Original Posting At http://revmhj.com/blog//affections-1
I entered a bit of a sidetrack while reading for my DMin project on Christian perfection. For the last couple of days I have chased down some readings on what Jonathan Edwards) calls “Religious Affections”. Part of the reason for doing so is because I happened onto a paragraph in Fred Sanders’ Wesley on the Christian Life in which he connects Wesley to Puritan spirituality. I’m not at all surprised he makes the connection given Wesley had grandparents on both sides who were Puritans. Sanders notes that Wesley, “sounds so much like his contemporary Jonathan Edwards in his insistence on religious affections” (Sanders, 90).
This piqued my interest, so I started reading Edwards’ long treatise “On Religious Affections” and found myself surprised at how often Edwards writes passages sounding like they came straight out of A Plain Account of Christian Perfection or Wesley’s sermon On Zeal [^1]. Reading both Wesley and Edwards it strikes me that what they are talking about cannot be reduced to mere enthusiasm. What they are saying is that one cannot come into contact with the one true God, our Triune Creator, and come away unaffected. Arid spirituality is no spirituality at all. Faith cannot be mere mental assent, it must be accompanied by a change in our affections which Edwards’ defines as “exercises of the inclination and will of the soul.” How can one encounter God and come away unaffected? It reminds me of an early passage in Umberto Eco’s book Foucault’s Pendulum in which he writes, “A moment later the couple went off – he, trained on some textbook that had blunted his capacity for wonder, she, inert and insensitive to the thrill of the infinite, both oblivious of the awesomeness of their encoutner – their first and last encounter – with the One, the Ein-Sof, the Ineffable. How could you fail to kneel down before this altar of certitude?”
How can one encounter the Triune God and fail to kneel down before him? Either there was no encounter or we have blunted our capacity for wonder. We can blunt our affections. A year and a half ago, I made two lists: things that stir my affections for God and things that rob my affections for God.
What stirs your affections for God?
+ Praying with other people, particularly in groups.
+ When people pray for me before church.
+ Reading biographies of Methodist/holiness giants.
+ Listening to sermons by Dennis Kinlaw.
+ Victory over sin.
+ When people follow Jesus.
What robs your affections for God?
+ Frustration with myself.
+ Bawdy humor.
+ Not knowing what to do/indecision.
+ Giving in to self-gratifying desires, particularly food.
My intention in creating these lists wasn’t to engage in a form of Pharisaism, but instead to recognize when my affections were growing cold and to exercise the inclination of my heart in God’s direction by replacing, say, the internet with listening to sermons by Dennis Kinlaw.
Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Do you have anyone in your life who stirs your affections for God? In keeping with the heart of the Methodist revival of the 18th and 19th centuries, meeting together to stir one another up is an important practice which can keep our capacity for marveling over God’s majesty and love from fading out.
[^1]: Of particular note, Wesley says, “In a Christian believer love sits upon the throne which is erected in the inmost soul; namely, love of God and man, which fills the whole heart, and reigns without a rival,” while Edwards says that our where our affections have their “principle and original seat is in the heart” (Edwards 238)