In writing this article I am drawing heavily upon Jonathan Edwards treatise titled ‘The religious affections’. My aim here is to show that those who encounter God are to some necessity bound to display a degree of affection or external bodily manisfestation.
Two weeks ago in church, there were some who were moved by the Holy Spirit so much that their affections was of a high pitch. Some shouted and some were engaged in deep laughter and groans. Doubtless in the congregation that there were some who were ready to condemn these manifestations and prejudiced against them because they are never moved in such a way or think that God is of more a conservative nature. But when one surveys the scripture one is immediately impacted with the high degree of commands and examples that shows a high degree of affections and emotions among God’s people. For example, take the first commandment: ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength’. These are accumulations of expressions we are to display towards God and we are to do it with great affections. Love is an affection and so is gratitude, these are expressive in nature and while it is undisputed that love and gratitude are daily expressed with great excitements, should we not to a higher degree do such to our redeeming creator? Absolutely, for we are to love God with all of our mind, heart, soul and strength. In this matter some ought to be shamed and brought to repentance in the lack of affections demonstrated towards God. Some people’s faith consist in weak, dull, and lifeless wishes of indifference in their walk with God or to say if indeed they are walking with God. But in other matters of life, their affections are highly excited when it comes to worldly interest, their outward delights, honour and reputation, they are fully engaged and display an array of emotions that it is clear that they are moved inwardly. But when it comes to faith and spiritual things concerning Christ, their affections are dull, their hearts are heavy, lacking in zeal, and cold. Such truths ought to move a man accordingly but having no true faith in them are not concerned by it.
But displaying external affections is by no means a certainty that it is from God or directed towards God. A view of pagan religions will prove that some of its members are equally moved outwardly in expressions of groans and laughter and also to a state of ecstasy in which some do babble in different tongues and we know that the source of their manifestation is not from the Spirit of God but of his enemies, from the demonic realm. Also a man may naturally conjure up and excite himself without the aid of a supernatural being and display such bodily expressions that is contrary to order.
The scripture asserts that no man can see God and live. This here is because that God’s divine glory is too much for a mortal, and the body being weak is unable to bear such power, therefore when God’s presence is manifested upon an individual, the body is apt to react in all different manners and if God should fully disclose his glory unto us in our natural state then our bodies will be unable to bear such transcendent power. The psalmist speaks of his flesh trembling, Psalm 119:120: ‘My flesh trembles in fear of you; I stand in awe of your laws’. Daniel in seeing a vision of the Lord says that ‘I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking…I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground. A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees.. I stood up trembling’, Daniel 10:8-11. And the Apostle John, given an account of also beholding the Lord, says, Revelation 1:17, ‘And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead’. Although Daniel and John saw the Lord with their bodily eyes, we see Him with our spiritual eyes and the same glory can be witnessed by saints today as Peter declared, ‘though you have not seen Him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy’, 1Peter 1:8.
There is much to write concerning this matter but Edward’s treatise concerning the nature of religious affections deals with it thoroughly. It is plain that the bible often makes use of bodily effects, to express the strength of holy and spiritual affections; such as trembling, groaning, being sick, crying out, panting and fainting. But let us be wise in discerning these affections, let us not condemn those who display these manifestations as fools and let us not be ignorant that such manifestations may not necessarily be from the Holy Spirit.