Keep Your Heart (2)
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16.7
Looking on our hearts
The heart is the place to look to determine the state or condition of one’s faith –whether it be true or false, lively or feeble. The Lord Himself looks on the heart, to see what’s brewing there, to observe the bent or inclination of a person’s soul, what a person loves and desires, and to respond in ways appropriate to what He sees there – whether to reject the person, as He did with King Saul, or to receive and bless him, as He did with David.
The Lord is looking on our hearts, and, so, we should be looking on them as well, keeping good watch on our affections and guarding against anything that might corrupt our hearts and compromise our faith. The renewing of our heart depends on understanding the role of the heart in the soul, and of improving the right use of affections, in line with the teaching of God’s Word.
Jonathan Edwards wrote, “true religion consists, in a great measure, in vigorous and lively actings of the inclination and will of the soul, or the fervent exercises of the heart…” He elaborated this theme of his great work, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections by writing, “That religion which God requires, and will accept, does not consist in weak, dull, and lifeless wishes, raising us but a little above a state of indifference. God, in his word, greatly insists upon it, that we be in good earnest, fervent in spirit, and our hearts vigorously engaged in religion.”
When we hear the word affection we might think of a feeling of fondness for another person. We say that we have affection for our spouses, children, and friends, and we associate that feeling with a kind of pleasantness, warmth, and wellbeing.
But Edwards means much more than this. For him, the word affections includes every emotion, attitude, or sentiment which stirs from the depths of our souls and inclines us to act in particular ways and, thus, to be a particular kind of person. As he puts it, “The affections are no other, than the more vigorous and sensible exercise of the inclination and will of the soul.”
Don’t miss the key parts of that definition. First, affections are vigorous. That is, they have strength. They exert formative power. They can “affect” us, if you will, in many ways. They are the very “springs of motion” which vigorously exert themselves on every aspect of our lives.
Second, affections are sensible. That is, not only do we feel them deeply, but they come to expression in sensible ways, that is, in ways that engage our senses and bodies in action, or “motion”, as Edwards puts it. Affections are not content merely to remain feelings in our hearts. The true nature of our affections – regardless of what we might insist we may feel – will be observed in the actions to which they move us. We may feel very loving toward someone, but if our actions do not demonstrate that love, then the true affection governing our hearts is something other than love, such as indifference or even hatred.
Finally, note that affections tend to create a condition in the soul, an “inclination and will” of the soul, so that whatever we harbor in our hearts bends or inclines us to act in consistent ways, according to the set of affections in our heart. The affections, in other words, shape the nature of our very character. Affections, it is thus clear, are the heart of it all when it comes to understanding the content of our souls and the character of our faith.
A powerful thing
Edwards insists, “If we be not in good earnest in religion, and our wills and inclinations be not strongly exercised, we are nothing. The things of religion are so great, that there can be no suitableness in the exercises of our hearts, to their nature and importance, unless they be lively and powerful.” He continues, “True religion is evermore a powerful thing; and the power of it appears, in the first place, in its exercises in the heart, its principal and original seat.”
Thus, it should not be difficult to determine the condition of our faith at any given time. All we need to do is examine the ways our hearts are vigorously inclined, what kind of fervor for God and His will we evidence, and how these affections have shaped the kind of people we are.
And if what we find, upon examination, is not consistent with what the Scriptures teach, then we must apply more diligence to keeping our hearts, and to improving them in line with the heart of God and His Word.
1. Give some examples of how affections move us to action.
2. Why is it important to know that how we feel may not actually describe the true state of the affections of our heart? What makes affections true?
3. Because affections are so powerful in shaping who we are and how we act, we need to make sure we understand as much as possible about the heart and its operations. Explain.
Next steps – Preparation: In what kinds of ways – to what things and actions – is your heart “vigorously inclined”? What do you most desire? Long for? Think about with delight? This week, invite some other Christian friends to consider these questions with you. What do your answers reveal about the condition of your own heart?
T. M. Moore
This is part 1 of a multi-part series on Keeping the Heart. To download this week’s study as a free PDF, click here.
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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.