Faith and Feelings Part One – MLJ on the vital place but unreliability of feelings

As promised yesterday, we today begin a series exploring the implications of one line from an old hymn “I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholy lean on Jesus name.” It is my assertion that the writer of the hymn must have known something of the sweet “frames of mind” that Jesus gives us. He would not have written as he did if he did not.

These sweet experiences of God are to be sought, and according to the following quote from the good Doctor, they are actually essential. Yet the paradox is that feelings are both fleeting and unreliable. This is the conundrum which we face. There are two solutions to it, that right at the outset I serve notice that I reject. The first is to ignore feelings altogether and turn our faith into a matter of intellectual assent and a cold, sterile academic pursuit. The second is to pursue the latest and best experience, and get on the charismatic treadmill of running after the most exciting, most dramatic outpourings we can possibly find. Both are wrong. There has to be a middle way!

We must all have discovered long since that feelings come and go; and the devil, of course, is well aware of that. So his special strategy at this point is to try to make us rely unduly upon our feelings and sensations and sensibilities. He persuades many people to base the whole of their Christian position upon them. They had some wonderful feelings on a certain occasion and they have based everything upon that experience . . . Then, for some reason or another, their feelings seem to desert them . . . and their whole position is shaken. The devil suggests to them that they are not Christians at all, that they have never been Christians. The one thing which had proved to them that they were Christians has gone, and so they are left with nothing.

The danger arises because feelings are a part, indeed a vital and essential part, of the true Christian experience. Let us be clear about that. If we have never felt anything in connection with our faith, then we do not have a true faith. You cannot really believe in this great salvation without feeling something. A man who has a real knowledge of the truth we have been describing is a man who is deeply moved by it. It must be so. You cannot truly realize the presence of God and remain unmoved.

But, unfortunately, the devil comes and tries to cause a division of the human personality . . . The Gospel having brought us to see that the affections, the emotions, must be involved and must be ‘moved’, he then deliberately exaggerates that element. He presses it, and would have us believe that this, and this alone, is the one thing that matters. And so he gets us to rely exclusively upon our feelings . . .

Now it is just here that the breastplate of righteousness is all-important; indeed at this point it is the only adequate protection. The saintly man who wrote in his hymn ‘I dare not trust the sweetest frame’, did so because he knew how fallible these ‘frames’ are, as they used to be called.

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Christian Soldier : An Exposition of Ephesians 6:10 to 20 (Edinburgh; Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 1977), 234-35

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