Chapter 22: Sentiment and Emotion: The Truth of God

There is sternness in the truth of God, which might almost seem like harsh severity, when it is regarded by those whose thoughts on the subject of revelation have been formed in a great measure from sentiment and emotion. An imaginative feeling may exist; and this may be so cherished that even the Scripture is only used for sentimental purposes; and thus the force of definite truth is by no means felt, because the mind has sunk into a kind of spiritual reverie: indeed, there is a disposition to avoid definite truth, from a contrast that has been formed between it and that which is supposed to be spiritual. Thus when the details of revealed promises and purposes are stated from the Word of God, there is a feeling that there is but little, if anything, in them that is really edifying, or that can afford nourishment for spiritual life. And thus dreamy indefinite thoughts of God’s love are cherished, and such a view is taken of the person and work of Christ, and of His coming glory, as may stir up spiritual emotions, or what are supposed to be such. But it must never be forgotten that holiness is not the only thing taught us respecting the Holy Ghost: He is the Spirit of Truth as well as the Holy Spirit of God; and the two things should be combined, and not set in contrast. We are not to accredit any supposed holiness irrespective of truth; we are not to regard truth as rightly held unless it be connected with holiness: and as truth is found in the revelation given in Holy Scripture, this must be our standard by which we must judge whatever professes to be either holiness, such as God would approve, or truth, that His people should accept.

Emotional religion has always a tendency to make feeling the standard of what should be received as truth, and what rejected. A certain kind of high wrought feeling (approaching to mysticism, or amounting to it) is that which is allowed to rule the judgment as to whatever God has revealed; and some times these indefinite claims to spirituality are accepted by others, so that the doctrines of such teachers are supposed to be worthy of all acceptance, not because they are found in Holy Scripture, but because they are said to be true by such holy and devoted men. But if we would judge according to God, we must test all claims to holiness and devotedness by means of truth, and not merely do the reverse. Asceticism is not Christian holiness; the zeal of Francis Xavier is not Christian devotedness.

It is very manifest that the doctrine of a secret coming of Christ, and a secret removal of the Church to be with Him, is peculiarly suited to those who cherish the religion of sentiment.[1] What more cheering (they say) than the thought that the Lord may take His people to Himself at any moment? What more animating than the belief that this may take place this very day? And when any one brings them to Scripture, and tries to point out the revealed hope of the Lord’s coming, it seems as if there were nothing but coldness in the teaching, and as if the Lord were put far off from them. They ask sometimes if such chilling doctrines can be consistent with love to the Lord, and whether love to His person does not exclude the thought of a revealed interval, and of events that will take place first. It is thus that truth is judged by sentiment and emotion, instead of true emotions, which are according to God, being formed by truth in all its definite severity. Whatever makes the feelings sit in judgment on Scripture, and whatever thus leads to the avoidance of the force of that Scripture teaching which is not in accordance with such feelings, must, however apparently sanctified and spiritual, be of nature, and not of God. Are we to seek to be guided by other hopes than those which animated the Apostolic Church? They knew that days of darkness would set in before Christ’s coming; they were instructed respecting the many Antichrists and the final Antichrist, but so far from their hope of the coming of the Lord and of resurrection being thus set aside, they were able to look onward through the darkness to the brightness of the morning.

It may freely be owned that those who think it right to expect the Lord at any moment, and who sternly condemn others who maintain that His appointed signals shall take place first, have often in their hearts much real love to Him; and love towards His person is never to be regarded lightly. But let such remember the prayer of the Apostle, "That your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment" (Phil. 1:9): it is not only of importance that love should be rightly directed as to its object, but also that there should be in the soul real spiritual intelligence If a wife has the promise of her husband’s return from a distant country, and she has his written directions for the rule of the house during his absence, and part of these directions includes a statement how his return shall be expected, that a letter will first arrive to say by what ship he will come-there would be no want of love (and that, too, intelligent love) on her part, if she sought to be occupied day by day as he directed, and if she showed that she believed his word that the promised letter should come, and that then he would himself arrive by the appointed vessel. She would be waiting according to his word and will; and no one could reproach her for want of love to her lord from not being on the tip-toe of momentary expectation. But if the wife were to say that the part of her husband’s directions respecting the promised letter related to the servants of the house, and not to her, and if she were to be constantly on the shore, expecting her husband’s landing in a way that he had not promised, and if she refused to be brought to attend simply to what her husband had said-she would, while professing to do this out of love to him, show that she was a visionary, and not one whose love was guided by the simple intelligence of her husband’s mind as distinctly expressed: feeling would have led away from true obedience.

There are, indeed, those who say that love can allow of nothing as between their souls-and the coming of the Lord; they avoid any real scriptural inquiry on the subject; and when events prophesied by our Lord are pointed out, they say that their views are directed upward, that there they find their strength, in contrast to "men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth" (Luke 21:26). And thus they avoid the force of even our Lord’s words, through a supposed spirituality. Men’s hearts may be dismayed, but this will not apply to believers, who would see in that which caused dismay to others the bright prospect of deliverance to themselves, for the coming of the Lord would be at hand.

The dreamy ethereality, which assumes the name and the garb of spirituality, avoids the apprehension of facts; they appear too unrefined, and there is too little in them for the exercise of mere sentimental feeling. But is it not by facts, and facts too occurring on this earth, that God works? The incarnation of the Son of God, the reality of His meritorious obedience, of His vicarious sufferings, the atonement of the Cross-all, indeed, on which we depend for salvation, has to do with facts which have taken place on this earth. Though Christ is at the right hand of God, yet here He wrought out those facts in all their literal truth, on which the forgiveness of sins, and the acceptance of our persons, depend. Why, then, avoid the contemplation of those facts which are yet before us, in all their definiteness of detail?

Sentimental religion often approaches very nearly to mere ideality: the ideal Christ takes in part the place of the Christ of revelation, and although it cannot be denied by any one professing to be a Christian that the literal blood of atonement was shed here on the literal Cross, yet so far from seeing that the redemption price was paid to the full when Christ said, "It is finished," and died, they speak of the real atonement having not been made until Jesus, risen from the dead, presented His own blood on the mercy seat above. Thus (with various modifications) they speak and write about salvation and justification in "the risen Jesus," not seeing that His work in connection with sin was completed for ever on the Cross.[2]

But real love is no mere ideality: it is an active thing. God’s love was shown in providing the salvation wrought out by His blessed Son; and if we have true Christian love in our hearts it will be found an active principle also, both towards God and towards the brethren for His sake. Yet how often have we seen sentimental love fail altogether: it has been much set forth in word, but the moment that it has been tested, its merely emotional character has been proved. The false principle of mysticism as to the love of God is, that He loves His own image which His grace and Spirit work in us: this is much the same as saying that He loves us so far as He sees us worthy of His love, or as He sees some congruity in us. If the love of God be so regarded, the love to the brethren may well be of the same character: love not for the Father’s sake, not for Christ’s sake, but for the sake of some inwrought fitness in the object. Those who make sentimentally the secret rapture the center of all their thoughts, have habitually shown how utterly their love fails towards any Christians who object to this theory. They often speak of them as if such were devoid of love to Christ, and they treat them as if that were the case. It might seem as if they had made that one point (in which they are led by feeling, not by Scripture) the very test of Christian profession. They ask, indeed, with earnestness of manner, how those who deny the secret advent can "love His appearing,"[3] and they refer to the passage (Heb. 9:28). "Unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation," as if it included only those who hold a peculiar expectation. To these it is that they extend their mystical love, which has so much taken the place of what is truly Christian.

But "they that look for Him" does not mean a part of the Church, but the whole; not those who expect in a particular manner, but those who know that as He died, rose, and ascended, so surely He will come again, as has been promised. It does not depend on the intelligence of believers, or the reverse. The fact has been embodied in the common expressions of Christian belief: "He shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead: whose kingdom shall have no end" (Nicene Creed); "Thou sittest on the right hand of God, in the glory of the Father. We believe that thou shalt come to be our Judge" (Te Deum). Such, even in the darkest ages, has been the profession of the nominal Church; such has been ever the solemn acknowledgment of true believers. If they inquired but little about the circumstances of that coming, or the connected events, who would dare, even in thought, to exclude them from the number of those who love the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ? Who would say that they are not of "those that look for Him?" (See Appendix H).

Such sentimental feeling, when allowed full outflowing in connection with the doctrine of the secret advent, works this, amongst other evils—the narrowing, both in practice and in principle, of that Christian love which should be directed towards all who are in Christ, and which should include all living believers, and all who from the beginning have obtained a good report through faith.

It is almost impossible to overstate the evil effects of sentimental and emotional opinions and practices when young unconverted persons are exposed to them. The stern facts by which conviction is brought to the conscience are all but idealized; the true character of sin, and God’s wrath against it, is overlooked or obscured; and while the death and resurrection of Christ are indeed spoken of, the full character of His work and His definite fulfillment of God’s holy law for us in His life, are lost in a dreamy notion which in part at least puts His resurrection in the place of His death, as that by which the full atonement is made. In this manner devotional feelings are often stirred up; but without the primary ground having been cleared; without the question of sin and its forgiveness through the blood of the cross having been settled; and without the acceptance of the righteousness wrought out in the living obedience of Christ when on earth, as that in which the sinner can stand before God. Apparent devotedness is thus at times excited: there is the endeavor, on emotional grounds, to do much for God, but without the preliminary truth having been grasped of what, in the gift of Christ, God has done for us. There is in all this the endeavor to show good fruit from the tree which is still in its natural corruption. This, too, is often fostered by the misuse of devotional books, as if they could be substituted for coming to Christ in heart and conscience; and by the injudicious tone of "good books," which touch the feelings only, even when they are not replete with error of doctrine and principle.

The religion of sentiment and emotion often leads to mere asceticism: a very different thing from the practical holiness in which the believer is called on to walk. Any unconverted sentimentalist may assume an ascetic garb as a, substitute for the Gospel.

It has been remarkable to notice how the sentimental expectation of the Lord’s coming has led away from the close and reverential study of Holy Scripture. Indeed, it has been painful to hear earnest and real desire definitely to study the Word of God regarded and termed by some, as being "occupied with the letter of Scripture" (See Appendix J). But do those who say this know what they mean? They speak of principles, and of having their minds occupied with Christ; but how do we obtain true principles except from God’s revelation in the Word? and how does the Spirit lead the mind to be occupied with Christ, except from the definite truth of Holy Scripture? In fact, those who thus speak, putting the spirit in contrast to the letter, appear not to know what they are discussing; and as to Scripture itself, by paying but little heed to what they call "the letter," they really disregard so far what the Spirit has there set forth. "But oh! (they say) this head-knowledge, this intellectual study of truth! how it leads our minds away from Christ!" It is true that there may be mental intelligence with but little spirituality; but it is equally true that if we obey God we shall never neglect the words of His Scripture.

Of course, with this tone of feeling, all critical study of Scripture is decried; it is deemed a waste of time. Even the study of the Word of God in the original Hebrew and Greek is spoken of as if it were a secular occupation. The English Bible is thought to be enough for teachers and taught alike; and thus they remain alike uninstructed. And if the original languages are looked at, exact scholarship is deemed superfluous. How different is this from the real study of God’s Word; from using and valuing each portion, however minute, as being from Him, and as being that of which He can unfold to us the meaning by the teaching of His Spirit. How different from the practical application of the most definite rules of grammar, which lead to absolute persuasion that apostles and evangelists wrote nothing at random, but that even as to the most delicate shades of thought they used the right cases, moods, and tenses.[4] All diligent and careful inquiry, and laborious examination of authorities, so as to know what were the very words in which the inspired writers gave forth the Scripture, is regarded as merely intellectual and secular. But is this a healthy tone of thought? Should not those who believe in the Divine authority of Holy Scripture know that they ought not to neglect its critical study? And if it be truly inspired, ought they not to feel that it is of some importance to inquire what is its true text—what, as far as existing evidence can show, were the very words in which the Holy Ghost gave it forth?[5]

Most difficult is it to arouse Christians in general to a sense of the full importance of critical study of Scripture; and especially is this the case when dreamy apprehensions are cherished, and where vague idealism has taken the place of truth, and sentimental asceticism is the substitute for Christian holiness.

There may be an external knowledge of Scripture where there is no spiritual life or light; but that is no reason for cherishing what is supposed to be spiritual in contrast to the words of inspiration. Such a contrast cannot really exist. He who truly loves the Lord Jesus Christ, and is guided by His Spirit, will be the most subject to that which is written in the Word. True acquaintance with Scripture is the best check to mere sentimental emotion.[6]


[1] It is as impossible to discuss a question scripturally with those who are guided by emotion and sentiment, as it was for Greatheart, in the second part of Pilgrim’s Progress, to arouse Heedless and Too‑bold when sleeping on the Enchanted Ground.

[2] Romans 4:25 plainly teaches that our Lord “was delivered in consequence of our offences, and raised again in consequence of our justification.” The preposition in each case is the same, so that just as His death resulted from His bearing our sins, so did His resurrection result from the accomplishment of that propitiation whereby we receive pardon and peace. Some speak of our sins “being buried in the grave of Jesus;” but how could they get there? The Cross was the last place where He had to do with sin: the shedding of His blood, the laying down of His life, was the payment of the full redemption price. He himself bore our sins up to the tree; but on the completion of His sacrifice, all that had to do with sin was ended; and He was laid in the grave, not as then the sinbearer, but as the Holy One who had borne the full penalty. Of this the resurrection was the full proof. If the weight of sin rested on Him when buried, how could it have been removed? It is true that our sin had laid Him in the grave, because He had died to put it away; but it was no longer on Him when He was there. On Romans 4:25, see, as to this point, Bishop Horsley’s sermon. Nine Sermons on our Lord’s Resurrection, etc., p. 249. 1822.

[3] If it were desirable to answer arguments in the same way as that in which they are put, it might be asked whether those who expect a secret coming of Christ are those “that love His appearing”? For this is of necessity a manifest thing. But at least let not the advocates of a secret coming speak of those who expect the appearing of Christ, as if they failed in that love to Him which should lead them to wait for Him. They love His appearing, and they do not substitute something else in the place of “that blessed hope.”

[4] “It is unwelcome news to the maintainer of some cherished exposition, to be told by an unsympathising critic that it is a baseless vision, a notion unsupported by the language of the text. And it is also worthy of remark, how often the supporters of extravagancies in theology have manifeted an instinctive dread of exact learning.”Rev. T. S. Green, M.A., On the Grammar of the New Testament Dialect. Ed. 1, 1842. Introduction, p. v.

[5] The opposition of visionary teachers and the receivers of their teaching, to all textual criticism founded on evidence‑to all investigation, in fact, regarding what are the real words and sentences given forth under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost‑appears to be only equaled by the temerity with which, in certain cases, they accept conclusions which they desire, rather on assertion than on evidence.

[6] “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come: for men shall be lovers of their own selves, etc., etc.... Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth .... But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned, etc .... All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Tim. 3). So taught the Apostle of the Gentiles, who was himself an able “minister of the New Testament” (2 Cor. 2:6), for the guidance of the Church in the “perilous times.”