When I taught at International Baptist College, I almost always had music playing in my office as I studied and wrote. My current job, working maintenance, allows me to expand my listening to include audio books and sermons; I never really listened to either before, because it is pointless to listen to someone talk while reading something else. Listening to someone talk while vacuuming between pews? That works.
So I’ve currently been listening to Jonathan Edwards’s The Religious Affections. (If you’re interested in audio books, this recording is quite good.)
This is my first time through The Religious Affections; I realize that I will definitely need to sit down with the book as well, to give extended attention to what I’ve heard. However, I did encounter an illustration in Edwards that extends a discussion we’ve been having here, and thought that I’d share it.
Edwards here argues that spiritual perception is not merely a combination of natural perceptions, raised to a higher level. Instead, it is some wholly new thing. The comparison he offers (bolded below) is the difference between tasting honey and seeing (or feeling honey). The one who sees and feels honey knows something true about the honey, but the one who tastes knows something that can never be known to one who has not tasted (or better, one without a sense of taste). The description of the taste of honey, therefore, would be utterly lost on such a man.
From hence it follows, that in those gracious exercises and affections which are wrought in the minds of the saints, through the saving influences of the Spirit of God, there is a new inward perception or sensation of their minds, entirely different in its nature and kind, from anything that ever their minds were the subjects of before they were sanctified. For doubtless if God by his mighty power produces something that is new, not only in degree and circumstances, but in its whole nature, and that which could be produced by no exalting, varying, or compounding of what was there before, or by adding anything of the like kind; I say, if God produces something thus new in a mind, that is a perceiving, thinking, conscious thing; then doubtless something entirely new is felt, or perceived, or thought; or, which is the same thing, there is some new sensation or perception of the mind, which is entirely of a new sorts and which could be produced by no exalting, varying, or compounding of that kind of perceptions or sensations which the mind had before; or there is what some metaphysicians call a new simple idea. If grace be, in the sense above described, an entirely new kind of principle, then the exercises of it are also entirely a new kind of exercises. And if there be in the soul a new sort of exercises which it is conscious of, which the soul knew nothing of before, and which no improvement, composition, or management of what it was before conscious or sensible of, could produce, or anything like it; then it follows that the mind has an entirely new kind of perception or sensation; and here is, as it were, a new spiritual sense that the mind has, or a principle of a new kind of perception or spiritual sensation, which is in its whole nature different from any former kinds of sensation of the mind, as tasting is diverse from any of the other senses; and something is perceived by a true saint, in the exercise of this new sense of mind, in spiritual and divine things, as entirely diverse from anything that is perceived in them, by natural men, as the sweet taste of honey is diverse from the ideas men have of honey by only looking on it, and feeling of it. So that the spiritual perceptions which a sanctified and spiritual person has, are not only diverse from all that natural men have after the manner that the ideas or perceptions of the same sense may differ one from another, but rather as the ideas and sensations of different senses do differ. Hence the work of the Spirit of God in regeneration is often in Scripture compared to the giving a new sense, giving eyes to see, and ears to hear, unstopping the ears of the deaf, and opening the eyes of them that were born blind, and turning from darkness unto light. And because this spiritual sense is immensely the most noble and excellent, and that without which all other principles of perception, and all our faculties are useless and vain; therefore the giving this new sense, with the blessed fruits and effects of it in the soul, is compared to a raising the dead, and to a new creation.
August 21, 2009 at 1:04 pm
This is good. It seems to me that most of the talk about “affections” in contemporary worship discussion understands affections to be no more than natural emotions that are somehow associated with sacred content.
So my “worship feeling” might be no different than what I feel when riding a roller coaster; it just so happens that I happen to be singing about God right now.
I think it’s important to distinguish between natural emotions and “religious affections,” as Edwards does here.