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Spurgeon on counterfeit affections

"Spurgeon karikatyr" by en:Carlo Pellegrini (Ape) (1838—1889) - en:Vanity Fair. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - this blog, we are concerned about the affections. We believe that true Christian love is a supernatural and gracious work of the Holy Spirit, and from this belief we want (positively) to encourage Christian ministries to draw affections out of believers properly through the means God has given and (negatively) to warn against the catastrophic results of ministries who evoke religious feelings through appeals to humankind’s lowest desires. Indeed, we would encourage all believers to learn to attend to the Word of God, prayer, meditation on Scripture, and the ordinances and seek God’s face in the beauty of holiness as revealed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Some might say that this emphasis is new or novel. It would hardly be so. Christian teachers such as Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Jonathan Edwards have all drawn distinctions between proper or improper and better or worse affections for God. Of course, our expression of those affections and, even more importantly, the ways in which we draw out those affections, are important factors into these discussions. The other day I stumbled across a quote by C. H. Spurgeon that, upon reflection, addresses our concerns especially well. To my way of thinking, Spurgeon, despite his own emphases, touches on many of the very issues we are trying to address:

If revival is confined to living men we may further notice that it must result from the proclamation and the receiving of living truth. We speak of “vital godliness,” and vital godliness must subsist upon vital truth. Vital godliness is not revived in Christians by mere excitement, by crowded meetings, by the stamping of the foot, or the knocking of the pulpit cushion, or the delirious bawlings of ignorant zeal; these are the stock in trade of revivals among dead souls, but to revive living saints other means are needed. Intense excitement may produce a revival of the animal, but how can it operate upon the spiritual, for the spiritual demands other food than that which stews in the fleshpots of mere carnal enthusiasm. The Holy Ghost must come into the living heart through living truth, and so bring nutriment and stimulant to the pining spirit, for so only can it be revived. This, then, leads us to the conclusion that if we are to obtain a revival we must go directly to the Holy Ghost for it, and not resort to the machinery of the professional revival-maker. The true vital spark of heavenly flame comes from the Holy Ghost, and the priests of the Lord must beware of strange fire. There is no spiritual vitality in anything except as the Holy Spirit is all in all in the work; and if our vitality has fallen near to zero, we can only have it renewed by him who first kindled it in us. We must go to the cross and look up to the dying Savior, and expect that the Holy Spirit will renew our faith and quicken all our graces. We must feed anew by faith upon the flesh and blood of the Lord Jesus, and so the Holy Ghost will recruit our strength and give us a revival. When men in India sicken in the plains, they climb the hills and breathe the more bracing air of the upper regions; we need to get nearer to God, and to bathe ourselves in heaven, and revived piety will be the sure result.1

Spurgeon’s concern is genuine revival. I have no problem saying that when I think about Christian “orthopathy,” that revival (properly defined) is my concern as well. Spurgeon defines revival, “to live again, to receive again a life which has almost expired; to rekindle into a flame the vital spark which was nearly extinguished.”2 Our affections have a tendency to become relaxed, entangled by worldliness, and misdirected. Many Christians think that the way to address our “spiritual gravity” toward carnality is by lathering up the affections through Praise & Worship just a little bit longer. Others want a return to the good old days of religious experience in the past. We weary of such distractions. Instead, we would see Jesus. As Spurgeon laments of the revivalists’ tactics of his own day, “These are the stock in trade of revivals among dead souls, but to revive living saints other means are needed.”3 Spurgeon is introducing the possibility that improper religious affection may be stirred up through illegitimate means. Again: “we must … not resort to the machinery of the professional revival-maker.”4 The Holy Spirit, not the religious professional, is able to revive men’s souls. We too are concerned about the possibility of what Spurgeon calls “strange fire.” Again, these remarks show that there is a kind of religious feeling that is inordinate and counterfeit because of the way it is drawn out of people. This does not even necessarily mean that they are unbelievers or that they have no true love for God within them. Nevertheless, Christians and Christian ministers ought to guard against improperly evoked religious feeling, and, by implication, they ought to guard against external expressions of religious affections that misrepresent proper affection or desecrate the truth being held forth.

As Spurgeon says, “We must feed anew by the faith upon the flesh and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and so the Holy Ghost will recruit our strength and give us a revival.” Let this be our great and chief means of drawing out ordinate affections. Or, as it has been said more recently, “At its core, orthopathy is divine love–love born in us by the Spirit of God. No one can love God without loving his Son Jesus Christ, and this love of God in Christ comes only through the inner work of the Holy Spirit … The call to love God rightly is first and foremost a call to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”5

About Ryan Martin

Ryan Martin is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Granite Falls, Minnesota. Prior to that, he served as the associate pastor of Bethany Bible Church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. He is on the board of directors of Religious Affections Ministries. Ryan received his undergraduate degree at Northland Baptist Bible College, and has received further training from Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, Minn. (M.Div., 2004; Ph.D., 2013). He was ordained in 2009 at Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, Minn. (now Otsego, Minn.). He has a wife and children too. Ryan is the associate editor of Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). He contributed to the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans, 2017) and is the author of Understanding Affections in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards: "The High Exercises of Divine Love" (T&T Clark, 2018).

  1. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “What is Revival?” Emphasis original. []
  2. Ibid. []
  3. Ibid. []
  4. Ibid. []
  5. A Conservative Christian Declaration31-32. []