Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Birth of Holy Affections - Religious Affections 4

The question now is, how do sinful people ever come to love God and have holy affections? God’s holiness is beautiful, and when it is seen by the spiritual sense of the heart, holy affections are present in the soul. When we really see God for who He is, we are drawn to Him. However, holy affections are completely absent from non-Christians because, “Natural men have no sense of the goodness and excellency of holy things, at least for their holiness; they have no taste for that kind of good” (188). Unbelievers are spiritually dead and blind to the glory of God, because they do not have the sense of the heart by which God’s beauty is seen. So even though a non-Christian’s mind may gain a notional understanding (head knowledge) of the gospel, his heart will not see its beauty, and thus will not be inclined toward it. And without this inclination of the heart there is no true religion.

So if holy affections are to be born, a major change must take place in the soul. A new sense of things must be obtained. New spiritual sight to see the glory of the gospel is necessary if holy affections are to be born. But sinners cannot give themselves spiritual sight. Instead, “they have that supernatural, most noble and divine sense given them,” by the Spirit of God (188). The birth of holy affections is a supernatural work. Edwards says of this process, “A saving belief of the reality and divinity of the things proposed and exhibited to us in the gospel, is from the Spirit of God’s enlightening the mind and causing it to have right apprehensions of the nature of [the gospel]” (222).

This enlightening of the mind by God is what happens during regeneration (being born again). The Spirit of God illumines the mind in such a way that it is able to perceive the spiritual reality of divine things and to see God for who He really is. This is a profound work described in the Bible as “opening the blind eyes, and raising the dead, and bringing a person into a new world” (200). When this supernatural work occurs, the intrinsic beauty of God becomes obvious to the heart of the sinner. He is able to see the glory of God in the gospel and is moved in his heart to embrace it. Holy affections have been born through the imparting of a new spiritual sense by the Spirit of God. The gracious work of the Spirit is always accompanied by holy affections.

This is why it is possible to hear the gospel over and over again. And then one day the lights come on and a person believes and comes to Christ. Dr. Morgan, a college professor of mine, used to describe it with the following illustration. Imagine being placed in the middle of a room with a blindfold. In one corner is fresh, great smelling pizza. In the other corner is millions of dollars. You are told to chose which corner you would like to go to. The blindfolded person will be drawn to the pizza. But when the blinders are taken off, the person will choose the millions of dollars every time. Once reality is seen correctly, God is obviously the most glorious and worthy person in the universe. This is why Paul, in 2 Cor. 4 talked of those who don't receive the gospel being blinded by Satan. We need to present the glory of God in Christ, manifested in the gospel, and pray that God will open blind eyes so they will see and sense the magnificence of Christ, and come to Him.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Nature of Holy Affections - Religious Affections 3

I hope these posts will encourage you to read Jonathan Edwards, and that you will want to pick up and read Religious Affections yourself. Today Steve Burlew from Banner of Truth, has posted at his blog "Trophies of His Grace" some slightly damaged copies of Religious Affections for only $9.50. If you are a book snob, and prefer a completely undamaged copy look here. Now that the advertisements are over, on to the main event!

The Nature of Holy Affections
The only way to tell the difference between true and false affections is to understand the nature of holy (true) affections. According to Edwards, holy and gracious affections consist primarily in the heart’s love of, and delight in God Himself. He states, “Every one that has the power of godliness in his heart has his inclinations and heart exercised towards God and divine things” (29). These affections cause the believer to desire more of God and to turn away from anything that keeps him from his soul’s delight (repentance). Gracious affections are only present if the heart is inclined toward God above all else.

The foundation of Edwards’s understanding of holy affections is the belief that God is glorious. God’s beauty is infinitely greater than any other being. He is infinite in both His moral and natural attributes. He is righteous, just, merciful, gracious, and loving. His perfect holiness makes Him objectively lovely and the proper object of all human affections. Love toward God is not a difficult duty that a Christian must remind himself to carry out. It is a natural reaction to the nature of God, when God is clearly seen. Edwards puts it this way, “A love to divine things for the beauty of their moral excellency is the beginning and spring of all holy affections” (182). Holy affections flow from a right apprehension of the objective beauty of God’s holiness. The true Christian recognizes God’s beauty, is drawn to it, and chooses it above all competitors.

In order for a person to be drawn to God’s holiness and choose it, he must perceive it. But holiness is not perceived through the five senses. Edwards asserts that instead, the glory of God must be seen through the understanding. There are two different types of understanding, notional and sensory or spiritual. Edwards explains, “There is a distinction to be made between a mere notional understanding, wherein the mind only beholds things in the exercise of a speculative faculty, and the sense of the heart, wherein the mind does not only speculate and behold but relishes and feels” (198). This second type of understanding, “the sense of the heart” is what is able to perceive and value the beauty of God’s holiness. Edwards illustrates this spiritual sense by pointing to the physical sense of taste. Someone may gain knowledge of honey by looking at it and hearing others describe its attributes. But it is only when one tastes the honey that the glory of its flavor is experienced. At the moment of tasting, the true value of the honey becomes clear. In the same way, a person can learn a lot about God’s holiness through mere notional understanding (head knowledge). Many facts of His character can be understood and affirmed. But it is only when God’s holiness is tasted with the spiritual sense of the heart, that His true beauty and worth becomes clear. When God’s beauty is clearly sensed by the heart, then holy affections automatically flow toward God.

It is important to note that the sensing of the heart, or spiritual understanding, is not disconnected from the mind. This is an especially important point for our day. People do not just “feel close to God,” or “sense His presence” in some mystical, non-rational way. The beauty of God is primarily seen in the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is imparted through the Bible. Knowledge of the gospel (the life, death, and resurrection of Christ) is necessary for holy affections. When the mind receives the “light of the glorious gospel of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4), then the heart is able to behold God’s glory seen in the gospel. In 2 Corinthians 4:6 Paul calls this gospel “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Edwards says, “Knowledge is the key that first opens the hard heart, and enlarges the affections, and so opens the way for men into the kingdom of heaven” (192). So if we want to fan the flame of holy affections in our heart, we should be filling our minds with the gospel found throughout the Bible.

The understanding cannot be bypassed by the heart. The heart will never taste the beauty of God’s holiness apart from the mind’s cognitive beholding the gospel of Christ. Edwards explains, “Holy affections are not heat [heart] without light [head/knowledge]; but evermore arise from the information of the understanding, some spiritual instruction that the mind receives, some light or actual knowledge” (192). So while the sense of the heart is much more than mere head knowledge, it is connected to and flows from the mind. Holy affections rise as the heart perceives and loves the beauty of God in “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).

Edwards is warning against two kinds of errors that are easy to fall into. First, sometimes we think if we get the facts (theology) right then we are truly Christians. But we fail to ask if we love the Christ described in our theology. Do we find Him compelling? Do we worship Him? Do we love Him? Second, other times we error by equating all emotional responses with love for God. A great feeling after a song set that is devoid of the gospel is not an indicator that we love Christ. A mystical attraction to the beauty of high church liturgy, or low church tradition, is not parallel with an attraction to the glory of Christ. The glory of Christ is not found in candles, icons, lighting or lack thereof, praise songs, or the hymnal melodies you grew up on. It is found in the “light of the glorious gospel of Christ.” The true Christian has a heart that loves and is drawn to the glory of God, seen primarily in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In the next post I will talk about how we come to have that kind of heart.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Need for Discernment - Religious Affections 2

Yesterday I said I would post today concerning the nature of holy affections. Well, I'm going to have to bump that back a day. I needed to say a little something about how not all religious affections are necessarily signs of true salvation. If I would have talked about both in the same day it would have been too long. So read this short post today, and I will come back tomorrow with a foundational post on the nature of holy affections.

Once affections are accepted as an essential part of true religion, it does not suddenly become simple to discern the presence of true religion in a heart. During the Great Awakening there were many who recognized all manifestations of fervent religious affections as signs of grace. These advocates of emotional expression were labeled “enthusiasts” by some of their opponents. Edwards cautions against their undiscerning acceptance. He points out that all religious affections are not created equal. “There are false affections, and there are true. A man’s having much affection, does not prove that he has any true religion” (50).

In Part Two of Religious Affections, Edwards describes twelve displays of affections that are often falsely looked upon as sure signs of true religion. These twelve neutral signs display Edwards’ excellent pastoral discernment. The first point in the section is that “it is no sign one way or the other that religious affections are very great, or raised very high” (54). The second unreliable sign is the effect of emotion upon the body. It is clear that Edwards is not advocating a shallow emotionalism or enthusiasm. The nature of affections, rather than the intensity of them, is of primary importance. Other neutral signs include great zeal in religious duties, much religious talk, powerful testimonies of conversion, the appearance of love, or a high degree of confidence. All of these affections are inconclusive in determining the presence of grace in the soul. They neither prove a person is a Christian, nor do they demonstrate he is not. These neutral signs may flow from the heart of a true Christian, or they may be incited by other sources, such as the general or preparatory work of the Holy Spirit, or from Satan.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Issue of Assurance - Religious Affections

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is the greatest theologian America has produced, and many say he was also America's greatest homegrown philosopher. In his famous work, Religious Affections (1746), Edwards sought to answer the question, “What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favour with God, and entitled to His eternal rewards?” (Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections, reprinted, Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2004, 15.) Or in other words, what are the distinguishing characteristics of those that are truly saved and headed to heaven? There is perhaps no more important question for the church, or for individual Christians.

Edwards was uniquely qualified to construct an answer to this question. Religious Affections demonstrates his extensive study and reflection upon the Scriptures, as well as his keen reasoning abilities. However, this was not merely an academic exercise for Edwards. He was a pastor entrusted with a large New England congregation. His views were refined and sharpened in a local church laboratory of the First Great Awakening, as well as the polemics that accompanied the great revival. These factors enabled him to write a constructive theology of the nature of true Christianity that is still important and applicable today. People are still asking, “How can I know if my Christianity is real? How do I gain assurance of salvation? What should the real thing look like?” Over the next few days I plan to describe and analyze the way Edwards discerned true from false religion in his book Religious Affections, and to apply some of his insights specifically to the issue of assurance of salvation in the contemporary church. These posts will be an adaptation of a paper I wrote a couple of years ago.

The Centrality of the Affections in True Religion
Edwards believed that a primary way to determine if a person is a Christian is to examine his or her affections. He wrote, “True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections” (23). At this point we should define a couple of words that Edwards uses a lot, religion, and affections. When he says religion he is not speaking of dry formalism. True religion means true Christian experience with God. Edwards defines the affections as “the faculty by which the soul does not behold things as an indifferent unaffected spectator, but either as liking or disliking, pleased or displeased, approving or rejecting” (24). Affections are not the same as our modern evangelical notion of warm fuzzies and emotions that sometimes accompany worship experiences (I will explain this more fully in a couple of days). While affections are connected to the understanding of the mind, they are much more than just perception or head knowledge. They concern what a person loves and hates; what he is inclined to and repulsed from. They are the mind’s judgment of an object’s value or worth. It is in this inclination of heart that the work of God’s saving grace are most apparent.

In Part One of Religious Affections Edwards demonstrates that the Bible does not present Christianity as merely a disinterested belief and obedience, but instead as a life filled with holy affections. He writes, “There must be light in the understanding as well as an affected fervent heart” (49). True Christianity is not just head knowledge. Doctrinal orthodoxy is easily affirmed by the unregenerate (unsaved), but holy affections are impossible for them. He backs up his claim with a multitude of Scripture passages and arguments. These arguments include the fact that the Bible regularly emphasizes the presence of affections such as fear, love, joy, hate, and desire in the heart of a believer (31). He also points to fact that the Bible presents love, “the chief of affections,” as the summary of true religion, and hardness of heart as the essence of sin (35, 45). The absence of love toward God and man is a clear indication that the Holy Spirit is also absent. Edwards asserts, “He who has no religious affection is in a state of spiritual death, and is wholly destitute of the powerful, quickening, saving influences of the Spirit of God upon his heart” (49).

Where to From Here?
If you choose to read these posts there may be times of struggle and discouragement. Who knows, you may already be there. Edwards sets a pretty high bar. But let me encourage you at the outset in two ways. First, it is Biblical to examine our hearts to see if we are in the faith. 2 Peter 1:10 says, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure.” Second thing, be sure to see words like no in the above quote. Edwards said, and I think he is right, “Where there is no religious affection” there is spiritual death. The Biblical standard is not perfect love and affection for God, but the presence of love and affection for God. Sometimes that affection for God is characterized by a mourning and dissatisfaction with the cold state of our hearts.

Lord willing, Thursday I will look at Edwards’ explanation of the nature of holy and true affections. Then on Friday, I will look at where those affections come from or how they are born in our heart. Please comment freely. Ask questions. Edwards is certainly not infallible, so point it out if you think he is off. I am even more certainly fallible, so if you disagree with my reading of Edwards, or if I am not explaining things clearly, let me know. This is kind of an experiment. We've normally only done short, self-contained posts (by the way, the next couple posts will be much shorter). So I will only continue this series if there is some interest and people still come to the blog.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Travel Cheap

I love to travel. But with a limited income we have to be creative in how we do so. One way we fund our travel is through credit card rewards. For instance, Stephanie just recently received an American Airlines Mastercard. There is no annual fee the first year, and after she spends $750, she will get 20,000 frequent flier miles. Then we cancel before we have the card a year, and thus avoid paying an annual fee. She already has 5000 miles, so this credit card will enable us to have a free plane ticket anywhere in the United States. These kind of deals have helped us fund our flying back to see family. (FYI: If you want to actually get a ticket for 25,000 miles, you need to book 3 months in advance or more)

The other one I recently got was the Starwood Hotels Credit Card. After your first purchase you are credited with 10,000 Starpoints. You can use those points to pay for 1 or 2 or 3 nights at a Sheraton, Westin, Four Points, or a few other hotels. For instance we are staying at a Sheraton in Birmingham in September on our way to the beach. It will cost 4000 points for a $150 room. A night at a hotel on the beach or in a place like San Francisco or Chicago would run you closer to 10,000 points.

Disclaimer: If you have had trouble with credit in the past, please avoid these. They give these deals because most people end up spending more in interest and fees than they get in plane tickets or hotel rooms. But if you have the ability to use a credit card, pay it off each month, and avoid ever paying interest, these deals may be of interest to you.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Strange Proposal

Adoniram Judson, the first Baptist missionary from America, married Ann Hasseltine on February 5, 1812. They boarded a boat 2 weeks after their wedding and headed to Burma. They had a rich marriage, and a fruitful ministry. A month after they first met, Adoniram wrote Ann a letter asking for permission to be her suitor (which was close to what we would call a proposal). She did not answer it for several days. When she finally did, she evaded the question, saying he would need to ask her parents first. Here is the letter Adoniram promptly sent to her dad:

I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home, and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with the crown of righteousness, brightened with the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her Saviour from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?
--Quoted in Courtney Anderson, To The Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1987), 83.
A few things impress me about this letter. First, Adoniram Judson was bold and decisive in his pursuit of Ann. After knowing her only a month he proposed. I heard someone say recently, "You can't just get married." Actually you can. If you know what kind of girl you are looking for and you find her, be decisive and pursue marriage.

Second, Ann's dad, John, impresses me. What a disturbing letter to get. When I met with Stephanie's dad I can assure you I did not emphasize hardships, sufferings, dangers, fatal climates, or violent deaths. One of John Hasseltine's friends said he would rather tie his daughter to the bedpost than let her go across the world. But John told Ann it was her decision, and Anne married Adoniram and died in Burma. We need more parents who give their children to the service of Christ. How discouraging it is for a young man or woman to feel called to the mission field and have their Christian parents try to talk them out of it or forbid them to go. Will we raise our children and entrust them to God for His glory and the good of immortal souls?

Third, I am impressed by the single minded commitment of the Judsons to the cause of Christ. Adoniram was not exaggerating, or being dramatic in his letter. Going to live in Burma was a very dangerous mission, and they both knew it would probably end in death among strangers. Ann struggled with her decision, but eventually decided to marry the man she loved. Soon after deciding to marry she wrote to her friend:
I feel willing, and expect, if nothing in providence prevents, to spend my days in this world in heathen lands. Yes, Lydia, I have about come to the determination to give up all my comforts and enjoyments here, sacrifice my affection to relatives and friends, and go where God, in his providence, shall see fit to place me.
--Quoted in Anderson, To The Golden Shore, 84.

Hope Today

Here are a few pictures of Hope from today. She is about to turn one in a couple of weeks - pretty unbelievable. She is crawling and pulling up on everything. We know those first steps will be coming up soon. She is such a big girl!

Sliding open the doors to the tv stand

Surrounded by toys

We love that grin!

She's comin to get the camera!

She loves those two fingers


Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Ark of God's Mercy

I am preaching a sermon on the Flood from Gen. 6-8 on Sunday. Today I spent most of my time writing the first half of the sermon, on the sinfulness of man and the judgment. I was meditating on passages like this:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually . . . . So the Lord said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land." (Genesis 6:5,7a)
And this:

And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence." (Genesis 6:12-13)
And this:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it. (Jeremiah 17:9)

I was confronted all day with how sinful we are by nature, and that God hates our sin so much He destroys sinners. It is what we deserve. Our hearts are sinful and opposed to Him. By nature we are dead in our sins and rebel against God. Then I came home and hugged my wife, a gift from God. Then I picked up my daughter and we spent a couple of minutes laughing together, about nothing in particular. Then I thought about how I get to speak God's word on Sunday. Then I thought about how God has fogiven me, and has given me a new heart, and has given me His Spirit, and about how He has promised that no flood of water or fire will ever eternally destroy me. I was overwhelmed by mercy. I deserve to be a floating dead man in a flood of God's wrath, but God has mercifully let me on His Ark of mercy. I do not deserve even one good thing I have, which makes each good thing seem even sweeter. Thank you Jesus, my Ark and my God.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The "Untabulated Results" of Proclaiming the Gospel

R. H. Graves was a missionary to China for 56 years, beginning in 1856. A medical missionary, Graves focused on proclaiming the gospel and training Chinese ministers. In 1895 he wrote Forty Years in China. Toward the end of the book he was describing the success God had given to Southern Baptist missionaries. After listing many successes, he wrote two powerful and prophetic paragraphs that remind us that the fruit of ministry cannot be measured in a year, or even a lifetime:

"Then there is a success that does not appear in missionary reports. The untabulated results of the preaching of redemption are greater than those which can be put on paper. The truth is a force, and when this is Divine truth fresh from heaven, it has a dynamic power. We cannot measure the force of the electricity in the earth by counting the number of trees or houses struck by lightening. Just as little can we estimate the power of the preaching of Christ by the number of baptisms. Prejudices are removed, suspicions dissipated, men's confidence in their idols shaken, the power of superstitions broken, and much prepatory work done. All these things tell on the final result.

"Nor is time an essential element in the Divine working. The human part of growing a crop on the earth often involves much more time than the Divine part. Cutting down the forests, removing the stones, plowing the soil and casting in the seed consume more time than the germanation of the seed. So the preliminary work in missions may be longer than the actual work of ingathering. Men sometimes apologize for the comparative slow growth of conversion in some places, as though it were merely an educational work. While it is true that the crop will usually be proportioned to the preceding labor, yet the Divine side preponderates in Christian work, and God usually works in crises. He 'cuts short His work in righteousness.' His judgments often come after impending a long time--a forty days' flood after one hundred and twenty years of warning; so with His blessings. Faith looks to God and is never disappointed, while calculation is of the earth , and speaks from the earth. Success depends more on God than on man; on prayer, than on effort. Yet success of mission work in China has been encouraging in the past, and by God's blessing, will be far more encouraging in the future."
--R. H. Graves, Forty Years in China (Baltimore: R. H. Woodward Company, 1895), 295-297.
Over the past 50 years, the gospel has exploded in China, and millions have been saved. All this after missionaries like Graves had labored for 150 years, usually with minimal success. Graves' spiritual insight and foresight helps us understand what it takes to keep loving and ministering when success comes slowly. It is something we need to hear in our day, as there are still very difficult fields and difficult people who need to hear and receive the good news of Christ.

I found this passage through Mary C. Alexander, Seedtime and Harvest in the South China Mission of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1845-1933 (Richmond, Va.: FMB, 1934), 39.