The affections and change

In previous posts we looked at the importance of the affections in Puritan spirituality. In this post we begin to explore the link between the affections and change.

The Puritan Stephen Charnock said:

The Passions and Affections are the same, as to the Substance and Nature of the Acts; but the difference lies in the object … The acts of a renewed man, and the acts of a natural man, are the same in the Nature of acts; as when a man loves God, and fears God; or loves man, or fears man, ‘tis the same act of love, and the same act of fear; there are the same motions of the soul … the difference lies in the Objects.

Regeneration then brings about a change in the way view God. The object of love changes. The God we had once distained becomes the One we love. By the ministry of the word the Puritans sought this change of perspective in regeneration and then in strengthening the faith of believers through the work of the Spirit.

This change of affections – and not any change in emotions – was a key indicator of spiritual reality. In The Religious Affections Edwards gives twelve signs of a true work of God. But the last is key: ‘Gracious and holy affections have their exercise and fruit in Christian practice.’

Summarising John Owen, J.I. Packer says: ‘We grow in grace by the deliberate stirring up and exercise of the new powers and inclinations which regeneration implanted within us.’ He then cites Owen: ‘Frequency of acts doth naturally increase and strengthen the habits whence they proceed. And in spiritual habits [e.g. faith, hope, love] it is so, moreover, by God’s appointment … They grow and thrive in and by their exercise … the want thereof is the principal means of their decay.’

See J.I. Packer, ‘The Spirituality of John Owen,’ Among God’s Giants: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, Kingsway, 1991. Available here from amazon.com and thinkivp.


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