Obedience and the mastery of the heart (Tozer on religious affections)
August 22, 2010
Throughout his several books, A. W. Tozer is occupied by the cultural assimilation in contemporary evangelicalism, especially as afforded by the rise of the “leisure class” in middle class, post-war America. Enraptured by consumerism and the amusements which occupy our interests, the churches have appropriated an anthropology where the arousal of the affections is the means for action and commitment. Thus, it is believed, the heart governs the will; the latter is contingent upon the former. The delights of the Lord will make for better Christians, a healthy church, and a just society.
The problem here is that the emotions are ungovernable, at least insofar as they are made the chief faculty of the intellect and, thereby, the chief cause of influence for the obedience of faith. The emotions are not capable of bearing this weight. Instead, our acts of volition, in accordance with the obedience of faith, is the fountain from which our emotions are the spring. Obedience is the source of a more secure and stable emotional life. As such, the heightening of our affections can never be the object of faith, that for which we obey Christ. Once the affections are made the object of faith, man himself is made the object of faith — man is in service to himself. (By the way, here we have the foundations for the proliferation of the prosperity gospel in mainstream evangelicalism by the end of the 20th century.) Here is Tozer’s estimation of the dilemma:
To find our way out of the shadows and into the cheerful sunlight, we need only to know that there are two kinds of love: the love of feeling, and the love of willing. The one lies in the emotions, the other in the will. Over the one, we have little control. It comes and goes, rises and falls, flares up and disappears as it chooses, and changes from hot to warm to cool and back to warm again very much as does the weather. Such love was not in the mind of Christ when He told His people to love God and each other. We could as well command a butterfly to light on our shoulder as to attempt to command this whimsical kind of affection to visit our hearts.
The love the Bible enjoins is not the love of feeling; it is the love of willing, the willed tendency of the heart. (For these two happy phrases I am indebted to another, a master of the inner life whose pen was only a short time ago stilled by death.) …
Someone may infer from the above that we are ruling out the joy of the Lord as a valid part of the Christian life. To avoid that erroneous conclusion I offer this further word of explanation.
To love God with all our heart we must first of all will to do so. We should repent our lack of love and determine from this moment on to make God the object of our devotion. We should set our affections on things above and aim our hearts toward Christ and heavenly things. We should obey them, always firmly willing to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourself.
If we do these things we may be sure that we shall experience a wonderful change in our whole inward life. We shall soon find to our great delight that our feelings are becoming less erratic and are beginning to move in the direction of the “willed tendency of the heart.” Our emotions will become disciplined and directed. We shall begin to taste “piercing sweetness” of the love of Christ. Our religious affection will begin to mount evenly on steady wings in stead of flitting about idly without purpose or intelligent direction. The whole life, like a delicate instrument, will be tuned to sing the praises of Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.
But first of all we must will, for the will is master of the heart.
[The Best of A. W. Tozer, Book One, pp. 174-176.]