“I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart! …Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways” – Psa. 119:32, 37
There is nothing in this world that will draw a person’s heart and soul more vehemently to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to embolden them toward faithful obedience to Him than a heart full of love that is affectionately desirous of Him. There is a beautiful, Gospel example of this in Mark 14:1-9, that describes a woman (probably Mary of Bethany) who has one thing, one aspiration on her mind, and she pursues the Lord Jesus with all of her heart, and is affectionately moved to serve the Lord!
The woman in Mark 14 pushed past social constraints for women of her day, entered a room full of men, and took the most expensive heirloom in her possession to break it lovingly, and poured the fragrant, sacrificial offering over the head of Christ. This was an affectionate anointing of devoted love to Jesus. What undivided and wholehearted devotion this woman had, to give herself and all she had unto the Lord Jesus in that way!? This woman desired Jesus more than anything else; she needed Him; she wanted to serve Him. In fact, it was this woman’s affections for the Lord Jesus moving her to holy actions and devoted works that is still remembered today (Mark 14:9).
“And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” – Mark 14:9
This woman doesn’t say a word, but her affections influenced by the Gospel love and holiness of her Savior, shows to us what affections can and will do when influenced, enamored and empowered by Jesus and His love: Our affections will desire, they will seek after, they will serve, and they will produce an abundance of good works (John 15:10; Eph. 2:10; Tit. 2:7,11-14).
This is a beautiful Gospel picture of what our Puritan forefathers taught us concerning the affections. If our affections have been spiritually ravished by the holy love of God, and the soul desires more of that love in Jesus Christ, then that soul will pursue Christ, His holiness, and heaven with earnest desire and desperate passion (Col. 3:1-4). The Puritans taught that a soul cannot get a true saving sight of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ by faith and remain neutral or indifferent; we will to drawn to Him, we will desire to be like Him (2 Cor. 3:18).
Can we have this kind of whole-hearted devotion as Christians living today? Yes! By the work of the Holy Spirit we will desire Christ and recognize our desperate need for Him, and deep emptiness apart from Him. By God’s grace and through the Spirit’s work, we can begin to move toward Christ in closer communion. When we learn to delight in Him, to please Him, and to desire to be like Him, we will grow fuller and fuller, and increasingly desire to be with Him. Yes, we will struggle against our flesh, and against the temptations that are in the world, and will often be assaulted by the devil, but the Holy Spirit can help us with even the least amount of faith in Jesus Christ to progressively grow in our love and devotion to Jesus Christ; our affections for Him can grow. Though we have indwelling sin remaining in believers, we also have indwelling grace to help us as we keep in step with the Spirit, and seek to grow in Him (Gal. 5:25; 2 Pet. 1:3-11).
Believers are drawn by the Holy Spirit to Jesus Christ. This is one of the Spirit’s blessed desires and works on our behalf. In fact, in our union with Christ, the Spirit’s work is involved in renovating our minds, wills, and affections so that we will grow in Christ (John 16:13-14; Eph. 4:22-32). We can be drawn to and ravished by the Lord Jesus’s love for us. The Savior delights to give Himself for His people and to His people. The Psalmist says unto God:
“One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.” – Psa. 27:4
The Psalmist’s prayer to the LORD is his holy desire to delight in God. He desires nothing more than to seek after and fulfill this longing, or desire within him. What does he desire to do? He wants to dwell in God’s holy presence, and to worship and adore God, and to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD all of his days, beholding God with eyes of faith. He desires to meditate upon God in His holy presence.
This is a holy, Spirit-driven desire to delight in God. This is a singular, undivided, wholly devoted desire that has been given to him by the Lord God Himself. In Richard Sibbes’ (1577-1635) classic devotional sermon “A Breathing After God,” which is an exegesis and application of Psalm 27:4, he described the loving affections of one seeking God as a “breathing after God” and he used these endearing and sweetly devoted terms to describe the soul’s affections or longings that results in seeking after and finding contentment, joy, felicity, happiness, and satisfaction in God.
Sibbes described our affections that have been emboldened by the Holy Spirit as the “searchings of the heart” because the heart will seek until it finds rest and satisfaction; true “felicity” because in God true joy and happiness is found; “desire and expectation” because God is what our souls desire, and who they were created to wait upon as servant-creatures dependent upon their Lord; “beating of the pulse of desires” because our heart beats for who we love the most; the “sweetest manner”, a “sweet experience”, “the sweet, alluring, beauty of God”, “delightful and sweet”, “ravished” to “relish spiritual things”; these terms Sibbes used to gloriously and affectionately describe our hearts’ desires for God in Christ as given strength and direction by the Holy Spirit.1Richard Sibbes, A Breathing After God in The Works of Richard Sibbes (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, reprint 2004), II: 210-48.
For the Puritans, our hearts’ affections should cause us to desire after God, to desire to live for God, and to think sweet, loving, and beautiful thoughts of God (Phil. 4:8). When our affections have been acted upon by the Spirit, believers will seek to delight our souls in the LORD (Psa. 37:4), to desire to singularly seek and “gaze upon the beauty of the LORD” (Psa. 27:4), to seek to behold the “power and glory” of God (Psa. 63:2), to behold the king in His beauty with spiritual eyes of faith (Isa. 33:17), to see by faith that He is “altogether desirable” (Song of Solomon, 5:16 ESV), or “altogether lovely” (Song of Solomon, 5:16 KJV), to be “satisfied as with fat and rich food” in God (Psa. 63:5), to realize that God is our portion (Psa. 16:5), and that there is nothing else in heaven or upon earth that we desire more than God, and that it is good to be as near to Him as possible (Psa. 73:25, 28)!
In God, we can find, by His grace and mercy, all of our desires fulfilled. We can behold, by faith, the sweet, alluring, beauty of God! The “beauty of God”!? Is this something the soul can now behold by faith? Yes! This is a wonderful blessing of seeking after and finding fellowship and communion with God. But this is only by God’s grace as it is found abundantly in Christ. Jesus is fullness of grace for all of us! From His fullness He desires to saturate our affections with His love (John 1:16; Col. 2:9; Rom. 5:5).
Do you know of these kind of longings for Christ? Do you have these desires for Christ? God will gladly grant you this (Luke 11:13; 12:32). “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psa. 37:4). Have you asked Him for this kind of love and affection for Christ? Have you understood your need of Him? Take a moment to ask God to fill your soul with His love, granting you joy and satisfaction in your life today.
Remember, the Spirit of God loves to take from Christ’s love and make it known to us; He loves for us to be enamored and smitten by the love of Jesus, to set our affections on things above where Christ is at God’s right hand, and to grow us in Christ-likeness. Ask Him now to grant this to you, and live by faith in Jesus, a friend of sinners. Christ, by His Spirit has given us an anointing to know the truth of His love for us, and to serve Him affectionately.
Part II: Understanding the Affections
In Christ’s Love,