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True religion, in great part, consists in the affections.
1. What has been said of the nature of the affections makes this evident; and may be sufficient, without adding any thing further, to put this matter out of doubt: for who will deny that true religion consists, in a great measure, in vigorous and lively actings of the inclination and will of the soul, or the fervent exercises of the heart? That religion which God requires, and will accept, does not consist in weak, dull, and lifeless wishes, raising us but a little above a state of indifference. God, in his word, greatly insists upon it, that we be in good earnest, fervent in spirit, and our hearts vigorously engaged in religion: Rom. xii. 11. “Be ye fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. ” Deut. x. 12. “And now Israel, what doth the 238 Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul?” And chap. vi. 4, 5. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” It is such a fervent, vigorous engagedness of the heart in religion, that is the fruit of a real circumcision of the heart, or true regeneration, and that has the promises of life: Deut. xxx. 6. “And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live. ”
If we be not in good earnest in religion, and our wills and inclinations be not strongly exercised, we are nothing. The things of religion are so great, that there can be no suitableness in the exercises of our hearts, to their nature and importance, unless they be lively and powerful. In nothing is vigour in the actings of our inclinations so requisite, as in religion; and in nothing is lukewarmness so odious. True religion is evermore a powerful thing; and the power of it appears, in the first place, in its exercises in the heart, its principal and original seat. Hence true religion is called the power of godliness, in distinction from external appearances, which are the form of it, 2 Tim. iii. 5. “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power of it.” The Spirit of God, in those who have sound and solid religion, is a Spirit of powerful holy affection; and therefore, God is said “to have given them the Spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind,” (2 Tim. i. 7.) And such, when they receive the Spirit of God in his sanctifying and saving influences, are said to be “baptized with the Holy Ghost, and with fire;’’ by reason of the power and fervour of those exercises which the Spirit of God excites in them, and whereby their hearts, when grace is in exercise, may be said to burn within them. (Luke xxiv. 32. .)
The business of religion is, from time to time, compared to those exercises, wherein men are wont to have their hearts and strength greatly exercised and engaged; such as running, wrestling, or agonizing for a great prize or crown, and fighting with strong enemies that seek our lives, and warring as those that by violence take a city or kingdom. Though true grace has various degrees, and there are some who are but babes in Christ, in whom the exercise of the inclination and will towards divine and heavenly things, is comparatively weak; yet every one that has the power of godliness, has his inclinations and heart exercised towards God and divine things with such strength and vigour, that these holy exercises prevail in him above all carnal or natural affections, and are effectual to overcome them: for every true disciple of Christ “loves him above father or mother, wife and children, brethren and sisters, houses and lands; yea more than his own life. ” Hence it follows, that wherever true religion is, there are vigorous exercises of the inclination and will towards divine objects: but by what was said before, the vigorous, lively, and sensible exercises of the will, are no other than the affections of the soul.
2. The Author of our nature has not only given us affections, but has made them very much the spring of actions. As the affections not only necessarily belong to the human nature, but are a very great part of it; so (inasmuch as by regeneration persons are renewed in the whole man) holy affections not only necessarily belong to true religion, but are a very great part of such religion. And as true religion is practical, and God hath so constituted the human nature, that the affections are very much the spring of men’s actions, this also shows, that true religion must consist very much in the affections.
Such is man’s nature, that he is very inactive, any otherwise than he is influenced by either love or hatred, desire, hope, fear, or some other affection. These affections we see to be the moving springs in all the affairs of life, which engage men in all their pursuits; and especially in all affairs wherein they are earnestly engaged, and which they pursue with vigour. We see the world of mankind exceedingly busy and active; and their affections are the springs of motion: take away all love and hatred, all hope and fear, all anger, zeal, and affectionate desire, and the world would be, in a great measure, motionless and dead: there would be no such thing as activity amongst mankind, or any earnest pursuit whatsoever. It is affection that engages the covetous man, and him that is greedy of worldly profits; it is by the affections that the ambitious man is put forward in his pursuit of worldly glory; and the affections also actuate the voluptuous man, in his pleasure and sensual delights. The world continues from age to age, in a continual commotion and agitation, in pursuit of these things; but take away affection, and the spring of all this motion would be gone; the motion itself would cease. And as in worldly things, worldly affections are very much the spring of men’s motion and action; so in religious matters, the spring of their actions are very much religious affections: he that has doctrinal knowledge and speculation only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of religion.
3. Nothing is more manifest in fact, than that the things of religion take hold of men’s souls no further than they affect them. There are multitudes who often hear the word of God, of things infinitely great and important, and which most nearly concern them, yet all seems to be wholly ineffectual upon them, and to make no alteration in their disposition or behaviour; the reason is, they are not affected with what they hear. There are many who often hear of the glorious perfections of God, his almighty power, boundless wisdom, infinite majesty, and that holiness by which he is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity; together with his infinite goodness and mercy. They hear of the great works of God’s wisdom, power, and goodness, wherein there appear the admirable manifestations of these perfections. They hear particularly of the unspeakable love of God and Christ, and what Christ has done and suffered. They hear of the great things of another world, of eternal misery, in bearing the fierceness and wrath of almighty God; and of endless blessedness and glory in the presence of God, and the enjoyment of his love. They also hear the peremptory commands of God, his gracious counsels and warnings, and the sweet invitations of the gospel. Yet they remain as before, with no sensible alteration, either in heart or practice, because they are not affected with what they hear. I am bold to assert, that there never was any considerable change wrought in the mind or conversation of any person, by any thing of a religious nature that ever he read, heard, or saw, who had not his affections moved. Never was a natural man engaged earnestly to seek his salvation; never were any such brought to cry after wisdom, and lift up their voice for understanding, and to wrestle with God in prayer for mercy; and never was one humbled, and brought to the foot of God, from any thing that ever he heard or imagined of his own unworthiness and deservings of God’s displeasure; nor was ever one induced to fly for refuge unto Christ, while his heart remained unaffected. Nor was there ever a saint awakened out of a cold, lifeless frame, or recovered from a declining state in religion, and brought back from a lamentable departure from God, without having his heart affected. And, in a word, there never was any thing considerable brought to pass in the heart or life of any man living, by the things of religion, that had not his heart deeply affected by those things.
4. The Holy Scriptures every where place religion very much in the affections; such as fear, hope, love, hatred, desire, joy, sorrow, gratitude, compassion, and zeal.
The Scriptures place much of religion in godly fear; insomuch that an experience of it is often spoken of as the character of those who are truly religious persons. They tremble at God’s word, they fear before him, their flesh trembles for fear of him, they are afraid of his judgments, his excellency makes them afraid, and his dread falls upon them, &c. An appellation commonly given the saints in Scripture, is, fearers of God, or they ”that fear the Lord. And because this is a great part of true godliness, hence true godliness in general is very commonly called the fear of God.
So hope in God, and in the promises of his word, is often spoken of in the Scripture, as a very considerable part of true religion. It is mentioned as one of the three great things of which religion consists, 1 Cor. xiii. 13. Hope in the Lord is also frequently mentioned as the character 239 of the saints: Psal. cxlvi. 5. “Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God.” Jer. xvii. 7. “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope, the Lord is.” Psal. xxxi. 24. “Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.” And the like in many other places. Religious fear and hope are, once and again, joined together, as jointly constituting the character of the true saints: Psal. xxxiii. 18. “Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy.” Psal. cxlvii. 11. “The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.” Hope is so great a part of true religion, that the apostle says we are saved by hope, Rom. viii. 24.. And this is spoken of as the helmet of the Christian soldier, 1 Thess. v. 8. “And for an helmet, the hope of salvation;” and the sure and stedfast anchor of the soul, which preserves it from being cast away by the storms of this evil world, Heb. vi. 19. “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the vail.” It is spoken of as a great benefit which true saints receive by Christ’s resurrection, 1 Pet. i. 3. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
The Scriptures place religion very much in the affection of love; love to God, and the Lord Jesus Christ; love to the people of God, and to mankind. The texts in which this is manifest, both in the Old Testament and New, are innumerable. But of this more afterwards. The contrary affection of hatred also, as having sin for its object, is spoken of in Scripture as no inconsiderable part of true religion. It is spoken of as that by which true religion may be known and distinguished. Prov. viii. 13. “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.” Accordingly, the saints are called upon to give evidence of their sincerity by this, Psal. xcvii. 10. “Ye that love the Lord, hate evil.” And the psalmist often mentions it as an evidence of his sincerity; Psal. ci. 2, 3. “I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside.” Psal. cxix. 104. “I hate every false way.” So ver. 128. Again, Psal. cxxxix. 21. “Do I not hate them, O Lord, that hate thee?”
So holy desire, exercised in longings, hungerings, and thirstings after God and holiness, is often mentioned in Scripture as an important part of true religion: Isa. xxvi. 8. ” The desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee.” Psal. xxvii. 4. “One thing have I desired of the Lord, and that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” Psal. xlii. 1, 2. “As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” Psal. lxiii. 1, 2. “My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee, in a dry and thirsty land where no water is: to see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.” Psal. lxxxiv. 1, 2. “How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” Psal. cxix. 20. “My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times.” 416416 So Psal. lxxiii. 25. cxliii. 6, 7. cxxx. 6. Cant. iii. 1, 2. vi. 8. Such a holy desire, or thirst of soul, denotes a man truly blessed: Matt. v. 6. “Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” And this holy thirst is connected with the blessings of eternal life: Rev. xxi. 6. “I will give unto him that is athirst, of the fountain of the water of life freely.”
The Scriptures speak of holy joy, as a great part of true religion. So it is represented in the text. And as an important part of religion, it is often pressed with great earnestness; Psal. xxxvii. 4. ”Delight thyself in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” Psal. xcvii. 12. ”Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous.” So Psal. xxxiii. 1. ”Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous.” Matt. v. 12. ”Rejoice, and be exceeding glad.” Phil. iii. 1. “Finally, brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” And Phil. iv. 4. ”Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, rejoice.“ 1 Thess. v. 16. ”Rejoice evermore.” Psal. cxlix. 2. “Let Israel rejoice in Him that made him: let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.” This is mentioned among the principal fruits of the Spirit of grace, Gal. v. 22. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy,” &c.—The psalmist mentions his holy joy, as an evidence of his sincerity, Psal. cxix. 14. “I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches.”
Religious sorrow, mourning, and brokenness of heart, are also frequently spoken of as a great part of true religion. These things are often mentioned as distinguishing qualities of the true saints, and a great part of their character: Matt. v. 4. “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” Psal. xxxiv. 18. “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” Isa. lxi. 1, 2. “The Lord hath anointed me—to bind up the broken hearted,—to comfort all that mourn.” This godly sorrow and brokenness of heart is often spoken of, not only as a distinguishing character of the saints, but as that in them, which is peculiarly acceptable and pleasing to God: Psal. li. 17. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” Isa. lvii. 15. “Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is holy, I dwell in the high and holy place; with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” Chap. lxvi. 2. “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit.”
Another affection often mentioned, as that in the exercise of which much of true religion appears, is gratitude; especially as exercised in thankfulness and praise to God. This being so much spoken of in the book of Psalms, and other parts of the Holy Scriptures, I need not mention particular texts.
Again, the Holy Scriptures frequently speak of compassion or mercy, as a very great and essential thing in true religion; insomuch that a merciful man, and a good man, are equivalent terms in Scripture: Isa. lvii. 1. “The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart; and merciful men are taken away.” And the Scripture chooses out this quality, as that by which, in a peculiar manner, a righteous man is deciphered: Psal. xxxvii. 21. “The righteous showeth mercy, and giveth; and ver. 26. “He is ever merciful, and lendeth.” And Prov xiv. 31. “He that honoureth the Lord, hath mercy on the poor.” And Col. iii. 12. “Put ye on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels OF mercies,” &c. This is one of those great things, by which the truly blessed are described by our Saviour, Matt. v. 7. “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” And this Christ also speaks of, as one of the weightier matters of the law, Matt. xxiii 23. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.” To the like purpose is Mic. vi. 8. “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good: and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God?” And also Hos. vi. 6. “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice;” a text much delighted in by our Saviour, it seems, by his manner of citing it once and again. (Matt. ix. 13. xii. 7. )
Zeal is also spoken of, as a very essential part of the religion of true saints. This was a great thing which Christ had in view, in giving himself for our redemption: Tit. ii. 14. “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” And this was the great thing wanting in the luke-warm Laodiceans. (Rev. iii. 15, 16, 19. )
I have mentioned but a few texts, out of an innumerable multitude, which place religion very much in the affections. But what has been observed may be sufficient to show, that they who maintain the contrary, must throw away what we have been wont to own for our Bible, and 240 get some other rule by which to judge of the nature of religion.
5. The Scriptures represent true religion, as being summarily comprehended in love, the chief of the affections, and the fountain of all others. So our blessed Saviour represents the matter, in answer to the lawyer who asked him, Which was the great commandment of the law? (Matt. xxii. 37-40.) “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” These two commandments comprehend all the duty prescribed in the law and the prophets. And the apostle Paul makes the same representation of the matter; as in Rom. xiii. 8. “He that loveth another, hath fulfilled the law.” And Rom. xiii. 10.verse 10. “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” And Gal. v. 14. “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” So likewise in 1 Tim. i. 5. “Now the end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart,” &c. The same apostle speaks of love, as the greatest thing in religion, as the essence and soul of it; without which, the greatest knowledge and gifts, the most glaring profession, and every thing else which appertains to religion, are vain and worthless. He also represents it as the fountain from whence proceeds all that is good, in 1 Cor. xiii. throughout; for that which is there rendered charity, is in the original NOT ENGLISH the proper English of which is love.
Now, although it be true, that the love thus spoken of, includes the whole of a sincerely benevolent propensity of the soul towards God and man; yet, it is evident from what has been before observed, that this propensity or inclination of the soul, when in sensible and vigorous exercise, becomes affection, and is no other than affectionate love. And surely it is such vigorous and fervent love, which Christ represents as the sum of all religion, when he speaks of loving God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds, and our neighbour as ourselves.
Indeed it cannot be supposed, when this affection of love is spoken of as the sum of all religion, that hereby is meant the act, exclusively of the habit, or that the exercise of the understanding is excluded, which is implied in all reasonable affection. But it is doubtless true, and evident from the Scriptures, that the essence of all true religion lies in holy love; and that in this divine affection—and habitual disposition to it, that light which is the foundation to it, and those things which are its fruits—consists the whole of religion.
From hence it clearly and certainly appears, that great part of true religion consists in the affections. For love is not only one of the affections, but it is the first and chief of them, and the fountain of all the others. From love arises hatred of those things which are contrary to what we love, or which oppose and thwart us in those things that we delight in: and from the various exercises of love and hatred, according to the circumstances of the objects of these affections, as present or absent, certain or uncertain, probable or improbable, arise all those other affections of desire, hope, fear, joy, grief, gratitude, anger, &c. From a vigorous, affectionate, and fervent love to God, will necessarily arise other religious affections; hence will arise an intense hatred and a fear of sin; a dread of God’s displeasure; gratitude to God for his goodness; complacence and joy in God when he is graciously and sensibly present; grief when he is absent; a joyful hope when a future enjoyment of God is expected; and fervent zeal for the divine glory. In like manner, from a fervent love to men, will arise all other virtuous affections towards them.
6. The religion of the most eminent saints of whom we have an account in the Scripture, consisted much in holy affections.—I shall take particular notice of three eminent saints, who have expressed the frame and sentiments of their own hearts, described their own religion, and the manner of their intercourse with God, in the writings which they have left us, and which are a part of the sacred canon.
The first instance is David, that man after God’s own heart; who has given us a lively portraiture of his religion in the book of Psalms. Those holy songs are nothing else but the expressions and breathings of devout and holy affections; such as an humble and fervent love to God, admiration of his glorious perfections and wonderful works, earnest desires, thirstings, and pantings of soul after him; delight and joy in God, a sweet and melting gratitude for his great goodness, a holy exultation and triumph of soul in his favour, sufficiency, and faithfulness; his love to, and delight in, the saints, the excellent of the earth, his great delight in the word and ordinances of God, his grief for his own and others’ sins, and his fervent zeal for God, and against the enemies of God and his church. And these expressions of holy affection of which the Psalms of David are every where full, are the more to our present purpose, because those psalms are not only the expressions of the religion of so eminent a saint, but were also, by the direction of the Holy Ghost, penned for the use of the church of God in its public worship, not only in that age, but in after ages; as being fitted to express the religion of all saints, in all ages, as well as the religion of the psalmist. And it is moreover to be observed, that David, in the book of Psalms, speaks not as a private person, but as the Psalmist of Israel, as the subordinate head of the church of God, and leader in their worship and praises; and in many of the psalms, he speaks in the name of Christ, as personating him in these breathings forth of holy affections; and in many others he speaks in the name of the church.
Another instance I shall observe, is the apostle Paul; who was, in many respects, the chief of all the ministers of the New Testament; being above all others a chosen vessel unto Christ, to bear his name before the Gentiles. He was made the chief instrument of propagating and establishing the christian church in the world, and of distinctly revealing the glorious mysteries of the gospel, for the instruction of the church in all ages; and (as not improbably thought by some) was the most eminent servant of Christ that ever lived, and received the highest rewards in the heavenly kingdom of his Master. By what is said of him in the Scripture, he appears to have been a person full of affection; and it is very manifest, that the religion he expresses in his epistles, consisted very much in holy affections. It appears by all his expressions of himself, that he was, in the course of his life, inflamed, actuated, and entirely swallowed up, by a most ardent love to his glorious Lord, esteeming all things as loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of him, and esteeming them but dung that he might win him. He represents himself as overpowered by this holy affection, and as it were compelled by it to go forward, in his service, through all difficulties and sufferings, 2 Cor. v. 14, 15. And his epistles are full of expressions of an overflowing affection towards the people of Christ: he speaks of his dear love to them, 2 Cor. xii. 19. Phil. iv. 1, 2. 1 Tim. i. 2. of his abundant love, 2 Cor. ii. 4. and of his affectionate and tender love, as of a nurse towards her children, 1 Thess. ii. 7, 8. “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: so, being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.” So also he speaks of his bowels of love, Phil. i. 8. Philem. 5, 12, 20. of his earnest care for others, 2 Cor. viii. 16. of his bowels of pity or mercy towards them, Phil. ii. 1. and of his concern for others, even to anguish of heart, 2 Cor. ii. 4. “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart, I wrote unto you with many tears; not that you should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you.” He speaks of the great conflict of his soul for them, Col. ii. 1. and of great and continual grief he had in his heart from compassion to the Jews, Rom. ix. 2. He speaks of his mouth being opened, and his heart enlarged towards Christians, 2 Cor. vi. 11. “O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged.” He often speaks of his affectionate and longing desires,( 1 Thess. ii. 8. Rom. i. 11. Phil. i. 8. iv. 1. 2 Tim. i. 4. )
The same apostle very often, in his epistles, expresses the affection of joy, (2 Cor. i. 12. vii. 7 9, 16. Phil. i. 4 ii. 1,2. iii. 3. 241 Col. i. 24. 1 Thess. iii. 9. ) He speaks of his rejoicing with great joy, (Phil. iv. 10. Philem. 1, 7. ) of his joying and rejoicing, (Phil. ii. 1, 7. ) of his rejoicing exceedingly, (2 Cor. vii. 13. ) being filled with comfort, exceeding joyful, (2 Cor. vii. 4. ) and always rejoicing, (2 Cor. vi. 10.) So he speaks of the triumphs of his soul, (2 Cor. ii. 14. ) and of his glorying in tribulation, (2 Thess. i. 4. Rom. v. 3.) In Phil. i. 20. he speaks of his earnest expectation, and his hope. He likewise expresses an affection of godly jealousy, 2 Cor. xi. 2, 3. And it appears by his whole history, after his conversion, that the affection of zeal, as having the cause of his Master and the interest and prosperity of his church for its object, was mighty in him, continually inflaming his heart, strongly engaging to great and constant labours, in instructing, exhorting, warning, and reproving others, travailing in birth with them; conflicting with those powerful and innumerable enemies who continually opposed him, wrestling with principalities and powers, not fighting as one who beats the air, running the race set before him, continually pressing forwards through all manner of difficulties and sufferings; so that others thought him quite beside himself. And how full he was of affection further appears by his being so full of tears; in 2 Cor. ii. 4. he speaks of his many tears; and so Acts xx. 19. and of his tears that he shed continually, night and day, ver. 31.
Now if any one can consider these accounts given in the Scripture of this great apostle, and which he gives of himself, and yet not see that his religion consisted much in affection, he must have a strange faculty of managing his eyes in order to shut out the light which shines most full in his face.
The other instance I shall mention, is that of the apostle John, the beloved disciple, who was the nearest and dearest to his Master of any of the twelve, and who was by him admitted to the greatest privileges of any of them. He was not only one of the three who were admitted to be present with him in the mount at his transfiguration, and at the raising of Jairus’s daughter, and whom he took with him when he was in his agony, and one of three spoken of by the apostle Paul, as the three main pillars of the christian church; but he was favoured above all, in being admitted to lean on his Master’s bosom at his last supper, and in being chosen by Christ as the disciple to whom he would reveal his wonderful dispensations towards his church, to the end of time. By him was shut up the canon of the New Testament, and of the whole Scripture; and he was preserved much longer than all the rest of the apostles, to set all things in order in the christian church after their death.
It is evident by all his writings, that he was a person remarkably full of affection: his addresses to those whom he wrote to, being inexpressibly tender and pathetic, breathing nothing but the most fervent love; as though he were all made up of sweet and holy affection. The proofs of which cannot be given without disadvantage, unless we should transcribe his whole writings.
7. He whom God sent into the world, to be the light of the world and the head of the whole church, and the perfect example of true religion and virtue for the imitation of all, the Shepherd whom the whole flock should follow wherever he goes, even the Lord Jesus Christ, was of a remarkably tender and affectionate heart; and his virtue was expressed very much in the exercise of holy affections. He was the greatest instance of ardency, vigour, and strength of love, to both God and man, that ever was. It was these affections which got the victory, in that mighty struggle and conflict of his affections, in his agonies, when he prayed more earnestly, and offered strong crying and tears, and wrestled in tears and in blood. Such was the power of the exercises of his holy love, that they were stronger than death, and in that great struggle, overcame those strong exercises of the natural affections of fear and grief, when he was sore amazed, and his soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.
He also appeared to be full of affection, in the course of his life. We read of his great zeal, fulfilling that expression in the 69th Psalm, “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up,” John ii. 17. We read of his grief for the sins of men, Mark iii. 5. “He looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts;” and his breaking forth in tears and exclamations, from the consideration of the sin and misery of ungodly men, and on the sight of the city of Jerusalem, which was full of such inhabitants, Luke xix. 41, 42. “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.” With chap. xiii. 34. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee: how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” We read of Christ’s earnest desire, Luke xxii. 15. “With desire have I desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer.” We often read of the affection of pity or compassion in Christ, (Matt. xv. 32. xviii. 34. Luke vii. 13. ) and of his being moved with compassion, (Matt. ix. 36. xiv. 14. Mark vi. 34. ) And how tender did his heart appear to be, on occasion of Mary’s and Martha’s mourning for their brother, and coming to him with their complaints and tears! Their tears soon drew tears from his eyes; he was affected with their grief, and wept with them; though he knew their sorrow should so soon be turned into joy, by their brother being raised from the dead: see John xi. And how ineffably affectionate was that last and dying discourse, which Jesus had with his eleven disciples the evening before he was crucified; when he told them he was going away, and foretold them the great difficulties and sufferings they should meet with in the world, when he was gone; and comforted and counselled them, as his dear little children; and bequeathed to them his Holy Spirit, and therein his peace, his comfort and joy, as it were in his last will and testament, in the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th chapters of John; . and concluded the whole with that affectionate intercessory prayer for them, and his whole church, in John xvii. Of all the discourses ever penned or uttered by the mouth of any man, this seems to be the most affectionate and affecting.
8. The religion of heaven consists very much in affection.—There is doubtless true religion in heaven, and true religion in its utmost purity and perfection. But according to the scripture representation of the heavenly state, the religion of heaven consists chiefly in holy and mighty love and joy, and the expression of these in most fervent and exalted praises. So that the religion of the saints in heaven, consists in the same things with that religion of the saints on earth, which is spoken of in our text, viz. love, and joy unspeakable, and full of glory. Now, it would be very foolish to pretend, that because the saints in heaven are not united to flesh and blood, and have no animal fluids to be moved (through the laws of union of soul and body) with those great emotions of their souls, that therefore their exceeding love and joy are no affections. We are not speaking of the affections of the body, but those of the soul, the chief of which are love and joy. When these are in the soul, whether that be in the body or out of it, the soul is affected and moved. And when they are in the soul, in that strength in which they are in the saints in heaven, it is mightily affected and moved, or, which is the same thing, has great affections. It is true, we do not experimentally know what love and joy are in a soul out of a body, or in a glorified body; i. e. we have not had experience of love and joy in a soul in these circumstances; but the saints on earth do know what divine love and joy in the soul are, and they know that love and joy are of the same kind with the love and joy which are in heaven, in separate souls there. The love and joy of the saints on earth, is the beginning and dawning of the light, life, and blessedness of heaven, and is like their love and joy there; or rather, the same in nature, though not the same in degree and circumstances. 417417 This is evident by many scriptures, as Prov. iv. 18. John iv. 14. vi.40, 47, 50, 51, 54, 58. iii. 15. 1 Cor. xiii. 8-12. It is unreasonable therefore to suppose, that the love and joy of the saints in heaven differ not only in degree and circumstances, from the holy love and joy of the saints on earth, 242 but also in nature, so that they are no affections; and merely because they have no blood and animal spirits to be set in motion by them. The motion of the blood and animal spirits is not of the essence of these affections, in men on the earth, but the effect of them; although by their reaction they may make some circumstantial difference in the sensation of the mind. There is a sensation of the mind which loves and rejoices, antecedent to any effects on the fluids of the body; and therefore, does not depend on these motions in the body, and so may be in the soul without the body. And wherever there are the exercises of love and joy, there is that sensation of the mind, whether it be in the body or out; and that inward sensation, or kind of spiritual feeling, is what is called affection. The soul, when it is thus moved, is said to be affected, and especially when this inward sensation and motion are to a very high degree, as they are in the saints in heaven. If we can learn any thing of the state of heaven from the Scripture, the love and joy that the saints have there, is exceeding great and vigorous; impressing the heart with the strongest and most lively sensation of inexpressible sweetness, mightily moving, animating, and engaging them, making them like to a flame of fire. And if such love and joy be not affections, then the word affection is of no use in language.—Will any say, that the saints in heaven, in beholding the face of their Father and the glory of their Redeemer, in contemplating his wonderful works, and particularly his laying down his life for them, have their hearts nothing moved and affected by all which they behold or consider?
Hence, therefore, the religion of heaven, being full of holy love and joy, consists very much in affection: and therefore, undoubtedly, true religion consists very much in affection. The way to learn the true nature of any thing, is to go where that thing is to be found in its purity and perfection. If we would know the nature of true gold, we must view it, not in the ore, but when it is refined. If we would learn what true religion is, we must go where there is true religion, and nothing but true religion, and in its highest perfection, without any defect or mixture. All who are truly religious are not of this world, they are strangers here, and belong to heaven; they are born from above, heaven is their native country, and the nature which they receive by this heavenly birth, is a heavenly nature, they receive an anointing from above; that principle of true religion which is in them, is a communication of the religion of heaven; their grace is the dawn of glory; and God fits them for that world by conforming them to it.
9. This appears from the nature and design of the ordinances and duties, which God hath appointed, as means and expressions of true religion.
To instance in the duty of prayer: it is manifest, we are not appointed, in this duty, to declare God’s perfections, his majesty, holiness, goodness, and all-sufficiency; our own meanness, emptiness, dependence, and unworthiness, our wants and desires, in order to inform God of these things, or to incline his heart, and prevail with him to be willing to show us mercy; but rather suitably to affect our own hearts with the things we express, and so to prepare us to receive the blessings we ask. And such gestures and manner of external behaviour in the worship of God, which custom has made to be significations of humility and reverence, can be of no further use, than as they have some tendency to affect our own hearts, or the hearts of others.
And the duty of singing praises to God, seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned, why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only, that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections.
The same thing appears in the nature and design of the sacraments, which God hath appointed. God, considering our frame, hath not only appointed that we should be told of the great things of the gospel and the redemption of Christ, and be instructed in them by his word; but also that they should be, as it were, exhibited to our view in sensible representations, the more to affect us with them.
And the impressing of divine things on the hearts and affections of men, is evidently one great end for which God has ordained, that his word delivered in the Holy Scriptures, should be opened, applied, and set home upon men, in preaching. And therefore it does not answer the aim which God had in this institution, merely for men to have good commentaries and expositions on the Scripture, and other good books of divinity; because, although these may tend, as well as preaching, to give a good doctrinal or speculative understanding of the word of God, yet they have not an equal tendency to impress them on men’s hearts and affections. God hath appointed a particular and lively application of his word, in the preaching of it, as a fit means to affect sinners with the importance of religion, their own misery, the necessity of a remedy, and the glory and sufficiency of a remedy provided; to stir up the pure minds of the saints, quicken their affections by often bringing the great things of religion to their remembrance, and setting them in their proper colours, though they know them, and have been fully instructed in them already, 2 Pet. i. 12, 13. And particularly, to promote those two affections in them, which are spoken of in the text, love and joy: “Christ gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; that the body of Christ might be edified in love,”. Eph. iv. 11, 12, 16. The apostle, in instructing and counselling Timothy, concerning the work of the ministry, informs him, that the great end of that word which a minister is to preach, is love or charity, 1 Tim. i. 3-5. And God has appointed preaching as a means to promote in the saints joy: therefore ministers are called helpers of their joy, 2 Cor. i. 24.
10. It is an evidence that true religion lies very much in the affections, that the Scriptures place the sin of the heart very much in hardness of heart. It was hardness of heart which excited grief and displeasure in Christ towards the Jews, Mark iii. 5. “He looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” It is from men’s having such a heart as this, that they treasure up wrath for themselves; Rom. ii. 5. “After thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” The reason given why the house of Israel would not obey God, was, that they were hard-hearted; Ezek. iii. 7. “But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me; for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted.” The wickedness of that perverse rebellious generation in the wilderness, is ascribed to the hardness of their hearts; Psal. xcv. 7-10. “To-day if ye will hear my voice, harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness; when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work: forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart,” &c.—This is spoken of as what prevented Zedekiah’s turning to the Lord, 2 Chron. xxxvi. 13. “He stiffened his neck, and hardened his heart from turning to the Lord God of Israel.” This principle is that from whence men are without the fear of God, and depart from his ways: Isa. lxiii. 17. “O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways? and hardened our heart from thy fear?” And men rejecting Christ, and opposing Christianity, are charged with this principle; Acts xix. 9. “But divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude.”—God’s leaving men to the power of the sin and corruption of the heart, is often expressed by his hardening their hearts; Rom. ix. 18. “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” John xii. 40. “He hath blinded their minds, and hardened their hearts.” And the apostle seems to speak of an evil heart, that departs from the living God, and a hard heart, as the same thing, Heb. iii. 8. “Harden not your heart, as in the provocation,” &c. verse 12, 13. “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God: but exhort one another daily while it is called to-day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” And that great work of God in conversion, which consists in delivering a person from the power of sin, and mortifying corruption, is expressed, once and again, by God’s “taking away the heart of stone, 243 and giving a heart of flesh, (Ezek. xi. 19. xxxvi. 26. )
Now, by a hard heart is plainly meant an unaffected heart, or a heart not easy to be moved with virtuous affections, like a stone, insensible, stupid, unmoved, and hard to be impressed. Hence the hard heart is called a stony heart, and is opposed to a heart of flesh, that has feeling, and is sensibly touched and moved. We read in Scripture of a hard heart, and a tender heart: and doubtless we are to understand these, as contrary the one to the other. But what is a tender heart, but a heart which is easily impressed with what ought to affect it? God commends Josiah, because his heart was tender: and it is evident by those things which are mentioned as expressions and evidences of this tenderness of heart, that by it is meant, his heart being easily moved with religious and pious affections: 2 Kings xxii. 19. “Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the Lord, when thou heardst what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and went before me, I also have heard thee, saith the Lord.” And this is one thing, wherein it is necessary we should become as little children, in order to our entering into the kingdom of God, even that we should have our hearts tender, and easily affected and moved in spiritual and divine things, as little children have in other things.
It is very plain in some places, that by hardness of heart is meant a heart void of affection. So, to signify the ostrich’s being without natural affection to her young, it is said, Job xxxix. 16.. “She hardeneth her heart against her young ones, as though they were not hers.” So a person having a heart unaffected in time of danger, is expressed by his hardening his heart, Prov. xxviii. 14. “Happy is the man that feareth alway; but he that hardeneth his heart, shall fall into mischief.”
Now, therefore, since it is so plain, that by a hard heart in Scripture, is meant a heart destitute of pious affections; and since also the Scriptures so frequently place the sin and corruption of the heart in its hardness; it is evident, that the grace and holiness of the heart, on the contrary, must in a great measure consist in its having pious affections, and being easily susceptive of such affections. Divines are generally agreed, that sin radically and fundamentally consists in what is negative, or privative, having its root and foundation in a privation or want of holiness. And therefore undoubtedly, if sin very much consist in hardness of heart, and so in the want of pious affections, holiness does consist very much in those pious affections.
I am far from supposing that all affections manifest a tender heart; hatred, anger, vain-glory, and other selfish and self-exalting affections, may greatly prevail in the hardest heart. But yet it is evident, that hardness of heart, and tenderness of heart, are expressions that relate to the affections of the heart, and denote its being susceptible of, or shut up against, certain affections; of which I shall have occasion to speak more afterwards.
Upon the whole, I think it clearly and abundantly evident, that true religion lies very much in the affections. Not that I think these arguments prove, that religion in the hearts of the truly godly, is ever in exact proportion to the degree of affection and present emotion of the mind: for, undoubtedly, there is much affection in the true saints which is not spiritual; their religious affections are often mixed; all is not from grace, but much from nature. And though the affections have not their seat in the body, yet the constitution of the body may very much contribute to the present emotion of the mind. The degree of religion is to be estimated by the fixedness and strength of habit exercised in affection, whereby holy affection is habitual, rather than by the degree of the present exercise: and the strength of that habit is not always in proportion to outward effects and manifestations, or indeed inward ones, in the hurry, vehemence, and sudden changes of the course of the thoughts. But yet it is evident, that religion consists so much in the affections, as that without holy affection there is no true religion. No light in the understanding is good, which does not produce holy affection in the heart; no habit or principle in the heart is good, which has no such exercise; and no external fruit is good, which does not proceed from such exercises.
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