“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” – 1 Peter 1:2-3
Why do we have affections? We have affections that move us like this because we are made in God’s image and likeness (Gen. 1:26-28). God has built into our souls a desire for communion and fellowship with Him. As our forefather Augustine (354-430) said warmly about our hearts: “Thou [O God] movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee.”1Aurelius Augustine, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, ed. Whitney J. Oates, in The Basic Writings of Saint Augustine 2 Vols. (New York, NY: Random House Publishers), II:3. Similarly, Puritan forefather Richard Sibbes wrote that the soul is “never at rest till it rests on Christ. Then it is afraid to break with Him or to displease Him, but it grows zealous and resolute, and hot in love (my emphasis)…”2Richard Sibbes, The Saints’ Happiness, in Works, VII: 69.
God has placed affections in our souls similar to His own affections. We were created to desire Him and to be satisfied in Him. As God delights in Himself as the Triune God, so He “built us” to delight in Him and find a similar complacency, joy and happiness. Apart from God, the soul can never be completely happy and content. Our affections are enflamed with passion as our hearts seek to be satisfied and happy in God. Richard Sibbes in his affectionate and gracious sermon entitled “The Spouse, Her Earnest Desire” described fellowship and communion with the Triune God in these ways: Fellowship with God was a “sweet banquet”, a time for desires to be satisfied and to desires to be increased, a “sweet taste of the love of Christ,” a “longing desire”, “love tokens” from God, and a love that was “sweeter than wine”.3Richard Sibbes, The Spouse, Her Earnest Desire After Christ, in Works, II: 200-208. Notice the use of language of delicacies and delights, of food and drink and love and fellowship. Some of the sweetest of created pleasures and treasures from God are used to lift up our eyes and hearts to the Living God, in order to understand the joy and delight we can have in Him alone. In other words, we are to taste with our souls the goodness and kindness and mercy of God from deep within our hearts!
Sibbes uses this descriptive language that conjures up in our imaginations the aromas of a delightful banquet, the warm embrace and loving fellowship of friends and family, the morsels of delicacy that are tasty in our mouths and satisfying in our bellies, and are beautifully described so our soul’s will be affected as God’s people to enjoy our Glorious Bridegroom and to see His loveliness in all of His beauty! (cf. Psa. 45). Because of God’s love for sinners in Jesus Christ, He has formally and finally betrothed Himself to us in love (Hos. 2:14-21). We are to respond as redeemed lovers (said with all reverence) to our Lord and Husband, with the quiet, gentle and content submission of a loving wife.
Thomas Shepard (1605-1649) wrote of Jesus Christ our desirous Bridegroom who is a “match made in Heaven”: “Here is a match for you; choose Him, get your affections, if entangled [with worldly, mere created objects and things that do not satisfy], to come off if ensnared.”4Thomas Shepard, The Parable of the Ten Virgins, 41. Once we taste of God’s love in the Bridegroom, these desires are to a certain degree satisfied, and once satisfied, the soul desires much more of Him. Richard Sibbes wrote:
“If there were but a taste, there would be a further desire of growth in that love. In fact, Christ will have the whole heart and the whole affections, or He will have neither heart nor affections. We are to be undivided in our hearts, and wholly devoted unto Him for His pleasure—for our pleasure!5Richard Sibbes, The Spouse, Her Earnest Desire After Christ, in Works, II: 205-207.
What will motivate us to seek this love in Christ? Simply, the motive to seek Him will begin when we realize His unfailing and unrelenting and untiring effort to seek us out and find us even while sinners—to condescend to live and die for us, even while His enemies (Rom. 5:6-11; 1 Jo. 4:7-19). His amazing and unbelievable love for sinners makes us love Him. The Bible teaches us that we love because God first loved us (1 Jo. 4:19). This love is an electing love that is rooted in eternity past in the affections and love of the Triune God. In other words, our love, affections, and desires that we have for God is because He first set His affections and desires upon us in Jesus Christ. This was because God desired to glorify Himself through us, in and through our affections and desire for Him. “To the praise of His glorious grace” in Jesus (Eph. 1:6).
This love was made complete by the Eternal Son willingly taking our nature unto Himself in personal, permanent, and holy subsistence and union to live and die for sinners; to be raised for His own, and to be enthroned at God’s right hand, having made purification for our sins (Heb. 1:3-4; 2:11-16). Jesus is the glorious God-Man who was given a people by the Father (John 17), who would be His beautiful and holy Bride. The Holy Spirit unites the sinner through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and gives to us His love, and His joy, and fellowship with God, who pours out God’s love into our hearts so that we get a “tang of the transcendent upon the heart” or taste of delight and joy in God’s love in and through the means of grace He has provided for us to grow (Rom. 5:5).6C. S. Lewis, Pilgrim’s Regress, 1933; quoted in J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, Il.: Crossway Books, 1990), 15. Lewis wrote: “That tang of … Continue reading
This love of God stirs us up to seek after God, and His glory and honor, and or inward communion with Him from the heart.7Sibbes, A Breathing After God, in Works, II: 220. This love is the fountain from which all the affections toward God flow. We are to be convinced by the Holy Scriptures, and through the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit that we are loved in Jesus Christ. From this love, flows forth all of our desires to come nearer to God, find our all in Him, and to commune with Him, to be like Him. John Owen valued the experience of communion with God as sweeter than life itself. For him, it was for him the ultimate delight.8John Owen, Works, II:24ff. John Owen taught that we must have this taste, or experience of God’s grace, in order to grow and flourish. He wrote:
Experience [of God’s love in Christ] is the food of all grace. Every taste that faith obtains of divine love and grace, or how gracious the Lord is, adds to its measure and stature.9Owen, Works, III:447-49.
Owen in particular, and the Puritan forefathers in general taught that if we are to make progress as Christians, we must have proper experiences or tastes of God’s love in Christ, or we will not grow. In fact, when times get difficult, one who has not tasted God’s goodness by the Spirit through the Word, will not endure; the “good fight” or daily, spiritual conflict in Christ will not seem to be worth the effort and sacrifice. Owen wrote:
Get an experience of the power of the Gospel, and all the ordinances of it, in and upon your hearts, or all your profession is an expiring thing; –unless, I say, you find the power of God upon your own hearts in every ordinance, expect not any continuance in your profession [of faith]. If the preaching of the word be not effectual unto the renewing of your souls, the illuminating of your minds, the endearing of your hearts to God,–if you do not find power in it, you will quickly reason with yourselves upon what account should you adventure trouble and reproach for it. If you have an experience of this power upon your hearts, it will recover all your recoiling, wandering thoughts, when you find you cannot live without it. It is so as to every ordinance whatever; unless we have some experience of the benefit of it, and the power and efficacy of the grace of God in it, we can never expect to abide in our profession of it (my emphasis).10Owen, Works, IX:237
By nature our affections are tainted and marred by sin, deformed and depraved, along with our minds and wills. By nature, sin has kept us from seeing the bright and wonderful light of God, and we cannot feel the warmth of the truth, nor are we inclined to move toward God. We cannot taste and see the Lord is good; we do not believe God is good in our sinful estate. Holy affections and desires are given to us in our regeneration as a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit that is implanted in our souls. We can grow by God’s Spirit, through His Word, as we do not merely know that God is faithful, but taste His faithfulness as we respond to His grace through His Word by our obedience. As we taste God’s faithfulness, we grow in our experience of God’s faithfulness, and so our faith continues to grow. We must taste and see the Lord is good toward us, and we must know the love of God in Christ that “surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:17-19). The Apostle prays for the Ephesian Christians in this way:
“…So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith- that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (my emphasis).
John Owen wrote that a true Christian should have the “most intense affections of our souls on the Person of Christ, being overcome until we are sick with love. He wrote importantly that the normal, growing Christian has “constant motions…toward Him with delight and adherence.”11John Owen, Christologia: Glorious Mystery of the Person of Christ, in Works, I:167. Jonathan Edwards wrote in his excellent sermon “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” that a man who has had the work of the Spirit upon his soul has, “…A sense (taste) of the gloriousness of God in his heart…a sense (taste) of the loveliness of God’s holiness….Thus there is a difference between having an opinion that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense (taste) of that loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace.”12Jonathan Edwards, A Divine and Supernatural Light, in Works, II: 16-17.
We can be thankful to God for this gift of communion with Him, to be able to taste and experience God’s goodness, because when we desire this, we can act upon these truths of Scripture by praying, and they can be increased.13Richard Sibbes, The Spouse, Her Earnest Desire After Christ, in Works, II: 207. Richard Sibbes wrote that if God gives the desire, He means to give the thing desired—therefore pray earnestly for it!14Richard Sibbes, Breathing After God, in Works, II: 225. One way that we can grow in our affections toward God and His Holiness revealed in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ is to stay fixed and focused in our communion with God through prayer until we experience a taste, or sense an enjoyment, or ravishment of our hearts, deep in our souls as we engage in our duties. Thomas Brooks wrote of fellow Puritan John Bradford,
“…That he could not leave a duty until he had found communion with Christ in the duty; he could not give off (quit) a duty until his heart was brought into a duty frame; he could not leave off confession until he had found his heart humbled and melted under the sense of his sin; he could not give over petitioning until he had found his heart taken with the beauties of the things desired, and strongly carried out (“carried away”) after the enjoyment of them. Neither could he leave thanksgiving until he had found his spirit enlarged… (my emphasis)”15Thomas Brooks, The Necessity, Excellency, Rarity, and Beauty of Holiness, in The Works of Thomas Brooks (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2001), IV: 148.
As we have learned, there is an important experiential element in obtaining a taste of God’s goodness in our duties and privileges such as prayer and the seeking after God in worship and means of grace.16The experiential element might be called “the ‘tang’ of the transcendent in the everyday that hits the heart,” as C. S. Lewis aptly put it! Quoted in Packer, Quest for Godliness, 31. We are to expect great things from God, and to seek Him until our hearts are merry with the reality and truths of how God is revealed to us in Holy Scripture. Our souls are responding with delight—we are delighting in the LORD! This may not happen every time we go to perform our duties in the Lord Jesus Christ, but it is good to seek to taste and experience these things, and ask each time for the Holy Spirit to be pleased to give them. It motivates us to want to have more of Jesus, and thus also to be more like Jesus. Thomas Shepard wrote: “Labor to find out the true sweetness [in Christ’s love]…a man’s affections, like streams, must run some way…It is a rule in theology, stop the affections from running to the creature [or mere created things], and in a sincere heart it will run unto Christ.”17Thomas Shepard, Parable of the Ten Virgins, 94.
John Owen, always the eminently practical believer and pastor, gave to us a summary of how we might contemplate and meditate upon Christ, so that He would dwell in our thoughts and affections. He taught that we are to engage in intense prayer for the Spirit of wisdom and revelation (see Eph. 1:15ff); to diligently study God’s Word to behold Christ by faith (see 2 Cor. 3:17-19); to have a sincere love and delight in these things revealed by God’s Spirit until our hearts are affected and we rejoice with ‘joy inexpressible and full of glory’ (1 Pet. 1:8); these meditations and contemplations ought to be attended with thankfulness and praise.18John Owen, Epistle to the Hebrews, III: 316-18. This will help us to taste and see the LORD is good! To say with Job: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you…” (Job 42:5).
Have you tasted that the LORD is good? More of this privilege in our next study!
Part IV: The Affections and the Beauty of Holiness
In Christ’s Love,
|↑1||Aurelius Augustine, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, ed. Whitney J. Oates, in The Basic Writings of Saint Augustine 2 Vols. (New York, NY: Random House Publishers), II:3.|
|↑2||Richard Sibbes, The Saints’ Happiness, in Works, VII: 69.|
|↑3||Richard Sibbes, The Spouse, Her Earnest Desire After Christ, in Works, II: 200-208.|
|↑4||Thomas Shepard, The Parable of the Ten Virgins, 41.|
|↑5||Richard Sibbes, The Spouse, Her Earnest Desire After Christ, in Works, II: 205-207.|
|↑6||C. S. Lewis, Pilgrim’s Regress, 1933; quoted in J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, Il.: Crossway Books, 1990), 15. Lewis wrote: “That tang of the transcendent in the everyday that hits the heart like a blow as one experiences and enjoys things, revealing itself ultimately as a longing not satisfied by any created realities or relationships, but assuaged only in self-abandonment to the Creator’s love in Christ.”|
|↑7||Sibbes, A Breathing After God, in Works, II: 220.|
|↑8||John Owen, Works, II:24ff.|
|↑9||Owen, Works, III:447-49.|
|↑10||Owen, Works, IX:237|
|↑11||John Owen, Christologia: Glorious Mystery of the Person of Christ, in Works, I:167.|
|↑12||Jonathan Edwards, A Divine and Supernatural Light, in Works, II: 16-17.|
|↑13||Richard Sibbes, The Spouse, Her Earnest Desire After Christ, in Works, II: 207.|
|↑14||Richard Sibbes, Breathing After God, in Works, II: 225.|
|↑15||Thomas Brooks, The Necessity, Excellency, Rarity, and Beauty of Holiness, in The Works of Thomas Brooks (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2001), IV: 148.|
|↑16||The experiential element might be called “the ‘tang’ of the transcendent in the everyday that hits the heart,” as C. S. Lewis aptly put it! Quoted in Packer, Quest for Godliness, 31.|
|↑17||Thomas Shepard, Parable of the Ten Virgins, 94.|
|↑18||John Owen, Epistle to the Hebrews, III: 316-18.|