We begin chapter three of Wilberforce’s Practical Christianity which has this lengthy title:
“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.”
I read that by “passions” Wilberforce means the “affections.” Of course, we then must find out what he means by the “affections.”
In section one Wilberforce begins with “Inadequate conceptions concerning our Saviour and the Holy Spirit.” Here Wilberforce points out what he thinks are inadequate conceptions of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit among professing Christians in England. Wilberforce lists some essential truths concerning Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit and bemoans the fact that while the bulk of professed Christians
“…assent to them in terms, [they do not] discern their force and excellency in the understanding, and feel their power in the affections, and their transforming influence in the heart.”
If all this pious-sounding prose is simply meant to convey James’ sentiment that faith without works is dead then these professed Christians have NOT ASSENTED to the doctrines pertaining to Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Wilberforce presents what I suppose is a hypothetical objection to his judging the hearts of the bulk of professing Christians in England:
“‘Can you look into the bosoms of men?’ Let us appeal to a test to which we resorted in a former instance. ‘Out of the abundance of the heart,’ it has been pronounced, ‘the mouth speaketh.’ — Take these persons then in some well selected hour, and lead the conversation to the subject of Religion. The utmost which can be effected is, to bring them to talk of things in the gross. They appear lost in generalities; there is nothing precise and determinate, nothing which implies a mind used to the contemplation of its object. In vain you strive to bring them to speak on that topic, which one might expect to be ever uppermost in the hearts of redeemed sinners. They elude all your endeavours; and if you make mention of it yourself, it is received with no very cordial welcome at least, if not with unequivocal disgust; it is at the best a forced and formal discussion.”
Nothing novel here. Just an example of the nominal, “in name only” Christian who is quite loathe to get into specifics of doctrine and precise theological formulations. This kind of professing Christian regards many essential truths with outright disgust or with apparent indifference. Wilberforce’s nominal Christian kind of reminds me of the typical tolerant Calvinists who regard the essential gospel doctrine of Jesus Christ’s cross-work either with disgust or indifference when they call “Arminians” their brothers in Christ.
“True love is an ardent, and an active principle — a cold, a dormant, a phlegmatic gratitude, are contractions in terms. When these generous affections really exist in vigour, are we not ever fond of dwelling on the value, and enumerating the merits of our benefactor? How are we moved when any thing is asserted to his disparagement! How do we delight to tell of his kindness! With what pious care do we preserve any memorial of him, which we may happen to possess? How gladly do we seize any opportunity of rendering to him, or to those who are dear to him, any little good offices, which, though in themselves of small intrinsic worth, may testify the sincerity of our thankfulness! The very mention of his name will cheer the heart, and light up the countenance!”
I wonder how “emotional” or “emotion-filled” does gratitude have to be in order to not be judged by Wilberforce as “phlegmatic”? Anyway if one TRULY ASSENTS to the doctrine of Jesus Christ they will NOT display “unequivocal disgust,” but will rather “exult with joy unspeakable” (1 Peter 1:8).
“If the love of Christ be thus languid in the bulk of nominal Christians, their joy and trust in him cannot be expected to be very vigorous.”
Does this statement include the nominal Christians who, according to Wilberforce, view the doctrines of Jesus Christ with “unequivocal disgust”? Do those who manifest “unequivocal disgust” toward Jesus Christ merely have a “languid love and trust” in the Redeemer? As “disgust” decreases and languishes, does “trust” and “love” correspondingly increase and grow more vigorous? I think Wilberforce has spent an inordinate amount of time marinating his brain in the pernicious juices of pseudo-pious Puritan deceit. And speaking of pseudo-pious Puritan deceit: