The affections, emotions and appetites

In a previous post we looked at the importance of the affections in Puritan spirituality. In this post we explore the link between affections, emotions and appetites.


The Puritans employ a range of language which can be confusing. In particular, the Puritans (and Augustine) sometimes speak of the will driving the mind (or reason). This is because the affections so determine the will that they can speak of them synonymously. Jonathan Edwards said: ‘The affections are no other than the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul.’ (The Religious Affections, Banner, 24)


The Puritans did not use the word ‘emotions’ (which only came in to common usage later). Thomas Dixon argues that after the eighteenth century, the word ‘emotion’ became a catch-all term that failed to distinguish between a variety of states that had been described in an earlier intellectual climate. Subtle distinctions that were encompassed in terms such as ‘passions’, ‘affections’, ‘sentiments’ and ‘appetites’ were lost. (Thomas Dixon, From Passions to Emotions: The Creation of a Secular Psychological Category, CUP, 2003.)


A helpful rule of thumb is that the term Puritans used for ‘emotions’ is ‘passions’. Our ‘passions’ are different from our ‘affections’. Our affections are our loves, desires, hopes, fears. Perhaps the nearest contemporary word is ‘motives’. Our affections are determined by what we consider the good that should be desired or the evil that should be shunned. These affections therefore drive both the will and passions.


Emotions or passion = affections + circumstances.

For example, if I desire the approval of the people (an affection) and my work is well-received then I’ll feel happy (an emotion). But if my work is not well-received (a change of circumstance) then I will feel sad (an change of emotion). My affection (the desire for approval) does not change, but it produces different emotions under different circumstances.

In Augustine when one’s love is ‘well-directed’ the affections that issue will also be good. These we will experience through a breadth of emotions – they will ‘both fear and desire, and grieve and rejoice’ – but ‘because their love is rightly placed, all these affections of theirs are right.’

Puritans could be wary of the passions because of their tendency to move us away from God. Puritans often distinguished between passions and affections (which were viewed more positively). Sometimes the passions were associated with the body and the affections with the mind.

The Puritans had another category: the appetites. The appetites are bodily responses (like hunger, thirst, tiredness). The Puritans were concerned that people should not be ruled by their appetites. In the self-controlled person, our affections conquer our appetites.

For more on affections and emotions in Puritan thought see Keith Condie, ‘The Puritans, Theological Anthropology and Emotions,’ in True Feelings: The Emotions in the Christian Life and Ministry, ed. Michael P. Jensen, IVP, 2012. True Feelings is available from and ThinkIVP.

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The affections in Puritanism

In a previous post we looked at the centrality of the affections in the Reformation. In this post we explore the importance of the affections in Puritan spirituality. Future posts will explore the link between affections, emotions and change.

Richard Baxter considered love to be ‘the master passion of the soul’ and delight to be ‘the most powerful, commanding affection, and the end of all the other passions’. John Owen says: ‘Affections are in the soul, as the helm is in the ship; if it be laid hold on by a skilful hand, it turneth the whole vessel which way he pleaseth.’

Some of the early Puritans were shaped to some extent by Aristotle and so they had a strong emphasis on the will, habit and spiritual disciplines. But later Puritans were more shaped by Augustine and the Reformers so they gave a stronger place to the Spirit enlightening the heart to the glories of Christ. William Fenner explicitly distinguishes Puritan thought from that of Aristotle:

The affections are the forcible and sensible motions of the heart, or the will, to a thing, or from a thing, according as it is apprehended to be good or to bee evil … I know Aristotle and most of our Divines too, place the affections in the sensitive part of the Soul, and not in the will, because they are to be seen in the beasts. But this cannot be so, for a man’s affections do most stir at a shame or disgrace.

In other words, the affections are not mere animal passions subject to the will. They are integrated with the will. In The Practice of Piety Charles Hambrick-Stowe concludes: ‘Puritanism was as affective as it was rational.’ He cites the Puritan Thomas Shepard: ‘I have seen God by reason and never been amazed at God. I have seen God himself and have been ravished to behold him.’

Jonathan Edwards offers perhaps the sharpest exposition of a Puritan view of the affections in The Freedom of the Will. Edwards argues that the will is not independent. It is integrally bound up with our understanding and affections. In particular, the acts of the will arises from the affections. We always do what we want to do.

Because of sin our affections are disoriented they no longer want to do what is right. We do not sin because of some natural necessity. We are not made to sin against our will. There is no gun against our head or hand over our hand forcing us to sin. but we do sin out of a moral necessity because our will always follows our affections and our affections are misplaced. So the freedom of our will and our bondage to sin are entirely compatible.

This is essentially an Augustinian view of humanity. The difference (which is really no difference at all) is this: According to Augustine, we always choose what we love, while according to Edwards, we always do what we want to do.

The mind and the affections are in a dynamic relationship, each affecting the other. The affections are influenced by the mind in the sense that we desire what we perceive to be desirable. But the mind also justifies what the affections desire. We suppress the truth in our wickedness, for example (Romans 1:18). Together they drive the will. But ultimately the affections are supreme.

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Review: Marcus Peter Johnson on union with Christ

Review: Marcus Peter Johnson, One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation, Crossway, 2013.

Available here from and thinkivp.

One with Christ is a great book. It’s a fresh look at the doctrine of salvation through the lens of our union with Christ. Here’s Johnson’s own summary of what he’s trying to do:

In far too many evangelical expressions of the gospel, the saving work of Christ has been so distanced from his person that the notion of a saving personal union with the incarnate, crucified, resurrection, living Jesus strikes us as rather outlandish … We are dire need of the reminder that Christ’s saving work is of no benefit to us unless we are joined to the living Saviour whose work it is. (15)

The focus is on salvation, but there’s a suggestive chapter on original sin, and a thought-provoking chapter on the word and sacraments.

Back in the day when I was working on my PhD a wrote a paper in union with Christ at the top of which my supervisor wrote ‘Calvin’. At the time I’d read relatively little of Calvin himself. Yet I had apparently imbibed much of his theology through my up-bringing in UK Reformed, evangelical churches. That paper went on to form the conclusion of my PhD. I mention this because One with Christ is marred by a tendency to rather over-state the uniqueness of the book – a failing which also makes many of Tom Wright’s recent books irritating reads! Perhaps the vagaries of publishing demand this sort of thing. But at times Johnson seems to portray himself as the only evangelical who has ever thought about union with Christ – a claim which is consistently undermined as he brings out quote after quote from evangelical luminaries to support his case!

But please don’t let this put you off the book. It is full of good material – material to inform your mind and warm your heart.

I’ll post some quotes from the book in a future post.

Note, too, In Christ: In Him Together for the World by Steve Timmis and Christopher de la Hoyde which looks at the missiological implications of our union with Christ. It’s part of the Porterbrook Network imprint with Christian Focus and is available here from and

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New books: 1 Samuel, Hosea and Prayer

I’ve just realised (in time for Christmas) that there are two or three books which I’ve had published this year that I’ve not mentioned on this blog.

1 Samuel for You

1 Samuel for You is my latest contribution to The Good Book Company’s God’s Word for You series (famous for Tim Keller‘s contributions on Galatians, Judges and Romans). My wife thinks it’s my best book ever. (But then she has only read two of my books.)

Hosea (Focus on the Bible)

Hosea is a popular-level commentary in the Focus on the Bible series (famous for the various contributions on the Old Testament historical books by Dale Ralph Davis). I’m not sure how I missed mentioning this – it was a fairly major undertaking!

You Can Pray

I have mentioned You Can Pray before. But it’s now out in the US from P&R.

All of these books (and more) are available in the US from my US Amazon store store and in the UK from ThinkIVP (with the exception of Hosea which is available  – along with the others – from my UK Amazon store).

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Reflection questions for The Reformed Pastor

Below are some self-reflection questions for pastors based on this extract from Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor (which we recently circulated among our leaders). The reflection questions were compiled by Rob Spink, one of our pastors here in The Crowded House.

The Reformed Pastor was first published in 1656. In the book Baxter explores the implications of Paul’s words of Acts 20:28: ‘Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.’ Having considered the pastor’s oversight of himself in the earlier part of the book, Baxter moves onto the oversight of the flock. In this extract he considers the ‘manner of the oversight’. While the language is fairly dense and at times old-fashioned, it’s worth noting J.I. Packer’s contemporary commendation of the usefulness of the book to modern pastors. He comments on three threads which mark the book out:

  1. Its energy. As Spurgeon wrote, ‘If you want to know the art of pleading, read The Reformed Pastor.’
  2. Its reality. Packer says: ‘Here we meet a passionate love and terribly honest, earnest, straightforward Christian, thinking and talking about the lost with perfect realism, insisting that we must be content to accept any degree of discomfort, poverty, overwork and loss of material good, if only souls might be saved, and setting us a marvellously vivid example in his own person of what this may involve.’
  3. Its rationality. This led to Baxter’s particular emphasis on personal teaching and counselling. He was unusually clear on the need to visit people, to know the flock, to pursue them. As Packer notes, ‘personal catechising and counselling … is every minister’s duty: for this is the most rational course, the best means to the desired end’.

Here are Rob’s summary and reflection questions. The aim is:

  • To provide a short summary of Baxter’s exhortations to ministers for you to refer to quickly.
  • To stimulate you to reflect on the reading and how it challenges you in your ministry.

You shouldn’t expect Baxter to give you an easy ride! But neither should you feel condemned for the sin and shortcomings which will be all too evident.

  1. The ministerial work must be done purely for God and the salvation of souls, not for any private ends of our own. ‘Self denial is…doubly necessary in a minister, as without it he cannot do God an hour’s faithful service’.

Reflection: What motivates my work as City Group Pastor? Is there evidence through self-denial that I am working for God, rather than my own ends?

  1. The ministerial work must be done diligently and laboriously, as being of such unspeakable consequence to ourselves and others. ‘Study hard, for the well is deep and our brains are shallow….No man was ever a loser by God’.

Reflection: Do I work diligently? Am I studying and learning more of God?

  1. The ministerial work must be carried on prudently and orderly. ’The work of conversion, and repentance from dead works, and faith in Christ, must be first and frequently and thoroughly taught.

Reflection: Am I laying a solid foundation of the most fundamental truths through my teaching? Do I ever make much of things of little consequence?

  1. Throughout the whole course of our ministry, we must insist chiefly upon the greatest, most certain, and most necessary truths, and be more seldom and sparing up on the rest. If we can but teach Christ to our people, we shall teach them all.’ Seneca: ‘We are attracted to novelties rather than to great things.

Reflection: Do I have a clear sense of what is necessary for my people? How might understanding what is necessary challenge my current practices? Does my ministry draw attention to necessary ‘great things’ of repentance and faith in Christ, or novelties?

  1. All our teaching must be as plain and simple as possible. ‘It is, at best, a sign that a man hath not well digested the matter himself, if he is not able to deliver it plainly to others’.

Reflection: When I speak of the gospel, am I able to be understood by my people? What could I do that might make me better understood?

  1. Our work must be carried on with great humility. ‘We must carry ourselves meekly…to all; and so teach others, as to be ready to learn of any that can teach us, and so both teach and learn at once.

Reflection: Am I growing in pride or in humility? Are there those in my life group/city group who I don’t think I can learn from? Am I too proud to learn?

  1. There must be a prudent mixture of severity and mildness both in our preaching and discipline. ‘If there be no severity, our reproofs will be despised. If all severity, we shall be taken as usurpers of dominion, rather than persuaders of the minds of men to the truth.

Reflection: Is my tendency to be too severe or too mild? How can I make progress in this area?

  1. We must be serious, earnest, and zealous in every part of our work. Our work requires greater life and zeal than any of us bring to it. ‘If our words be not sharpened, and pierce not as nails, they will hardly be felt by stony hearts. To speak slightly and coldly of heavenly things is nearly as bad as to say nothing of them at all.

Reflection: Am I zealous for the truth? Is my conversation of ‘heavenly things’ marked by coldness or zeal?

  1. The whole of our ministry must be carried out in tender love to our people. We must let them see that nothing pleases us but what profits them. ‘When the people see that you unfeignedly love them, they will hear any thing and bear any thing from you..if you be their best friends, help them against their worst enemies’.

Reflection: Are you willing to lay down your life for your people? How can you grow in ‘tender love’ for them? How do you help your people as a best friend, against their worst enemies?

  1. We must carry on our work with patience. We must bear with many abuses and injuries from those to whom we seek to do good.

Reflection: How do you respond when your work for your people is thrown back in your face? Do you endure patiently, or with the meekness and patience of the new man or the ‘pride and passionof old Adam’?

  1. All our work must be managed reverently, as is fitting for them that believe the presence of God. ‘Reverence is that affection of the soul which proceedeth from deep apprehensions of God and indicateth a mind that is much conversant with him’.

Reflection: Are you seeking to know God better? Are you growing in the knowledge of him? How might you encourage your people to have a ‘holy reverence’ for God?

  1. All the work must be done spiritually, as by men possessed of the Holy Ghost. Gregory: ‘…not of orators does he (God) make fishermen, but of fisher men he produces orators’.

Reflection: How does this idea encourage you? Do you seek spiritual wisdom, or rely on the ‘wisdom of the world’?

  1. If you would prosper in your work, be sure to keep up earnest desires and expectations of success….’it is a sign of a false, self-seeking heart, that can be content to be still doing and yet see no fruit of his labour….It is not merely our reward that we labour for, but for other men’s salvation’.

Reflection: What are your expectations? What would success be for your ministry? Are you too pessimistic? Are you appropriately directed toward outcomes?

  1. Our whole work must be carried on under a deep sense of our own insufficiency, and of our entire dependence on Christ. ‘Prayer must carry on the work as well as preaching: he preaches not heartily to his people, that prayeth not earnestly for them’. When our faith is weak or hearts are dull, pray:’Must I daily plead with sinners about everlasting life and everlasting death, and have no more belief or feeling of these weighty things myself? O, send me not naked and unprovided to the work; but as thou commandest me to do it, furnish me with a spirit suitable thereto’.

Reflection: Does your prayer life suggest that you work depending on yourself or Christ? Do you need to make any changes?

  1. We must be very studious of union and communication among ourselves, and of the unity and peace of the churches that we oversee. ‘They must do as much of the work of God, in unity and concord, as they can, which is the use of synods; not to rule over one another and make laws, but to avoid misunderstandings, and consult for mutual edification, and maintain love and communion, and go on unanimously in the work that God hath already commanded us’.

Reflection: How do you engage beyond your city group? Do you have opportunities to encourage and edify other churches? How can you grow in this area, and encourage your people to do likewise?

The Reformed Pastor is available from An abridged version is available from ThinkIVP.

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The affections in the Reformation

In this post we look at the centrality of the affections in the Reformation. In future posts we’ll explore the importance of the affections in Puritan spirituality.

In a helpful article Ronald Frost argues that the heart of Luther’s Reformation was a return to Augustine’s view of humanity and a rejection of Aquinas’ view (which was shaped by the Greek philosopher Aristotle).

In the view of Aristotle and Aquinas the will is self-moved. Indeed the will is at its most virtuous when it’s not corrupted or distorted by our affections. Aquinas recognised the will is damaged by sin, but he believed God’s grace restores it so that we have the freedom to choose God. In this way we co-operate with God in our salvation. In this view love for God is an act of the will and therefore one which deserves merit.

In the view of Augustine (and Luther) the affections are primary. Where love leads, the will follows. In other words, we always choose what we love or we find most desirable. So we are saved when we choose God, and we choose God because we love him. But we only love him because he first loved us, and because he reveals himself to us as the desirable one. In this view love for God is a response and so carries no intrinsic merit.

Augustine believed that we act through our wills. But he believed the will is entirely held captive by sin. Luther says: ‘Man is by nature unable to want God to be God. Indeed he himself wants to be God, and does not want God to be God.’ In Augustine the will is free in the sense that the mechanism works. We still make decisions. But the will is biased by sin. The will is like a balance which operates correctly, but which has a large weight on one side so it only ever tips in one direction. The will functions effectively in that it tends to that which it deems to be good. The problem is that sin has corrupted our sense of what ‘the good’ is.

But God recaptures our affections and therefore our wills. Augustine says: ‘It is certain that it is we that act when we act; but it is He who makes us act, by applying efficacious powers to our will.’ Or again: ‘When the martyrs did the great commandments which they obeyed, they acted by a great will,—that is, with great love.’ Frost comments: ‘Augustine’s point … is that love—seen as will and affections—is the motive centre of the soul. Thus, it is through the illumination of the soul by God’s love that the soul moves, by response, out of its imprisonment of self‐love.’

Augustine argued that the Holy Spirit is the source of the love that shapes the believer’s response. In other words, God reveals his glory and grace to us through the Holy Spirit and this revelation of God captures our hearts and therefore reshapes our wills. Frost summarises: ‘The will is enslaved by self‐love that defies God. The enslavement is only overcome in the elect by the regenerating disclosure of God’s love and goodness.’

This is a radical view of sin. In Aristotle both the outward act and the inward motivation were meritorious. Indeed the outward act came to be the more important since in Aristotle it could create a habit which in time would affect the inward motivation. The direction was outward to inward. In contrast in Augustine and Luther an outwardly pious act can be sin if the motive is self-love (which it always is without the regenerating work of God). ‘A person may think their own ways are right, but the LORD weighs the heart.’ (Proverbs 21:2)

Luther says: ‘We do not become righteous by doing righteous deeds but, having been made righteous, we do righteous deeds.’ The direction in Augustine and Luther is inside-out. The outward act is only really changed when the inner man is renewed by the Spirit’s revelation of God’s love.

Ashley Null summarises the theology of Thomas Cranmer (and Augustine and Luther): ‘What the heart loves, the will chooses and the mind justifies.’ (Ashley Null, ‘Foreword,’ Our Common Prayer: A Field Guide to the Book of Common Prayer, Winfield Bevins, Simeon Press, 2013, 13.)

And ‘we love because he first loved us.’ (1 John 4:19)

Ronald N. Frost, ‘Aristotle’s Ethics: The Real Reason for Luther’s Reformation?’, TrinJ 18:2 (Fall 1997) is available online here.


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A confession based on the Decalogue

We currently preaching through the book of Exodus. For the sermon on Exodus 20 we wrote the following public confession based on the Ten Commandments as they are fulfilled in Christ together with an affirmation of forgiveness based on Romans 3.

Let confess together that we have broken God’s law
as it is fulfilled and embodied by God’s Son.

God said: You shall have no other gods before me.
Father, we confess that have made ourselves and other things more important than you.

You shall not make for yourself an image.
Father, we confess that we have tried to reduce you to a god we can control or manipulate.

You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.
Father, we confess that we have not cherished your name as we should.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
Father, we confess that we have not found rest in Christ.

Honour your father and your mother.
Father, we confess that we have resented the authority you have given over us.

You shall not murder.
Father, we confess that we have entertained violent thoughts.

You shall not commit adultery.
Father, we confess that we have harboured lustful thoughts.

You shall not steal.
Father, we confess that we have nurtured grasping thoughts.

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
Father, we confess that we have deceived other people.

You shall not covet.
Father, we confess that we have not always been content with the life you have given us.

Therefore no-one will be declared righteous in God’s sight
by the works of the law.
But now a righteousness from God has been made known.
This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

We have all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
But we are justified freely by his grace
through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Based on Exodus 20, Matthew 5 and Romans 3.

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Plant North Yorkshire

Plant North Yorkshire is a new initiative to highlight the need for church-planting in North Yorkshire and help new churches start. It’s being launched with a consultation day on Wednesday 26 November. Please come if you can (click here for more details) or please pray for this needy area of the UK.

More information is available on the Facebook page and the website.

Here’s the vision:

We are a group of churches and church-leaders in North Yorkshire who long to see our county filled with gospel-loving and serving congregations. We love the Lord, and this part of the world, and long for others here to discover him. This is our job. God has put us here at this time, in this place, to do this job. We’re all individually wrestling with the busyness and problems as well as the opportunities of our own churches. If we stay like that, nothing will be done for the needs of unreached places. If we come together to think, share knowledge, pray, start to plan, identify areas, personnel, partnerships, avenues of support, and so on, then who knows what the Lord will achieve in the coming years? Our dream is to see Jesus glorified, loved and delighted in all across our county, and every town in North Yorkshire being reached by a gospel-centred, Jesus-loving, Jesus-preaching community of believers. We’d love you to join with us in praying, plotting and working together until by God’s grace we see that happen.

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