Thursday, March 26, 2009

The proof of the pudding is in the eating!

A post inspired by Reading the Classics with Challies.

Chapter 3 of Real Christianity covers a lot of material with a fairly long list of topics. Here is Chapter 3 from the table of contents:

Chief defects of the religious system of the bulk of professed Christians in what regards our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. -- With a dissertation concerning the use of the passions in religion.

Inadequate conceptions concerning our Savior and the Holy Spirit
Scripture doctrines
Popular notions
Language of one who objects against the religious affections towards our Savior
Also against the operations of the Holy Spirit
Objections discussed and replied to

SECT. II. -- On the admission of the passions into religion
True test and measure of the religious affections
The affections not merely allowable in religion, but highly necessary
Christ the just object of our warm affections

SECT. III. -- Considerations of the reasonableness of af­fections towards an invisible Being
The affections denied to be possible towards an in­visible Being
This position discussed and answered
Special grounds for the religious affections towards our Savior
Unreasonable conduct of our objectors in the present instance
Appeal to fact in proof of our former positions

Due to the scope of topics as can be seen above, I chose to focus on something of interest; a practical guide in determining the legitimacy of religious affections. The information I would like to bring to light is contained in the following passage:

To ascertain these points, we must examine whether they appear to be grounded in knowledge, to have their root in strong and just conceptions of the great and manifold excellencies of their object, or to be ignorant, unmeaning, or vague; whether they are natural and easy, or constrained and forced; wakeful, and apt to fix on their great objects, and delighting in the exercises of prayer, and praise, and religious contemplation, which may be called their proper nutriment; or voluntarily omitting suitable occasions of receiving it, looking forward to such opportunities with little expectation, looking back on them with little complacency, and being disappointed of them with little regret; we must observe whether these religious affections are merely occasional visitants, or the abiding inmates of the soul; whether they have got the mastery over the vicious passions and propensities, with which, in their origin, and nature, and tendency, they are at open variance; or whether, if the victory be not yet complete, the war is at least constant, and the breach irreconcilable : whether they moderate and regulate all the inferior appetites and desires which are culpable only in their excess, thus striving to reign in the bosom with a settled, undisputed predominance. And we must examine whether, above all, they manifest themselves by prompting to the active discharge of the duties of life, the personal, the domestic, the professional, the social, and civil duties. (56-7)

As has been noted, Wilberforce is verbose. Allow me to condense the information. Wilberforce begins by comparing what the true and legitimate affections look like when compared to false or illegitimate ones. He suggests that legitimate affections, in a person, are:
  • as to the mind, grounded in knowledge as opposed to ignorance
  • as to the experience, natural as opposed to forced or contrived
  • as to spiritual disciplines, attentive and anticipating as opposed to apathetic
  • as to regularity, abiding as opposed to occasional
  • as to sinful desires, contrary to as opposed to in league with
  • as to lesser appetites, reigning over as opposed to consumed with

That list gives us a solid benchmark for determining if religious affections are legitimate. But Wilberforce is not finished. The final criterion for the author is an all-encompassing pragmatic 'true test and measure of the religious affections'; do they result in dutiful living in one's personal, family, professional and social life. For, in Wilberforce's words, "we must examine whether, above all, they manifest themselves by prompting to the active discharge of the duties of life, the personal, the domestic, the professional, the social, and civil duties." (57) For the author, the proof of the pudding is in the eating!

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