Assimilation unto things heavenly and spiritual in affections spiritually renewed – This assimilation the work of faith; how, and whereby — Reasons of the want of growth in our spiritual affections as unto this assimilation.
When affections are spiritually renewed in their exercise, or fixing of themselves on spiritual things, there is an assimilation wrought in them, and in the whole soul, unto those spiritual and heavenly things, by faith. But when there is a change in them only from other causes and occasions, and not from renewing grace, there is an assimilation effected of spiritual and heavenly things themselves unto those affections, by imagination.
This must somewhat at large be spoken unto, as that which gives the most eminent distinction between the frames of mind whose difference we inquire into. And to that end we shall cast our consideration of it into the ensuing observations:
1. Affections spiritually renewed are, in all their actings, in their whole exercise, under the guidance and conduct of faith.
It is faith which, in its spiritual light, hath the leading of the soul in the whole life of God. We live here by faith, as we shall do hereafter by sight. If our affections deviate or decline in the least from the guidance of the faith, they degenerate from their spirituality, and give up themselves unto the service of superstition. Next unto corrupt secular interest in the management of crafty, selfish seducers, this hath been the great inlet of all superstition and false worship into the world. Blind affections groping in the dark after spiritual things, having not the saving light of faith to conduct them, have seduced the minds of men into all manner of superstitious imaginations and practices, continuing to do so at this day. And wherever they will lead the way, when faith goeth not before them to discover both way and end, they that lead and the mind that is led must fall into one snare and pit or another.
Wherefore, affections that are spiritually renewed move not, act not, but as faith discovers their object and directs them unto it. It is faith that works by love. We can love nothing sincerely with divine love but what we believe savingly with divine faith. Let our affections unto any spiritual thing be never so vehement, if they spring not from faith, if they are not guided by it, they are neither accepted with God nor will promote the interest of spirituality and holiness in our own souls (Heb 11:6, Matt 6:22,23).
And this is the reason whence we ofttimes see great and plausible appearances of spiritual affections, which yet endure only for a season: They have been awakened, excited, acted by one means or another, outward or inward; but not having the light of faith to guide them unto their proper object, they either wither and die, as unto any appearing of spiritual motions, or else keep the mind tossed up and down in perpetual disquietment, without rest or peace. “The foolish man wearieth himself because he cannot find the way to the city.”
So was it with them who, on account of their attendance unto the doctrine of Christ, are called his disciples (John 6). Having preached unto them about the bread which came down from heaven and giveth life unto them that feed, they were greatly affected with it, and cried out, “Lord, evermore give us this bread (John 6:34); but when he proceeded to declare the mystery of it, they having not faith to discern and apprehend it, their affections immediately decayed, and they forsook both him and his doctrine (John 6:66).
We may consider one especial instance of this nature. Persons every day fall under great and effectual convictions of sin, and of their danger of certain misery thereby. This stirs up and acts all their affections, especially their fears, hopes, desires, sorrow, self-revenge, according as their condition calls for them. Hence sometimes they grow restless in their complaints, and turn themselves every way for relief, like men that are out of the way and bewildered in the night. But in this state and condition, tell them of the only proper way and means of their relief – which let the world say what it will, is Christ and his righteousness alone, with the grace of God in him – and they quickly discover that they are strange things unto them, such as they do not understand, nor indeed approve. They cannot see them, they cannot discern them, nor any beauty in them for which they should be desired.
Wherefore, after their affections have been tossed up and down for a season under the power and torment of this conviction, they come unto one or other of these issues with them; for, either they utterly decay, and the mind loseth all sense of any impressions from them, so as that they wonder in themselves whence they were so foolish as to be tossed and troubled with such melancholy fancies, and so commonly prove as bad a sort of men as live upon the earth; or they take up in a formal, legal profession, wherein they never attain to be spiritually minded. This is the best end that our affections towards spiritual things, not guided by the light of faith, come to.
2. Faith hath a clear prospect into and apprehension of spiritual things, as they are in themselves and in their own nature.
It is true, the light of it cannot fully comprehend the nature of all those things which are the objects of its affections: for they are infinite and incomprehensible, such as are the nature of God and the person of Christ; and some of them, as future glory, are not yet clearly revealed. But it discerns them all in a due manner, so as that they may in themselves, and not in any corrupt representation or imagination of them, be the objects of our affections. They are, as the apostle speaks, “spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14); which is the reason why the natural man cannot receive them — namely, because he hath not ability spiritually to discern them.
And this is the principal end of the renovation of our minds, the principal work and effect of faith — namely, the communication unto our minds and the acting in us of a spiritual, saving light, whereby we may see and discern spiritual things as they are in their own nature, kind, and proper use. See Ephesians 1:17-19, “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power.” 2 Cor 4:6, “God shineth in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ.”
The end God designs is, to draw our hearts and affections unto himself; and unto this end he gives unto us a glorious internal light, whereby we may be enabled to discern the true nature of the things that we are to cleave unto with love and delight. Without this we have nothing but false images of spiritual things in our minds; not always as unto the truth or doctrine concerning them, but as unto their reality, power, and efficacy.
This is one of the principal effects of faith, as it is the principal part of the renovation of our minds — namely, to discover in the soul and represent unto the affections things spiritual and heavenly, in their nature, beauty, and genuine excellency. This attracts them if they be spiritually renewed, and causeth them to cleave with delight unto what is so proposed unto them. He that believes in Christ in a due manner, who thereon discovers the excellency of his person and the glory of his mediation, will both love him, and, on his believing, “rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
So is it in all other instances. The more steady is our view by faith of spiritual things, the more firm and constant will our affections be in cleaving unto them; and wherever the mind is darkened about them, by temptation or seduction from the truth, there the affections will be quickly weakened and impaired. Wherefore,
3. Affections thus led unto and fixed on spiritual and heavenly things, under the light and conduct of faith, are more and more renewed, or made in themselves more spiritual and heavenly.
They are, in their cleaving unto them and delight in them, continually changed and assimilated unto the things themselves, becoming more and more to be what they are – namely, spiritual and heavenly.
This transformation is wrought by faith, and is one of its most excellent faculties and operations. See 2 Corinthians 3:18. And the means whereby it works herein are our affections. In them as we are carnal, we are conformed unto this world; and by them as we are sanctified are we transformed “by the renewing of our mind” (Rom 12:2).
And this transformation is the introduction of a new form or nature into our souls, diverse from that wherewith we were before endued. So is it described in Isaiah 11:6-9. A spiritual nature they were changed into. And it is two-fold:
First, Original and radical as to the substance or essence of it, which is the effect of the first act of divine grace upon our souls when we are . made new creatures. Herein our affections are passive; they do not transform us, but are transformed.
Secondly. Gradual as unto its increase; and therein faith works in and by the affections.
Whenever the affections cleave intensely unto any object they receive an impression from it – as the wax doth from the seal when applied unto it – which changeth them into its own likeness. So the apostle affirms of sensual, unclean persons, they “have eyes full of adultery” (2 Pet 2:14). Their affections are so wholly possessed and filled with their lustful objects as that they have brought forth their own likeness upon their imaginations. That blots out all others, and leaves them no inclinations but what they stir up in them.
When men are filled with the “love of this world,” which carries along with it all their other affections, their hopes, fears, and desires, unto a constant exercise about the same object, they become earthly minded. Their minds are so changed into the image of the things themselves, by the effectual working of the corrupt principles of sin, self-love, and lust, as if they were made up of the earth, and therefore have no savour of any thing else.
In like manner, when by faith men come to embrace heavenly things, through the effectual working of a principle of spiritual life and grace in them, they are every day more and more made heavenly: “The inward man is renewed day by day.” Love is more sincere and ardent, delight is more ravishing and sensible, desires are more enlarged and intense, and by all a taste and relish of heavenly things is heightened into refreshing experience. See Romans 5:2-5.
This is the way whereby one grace is added unto another (2 Pet 1:5-7) in degrees. Great is the assimilation between renewed affections and their spiritual objects that by this means may be attained.
The mind hereby becomes the temple of God, wherein he dwells by the Spirit; Christ also dwelleth in believers, and they in him: “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16).
Love in its proper exercise gives a mutual inhabitation unto God and believers. In brief, he whose affections are set upon heavenly things in a due manner will be heavenly minded, and in the due exercise of them will that heavenly mindedness be increased. The transformation and assimilation that is wrought is not in the objects or spiritual things themselves; they are not changed, neither in themselves nor in the representation made of them unto our minds; but the change is in our affections, which are made like unto them.
Two cases deriving from this principle and consideration may be here spoken unto, and shall be so — the first in this, and the other in the following chapter. The one is concerning the slowness and imperceptibility of the growth of our affections in their assimilation unto heavenly things, with the causes and reasons of it. The other is the decays that frequently befall men in their affections unto spiritual things, instead of growing and thriving in them, with the reasons and causes thereof.
1. The progress and growth of our affections into spirituality and heavenliness, into conformity unto the things they are set upon, is oftentimes very slow, and sometimes imperceptible; yea, for the most part, it is a hard thing to find it satisfactorily in ourselves or others.
Our affections stand like shrubs in the wilderness, which see not when good cometh, and are not like plants in a garden enclosed, which is watered every day. But it is not so without our folly and our sin.
(1.) The folly that keeps many in this condition consists herein: The generality of Christians are contented with their present measures, and design little more than not to lose the ground they have gained.
And a pernicious folly it is, that both ruins the glory of religion and deprives the souls of men of peace and consolation. But so it is. Men have some grounds of persuasion, or at least they hope and suppose they have such grounds, that they are “passed from death unto life,” that they are in a state of grace and acceptance with God. This state they will endeavour to preserve by a diligent performance of the duties it requireth, and the avoidance of such sins as whereby they might make a forfeiture of it; but as for earnest, watchful endeavours and diligence to thrive in this state, to grow in grace, to be changed from glory to glory into the image of Christ, to press forward towards the mark of the high calling, and after perfection, to lay hold upon eternal life, to be more holy, more humble, more righteous, more spiritually minded, to have their affections more and more transformed into the likeness of things above, they are but few that sincerely and diligently apply themselves unto it, or unto the means of these things.
The measures which they have attained unto give satisfaction unto the church, and reputation in the world that they are professors; and some so speak peace unto their own souls. To be more holy and heavenly, to have their affections more taken up with the things above, they suppose somewhat inconsistent with their present occasions and affairs. By this means hath religion lost much of its glory, and the souls of men have been deprived of the principal advantages of it in this world.
Such persons are like unto men who live in a country wherein they are not only pressed with poverty and all sorts of misery, but are also obnoxious unto grievous punishments, and death itself, if they are taken in it. In this condition, they are told and assured of another country, wherein, so soon as they are arrived, they shall be freed from all fear of danger of punishment; and if they pass farther into it, they shall meet with riches, plenty, and a fair inheritance provided for them. Hereon they betake themselves unto their voyage to obtain an entrance into it and possession of it; but no sooner do they come within the borders, and so are free from danger, or fear of punishment and death, but they sit down, and will go no farther to enjoy the good things of the country whereinto they are come. And it falls out with many of them, that, through their sloth, negligence, and ignorance, they take up short of the true bounds and limits of the country of liberty and peace which they aimed at, whereby danger and death surprise them unawares. This ruin could not have befallen them had they industriously endeavoured to enter into the heart of the country, and have possessed the good things thereof. At best, being only on the borders, they lead a poor life all their days, exposed to wants and danger.
So it is in this case. Men falling under the power of convictions, and those restless fears wherewith they are accompanied, will stir up themselves and inquire how they may “flee from the wrath to come,” how they may be delivered from the state of sin, and the eternal misery which will ensue thereon.
In the gospel, not only mercy and pardon are proposed unto them on their believing, which is the first entrance into the heavenly country; but peace, and joy, and spiritual strength, upon their admission into it, and a progress made in it by faith and obedience. But many, when they have attained so far as that they have some hopes of pardon and freedom from the curse, so as to deliver them from their tormenting fears, will endeavour to preserve those hopes and keep that state, but will not pass on to a full enjoyment of the precious things of the gospel, by growth in grace and spiritual affections.
But how many of them fall under woful mistakes! for supposing themselves to be in a gospel state, it proves in the issue that they never entered into it. They were not, it may he, far from the kingdom of heaven, in the same sense as it was spoken of him who never came thither. There is no way to secure an interest in the gospel, as to pardon and mercy, safety and deliverance, but by a growth in grace, holiness, and spirituality; which gives an entrance into the choicest mercies and privileges of it.
This folly of men in taking up with their measures, endeavouring only to maintain that state and condition which they hope they have attained, is the great reason why their affections do not daily grow up into spirituality, through an assimilation unto heavenly things. And a folly it is attended with innumerable aggravations; as, for instance:
[1.] It is contrary and destructive unto the genuine and principal property of gospel grace; for it is everywhere compared by our Saviour unto things which, from small seeds and beginnings, do grow up by a continual increase unto large measures — as to a grain of mustard seed, a little leaven, and the like.
That grace in whose nature it is not to thrive and grow may justly be suspected, and ought diligently to be examined by them who take care of their own souls, and would not be eternally deceived.
[2.] It is contrary unto the most excellent or invaluable evangelical promises recorded in the Old Testament and the New, and which are amongst the principal supportments of the faith, hope, and comfort of believers.
God hath given them unto us to encourage us unto an expectation of such supplies of grace as shall cause us to thrive and grow against all opposition, unto the utmost of our continuance in this world. And they are so multiplied as that there is no need to mention any of them in particular; God evidencing thereby how great is the grace, and how precious, which he so often promiseth, and of what consideration it is unto ourselves. See Psalm 92:13-15; Isaiah 40:28-31.
Wherefore, the folly of taking up with present measures of grace, holiness, and spirituality, is attended with two unspeakable evils:
1st, A signal contempt of the love, grace, faithfulness, and wisdom of God, in giving of us such promises of grace, to make us to increase, thrive, and grow. How can it be done more effectually than by such a neglect of his promised grace?
2dly, An evidence that such persons love not, care not for, grace and holiness for their own sake, but merely to serve their turn at present, as they suppose; nor do desire the least of grace or privilege by Christ without which they can have any hopes to get to heaven. This sufficiently discovers men to be wholly under the power of self-love, and to centre therein; for if they may have so much grace and mercy as may save them, they care for no more.
[3.] It is repugnant to the honour of gospel grace, as though it would carry us so far, and no farther, in the way to glory: for it must be known that this sort of persons, who sit down in their present measures and attainments, either really have no true grace at all, or that which is of the lowest, meanest, and most imperceptible size and degree; for if any one hath attained any considerable growth in faith and love, in the mortification of sin, in heavenly mindedness, it is utterly impossible but that ordinarily he will be pressing forward towards further attainments, and further degrees of spiritual strength in the life of God.
So the apostle declares it in his own example, Phil 3:12-14. What thoughts can these persons have concerning the glory, power, and efficacy of gospel grace, which they suppose they have received? If they measure them by the effects which they find in themselves, either as unto the mortification of sin, or strength unto and delight in duties of holiness, or as unto spiritual consolation, they can see no excellency nor beauty in them; for they do not manifest themselves but in their success, as they transform the soul daily into the image of Christ.
[4.] It is that which hath lost the reputation and glory of religion in the world, and therein the honour of the gospel itself: for the most part of professors do take up with such measures as put no lustre upon it, as give no commendation unto the religion they profess; for their measures allow them such a conformity unto the world, in their ways, words, and actions, in their gestures, apparel, and attire, as that they are no way visibly to be distinguished from it; yea, the ground and reason why the most do rest in their present measures is, because they will not be farther differenced from the world.
This hath greatly lost the glory, honour, and reputation of religion amongst us. And, on the other side, if all visible professors would endeavour continually to grow and thrive in spirituality of mind and heavenliness of affections, with fruits suitable thereunto, it would bring a conviction on the world that there is a secret invisible power accompanying the religion they profess, transforming them daily into the image and likeness of God.
[5.] Whatever is pretended unto the contrary, it is inconsistent with all solid peace of conscience; for no such thing is promised unto any who live in such a contempt of divine promises, nor is it attainable but by the diligent exercise of all those graces which lie neglected under this frame.
Few men are able to judge whether they have real, eternal, abiding peace or no, unless it be in case of trials and temptations. At other seasons, general hopes and confidences do or may supply the want of it in their minds; but when any fear, danger, trial, or word of conviction, befalls them, they cannot but inquire and examine how it is with them.
And if they find their affections cold, dead, earthly, carnal, withering, not spiritual or heavenly there will he an end of their supposed peace, and thev will fall into woful disquietments; and they will then find that the root of all this evil lies in this frame and disposition: They have been so far satisfied with their present measures or attainments in religion, as that the utmost of their endeavours has been but to preserve their station or not to forfeit it by open sins — to keep their souls alive from the severe reflections of the word, and their reputation fair in the church of God; spiritually to thrive, to prosper in their souls, to wax fat and flourishing in the inward man, to bring forth more fruit as age increaseth, to press towards perfection, are things they have not designed nor pursued.
Hence it is that so many among us are visibly at an unthrifty stand in the world — that where they were one year, there they are another, like shrubs in the wilderness; not like plants in the “garden of God,” not as vines planted in “a very fruitful hill.” Yea, though many arc sensible themselves that they are cold, lifeless and fruitless, yet will they not be convinced that there is a necessity of making a daily progress in spirituality and heavenly mindedneas, whereby the inward man maybe renewed day by day, and grace augmented with the increase of God. This is a work, as they suppose, for them who have nothing else to do; not consistent with their business, callings, and occasions; not necessary, as they hope, unto their salvation; nor, it may be, to be attained by them if they should set themselves about it.
This apprehension or imagination, upon the beginning of the declension and decay of Christian religion in the many, cast off holiness and devotion unto a sort of men who undertook to retire themselves utterly out of the world; amongst whom also the substance of religion was quickly lost, and a cloud or meteor of superstition embraced in the room of it. But this folly is ominous unto the souls of men.
Those who have made the greatest progress in the conformity of their affections unto things spiritual and heavenly know most of its necessity, excellency, and desirableness; yea, without some progress in it, these things will not be known. Such will testify that the more they attain herein, the more they see there is yet to to be attained, and the more they do desire to attain what is before. Forgetting those things which are behind, they reach forth unto the things that are yet before them, like men running in a race, whose prize and reward is yet before them (Phil 3:13,14).
It is a comely thing to see a Christian weaned from the world, minding heavenly things, green and flourishing in spiritual affections; and it is the more lovely because it is so rare. The generality of them take up with those measures which neither glorify God nor bring in durable peace unto their own souls.
That which men pretend and complain of herein, is the difficulty of the work. They can, as they suppose, preserve their present station, but to press forward, to grow in grace, to thrive in their affections, this is too hard for them.
But this complaint is unequal and unjust, and adds to the guilt of their sloth. It reflects upon the words of our Saviour, that “his yoke is easy, and his burden light,” that “his commandments are not grievous.” It expresseth unbelief in the promises of God tendering such supplies of grace as to render all the ways of Wisdom easy, yea, mercy and peace. It is contrary unto the experience of all who have with any sincerity and diligence engaged in the ways of gospel obedience. And the whole cause of the pretended difficulty lies in themselves alone, which may be reduced unto these two heads:
1st. A desire to retain some thing or things that is or are inconsistent with such a progress; for unless the heart be ready on all occasions to esteem every thing “as loss and dung, so as we may win Christ,” the work will be accompanied with insuperable difficulties.
This is the first principle of religion, of gospel obedience, that all things are to be despised for Christ. But this difficulty ariseth not from the thing itself, but from our indisposition unto it and unfitness for it. That which is an easy, pleasant walk unto a sound and healthy man is a toilsome journey to him that is diseased and infirm.
In particular, whilst men will retain an inordinate respect unto the world, the vanities, the pleasures, the profits, the contentments of it; whilst self-love, putting an undue valuation on our persons, our relations, our enjoyments, our reputations, doth cleave unto us – we shall labour in the fire when we engage in this duty, or rather, we shall not at all sincerely engage in it. Wherefore the apostle tells us that in this case we must cast off every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us, if we intend to run with joy the race that is set before us (Heb 12:1).
2dly. It is because men dwell continually upon the entrances of religion, in the first and lowest exercise of grace.
Some are always beginning at religion, and the beginning of things are always difficult. They design not to be complete in the whole will of God, nor to give all graces their perfect work. They do not with use habituate grace unto a readiness in all the actings of it, which the apostle commends in them that are “perfect” or complete (Heb 5:14). Hence he calls such persons “babes and carnal,” comparatively unto them that are “strong men and spiritual.”
Such persons do not oblige themselves unto the whole work and all the duties of religion, but only to what they judge necessary unto them in their present circumstances. In particular, they do not attempt a thorough work in the mortification of any sin, but are hewing and hacking at it, as their convictions are urgent or abate, the wounds whereof in the body of sin are quickly healed. They give not any grace its perfect work, but are always making essays, and so give over.
Whilst it is thus with any, they shall always be deluded with the apprehensions of insuperable difficulties as to the growth of their affections in spirituality and heavenliness. Remove these things out of the way, as they ought to be removed, and we shall find all the paths wherein we are to walk towards God to be pleasantness and peace.
This is the first cause whence it is that there may be affections truly spiritual and graciously renewed in some persons, who yet do not thrive in an assimilation and conformity unto heavenly things: Men take up with their present measures, and thereon pretend either necessary occasion or discouragements from difficulties in attempting spiritual growth in the inward man. But they may thank themselves if, as they bring no honour unto Christ, so they have no solid peace in their own souls.
(2.) As the evil proceedeth from folly, so it is always the consequent of sin, of many sins, of various sorts.
Let us not dwell on heartless complaints that we do not find our affections lively and heavenly, that we do not find the inward man to thrive or grow. Let us not hearken after this or that relief or comfort under this consideration, as many things are usually insisted on unto this purpose. They may be of use when persons are under temptations, and not able to make a right judgment of themselves; but in the course of our ordinary walking with God, they are not to be attended nor retired unto.
The general reason of this evil state is our own sinful carelessness, negligence, and sloth, with perhaps an indulgence unto some known lust or corruption. And we do in vain seek after refreshing cordials, as though we were only spiritually faint, when we stand in need of lancings and burnings, as nigh unto a lethargy.
It would be too long to give instances of those sins which fail not effectually to obstruct the thriving of spiritual affections: but, in general, when men are careless as unto that continual watch which they ought to keep over their hearts; whilst they are negligent in holy duties, either as unto the seasons of them or the manner of their performance; when they are strangers unto holy meditation and self-examination; whilst they inordinately pursue the things of the world, or are so tender and delicate as that they will not undergo the hardship of a heavenly life, either as unto the inward or outward man; much more when they are vain in their conversation, corrupt in their communication, especially if under the predominant influence of any particular lust — it is vain to think of thriving in spiritual affections. And yet thus it is with all who ordinarily and in their constant course are thriftless herein.
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