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.


walter price said...

How I would wish and pray that the younger generation would really hear the truth of your last paragraph. So much of what I see appealing to them has to do with "experience" and "atmosphere," even so-called historical context, rather than the true glory of the gospel in the face of Christ. Sadly, I suspect what we are seeing is just so much more me-centered religion as opposed to Edward's "true religion." Keep spreading the Word.

Mark said...

Pastor Walter,
Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to some of these posts. It makes me want to keep writing.

Yeah, I see Edwards' work really serving as a good correction to some of what we focus on sometimes. Edwards helps me to remember what the point is (God), and where God is most clearly seen and known--the gospel of Christ.

I also think what you say about some of what is happening as being "me-centered" religion is true. When what we like the most about God is the "mystery," it usually ends up that we like worshiping an undefined God, which is actually a God we are defining ourselves.

Keith said...

Since this post doesn't clarify Edwards' psychology, I was wondering if you could do that. I am having trouble understanding how heart, mind, and will relate for Edwards.

Are not true holy affections still affections at all? Are they affections that are just not holy?

I am still having trouble understanding what affections are. Here is what I seem to get from comments you have made:
1. "These affections cause believers to desire more of God..." So affections are distinct from desire for God.
2. "Gracious affections consist primarily in the heart's love of, and delight in God himself." Why it only primarily? What is the extra parts of affections not included there? What more must be connected with delight and love?
3. "Holy affections flow from a right apprehension..." So affections are distinct from and originate from spiritual sense.
4. Affections aren't mere head knowledge but on the other hand affections aren't mere emotions either. Are affections then just emotions that stem from knowledge and then true affections are affections that stem from true knowledge of God? If not then what are they or how is this deficient?

Does Edwards say anything more about spiritual sense other than the honey analogy? I am having trouble grasping what he is saying. It reminds me of discussion of material substance. Material substance is that thing that supports or stands under all the attributes. So you have an apple and you remove the red, the sweet taste, the crispness, the shape, and every other sensible thing and what is left is material substance. But what is left? According to many philosophers it is, "I know not what." It is something which is neither shape, color, etc. and yet I know not what that something is.

That is not an argument or anything but just an illustration of what I feel like with what you are explaining about Edwards on affections and spiritual sense. It is not emotions and it is not head knowledge and it is not experience and it is not mystical experience and it is not this and it is not that. But then what is left? It is almost like it is some unknown thing that is then just called spiritual sense. He gives the honey analogy but does that help? Tasting honey is an experience and it has nothing to do with any knowledge of descriptions of honey, but with religious affections they are tied to knowledge of the gospel.

In defending material substance they would give analogies along the lines of a foundation holding up a building or some idea of foundation or upholding.

So how would you expand on what the spiritual sense and affections are? Thus far my impression is that it seems vacuous. It is a word assigned to the "I know not what."

Does any of that make sense? I recognize the crucial importance of affections being more than head knowledge and not mere emotion, but it feels more like saying what it is not than what it is.

Keith said...

Incidently, the reason I am pressing this is because I think the question is important and one that I am very interested in. I am interested in what it means to know God that is beyond mere head knowledge.

I somewhat feel the same way about anytime I hear people talk about faith as being more than head knowledge. I grant that is the case wholeheartedly, but then what is it in a positive sense? It is only a denial with no positive affirmation. If it is "more than" then what is the "more."

Mark said...

I am in California right now, and am will not be able to respond for a couple of days. Your questions are good ones. One quick answer to your question about it not being this, and not being that. I would say that I was trying to say, it is not merely this or that. It is not merely emotions, and not merely head knowledge. Your summary in question 4 is a pretty good one. Affections are emotions (although they also include inclinations) that stem from knowledge. And yes, holy affections would be those that stem from a true knowledge of God. And yes, there are holy and unholy affections. I think my 5th post will better explain how the heart and mind are related to the will. But your questions will still need to be answered in a more precise way. Thanks for making me think this through more closely. Part of the problem here, is my sloppy way of wording things. I lack a philosophical preciseness that is need for this kind of thing.

Keith said...

Thanks for the response. You are doing a good job! Sorry if I seemed too critical there. I guess I am just too used to reading writing where there are numbered propositions everywhere! :)

Yes, in saying "it is not this and not that" I meant "it is not merely this and not merely that". I think in places I use "merely" but not in all places.

I guess I just thought that there was still something left over even when you add up understanding, inclination, desire and so forth. As if all those things while necessary are not sufficient for true affections. If that was the case, then I was wondering what that "extra" thing is.

I have always been interested in the question of what is true Christian spirituality beyond head knowledge. The age old difference between knowing somebody and knowing about somebody. This is why I found Edwards' honey analogy interesting. You have a distinction between knowing something about honey by description and then by actually tasting.

Although I think it is a very different idea, there seems to be some lineage of a similar idea I have been looking at in philosophy. Bertrand Russell has knowledge by description vs. knowledge by acquaintance. Early Wittgenstein has what we can say vs. what we can only show. Prior to Russell, Moore seems to have a similar distinction.

See I think when we talk in terms of human people it is fairly easy to understand the difference between knowing about and knowing the person. We know the difference between knowing about Bush and knowing Bush. However, it gets more complicated with God since he is invsible and we know him via Scripture, which consists of lots of story about God. One who knows Bush talks to Bush and Bush talks back but with God this at least trickier since in large part God's response back comes in the form of narratives about God. Moreover, the primary way we know God is via his revelation in the Son who is present by the Spirit.

Anyhow... just respond to my previous questions whenever you get a chance. Keep up the good work!

Mark said...

Keith, here is my shot at clarifying Edwards’ psychology, by answering your questions to the best of my ability at this time. I would recommend reading a good summary or introduction to Edwards’s Freedom of the Will to clear some of this up. I am far from an Edwards scholar or expert.

First of all, everyone has affections. Everyone makes judgments about what is more valuable or lovely. There are unholy and holy affections. Holy affections are impossible for the unregenerate because of their lack of spiritual sight. They are morally corrupt in their hearts, and thereby see sin as more valuable than Christ.
Second, holy or gracious affections consist "primarily" in the heart’s love of god Himself, because holy affections also consist of delight in other things that reflect the glory of God. For example, a person with holy affections will delight in other believers and their holiness, they will delight in God’s creation, and they will delight in the holy nature of moral action. All of this is ultimately a delight in God’s moral holiness, reflected in His works and in His people and in His law.

Third, yes, holy affections flow from right apprehension, or the spiritual sense of the heart. Like I say in #1 above, everyone has affections. Holy affections are born when God gives us a new sense of the heart. Thus holy affections are distinct from the spiritual sense and are enabled by the work done in our hearts enabling us to sense the beauty of God in the gospel of Christ.

Fourth, I don’t think I can answer this question in a satisfactory way right now. It is a big question and one I don’t feel like I have a good enough grasp to answer right now. I will think on it over the next week or so, and hopefully provide a somewhat, though still hesitant answer. I am just not an Edwards’ expert. I have felt comfortable doing this summary, hoping it will whet peoples appetite and thinking I have a decent grasp on the general concepts in Religious Affections. But I’ll need some more time to think through your 4th question, which I think is probably the one you are most interested in. Generally I have the impression that affections are largely emotions of the kind that drive the will. They are shaped by our understanding, both notional (mind) and sensory (heart), and drive our will. Does that make sense? When I say affections aren’t merely emotions, I am emphasizing that Edwards shows our affections flow from the mind. How all that connects and plays out I need to put more though into.

Hopefully the above answers have helped. Please post any follow up thoughts or question you have.