to be endeavoring by all possible ways to inflame their desires and to obtain more spiritual pleasures… Our hungerings and thirstings after God and Jesus Christ and after holiness can’t be too great for the value of these things, for they are things of infinite value… [Therefore] endeavor to promote spiritual appetites by laying yourself in the way of allurement… There is no such thing as excess in our taking of this spiritual food. There is no such virtue as temperance in spiritual feasting.
The duty of singing praises to God seems to be given wholly to excite and express religious affections. There is no other reason why we should express ourselves to God in verse rather than in prose and with music, except that these things have a tendency to move our affections.
He who has no religious affection is in a state of spiritual death and is wholly destitute of powerful quickening influences of the Spirit of God.
Holy affections do not have heat without light.
I should think myself in the way of my duty, to raise the affections of my hearers as high as I possibly can, provided they are affected with nothing but the truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.
True religious affections are distinguished from false. Affections that are truly spiritual and gracious, do arise from those influences and operations on the heart, which are spiritual, supernatural and divine.
Such is man’s nature, that he is very inactive and lazy unless he is influenced by some affection, either love or hatred, desire, hope, fear, or some other. These affections we see to be the springs that set men agoing, in all the affairs of life, and engage them in all their pursuits.
He that has doctrinal knowledge and speculation only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of religion.
Our external delights, our ambition and reputation, and our human relationships – for all these things our desires are eager, our appetites strong, our love warm and affectionate, our zeal ardent. Our hearts are tender and sensitive when it comes to these things, easily moved, deeply impressed, much concerned, and greatly engaged. We are depressed at our losses and excited and joyful about our worldly successes and prosperity. But when it comes to spiritual matters, how dull we feel! How heavy and hard our hearts! We can sit and hear of the infinite height, and depth, and length, and breadth of the love of God in Christ Jesus, of His giving His infinitely dear Son – and yet be cold and unmoved!… If we are going to be emotional about anything, shouldn’t it be our spiritual lives? Is anything more inspiring, more exciting, more loveable and desirable in heaven or earth than the gospel of Jesus Christ?… The gospel story is designed to affect us emotionally – and our emotions are designed to be affected by its beauty and glory. It touches our hearts at their tenderest parts, shaking us deeply to the core. We should be utterly humbled that we are not more emotionally affected than we are.
Lord, grant that from hence I may learn to withdraw thoughts, affections, desires, and expectations entirely from the world, and may fix them upon the heavenly state, where there is fullness of joy; where reigns heavenly, sweet, calm, and delightful love without alloy; where there are continually the dearest expressions of this love; where there is the enjoyment of this love without ever parting; and where those persons, who appear so lovely in this world, will be inexpressibly more lovely, and full of love to us. How sweetly will those, who thus mutually love, join together in singing the praises of God and the Lamb. How full will it fill us with joy, to think that this enjoyment, these sweet exercises, will never cease or come to an end, but will last to all eternity.
Grace comes not to take away a man’s affections, but to take them up.
Motion is the most perfect discoverer of life. He that can stir his limbs, is surely not dead. The feet of the soul are the affections. Hast thou not found in thyself a hate and detestation of that sin whereinto thou hast been miscarried? Hast thou not found in thyself a true grief of heart, for thy wretched indisposition to all good things? Without a true life of grace, these things could never have been.
In an authentic spiritual experience, emotion, feelings, and the senses often become intense, transcending the normal. These may include strong feelings of remorse over sin, a mighty sense of trust that surpasses the pain of a traumatic situation, an overpowering peace in the midst of trouble, the overwhelming sense of joy related to confidence and hope in God, intense sorrow over the lost, the exhilarating praise in understanding the glory of God, or a heightened zeal for ministry. Spiritual experience by definition is an internal awareness that involves strong emotion in response to the truth of God’s Word, amplified by the Holy Spirit and applied by Him to us personally.
Delight in the glory of God includes, for example, hatred for sin, fear of displeasing God, hope in the promises of God, contentment in the fellowship of God, desire for the final revelation of the Son of God, exultation in the redemption he accomplished, grief and contrition for failures of love, gratitude for undeserved benefits, zeal for the purposes of God, and hunger for righteousness. Our duty toward God is that all our affections respond properly to His reality and so reflect His glory.
Strong affections for God, rooted in and shaped by the truth of Scripture – this is the bone and marrow of biblical worship.
Perhaps you can see why it is astonishing to me that so many people try to define true Christianity in terms of decisions and not affections. Not that decisions are unessential. The problem is that they require so little transformation. Mere decisions are no sure evidence of a true work of grace in the heart. People can make “decisions” about the truth of God while their hearts are far from Him.
What are you to yourself? Worthless? Vile? Empty? What is Jesus to you? Precious? Lovely? All your salvation? All your desire? What is sin to you? The most hateful thing in the world? What is holiness to you? Most lovely? Most longed for? What is the throne of grace to you? The most attractive spot? What is the cross to you? The sweetest resting place in the universe? What is God to you? Your God? Your Father? The spring of all your joys? The fountainhead of all your bliss? The center where your affections meet? Is it so? Then you are a child of God! Those low views of yourself…that brokenness, that inward mourning, that secret confession, that longing for…more spirituality, more grace, more devotedness, more love, does but prove the existence, reality, and growth of God’s work within you. Cheer up, precious soul! That soul never perished, that felt itself to be vile, and Jesus to be precious!