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«Desiring God DESIRING GOD JOHN PIPER DESIRING GOD published by Multnomah Publishers, Inc. © 1986, 1996, 2003 by Desiring God Foundation ...»

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2. As I use them in this book, the words feeling and emotion and affection do not generally carry different meanings. If something distinct is intended in any given case, I will give some indication in the context.

In general, I use the words synonymously and intend by them what Jonathan Edwards did in his great

Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (Edinburgh:

Banner of Truth, 1974), 237.

Edwards defined the affections as “the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul.” To understand this we need to sum up briefly his view of the human soul or


God has endued the soul with two principal faculties: The one, that by which it is capable of perception and speculation, or by which it discerns and judges of things; which is called the understanding. The other, that by which the soul is some way inclined with respect to the things it views or considers: or it is the faculty by which the soul beholds things—not as an indifferent unaffected spectator, but—either liking or disliking, pleased or displeased, approving or rejecting. This faculty is called by various names; it is sometimes called the inclination; and, as it respects the actions determined and governed by it, the will; and the mind, with regard to the exercises of this faculty, is often called the heart.… The will, and the affections of the soul, are not two faculties: the affections are not essentially distinct from the will, nor do they differ from the mere actings of the will and inclination, but only in the liveliness and sensibility of exercise… As examples of the affections, Edwards mentions (among others) love, hatred, desire, joy, delight, grief, sorrow, fear, and hope. These are “the more vigorous and sensible [i.e., sensed or felt] exercises of the will.” Edwards is aware that there is a profound and complex relationship between the body and the

mind at this point:

Such seems to be our nature, and such the laws of the union of soul and body, that there never is in any case whatsoever, any lively and vigorous exercise of the inclination, without some effect upon the body.… But yet, it is not the body, but the mind only, that is the proper seat of the affections. The body of man is no more capable of being really the subject of love or hatred, joy or sorrow, fear or hope, than the body of a tree, or than the same body of man is capable of thinking and understanding. As it is the soul only that has ideas, so it is the soul only that is pleased or displeased with its ideas. As it is the soul only that thinks, so it is the soul only that loves or hates, rejoices or is grieved at, what it thinks of.

The biblical evidence for this is the fact that God, who has no body, nevertheless has many affections.

Also Philippians 1:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:8 teach that after a Christian’s death, and before the resurrection of the body, the Christian will be with the Lord and capable of joys “far better” than what we have known here.


seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:23). Now what is this experience of the spirit? What goes on in the heart when worship is not in vain?

Worship is more than an act of mere willpower. All the outward acts of worship are performed by acts of will. But that does not make them authentic.

The will can be present (for all kinds of reasons) while the heart is not truly engaged (or, as Jesus says, is “far way”). The engagement of the heart in worship is the coming alive of the feelings and emotions and affections of the heart.2 Where feelings for God are dead, worship is dead.


Now let’s be specific. What are these feelings or affections that make the outward acts of worship authentic? For an answer, we turn to the inspired psalms and hymns of the Old Testament. An array of different and intertwined affections may grip the heart at any time. So the extent and order of the following list is not intended to limit the possibilities of pleasure in anyone’s heart.

Perhaps the first response of the heart at seeing the majestic holiness of God is stunned silence: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). “The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:20).

In the silence rises a sense of awe and reverence and wonder at the sheer magnitude of God: “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!” (Psalm 33:8).

And because we are all sinners, there is in our reverence a holy dread of God’s righteous power. “The LORD of hosts, him you shall regard as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isaiah 8:13). “I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you” (Psalm 5:7).

But this dread is not a paralyzing fright full of resentment against God’s absolute authority. It finds release in brokenness and contrition and grief for our ungodliness: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). “Thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite’” (Isaiah 57:15).

WO R S H I P Mingled with the feeling of genuine brokenness and contrition, there arises a longing for God: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1–2).

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25–26). “O God, you are my God;

earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).

God is not unresponsive to the contrite longing of the soul. He comes and lifts the load of sin and fills our heart with gladness and gratitude. “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.

O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (Psalm 30:11–12).

But our joy does not just rise from the backward glance in gratitude. It also rises from the forward glance in hope: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5–6). “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope” (Psalm 130:5).

In the end the heart longs not for any of God’s good gifts, but for God Himself. To see Him and know Him and be in His presence is the soul’s final feast. Beyond this there is no quest. Words fail. We call it pleasure, joy, delight.

But these are weak pointers to the unspeakable experience: “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). “Delight yourself in the LORD” (Psalm 37:4).

These are some of the affections of the heart that keep worship from being “in vain.” Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth. It is not a mere act of willpower by which we perform outward acts.

Without the engagement of the heart, we do not really worship. The engagement of the heart in worship is the coming alive of the feelings and emotions


and affections of the heart. Where feelings for God are dead, worship is dead.

True worship must include inward feelings that reflect the worth of God’s glory. If this were not so, the word hypocrite would have no meaning. But there is such a thing as hypocrisy—going through outward motions (like singing, praying, giving, reciting) that signify affections of the heart that are not there.

“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”


“FACT! FAITH! FEELING!” The virtue of slogans is brevity. Their vice is ambiguity. So they are risky ways of communicating. They are powerful and perilous. So we should exploit the power and explain the peril. I would like to venture a corrective explanation to the slogan “Fact! Faith! Feeling!” It’s an old and common evangelical slogan. F. B. Meyer, A. T. Pearson, and L. E. Maxwell all preached sermons by this title. Today a Campus Crusade booklet uses it powerfully. The point of the slogan is the order. First, the facts about Christ. Second, the response of faith. Third, the feelings that may or may not follow.

So what’s the ambiguity? There are two: Changed “feelings” may be essential to true Christian conversion, not incidental; and “faith” may not be completely distinct from feeling.

In one well-known booklet the slogan appears as a train: The locomotive is “fact.” The coal car is “faith.” The caboose is “feeling.” The explanation reads:

“The train will run with or without the caboose. However, it would be futile to attempt to pull the train by the caboose.” But what are the “feelings” the train of Christian living can run without? Do “feelings” refer merely to physical experiences like sweaty palms, knocking knees, racing heart, trembling lips, tearful eyes? If so, the slogan is clear and accurate.

But most people don’t think of feelings that way. Feelings include things like gratitude, hope, joy, contentment, peacefulness, desire, compassion, fear, hate, anger, grief. None of these is merely physical. Angels, demons, and departed saints without bodies can have these “feelings.” WO R S H I P I think that apart from the Bible, Jonathan Edwards has written the most important book on feelings in the Christian life. It’s called The Religious Affections. The definition of these “affections” (or what most people today mean by feelings) is: “the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul.” In other words, the feelings that really matter are not mere physical sensations. They are the stirring up of the soul with some perceived treasure or threat.

There is a connection between the feelings of the soul and the sensations of the body. This is owing, Edwards says, to “the laws of union which the Creator has fixed between the soul and the body.”3 In other words, heartfelt gratitude can make you cry. Fear of God can make you tremble. The crying and the trembling are in themselves spiritually insignificant. The train can run without them.

That’s the truth in the slogan. But the gratitude and the fear are not optional in the Christian life. Yet these are what most people call feelings. That is the peril of the slogan. It seems to make optional what the Bible makes essential.

Minimizing the importance of transformed feelings makes Christian conversion less supernatural and less radical. It is humanly manageable to make decisions of the will for Christ. No supernatural power is required to pray prayers, sign cards, walk aisles, or even stop sleeping around. Those are good. They just don’t prove that anything spiritual has happened. Christian conversion, on the other hand, is a supernatural, radical thing. The heart is changed. And the evidence of it is not just new decisions, but new affections, new feelings.

Negatively, the apostle Paul says that those who go on in the same old way of “hostility,” “jealousy,” “rage,” and “envy” “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (see Galatians 5:20–21). These are all feelings. They must change. The train won’t get to heaven unless they do. Positively, Christians are commanded to have God-honoring feelings. We are commanded to feel joy (Philippians 4:4), hope (Psalm 42:5), fear (Luke 12:5), peace (Colossians 3:15), zeal (Romans 12:11), grief (Romans 12:15), desire (1 Peter 2:2), tenderheartedness (Ephesians 4:32), and brokenness and contrition (James 4:9).

3. Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2, ed. John E. Smith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), 96.


Moreover, faith itself has in it something that most people would call feeling.

Saving faith means “receiving Christ”: “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). But receive as what? We usually say, “as Lord and Savior.” That’s right. But something more needs to be said. Saving faith also receives Christ as our Treasure. A nontreasured Christ is a nonsaving Christ. Faith has in it this element of valuing, embracing, prizing, relishing Christ. It is like a man who finds a treasure hidden in a field and “from joy” sells all his treasures to have that field (Matthew 13:44).

Therefore, let us affirm the slogan when it means that physical sensations are not essential. But let us also make clear that the locomotive of fact is not headed for heaven if it is not followed by a faith that treasures Christ and if it is not pulling a caboose-load of new, though imperfect, affections.


AS AN IN Now what does this imply about the feast of worship? Surprisingly, it implies that worship is an end in itself. We do not eat the feast of worship as a means to anything else. Happiness in God is the end of all our seeking. Nothing beyond it can be sought as a higher goal. John Calvin put it like this: “If God contains the fullness of all good things in himself like an inexhaustible fountain, nothing beyond him is to be sought by those who strike after the highest good and all the elements of happiness.”4 If what transforms outward ritual into authentic worship is the quickening of the heart’s affections, then true worship cannot be performed as a means to some other experience. Feelings are not like that. Genuine feelings of the heart cannot be manufactured as stepping stones to something else.

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