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Preaching also to the affections, the need of the hour

Category Articles
Date March 18, 2003

Pray that we will "rightly handle" God’s truth, to the affectional blessing of God’s people, and to the affectional awakening of lost sinners

by Ian Hamilton

I recently heard a comment about two preachers that made me stop and ask myself a serious question. This was the comment: "As Mr X’s sermon came to a close, he encouraged us to praise and thank the Lord Jesus Christ. When Mr Y finished his sermon my heart was full of praise and thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ." I think the point the individual was making was this: Mr X’s sermon was full of good content; it was instructive, insightful and helpful. Mr Y’s sermon was no less instructive; his content was no less good; but it had something Mr X’s sermon didn’t have – it was "affectional." Mr Y sought not only to instruct the mind, he sought, with God’s help, to minister to the heart. What follows may appear to be addressed to preachers, but it is no less for hearers.

Preaching the word of God is the greatest of all privileges; hearing the word of God is the greatest of all blessings. What are we seeking to do as we prepare to minister God’s word to God’s precious people and those others who are always to be found in their midst? (Please God we might see more unconverted people coming to our churches) God did not make us disembodied minds; he made us psychosomatic beings. We are "feeling" men and women. We are affectional beings. God has made us thus so that we might "love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength." The gospel comes not only to inform and transform our minds, though it surely does that (Roms. 12:2); it comes to purify, heighten and re-direct our affections, to re-centre our beings in the Lord.

This, as many of you will know, was a deep concern of Jonathan Edwards, the magisterial eighteenth century New England pastor-theologian. He is absolutely clear that the "mind only… is the proper seat of the affections." The truth that moves us is truth that impacts the mind first. No less is Edwards absolutely clear that "true religion consists, in a great measure, in vigorous and lively actings of the inclination and will of the soul (and) the fervent exercises of the heart." So much is this true that Edwards maintains "he that has doctrinal knowledge and speculation only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of religion… I am bold to assert, that there never was any considerable change wrought in the mind or conversation (life) of any person, by anything of a religious nature that ever he read, heard or saw, who had not his affections moved." These are searching words, but who would dare to argue with them?

Edwards is not, and I am not, saying that Christians are all moved, excited, humbled, blessed in the same way. God has made us all "idiosyncratic." We all have unique, personal, temperamental peculiarities (some exceedingly peculiar!) It is undeniable, however, to quote Edwards again, that "The Author of our nature has not only given us affections, but he has made them very much the spring of actions… this… shows that true religion must consist very much in the affections."

Those of us who preach God’s truth must therefore never forget that the truth is to be enfleshed in cerebral, affectional humanity. We must do all we can, then, to ensure that what we preach is "affectionally preached," from lives that have been pervasively impacted with the gospel of God’s grace in Christ. God’s truth is not cold, it is not a series of theological syllogisms. God’s truth is dynamic, soul-arresting, mind-expanding, heart-stopping, pulse-quickening. We will best raise our people’s affections by seeking to raise our own. This was a deep concern of Richard Baxter’s: "Labour to arouse your own soul, as you prepare to preach God’s word. A drowsy soul will not awaken sleepy listeners."

Pray for pastors. To our shame we pastors fail the flock often by not being as affected as we ought by the truth we preach. Pray that we will "rightly handle" God’s truth, to the affectional blessing of God’s people, and to the affectional awakening of lost sinners.

Ian Hamilton

Minister of Cambridge Evangelical Presbyterian Church, England

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