“My son, give me thine heart…” (Prov. 23:26, KJV)
“The great contest of heaven and earth is about the affections of the poor worm which we call man….Affections are in the soul as the helm in the ship; if it be laid hold on by a skillful hand, He turneth the whole vessel which way He pleaseth.”1John Owen, Spiritual Mindedness, in Works, VII: 395, 397.
Holy affections lead to holy desires that seek to live holy and happy lives before God. Pastor and theologian John Owen (1616-83) wrote that “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 every affection is originally sanctified according unto the use it is to be of in the life of holiness and obedience.”2Owen, VII: 419. God calls His Beloved “to be Holy as He is Holy”; the goal of our renewed affections is holiness (Lev. 19:2; 1 Pet. 1:15-16). True believers want to be like Christ.
We must remember that in tasting and seeing the Lord is good, and enjoying the experiential element, that we do not forget the end goal is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. We are to enjoy God most faithfully by seeking to obey Him and live for Him by His grace for God’s glory; this is what makes the regenerate person truly happy. We should not forget that the Holy Spirit’s main ministry is not to give thrills but to create in us Christ-like character.3J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 31.
The Puritans desired for us to desire and know God, and to commune with Him, and to be spiritually thrilled by Him by tasting His goodness experientially, but their main focus was on becoming like Christ. The Puritans were mature in their holiness, and wanted God’s people to possess this same maturing holy character for the glory of God.4Ibid., 23. J. I. Packer writes that the Puritans “exemplified maturity, and they had integrated lives committed to glorifying God and growing in holiness.” The Puritans taught that the best way of cultivating holy affections, and growing in holiness and sincere obedience to Christ was through communing with the Persons of the Triune God. This sweet and holy communion was particularly achieved as the believer meditated on the beauty and grace of God in the face of Jesus Christ with the eyes of faith. The Puritans encouraged believers to “keep their eyes on Jesus” the Author and Perfector of our faith! (Heb. 12:1-2).5See Ambrose, Isaac. Looking Unto Jesus: A View of the Everlasting Gospel (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1986). Also John Owen. The Glory of Christ and Communion with God in Works, Volumes … Continue reading This gazing upon Christ would produce Christ-like holiness and happiness even in the direst and desperate circumstances that the believer might experience.
The Bible teaches us in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” This means that there are degrees of transforming glory whereby the soul is changed into the likeness of Jesus Christ through gazing with eyes of faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are to seek to grow in to maturity into our Head who is Christ (Eph. 4:11-16), to seek to be like Jesus in our lives, and to make our calling and election sure by increasing by degrees in our qualities and Christ-likeness through faith (2 Pet. 1:3-11). The Puritans taught this was primarily obtained by looking to Christ.6Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 13. Packer wrote that “to get the love of Christ in focus changes one’s whole existence.”
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) wrote: “The least glimpse of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ does more to exalt and ennoble the soul” than anything else in this world. “This knowledge is that which is above all others sweet and joyful…This light gives a view of those things that are immensely the most exquisitely beautiful, and capable of delighting the eye of understanding. This spiritual light is the dawning of the light of glory in the heart.”7Jonathan Edwards, A Divine and Supernatural Light, in Works, II: 17-18. As we behold Jesus in His glory and loveliness and beauty, our affections are ravished and our desires deepened for Him, so we desire to be like Him. We want to have the same loveliness and beauty He possesses. We desire Him to think of us as more lovely as a bride prepares herself for her bridegroom. We want God to say “You are my Beloved…in whom I am well pleased” not merely in our justification, or being made right with God in our union with Jesus in His holiness, but also in our sanctification. As Pastor Thomas Doolittle (1630-1707) said: “Love produces assimilation.” To love Christ is to desire to be like Him!8Rev. Thomas Doolittle, A. M., “Assurance is Possible,” in Puritan Sermons 1659-1689 (Wheaton, Ill.: Richard Owen Roberts, 1981), 1:261. Doolittle wrote that the signs of true love to God include … Continue reading
John Owen taught that beholding Jesus in His beauty, loveliness and holiness was the principal exercise of our faith, and the only truly satisfying, safe and joyful way to go through both life and death. He said that this beholding of Jesus in His glory was “one of the greatest privileges and advancements of believers, both in this world and unto eternity”.9Owen, The Glory of Christ, in Works, I: 286. He wrote that “our apprehension of this glory is the spring of all our obedience, consolation, and hope in this world.”10Owen, Christologia, in Works, I: 243. The beholding Christ by faith will prepare us spiritually for heaven in growing us up in maturity and holiness of life.11Owen, The Glory of Christ, in Works, I: 291. The looking to Christ with spiritual eyes of faith will grow us and mature us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Owen wrote: “No man can by faith take a real view of this glory, but virtue will proceed from it in a transforming power to change him ‘into the same image,’ 2 Cor. 3:18.” As the soul is fixed and focused in its thoughts and contemplations on Christ, it will become increasingly holy, serene, and spiritual.12John Owen, The Glory of Christ, in Works, I: 292.
A human being made in God’s image is made for happiness, and the soul of man will persistently seek after and pursue happiness. Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) wrote that happiness is desirable by all men, and naturally grafted in every man; it is “the center of all the searchings of his heart and the turnings of his life.”13Richard Sibbes, A Breathing After God, in Works, II: 211. Tragically, because of the fall, and the sinful rebellion of man against God, men will seek to find happiness in all the wrong things and people. A human being can never see, and thus never be satisfied and drawn in their affections toward Christ without the work of the Holy Spirit. But once the soul is regenerated, it can only be happy in this holiness; it can only be truly satisfied and happy as with “fat and rich food” (Psa. 63:5) in Christ, enjoying a degree of holiness with Him.
Thomas Brooks (1608-1680) wrote that a soul can never be truly happy until he is truly holy.14Thomas Brooks, Works, IV: 246. Because man was created for God, and because God is holy, man can never know true happiness until He is like God. Man’s soul was to reflect God, and to rest in God, and to be satisfied with God. There is nothing in this creation that was designed to take the place of God and bring full satisfaction and enjoyment in the soul, but God. Therefore, one cannot be truly happy unless one is truly holy—that is, to be like God.
The soul in Christ can never be miserable and empty with God in Christ. Brooks wrote, “If you have holiness nothing can make you miserable; but if you lack holiness, nothing can make you happy.”15Brooks, Works, IV: 300. Holiness is its own reward, says Brooks. Holiness gives to the soul blessed “sights, sweet tastes…secret love-tokens…comfort and joy.”16Brooks, Works, IV: 174. Sibbes wrote that God is goodness itself. He is all excellency, beauty, and goodness. Nothing can make us happy but drawing near to God (Psa. 73:28). The more we are convinced of God’s goodness, the better we are; for God’s goodness tasted and felt by the soul, does ennoble it, as a pearl set in a gold ring makes it the more rich and precious.”17Sibbes, The Saints’ Happiness, in Works, VII: 71.
Sibbes wrote that God “planted in man by nature a desire of holiness, and a desire of happiness…”18Sibbes, A Fountain Sealed, in Works, IV: 412-13. Love and delight carry the soul with them…”19Sibbes, A Fountain Sealed, in Works, IV: 419. He wrote, “Delight is most transcendent for pleasantness…God in Christ…is delightful and sweet…God be never so beautiful in Himself, if He be not beautiful to us in Christ, and in His Church.”20Sibbes, A Breathing After God, in Works,, II: 229-30. Let us gaze on the beauty of God in Christ, such as the mercy and love in Christ, the grace and love in Christ. Sibbes wrote affectionately that if we would see the glory of God, it appears most in God’s grace, mercy, and lovingkindness as it is revealed in Christ (Ex. 34:6).21Sibbes, A Breathing After God, in Works, II: 230. When our affections are drawn in love to Jesus Christ as He is revealed in the Gospel, there will be a humble and reverent admiration, and “admiring love.”
The more we are with God in communion with Him, we desire Him more, and we desire to be freer and freer from the pollution of our sins. Although we are united to Christ by faith, and there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus, nevertheless, we as believers still struggle with remaining indwelling sin. If we keep our communion with God, our desire for holiness can only increase. Sibbes counseled believers that as we increase in our desires for God and in our holiness, then we should turn our desires into prayers for further mortification and freedom from indwelling sin. “As many desires as we have, let them be so many prayers; turn our desires into prayers to God.”22Sibbes, A Breathing After God, in Works, II: 222. Our prayer ought to be: “Spirit of God, make me love the best things—give me an appetite and hunger for the best things!!”
Richard Sibbes wrote that love was the “first-born affection.” Love breeds desire of communion with God that causes joy and rejoicing in Him, and then the heart of man will pant after God as the deer pants after the water springs (Psa. 42:1).23Sibbes, The Saints’ Happiness, in Works, VII: 69. Sibbes taught that there was a movement toward, or inclination driven by love that brought joy, and then obedience.24Sibbes, The Saints’ Happiness, in Works,, VII: 70. Sibbes encouraged believers to have a holy eyesight, that is, a spiritual eyesight given by the Holy Spirit to see the beauty and glory of Christ (cf. Psa. 45:1ff). How can we see the beauty of God? Spiritual senses, spiritual eye-sight and spiritual taste that are given by the Spirit of Christ.25Sibbes, Breathing After God, in Works, II: 238. Sibbes wrote that the Spirit must help us to see the beauty of Christ through the ordinances, to shine on us in the face of the Son. He wrote: “Of sight comes love. David had spiritual eyes, and he desired to feed his spiritual eye-sight with the best object that could be, for therein is the happiness of man.”26Sibbes, A Breathing After God, in Works, II: 237. We can strengthen our spiritual senses through prayer, and through meditating on God’s goodness and love to us in Jesus Christ.27Sibbes, Breathing After God, in Works, II: 238-39. Let us desire to confess with the Psalmist:
“One thing have I desired 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 behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple” – Psa. 27:4, KJV
Holy affections lead to holy desires that seek to live holy and happy before God.
Are you desirous of communion with God? Do you desire to be like Christ more than anything else in this world? What is your true heart’s desire? Do you live holy before Him in reliance upon His grace? Are you happy?
To be continued…Part V: The Affections and the Beauty of Holiness, Part 2
In Christ’s Love,
|↑1||John Owen, Spiritual Mindedness, in Works, VII: 395, 397.|
|↑2||Owen, VII: 419.|
|↑3||J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 31.|
|↑4||Ibid., 23. J. I. Packer writes that the Puritans “exemplified maturity, and they had integrated lives committed to glorifying God and growing in holiness.”|
|↑5||See Ambrose, Isaac. Looking Unto Jesus: A View of the Everlasting Gospel (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1986). Also John Owen. The Glory of Christ and Communion with God in Works, Volumes 1-2.|
|↑6||Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 13. Packer wrote that “to get the love of Christ in focus changes one’s whole existence.”|
|↑7||Jonathan Edwards, A Divine and Supernatural Light, in Works, II: 17-18.|
|↑8||Rev. Thomas Doolittle, A. M., “Assurance is Possible,” in Puritan Sermons 1659-1689 (Wheaton, Ill.: Richard Owen Roberts, 1981), 1:261. Doolittle wrote that the signs of true love to God include (1) Unfeigned desires to be like Him: “Love produces assimiliation”; (2) A hearty desire to be united to Him, to have Him with you; “Nothing is more social and gregarious in its nature than love”; (3) Your great care to please Him; “If you love me, keep my commandments…”; (4) The love that we bear unto His image; we love His likeness in others.”|
|↑9||Owen, The Glory of Christ, in Works, I: 286.|
|↑10||Owen, Christologia, in Works, I: 243.|
|↑11||Owen, The Glory of Christ, in Works, I: 291.|
|↑12||John Owen, The Glory of Christ, in Works, I: 292.|
|↑13||Richard Sibbes, A Breathing After God, in Works, II: 211.|
|↑14||Thomas Brooks, Works, IV: 246.|
|↑15||Brooks, Works, IV: 300.|
|↑16||Brooks, Works, IV: 174.|
|↑17||Sibbes, The Saints’ Happiness, in Works, VII: 71.|
|↑18||Sibbes, A Fountain Sealed, in Works, IV: 412-13.|
|↑19||Sibbes, A Fountain Sealed, in Works, IV: 419.|
|↑20||Sibbes, A Breathing After God, in Works,, II: 229-30.|
|↑21||Sibbes, A Breathing After God, in Works, II: 230.|
|↑22||Sibbes, A Breathing After God, in Works, II: 222.|
|↑23||Sibbes, The Saints’ Happiness, in Works, VII: 69.|
|↑24||Sibbes, The Saints’ Happiness, in Works,, VII: 70.|
|↑25||Sibbes, Breathing After God, in Works, II: 238.|
|↑26||Sibbes, A Breathing After God, in Works, II: 237.|
|↑27||Sibbes, Breathing After God, in Works, II: 238-39.|