The work of the renovation of our affections – How differenced from any other impression on or change wrought in them, and how it is evidenced so to be – The first instance, in the universality accompanying of affections spiritually renewed – The order of the exercise of our affections with respect unto their objects.
That which is our concernment herein is, to inquire of what nature that work is which hath been on our own affections, or in them, and how it differs from those which, whatever they do or effect, yet will not render us nor themselves spiritual.
And we ought to use the best of our diligence herein, because the great means whereby multitudes delude and deceive their own souls, persuading themselves that there has been an effectual work of the grace of the gospel in them, is the change that they find in their affections; which may be on many occasions without any spiritual renovation:
1. As unto the temporary and occasional impressions on the affections before mentioned, whether from the word or any other divine warning by afflictions or mercies, they are common unto all sorts of persons.
Some there are whose “consciences are seared with a hot iron,” (1 Tim 4:2), “who” thereon, “being past feeling” (senseless of all calls, warnings, and rebukes), “have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Eph 4:19). Such persons, having hardened themselves in a long course of sin, and being given up unto a reprobate mind, or vile affections, in a way of judgment, have, it may be, no such impressions on their affections on any occasion as to move them with a sense of things spiritual and eternal. They may be terrified with danger, sudden judgments, and other revelations of the wrath of God from heaven against the ungodliness of men, but they are not drawn to take shelter in thoughts of spiritual things. Nothing but hell will awaken them unto a due consideration of themselves and things eternal.
It is otherwise with the generality of men who are not profligate and impudent in sinning; for although they are in a natural condition and a course of sin, in the neglect of known duties, yet, by one means or other – most frequently by the preaching of the word – their affections are stirred towards heavenly things.
Sometimes they are afraid, sometimes they have hopes and desires about them. These put them on resolutions, and some temporary endeavours to change their lives, to abstain from sin and to perform holy duties. But, as the prophet complains, “their goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew, it goeth away.” Yet by means hereof do many poor ignorant souls deceive themselves, and cry “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” And they will sometimes so express how they are affected, with complaints of themselves as unto their long neglect of spiritual things, that others may entertain good hopes concerning them; but all comes to nothing in the trial.
There is no difficulty unto spiritual light to distinguish between these occasional impressions on the affections and that spiritual renovation of them which we inquire after. This alone is sufficient to do it, that they are all of them temporary and evanid. They abide “for a while” only, as our Saviour speaks, and every occasion defeats all their efficacy. They may be frequently renewed, but they never abide. Some of them immediately pass away, and are utterly lost between the place where they hear the word and their own habitations; and in vain shall they inquire after them again — they are gone for ever. Some have a larger continuance, endure longer in the mind, and produce some outward effects. None of them will hold any trial or shock of temptation.
Yet I have somewhat to say unto those who have such impressions on their affections, and warnings by them:
(1.) Despise them not, for God is in them. Although he may not be in them in a way of saving grace, yet he is in them in that which may be preparatory thereto. They are not common human accidents, but especial divine warnings.
(2.) Labour to retain them, or a sense of them, upon your hearts and consciences. You have got nothing by losing so many of them already; and if you proceed in their neglect, after a while you will hear of them no more.
(3.) Put no more in them than belongs unto them. Do not presently conclude that your state is good, because you have been affected at the hearing of the word, or under a sickness, or in a danger. Hereon you may think that now all is well with them, wherewith they please themselves, until they are wholly immersed in their former security.
2. We may consider the difference that is between the habitual change of the affections before described, and that renovation by grace which renders them spiritual.
And this is of great concernment unto us all, to inquire into it with diligence. Multitudes are herein deceived, and that unto their ruin; for they resolve their present peace into, and build their hopes of eternal life on, such a change in themselves as will not abide the trial. This difference, therefore, is to be examined by Scripture light and the experience of them that do believe. And —
(1.) There is a double universality with respect unto the spiritual renovation of our affections — that which is subjective, with respect unto the affections themselves; and that which is objecive, with respect unto spiritual things.
[1.] Sanctification extends itself unto the “whole spirit, and soul, and body” (1 Thess 5:23).
When we say that we are sanctified in part only, we do not say that any part, power, or faculty of the soul is unsanctified, but only that the work is not absolutely perfect in any of them. All sin may retain power in some one affection, as anger, fear, or love, as unto actual eruptions and effects, more than in all the rest, as one affection may be more eminently sanctified in some than in others; for it may have advantages unto this end from men’s natural tempers and various outward circumstances. Hence, some find little difficulty in the mortification of all other lusts or corruptions in comparison of what they meet withal in some one ordinate affection or corruption.
This, it may be, David had regard unto, Psalm 18:23. I have known persons shining exemplarily in all other graces who have been scarce free from giving great scandal by the excess of their passions and easy provocation thereunto. And yet they have known that the setting themselves unto the sincere, vigorous mortification of that disorder is the most eminent pledge of their sincerity in other things; for the trial of our self-denial lies in the things that our natural inclinations lie strongest toward.
Howbeit, as was said, there is no affection where there is this work of renovation but it is sanctified and renewed; none of them is left absolutely unto the service of sin and Satan. And therefore, whereas, by reason of the advantages mentioned, sin doth greatly contend to use some of them unto its interest and service in a peculiar manner, yet are they enabled unto and made meet for gracious actings, and do in their proper seasons put forth themselves accordingly. There is no affection of the mind from whence the soul and conscience hath received the greatest damage — that was, as it were, the field whereon the contest is managed between sin and grace — but hath its spiritual use and exercise when the mind is renewed.
There are some so inordinately subject to anger, and passion therein, as if they were absolutely under the power and dominion of it; yet do they also know how to be “angry and sin not,” in being angry at sin in themselves and others: “Yea, what indignation; yea, what revenge!” etc (2 Cor 7:11). Yea, God is pleased sometimes to leave somewhat more than ordinary of the power of corruption in one affection, that it may be an occasion of the continual exercise of grace in the other affections.
Yet are they all sanctified in their degree, that which is relieved as well as that which doth relieve. And therefore, as the remainder of sin in them that believe is called “the old man,” which is to be crucified in all the members of it, because of its adherence unto the whole person in all its powers and faculties; so the grace implanted in our natures is called “the new man,” there being nothing in us that is not seasoned and affected with it. As nothing in our natures escaped the taint of sin, so nothing in our natures is excepted from the renovation that is by grace.
He in whom any one affection is utterly unrenewed hath no one graciously renewed in him. Let men take heed how they indulge to any depraved affection, for it will be an unavoidable impeachment of their sincerity. Think not to say, with Naaman, “God be merciful unto me in this thing; in all others I will be for him.”
He requires the whole heart, and will have it or none. The chief work of a Christian is to make all his affections, in all their operations, subservient unto the life of God (Rom 6:17,18); and he who is wise will keep a continual watch over those wherein he finds the greatest reluctancy thereunto. And every affection is originally sanctified according unto the use it is to be of in the life of holiness and obedience.
To be entire for God, to “follow him fully,” to “cleave unto him with purpose of heart,” to have the “heart circumcised to love him,” is to have all our affections renewed and sanctified; without which we can do none of them. When it is otherwise, there is a “double heart,” “a heart and a heart,” which he abhors: “Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty” (Hos 10:2).
So it is in the other change mentioned. Whatever is or may be wrought upon our affections when they are not spiritually renewed, that very change, as unto the extent of it, is not universal. It doth not affect the whole mind, in all its powers and affections, until a vital, prevailing principle and habit of grace is implanted in the soul. Sin will not only radically adhere unto all the faculties, powers, and affections, but it will, under any change that may befall them, refer the rule and dominion in some of them unto itself. So was it with the young man that came unto our Lord Jesus Christ to know what he should do to obtain eternal life (Mark 10:17-22).
Thus there are many who in other things are reduced unto moderation, sobriety, and temperance, yet there remaineth in them “the love of money” in a predominant degree; which to them is “the root of all evil,” as the apostle speaks. Some “seem to be religious,” but they “bridle not their tongues;” through anger, envy, hatred, and the like, “their religion is vain.”
The most of men, in their several ways of profession, pretend not only unto religion, but unto zeal in it, yet set no bounds unto their affections unto earthly enjoyments. Some of old, who had most eminently in all other things subdued their passions and affections, were the greatest enemies unto and persecutors of the gospel.
Some who seem to have had a mighty change wrought in them by a superstitious devotion, do yet walk in the spirit of Cain towards all the disciples of Christ – as it is with the principal devotionalists in the church of Rome; and elsewhere we may see some go soberly about the persecution and destruction of other Christians. Some will cherish one secret lust or other, which they cannot but know to be pernicious unto their souls. Some love the praise of men, which will never permit them to be truly spiritually minded: so our Saviour testifieth of some, that they “could not believe, because they loved the praise of men.”
This was the known vice of all the ancient philosophers. They had, many of them, on the principles of reason, and by severe exercise, subdued their affections unto great moderation about temporary things; but in the meantime were all of them slaves to vain-glory and the praise of men, until by the public observation of it, and some contradictions in their lives unto their pretences to virtue, they lost that, also, among wise and considerative men.
And generally, if men not spiritually renewed were able to search themselves, they would find that some of their affections are so far from having any change wrought in them, as that they are a quiet habitation for sin, where it exereiseth its rule and dominion.
[2.] There is a universality that is objective in spiritual things, with respect unto the renovation of our affections; that is, affections spiritually renewed do fix themselves upon and cleave unto all spiritual things, in their proper places, and unto their proper ends: for the ground and reason of our adherence unto any one of them is the same with respect unto them all – that is, their relation unto God in Christ.
Wherefore, when our affections are renewed, we make no choice in spiritual things, cleaving unto some and refusing others, making use of Naaman’s restraint; but our adherence is the same unto them all in their proper places and degrees. And if, by reason of darkness and ignorance, we know not any of them to be from God – as for instance, the observation of the Lord’s day – it is of unspeakable disadvantage unto us. An equal respect is required in us unto all God’s commands. Yet there are various distinctions in spiritual things, and thereon a man may and ought to value one above another as unto the degrees of his love and esteem, although he is to be sincere with respect unto them all:
1st. God himself – that is, as revealed in and by Christ – is in the first and chiefest place the proper and adequate object of our affections, as they are renewed.
He is so for himself, or his own sake alone. This is the spring, the centre, and chief object of our love. He that loves not God for himself – that is, for what he is in himself, and what from himself alone he is and will be unto us in Christ (which considerations are inseparable) – hath no true affection for any spiritual thing whatever.
And not a few do I here deceive themselves, or are deceived; which should make ua the more diligent in the examination of ourselves. They suppose that they love heaven and heavenly things, and the duties of divine worship — which persuasion may befall them on many grounds and occasions which will not endure the trial – but as unto God himself, they can give no evidence that they have any love to him, either on the account of the glorious excellencies of his nature, with their natural relation unto him and dependence on him, or on the account of the manifestation of himself in Christ, and the exercise of his grace therein.
But whatever may be pretended, there is no love unto God whereof these things are not the formal reason, that proceeds not from these springs. And because all men pretend that they love God, and defy them that think them so vile as not to do so, though they live in open enmity against him and hatred of him, it becomes us strictly to examine ourselves on what grounds we pretend so to do.
Is it because indeed we see an excellency, a beauty, a desirableness, in the glorious properties of his nature, such as our souls are refreshed and satisfied with the thoughts of, by faith, and in whose enjoyment our blessedness will consist, so that we always rejoice at the remembrance of his holiness? Is it our great joy and satisfaction that God is what he is? Is it from the glorious manifestation that he hath made of himself and all his holy excellencies in Christ, with the communication of himself unto us in and by him?
If it be so indeed, then is our love generous and gracious, from the renovation of our affections. But if we say we love God, yet truly know not why, or upon principles of education, and because it is esteemed the height of wickedness to do otherwise, we shall be at a loss when we are called unto our trial. This is the first object of our affections.
2dly. In other spiritual things, renewed affections do cleave unto them according as God is in them.
God alone is loved for himself; all other things for him, in the measure and degree of his presence in them. This alone gives them pre-eminence in renewed affections. For instance, God is in Christ, in the human nature of the man Christ Jesus, in a way and manner singular, in concern alike, incomprehensible, so as he is in the same kind in nothing else. Therefore is the Lord Christ, even as unto his human nature, the object of our affections in such a way and degree as no other thing, spiritual or eternal, but God himself, is or ought to be.
All other spiritual things become so from the presence of God in them, and from the degree of that presence have they their nature and use. Accordingly are they, or ought to be, the object of our affections as unto the degree of their exercise. Evidences of the presence of God in things and persons are the only attractives of renewed affections.
3dly. In those things which seem to stand in an equality as unto what is of God in them, yet on some especial occasions and reasons our love may go forth eminently unto one more than another.
Some particular truth, with the grace communicated by it, may have been the means of our conversion unto God, of our edification in an especial manner, of our consolation in distress; it cannot be but that the mind will have a peculiar respect unto and valuation of such truths and the grace administered by them.
And so it is as unto duties. We may have found such a lively intercourse and communion with God in some of them as may give us a peculiar delight in them.
But notwithstanding these differences, affections spiritually renewed do cleave unto all spiritual things as such; for the true formal reason of their so doing is the same in them all – namely, God in them: only they have several ways of acting themselves towards them, whereof I shall give one instance.
Our Saviour distributes spiritual things into those that are heavenly and those that are earthly, that is, comparatively so: “If I have told you earthly things, and you believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?” (John 3:12).
The “heavenly things” are the deep and mysterious counsels of the will of God. These renewed affections cleave unto with holy admiration and satisfactory submission, captivating the understanding unto what it cannot comprehend. So the apostle declares it, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed to him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things, to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom 11:33-36). What the mind cannot comprehend the heart doth admire and adore, delighting
in God, and giving glory unto him in all.
The “earthly things” intended by our Saviour in that place are the work of God upon the souls of men in their regeneration, wrought here in the earth. Toward these the affections act themselves with delight and with great thanksgiving. The experience of the grace of God in and upon believers is sweet unto their souls.
But one way or other they cleave unto them all; they have not a prevailing aversation unto any of them. They have a regard to all God’s precepts, a delight in all his counsels, a love to himself and all his ways.
Whatever other change is wrought on the affections, if they be not spiritually renewed, it is not so with them; for as they do not cleave unto any spiritual things, in their own true proper nature, in a due manner, because of the evidences of the presence of God in them, so there are always some of them whereunto those whose affections are not renewed do maintain an aversation and an enmity.
And although this frame doth not instantly discover itself, yet it will do so upon any especial trial. So was it with the hearers of our Saviour (John 6). There was a great impression made on their affections by what he taught them concerning “the bread of God, which came down from heaven and gave life unto the world;” for they cried thereon, “Lord, evermore give us this bread” (John 6:34): but when the mystery of it was farther explained unto them, they liked it not, but cried, “This is an hard saying, who can hear it?” (John 6:60); and thereon fell off both from him and his doctrine, although they had followed him so long as to be esteemed his disciples (John 6:66).
I say, therefore, whensoever men’s affections are not renewed, whatever other change may have been wrought upon them, as they have no true delight in any spiritual things or truths for themselves and in their own nature, so there are some instances wherein they will maintain their natural enmity and aversation unto them.
This is the first difference between affections spiritually renewed and those which, from any other causes, may have some kind of change wrought in them.