What is required in and unto our affections that they may be spiritual — A threefold work on the affections described.
To declare the interest of our affections in this frame of being spiritually minded, and what they contribute thereunto, I shall do these three things: first, Declare what is required hereunto, that our affections may be spiritual, wherein lies the foundation of the whole duty; secondly, What are their actings when they are so spiritual; thirdly, What are the means whereby they may be kept and preserved in that frame; with sundry other things of the like nature.
How our affections are concerned in or do belong unto the frame of mind inquired after hath been before declared. Without spiritual affections we cannot be spiritually minded. And that they may be of this use, three things are required: I. Their principle; II. Their object; III. The way and manner of their application unto their proper object by virtue of that principle.
I. As unto the principle acting in them, that our affections may be spiritual and the spring of our being spiritually minded, it is required that they be changed, renewed, and inlaid with grace, spiritual and supernatural.
To clear the sense hereof, we must a little consider what is their state by nature, and then by what means they may be wrought upon as unto a change or a renovation; for they are like unto some things which in themselves and their own nature are poisonous, but being corrected, and receiving a due temperament from a mixture of other ingredients, become medicinal and of excellent use.
By nature our affections, all of them, are depraved and corrupted. Nothing in the whole nature of man, no power or faculty of the soul, is fallen under greater disorder and depravation by the entrance of sin than our affections are. In and by them is the heart wholly gone and turned off from God (Titus 3:3). It were a long work to set forth this depravation of our affections, nor doth it belong unto our present design. Some few things I shall briefly observe concerning it, to make way unto what is proposed concerning their change:
1. This is the only corruption and depravation of our nature by the fall evident in and unto reason or the light of nature itself. Those who were wise among the heathen both saw it and complained of it. They found a weakness in the mind, but saw nothing of its darkness and depravation as unto things spiritual. But they were sensible enough of this disorder and tumult of the affections in things moral, which renders the minds of men “like the troubled sea, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.” This greatly aggravates the neglect of them who are not sensible of it in themselves, seeing it is discernible in the light of nature.
2. They are, as depraved, the seat and subject of all lusts, both of the flesh and of the spirit; yea, lust or evil concupiscence is nothing but the irregular motion and acting of our affections as depraved, defiled, corrupted (Rom 7:8). Hence no one sin can be mortified without a change wrought in the affections.
3. They are the spring, root, and cause of all actual sin in the world (Matt 15:19). The “evil heart,” in the Scripture, is the corrupt affections of it, with the imaginations of the mind, whereby they are excited and acted (Gen 6:5). These are they which at this time fill the whole world with wickedness, darkness, confusion, and terror; and we may learn what is their force and efficacy from these effects. So the nature of the plague is most evident when we see thousands dying of it every week.
4. They are the way and means whereby the soul applies itself unto all sinful objects and actings. Hence are they called “our members,” our “earthly members;” because, as the body applies itself unto its operations by its members, so doth the soul apply itself unto what belongs unto it by its affections (Rom 6:13, Col 3:5).
5. They will not be under the conduct of the mind, its light or convictions. Rebellion against the light of the mind is the very form whereby their corruption acts itself (Job 24:13). Let the apprehensions of the mind and its notions of good and evil be what they will, they reject them and lead the soul in pursuit of their inclinations. Hence no natural man whatsoever doth in any measure answer the light of his mind or the convictions of his understanding, but he sees and approves of better things, following those that are worse; and there is no greater spiritual judgment than for men to be given up unto themselves and their own evil affections (Rom 1:26).
Many other instances might be given of the greatness of that depravation which our affections are fallen under by sin; these may suffice as unto our present purpose.
In general, this depravation of our affections by nature may be reduced unto two heads:
1. An utter aversation from God and all spiritual things.
In this lies the spring of all that dislike of God and his ways that the hearts of men are filled withal; yea, they do not only produce an aversation from them and dislike of them, but they fill the mind with an enmity against them. Therefore men say in their hearts unto God, “Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?” (Job 21:14,15). See Rom 1:28, Rom 8:7,8.
2. An inordinate cleaving unto things vain, earthly, and sensual; causing the soul to engage into the pursuit of them as the horse rushes into the battle.
Whilst our affections are in this state and condition we are far enough from being spiritually minded, nor is it possible to engage them into an adherence unto or delight in spiritual things.
In this state they may be two ways wrought upon, and yet not so renewed as to be serviceable to this end:
1. There may be various temporary impressions made on them.
Sometimes there is so by the preaching of the word. Hereon men may hear it with joy, and do many things gladly. Sometimes it is so by judgments, dangers, sicknesses, apprehensions of the approach of death (Ps 78:35-37). These things take men off for a season from their greedy delight in earthly things, and the pursuit of the interest of lust in making provision for the flesh. On many other occasions, by great variety of causes, there may be temporary impressions made on the affections, that shall seem for a season to have turned the stream of them.
And thereon we have many who any day will be wholly, as it were, for God, resolved to forsake sin and all the pleasures of it, but the next return unto all their former excesses; for this is the effect of those impressions, that whereas men ordinarily are predominantly acted by love, desire, and delight, which lead them to act according unto the true natural principles of the soul, now they are for a season acted by fear and dread, which put a kind of force on all their inclinations. Hereon they have other thoughts of good and evil, of things eternal and temporal, of God and their own duty, for a season. And hereon some of them may and do persuade themselves that there is a change in their its and affections, which there is not; like a man who persuades himself that he hath lost his ague because his present fit is over. The next trial of temptation carries them away again unto the world and sin.
There are sometimes sudden impressions made on spiritual affections, which are always of great advantage to the soul, renewing its engagements unto God and duty. So was it with Jacob, Gen 28:16-20; so is it often with believers in hearing the word, and on other occasions. On all of them they renew their cleavings unto God with love and delight. But the effect of these impressions on unrenewed affections are neither spiritual nor durable; yea, for the most part, they are but checks given in the providence of God unto the raging of their lusts (Ps 9:20).
2. They are liable unto an habitual change.
This the experience of all ages gives testimony to. There may be an habitual change wrought in the passions and affections of the mind, as unto the inordinate and violent pursuit of their inclinations, without any gracious renovation of them. Education, philosophy, or reason, long afflictions, spiritual light and gifts, have wrought this change. So Saul, upon his call to be king, became “another man.” Hereby persons naturally passionate and furious have been made sedate and moderate, and those who have been sensual have become temperate, yea, and haters of religion to be professors of it. All these things, and many more of the like nature, have proceeded from a change wrought upon the affections only, whilst the mind, will, and conscience, have been totally unsanctified.
By this change, where it is alone, no man ever became spiritually minded; for whereas there are two parts of the depravation of our affections, that whereby they are turned off from God, and that whereby they inordinately cleave unto other things, their change principally, if not only, respects the latter. They are brought into some order with respect unto present things. The mind is not continually tossed up and down by them as the waves of the sea, that are troubled, and cast up mire and dirt. They do not carry those in whom they are into vicious, sensual actions, but they allow them to make virtue in moderation, sobriety, temperance, fidelity, and usefulness in several ways, to be their design; and it is admirable to think what degrees of eminency in all sorts of moral virtues, upon this one principle of moderating the affections, even many among the heathens attained unto. But as unto their aversation from God and spiritual things, in the true spiritual notion of them, they are not cured by this change. At least this change may be, and yet this latter not be wrought.
Again: this alteration doth but turn the course or stream of men’s affections, it doth not change the nature of them. They are the same in their spring and fountain as ever they were, only they are habituated unto another course than what of themselves they are inclined unto.
You may take a young whelp of the most fierce and savage creatures, as of a tiger or a wolf, and by custom or usage make it as tame and harmless as any domestic creature – a dog, or the like: but although it may be turned unto quite another way or course of acting than what it was of itself inclined unto, yet its nature is not changed; and therefore frequently, on occasion, opportunity, or provocation, it will fall into its own savage inclination, and having tasted of the blood of creatures, it will never be reclaimed.
So is it with the depraved affections of men with respect unto their change: their streams are turned, they are habituated unto a new course; but their nature is not altered, at least not from rational unto spiritual, from earthly unto heavenly. Yet this is that which was most beautiful and desirable in nature, the glory of it, and the utmost of its attainments. He who has by any means proceeded unto such a moderation of his affections as to render him kind, benign, patient, useful, preferring public good before private, ordinate and temperate in all things, will rise up in judgment against those who, professing themselves to be under the conduct of the light of grace, do yet, by being morose, angry, selfish, worldly, manifest that their affections are not subdued by the power of that grace.
Wherefore, that we may be spiritually minded, there is yet another work upon our affections required, which is their internal renovation, whereby not only the course of their actings is changed, but their nature is altered and spiritually renewed. I intend that which is expressed in that great evangelical promise, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain” (Isa 11:6-9). A change and alteration is promised in the natures, principles, and first inclinations, of the worst and most savage sinners who pass under the power of gospel grace.
This is that which is required of us in a way of duty, “Be ye renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Eph 4:23). There is a renovation of the mind itself, by the communication of spiritual, saving light and understanding thereunto, whereof I have treated elsewhere at large, see Rom 12:2, Eph 1:17,18. But “the spirit of the mind,” that whereby it is enlivened, led, and disposed unto its actings, is to be renewed also. “The spirit of the mind” is in this place opposed unto “the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,” or depraved affections (Eph 4:22). These, therefore, are that “spirit of the mind,” which inclines, bends, and leads it to act suitably unto its inclinations, which is to be renewed. And when our affections are inclined by the saving grace of the Holy Spirit, then are they renewed, and not else. No other change will give them a spiritual renovation.
Hereby those things which are only natural affections in themselves, in them that believe become fruits of the Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,” etc (Gal 5:22,23). They continue the same as they were in their essence, substance, and natural powers; but are changed in their properties, qualities, inclinations, whenever a new nature is given unto them. So the waters at Marah were the same waters still before and after their cure. But of themselves and in their own nature they were bitter, so as that the people could not drink them; on the casting of a tree into them, they were made sweet and useful (Ex 15:25). So was it with the waters of Jericho, which were cured by casting salt into them (2 Kings 2:19-22). Our affections continue the same as they were in their nature and essence; but they are so cured by grace as that their properties, qualities, and inclinations, are all cleansed or renewed. The tree or salt that is cast into these waters, whereby the cure is wrought, is the love of God above all, proceeding from faith in him by Christ Jesus.