Emotion, the Spirit, and the Christian Life

Some wise words on emotion and emotionalism by Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

Christians can be quite good at going to war with one another. Sometimes it is necessary, but often it is not. What will be discussed here may get some folks all up in arms, but hopefully it will serve a useful and edifying purpose. The topic will be revealed shortly. But first…

Some things have warning labels attached, such as ‘Caution: harmful if swallowed’. This article also needs a warning label. Those who have a bee in their bonnet or are theological pugilists can huff and puff to their heart’s desire, but please try not to do so here thanks. I do not need more open warfare on this site.

While my title may not sound all that earthshaking, the sorts of issues that arise here certainly can get some believers all hot and bothered – both those who are pro and those who are con. My article touches to some extent on the following battle fronts:

-Cessationists vs non-cessationists
-Charismatics vs non-charismatics
-Pentecostals vs anti-Pentecostals

While I do not wish to directly address those issues here, they of course do emerge in any discussion of emotion and the place of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian. But as just a short introduction to where I stand on these issues, I refer you to this piece: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2013/10/18/on-strange-fire-part-one/

What I mainly want to do here is point out a few truths. The main one is that those who might be assumed to be opposed to emotion and the charismata and so on, sometimes in fact are not. Some of our key theologians who have been in the Puritan and Reformed camps have been quite open to the things of the Spirit in various ways.

Here I want to mention just one of them, and quote heavily from him: Martyn Lloyd-Jones. And I will confine myself to his expository sermons on the book of Ephesians. Other of his books could certainly be appealed to, such as his series of sermons on John 17, released as Life in the Spirit.

And one book I must draw your attention to here is the 1989 volume by Michael Eaton entitled Baptism with the Spirit: The Teaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. This is a very helpful 250-page study of what Eaton calls his “charismatic theology.”

But let me offer quotes direct from Lloyd-Jones. A crucial verse on this matter found in Ephesians is Eph. 1:13: “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise” (KJV).

Image of God's Ultimate Purpose: An Exposition of Ephesians 1:1-23
God's Ultimate Purpose: An Exposition of Ephesians 1:1-23 by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Author) Amazon logo

Lloyd-Jones examines this text in great detail in God’s Ultimate Purpose, the first of his 8-volumes of expository sermons on Ephesians. He spends no less than five chapters (ch. 21-24) – totalling nearly 60 pages (pp. 243-300) – discussing just this one verse. Let me offer some of what he has to say on this passage.

He argues that the sealing of the Spirit is the same as the baptism of the Spirit. He argues that this sealing is an experience subsequent to our initial salvation (justification). When the believer is first saved he receives the Holy Spirit, but a fuller experience follows from this at some point later on. I will not belabour this here, but instead look more at the issue of emotion and the personal experience of the Holy Spirit. He says this:

“What our Lord promised happened at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost as we are told in the second chapter of the Book of Acts. Yet in spite of the account of the event given there I am asked to believe that it is non-experimental, that it did not lead to any feelings or to anything whatsoever in the sphere of consciousness… We are so afraid of excesses, we are so afraid of being labelled in a certain way, that we claim the baptism of the Spirit to be something unconscious, non-experimental, a happening that does not affect a man’s feelings. Such an argument is utterly unscriptural. Not conscious! The Apostles were as men who appeared to be filled with new wine; they were in a state of ecstasy. They were rejoicing, they were praising God; they were moved, their hearts were ravished; they experienced things which they had never felt or known before. When we have this seal of the Spirit we know it, and others know it. It is the highest, the greatest experience which a Christian can have in this world.” pp. 269-270

“I have already quoted the names of Thomas Goodwin and John Owen, the Puritans; also those of Charles Hodge and Charles Simeon. I can also claim the support of John Wesley and George Whitefield. The sealing with the Spirit, or the baptism with the Spirit, is clearly experimental and experiential.” p. 271

“The Apostle tells us in the fourth chapter of Galatians that as the result of the work of Christ and the baptism of the Spirit we also are given the Spirit that was in Christ, and He makes us also cry ‘Abba, Father’. We have become certain of God as Father, we know Him as Father. We no longer believe in God as Father theoretically, it is the cry of the heart, an elemental, instinctive cry that comes welling up from the depths. That is the result of the sealing of the Spirit.” p. 273

“This experience is what is meant by the sealing with the Spirit, or the baptism with the Spirit. It happened to the Apostles on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. They had believed in our Lord and His salvation before, but now they were bubbling over with it and rejoicing in it with ‘a joy unspeakable and full of glory’. Yet we are told by many evangelical teachers that it is not experimental! Thus, in our fear of the excesses that some who claim this experience may be guilty of, we often become guilty of ‘quenching the Spirit’, and robbing ourselves of the richest blessings.” p. 274

“That, in turn, raises the question of the place of emotion in this experience. Many are troubled by this. Modern Christians seem to be more frightened of emotion than anything else. This is due to their failure to draw the distinction between emotion and emotionalism. Because they are afraid of emotionalism they are afraid of emotion. There are some who go so far as to boast that there is no emotion in Christian experience. They are pleased when people show no emotion at their conversion. Thus we can be led astray by confused thinking. There is a real difference between emotion and emotionalism. Is it conceivable that anyone can be told directly by God that he is God’s child, and yet feel nothing, feel no emotion? There was never a more stolid, unemotional man by nature than John Wesley. He was a typical logician, somewhat prim and pedantic, who distrusted any tendency to excess, yet in the meeting in Aldersgate Street his heart was ‘strangely warmed’.

“‘But’, says someone, ‘what about the excesses, the fanaticism, and the various phenomena that are sometimes reported? Are you not tending to encourage disorder? In the accounts of revivals strange phenomena are often reported; is all that a part of this sealing’? In reply we must emphasize that for God to visit a soul is the most overwhelming experience one can ever know; and it is not surprising therefore that sometimes the physical frame cannot stand it. . . . It is not surprising if, sometimes, when the Spirit of God enters into people with great power, they should lose their self-control for a while. This should not trouble us. . . . The essence of [Jonathan Edwards’] argument is to demonstrate that it is not at all surprising if when the Spirit of God enters into a man’s soul in power, unusual things should happen, and that his normal balance should be upset temporarily. This does not justify excesses, but helps to explain them. So we need not be afraid of that element. We must remember also that at such a time of revival the devil is anxious to produce counterfeits and cause confusion. He turns people’s attention to the phenomena, to the experiences, to the excitement; and there are always people who look only for such things.” pp. 286-287

“There is nothing in contemporary Christianity which is so dangerous and so unscriptural as the teaching that, with regard to each and every blessing in the Christian life, all that we have to do is to take it by faith and not worry about feelings.” p. 294

And briefly, in the third volume in this series, The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, he goes on to say this about Eph. 3:18-19:

“There are, unfortunately, even many evangelical Christians who deny that God has any direct dealings with men today, and who hold feeling and emotion at a discount. They frequently substitute for true emotion a flabby sentimentalism. They are afraid of the power of the Holy Spirit, and so afraid of certain excesses which are sometimes found in mysticism and in certain people who claim to have unusual experiences of the Holy Spirit, that they quench the Spirit and never have any personal knowledge of Christ. Indeed, they often go so far as to deny the possibility of such a knowledge.” p. 247

Such a position on the matter of the sealing of the Spirit is of course not agreed upon by all believers. How were his views received when he first presented them? Michael Eaton says this about them:

Years before the charismatic movement began in the 1960s Lloyd-Jones had been teaching a distinctive view of the work of the Spirit. It was controversial during his early years, but since Lloyd-Jones did not publish many major works until after his retirement, his view of the Spirit was not always fully realized outside of Westminster Chapel. Since his death in 1981 and the availability of his teaching on tape and in print, his opinions have received much wider considerations.

In sum, I share all this, as mentioned, not to start yet another theological war, but mainly to demonstrate that it is not just certain Christian camps that promote and celebrate the work and experience of the Holy Spirit. Even some great figures in the Reformed and Puritan camps can also move in this direction. And there would be others besides just the great Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

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6 Replies to “Emotion, the Spirit, and the Christian Life”

  1. Bill, One can liken those initial experiences post baptism/sealing to those giddy sensations one goes through when you fall in love for the first time. Smiles that don’t seem to fade. A constant desire to express your joy whilst those around you have knowing looks among themselves.
    This initial burst of emotive expression eventually subsides and leads to more measured and mature reactions but the joy never truly departs and is always there ready to bubble over.
    Some might say that the deliberate restraint and emotionless path that is walked by others is bondage rather than freedom.
    All I know is what I have seen, experienced and read. If they all align then good if one grates on the others then closer examination is required. Usually this examination leads to the shelving of a teaching or an opinion or an experience. It is the Spirit that attests and we are told to test every spirit. Play on words maybe but it is true.
    So why can it not be so that your first experience of being in love with God is a gushing display of what is outwardly seen as silliness.

  2. I appreciated this….I “quench the Spirit” afraid of weird bizarre excesses that discredit the gospel…I can relate to “strangely warmed” this I can relate too…following Derek Prince and learning of his experiences has warmed me to certain manifestations, for instance he said he regularly got a prophecy in tongues, unexpectedly, then the interpretation came..Lord lead us in the way everlasting in Jesus Name Amen.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this Bill. Lately I’ve been looking into various revivals in history. To my understanding, Martin Lloyd Jones was asked to authenticate the Welsh revival which he did. Interesting of itself.

  4. Amen!

    Mark 12:30 ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

    The first thing mentioned is our heart and while we are advised to use our minds and to study so we may be approved, God is seeking an emotional attachment, not simply an intellectual understanding.

    In Isaiah 28 we see a warning to those who behave drunkenly but also to those who would solely lean on their own understanding. While everything God has done is “line upon line” and the judgement will be made down the line and be balanced and plumb, if our relationship with God is simply intellectual and “line upon line” we will fail because God has said:-

    Isa 28:13
    “Then the word of the LORD to them will become: ‘Order on order, order on order, line on line, line on line; a little here, a little there,’ so that they will go stumbling backward and will be injured, ensnared, and captured.”

    Our relationship with God has to be based on faith in Him and not faith in our understanding, and that faith will inevitably include emotion as we love God with all our heart. It will also include the understanding that we cannot understand everything and so must simply trust emotionally and even rejoice in adversity. It is a package deal – heart, mind, soul and strength. That is the only way it can work.

  5. The emotion he speaks of the passion and love is great but it’s when you get into the tongues, almost always spoken with no-one to interpret (we can go into whether or not tongues are a heavenly language or a human language unknown to the speaker some other time), healing and prophecy you can run into fakes easily and unfortunately the charismatic and Pentecostal communities do have quite the tendency to accept fakes as the real deal. (Dr Michael Brown talk about this being a Pentecostal he has some authority to speak) I have heard stories of of some speaking gibberish intentionally to get church leaders off their backs because they were so insistent on a person speaking tongues as PROOF of their baptism of the Holy spirit. The gifts ARE still here BUT much prayer is need because fake gifts exist that seem impressive and can deceive.

    I understand the desire to have the same power as the apostles but they had YEARS of being taught DIRECTLY by Christ before having this power. Too many today was to get this power right away and go off and running with it. You have the fundamentals first then you can worry about this. Crawl before you walk. Walk before you run!

    As with any power the power of God show be handled carefully and you should know what you’re doing before you try and use it. Otherwise you might find it isn’t the power of God you’re using but another power.

  6. Being born of the Spirit is distinct to being baptized in the Spirit. For one, it is the Spirit who baptizes into Christ, see 1 Cor 12:13, but it is Christ who baptizes us in the Holy Ghost, see Luke 3:16.

    As for emotionalism and shallowness, sadly many Pentecostals cannot articulate their own doctrine and many of them are anti-doctrine.

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