Liverpool is a footballing city. Red or Blue we all, with a few exceptions, love the game. On a Saturday afternoon many of our church family can be found watching football from the stands, the comfort of their sofa, or the local pub. For a football fan the success or failure of their team matters, not simply for the winning of trophies, but also for their emotions. A winning team brings joy, a losing team brings sadness and even despair.
Now that’s not wrong. We are emotional people. We watch football with our eyes and our hearts. We admire the skill and delight in its achievements. But the point here is that if I feel that way about football (or anything else) but never about the Lord Jesus, then I need to be concerned.
Writing nearly 300 years ago, Jonathan Edwards in his book “Religious Affections” makes a powerful argument that true Christianity lives in our “affections”. What he means is that being a Christian is not just about what we say, or do, or even just the truths we assent to, rather it is also about how we feel about those. True religion is loving the Lord with all our heart and soul and strength, not just acknowledging his presence or turning up at church. Having made that argument with 10 tightly argued points, he then goes on with its implications. Teaching that while we need to be aware of false emotionalism, no emotional involvement in the gospel is a sign of spiritual death, not life. He writes:
…how common is it among mankind, that their affections are much more exercised and engaged in other matters than in religion! In things which concern men’s worldly interest, their outward delights, their honour and reputation, and their natural relations, they have their desires eager, their appetites vehement, their love warm and affectionate, their seal ardent; in these things their hearts are tender and sensible, easily moved, deeply impressed, much concerned, very sensibly affected, and greatly engaged; much depressed with grief at losses, and highly raised with joy at worldly success and prosperity, But how insensible and unmoved are most men about the great things of another world! How dull are their affections! How heavy and hard their hearts in these matters! Here their love is cold, their desires languid, their zeal low, and their gratitude small. How can they sit and hear of the infinite height, and depth, and length, and breadth of the love of God in Christ Jesus, of His giving His infinitely dear Son, to be offered up a sacrifice for the sins of men, and of the unparalleled love of the innocent and holy, and tender Lamb of God, manifested in His dying agonies, His bloody sweat, His loud and bitter cries, and bleeding heart, and all this for enemies, to redeem them from deserved, eternal burnings, and to bring to unspeakable and everlasting joy and glory – and yet be cold and heavy, insensible and regardless! (page 51-52)
It’s hard to argue with that! Edwards has us! If we find ourselves singing at the football with greater passion than at church then I haven’t really taken the gospel to my heart. And the heart is the very place the gospel belongs in my life because it is from there that it transforms everything else.