By T. M. Moore per colsoncenter.org
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” --1 Samuel 16:7
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, 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. 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 can “affect” us, if you will, in many different ways. They are the very “springs of motion” by virtue of the vigor they exert 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. Finally, note that affections tend to create a kind of established 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 however way we may be acting. 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.
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.