Keep Your Heart (3)
“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6.45
The fruit of the heart
King Hezekiah served God all the days of his life, in everything he did, “with all his heart” (2 Chron. 31.21). Only late in life, when his wealth and power were at their greatest, was the heart of Hezekiah “lifted up”, whereupon the Lord sent a sickness to humble him in his pride. To his credit, Hezekiah was (2 Chron. 32.25).
Yet the seeds of self-interest took root during that season of his life, and later, when the envoys from Babylon arrived, Hezekiah could not resist the temptation to show them all his wealth, that they might be sure to know what a great man he was. At that point, “God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that he might know all that was in his heart” (my translation: I think “he” is better than “He” since God obviously already knew what was in the proud king’s heart).
Hezekiah died in heart failure, but not of his physical heart. He allowed his affections to stray from absolute devotion to God, and he set his people up for destruction by his failure of heart before the Lord.
The heart is that sector or faculty of the soul which generates, harbors, and deploys affections. Together with the mind and the conscience, it comprises the spiritual center of our lives, the soul. The heart is the seat of affections. Affections are the sentiments, feelings, attitudes, and so forth that characterize and move us, what Jonathan Edwards called the “more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul.” Affections are the fruit of the heart, and the heart is the heart of it all when it comes to determining the condition of our faith in God.
Edwards is most helpful in analyzing the nature of the affections. He explains that “the affections are of two sorts; they are those by which the soul is carried out to what is in view, cleaving to it, or seeking it; or those by which it is averse from it, and opposes it.” He continues, “Of the former sort are love, desire, hope, joy, gratitude, complacence. Of the latter kind are hatred, fear, anger, grief, and such like…”
Thus, we might say, our hearts generate and harbor affections which incline us toward certain people, things, situations, and so forth, as well as affections which cause us to draw back from or to avoid these same.
Valid and useful
Both kinds of affections are valid and useful. It’s not that we want our lives to be characterized only by what we might construe as the positive affections – love, joy, gratitude and so forth – while we work hard not to harbor within us any of what we might regard as the negative attitudes – hate, anger, grief, and the like. Edwards insists, and he is correct, that both kinds of affections exist in us, are valid, and are given to us to shape us in the direction of holiness.
The key is to understand the different kinds of affections, to make sure they are properly focused and intensified, and to keep watch over our heart so that our affections continue to function as God intends.
Let’s explore this a bit further. We might conclude, by reading a passage such as Luke 6.45, that the goal of keeping our hearts with all vigilance, is to nurture and expand positive affections and to suppress or eradicate negative affections. That is, we want only love, peace, and joy in our souls, and none of that anger, hatred, or sorrow.
But this would be a wrong conclusion. What really matters, and what determines the kind of person we are, and the vigor and health of our faith, are three things: Are all the affections God has placed in our souls functioning? Are they focused on the proper objects? And are we nurturing and keeping them to greater vigor and intensity as we should?
An example can help us at this point. Let’s take the affection of love. Love is that affection which most inclines us toward someone or something. Of course, we want to have love working in our souls. The presence of love in our heart is a sign that this affection is perhaps ready to work as it should.
But we must make sure that love, which Edwards described as the supreme or commanding affection, is focused on the right objects – namely, God and our neighbors – and with the proper intensity. We must love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves. We must not love the world, as the apostles John and James warned. We must not love sin. We must love God and our neighbors. Love is rightly focused when it aims at those objects God prescribes. Hezekiah doubtless loved God into his old age; but at some point, his love became more focused on himself than on God or God’s people. At that point, God withdrew from him.
We must love God with all our heart – surely a condition we will spend our lives working to improve – and our neighbors as we love ourselves, so that we treat them with the same care and concern with which we treat ourselves. We shall have to spend the rest of our lives improving our heart for such love.
The affection of love within us is rightly focused and with proper intensity when it meets the criteria spelled out for us in Scripture: love God supremely and in all things, and love your neighbor as yourself.
So true religion consists in making sure that we understand affections, that all our affections are engaged and properly focused, and that we are guarding and developing our affections – keeping watch over our hearts, as Solomon has it – so that we may continue to grow and flourish in a vigorous and lively expression of faith (Prov. 4.23). . Keeping our hearts means keeping them strong in all the affections God has set there, and all the affections properly focused and intensified. Hezekiah failed to keep the affections of his heart rightly focused on God and His people. We don’t want that to happen to us.
We cannot expect to grow in true faith without such diligent guarding and nurturing of our hearts, engaging all our affections in love for God and our neighbors, and developing this love to ever greater degrees of intensity.
1. What would be some examples of the affections that incline us toward someone or something.
2. What would be some examples of the affections that incline us away from someone or something.
3. Give examples of how each these affections operate in your life.
Next steps – Conversation: Talk with some Christian friends about how you might help one another increase in love for God and your neighbors. Commit what you decide to the Lord in prayer.
T. M. Moore
Your soul in the Kingdom of God
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.