Religious Affections, the Eleventh Sign
This week’s reading was brief and rather straightforward. Like the previous chapters it was challenging. It was also quite comforting, because it spoke so clearly to that odd tension/hunger that is part and parcel of the Christian life.
“Another great and very distinguishing difference between gracious affections and others is, that gracious affections, the higher they are raised, the more is a spiritual appetite and longing of soul after spiritual attainments, increased. On the contrary, false affections rest satisfied in themselves.
“The more a true saint loves God with a gracious love, the more he desires to love him, and the more uneasy is he at his want of love to him; the more he hates sin, the more he desires to hate it, and laments that he has so much remaining love to it; the more he mourns for sin, the more he longs to mourn for sin; the more his heart is broke, the more he desires it should be broke; the more he thirsts and longs after God and holiness, the more he longs to long, and breathe out his very soul in longings after God: the kindling and raising of gracious affections is like kindling a flame; the higher it is raised, the more ardent it is; and the more it burns, the more vehemently does it tend and seek to burn.”
“Spiritual good is of a satisfying nature; and for that very reason, the soul that tastes, and knows its nature, will thirst after it, and a fullness of it, that it may be satisfied. And the more he experiences, and the more he knows this excellent, unparalleled, exquisite, and satisfying sweetness, the more earnestly will he hunger and thirst for more, till he comes to perfection.”
I’ve found this to be the exact opposite of worldly satisfactions. I recall from the years before my conversion the many pleasures I sought satisfaction in. They were various, but all had this in common: they became increasingly less satisfying over time. I would chase harder and harder, consume more and more, seeking, yet never quite achieving, the original level of excitement.
Since coming to Christ, I know I can only find satisfaction in Him and that the more I seek it in Him the more I will find. He is an endless source of life and ever deepening satisfaction. As I write these words, I feel this day’s dryness. I’m keenly aware of the dullness of my affections at the moment. Yet I know, there is nowhere else to go, or nothing else in life that can satisfy me but Him. I’ve tasted of the fountain of living water. There is no longer any other cistern from which I want to draw. And I pray for a deeper, and stronger thirst to keep me drinking the water of life.
In a footnote, by way of contrast, Edwards quotes Shepard’s rather startling word regarding hypocrites:
“It is an argument of want of grace, when a man saith to himself, as the glutton said to his soul, take thy rest, for thou hast goods laid up for many years. So thou hast repentance, and grace, and peace enough for many years: and hence the soul takes its rest, grows sluggish and negligent. Oh, if you die in this case, this night thy soul shall be taken away to hell.”
Hypocrites rest on their laurels. Once again I’m reminded of the exhortation from the writer of Hebrews: “Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end, while it is said, ‘Today, when you hear his voice do not harden you hearts as in the rebellion.’” (Heb. 3: 12-15)
For the true Christian, “There is an inward burning desire that a saint has after holiness, as natural to the new creature, as vital heat is to the body. There is a holy breathing and panting after the Spirit of God, to increase holiness, as natural to a holy nature, as breathing is to a living body. And holiness or sanctification is more directly the object of it, than any manifestation of God’s love and favor. This is the meat and drink that is the object of the spiritual appetite; ‘My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work’ (John 4:34)….But neither a longing after great discoveries, or after great tastes of the love of God, nor longing to be in heaven, nor longing to die, are in any measure so distinguishing marks of true saints, as longing after a more holy heart, and living a more holy life.”
Next week we begin the 12th, and final, sign of true religious affections.
(All emphasis mine.)