I ought to begin this by defining first what an affection is, and second what my affections are as a human made in the image of God. First, an affection is a feeling or emotion. Secondly speaking then, the affections of mankind are the feelings or emotions of man, given by God for our good and His glory, wherein we find the seat of the soul’s activity. This leads directly to the conclusion that man was made by God to feel greatly. But sadly due to our fall in Genesis 3 we must admit that we do not feel as we were intended to, or as we ought to. We too often find a strong feeling toward that which we should feel little for, and a small feeling toward that which we should feel largely for. Or I could say it like this, we have disordered affections, and must believe that part of my sanctification will be the ongoing progressive work of God’s grace in my soul to reorder my soul. We ought to be glad for such work. Though we do not find it so, most of us do find that we deeply desire to feel the right way about right and wrong things. On one hand we want to deeply delight in God, His nature, His ways, His Word, His Son, His Spirit, and His Church. On the other hand we want to deeply hate sin, of all kinds, especially the kinds that affect me the most. The more God does this in me the more useful I’ll be for Him, for my family, and for His Church.
After the second giving of the Law in Deuteronomy 5, v1-2 of chapter 6 reveals the greatest of commandments or decrees of God. What is it? That I and my family ought to fear the Lord. This is where we begin in thinking over our affections, with the fear of God. This is not servile fear or having a fright of God but maintaining and seeking a proper reverence toward Him. How long are we commanded to this fear? All the days of my life. Why are we commanded to this fear? So that our days may be long. This notion of land to Israel is a reference to their time in Canaan. Does this apply to us? Yes and no. No, we are not physical Israelites looking to cross into a physical Canaan. But yes, we are spiritual Israelites and true descendants of Abraham from our faith in Abraham’s Descendant Jesus Christ (Gal. 3), and we are wandering through the wilderness of this present evil age, awaiting the greater Canaan. As Israel was told we are told, fear the Lord, all the days of my life, not that our life would be long (length of days isn’t promised me) but so that our life would be full and abundant here (John 10:10, 15:11).
So what does it mean to fear God rightly? At it’s most basic it means honoring God as God, recognizing His exalted state and nature, His supremacy, His Lordship…while simultaneously recognizing my low condition as man, and fallen at that. He deserves all praise and is worthy of it. This fear is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7), I should serve the Lord with fear (Ps. 2:11), the fear of the Lord is clean (Ps. 19:9), from fearing the Lord I will turn away from evil (Prov. 16:6), the fear of the Lord is safe (Prov. 29:25), and fearing the Lord is part of what brings my holiness to completion (2 Cor. 7:1). Since fearing God is all of these things, not fearing God is the beginning of folly, impure, an entrance into sin, arrogant and dangerous for my soul, and the increaser of corruption in me.
After being asked which commandment was the greatest Jesus responds in Mark 12:30 by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Does this go against my definition of affections as the seat of the soul’s activity? No, I take heart, soul, mind, and strength here in v30 to be synonyms all referring to the activity of the soul (or heart). We may truly love many things in this life, but above them all must be our love for God. If this is absent we begin in the wrong place and that wrong beginning will naturally overflow into wrong action. So if we want our lives to be lived accordingly we ought to keep first things first, and the first thing above all other things is to love God over all things. Not just for the sake of living a well ordered life but for the sake of God, who is in Himself beautiful and worthy to be the cream of our delights and well of our joys. I do not think there needs to be a contrast between fearing God and loving Him, I also take these to be synonyms speaking of the same reality because I do not rightly fear Him if I do not love Him and visa versa. We must admit though, we can only love God because He has loved us in Christ first. So at the root of this ability of mine to rightly fear and love God, lies the gospel grace that changes our hearts and gives us the ability to do so.
So I see these things this morning. I was created with affections, with the capacity to feel deeply, and this is a good thing. But I am a fallen man who doesn’t feel as I ought to. So God must command my disordered affections to feel deeply about Himself as part of re-ordering my affections. He commands me to do this through the gospel, as a reaction to how He has loved me greatly in Christ. I must submit to this command, and when I do, I find that to fear God is to love God. If this beginning is present and active in me, many good and beautiful flowers will blossom in the garden that is my heart.