Heart and Head, Affections and Feelings, Edwards and Machen
I have made that
trip of 18 inches from the head to the heart and I am sure
of my salvation. Now God has confirmed it to me and never
again will I wonder about the state of my salvation, for I’m
saved, saved, saved! Amen and may you be able to say the
same thing with that blessed assurance I have.
Most likely, all
readers have heard this distinction between “head” and “heart.”
Indeed, you may have made this illustration yourself in one
application or another.
Dear readers, those of
us who espouse a full Biblical worldview, must begin to discern
the invasion of unbiblical thinking into our evangelism,
personal growth, and theology. This invasion comes from both a
pietistic influence of the 19th century and modern
Christians use Jonathan Edwards to bolster their position about
head and heart without carefully reading what he actually wrote.
I would posit that there is an historical-critical method needed
for reading of past Christian writers, as well as, for
Let us explore the
nuances of head and heart, feelings and affections, and what
Jonathan Edwards actually said.
To begin we should
understand what are “feelings,” (a synonym for “emotions”).
Feelings are a slippery subject, and possibly one reason for the
confusion that abounds.
Feelings are, perhaps,
best understood by their various names: sad, mad, afraid,
worried, anxious, fearful, distressed, angry, happy, dejected,
despaired, gloomy, down, blue, furious, glad, surprised,
outraged, steamed, troubled, and longing. These may loosely be
grouped as glad, mad, sad, and afraid (“afrad” to continue the
The etymology of
emotion provides some understanding. The Latin root has the idea
of “action.” The French root describes “to move out.” The word
“disturbance” is used in one definition. So, for a beginning
definition of feeling and emotions, I propose “a disturbance of
Now, where does this
“disturbance” take place? It occurs in both the material (body)
and immaterial (soul, spirit) components of a person.
(I am trying to avoid
the dichotomy-trichotomy issue here. For either camp, there can
still be only material and immaterial. Even the “soul and
spirit” of the trichotomist are both immaterial, that is,
non-physical. That limitation seems adequate for our
For example, you are
driving along in your car, relatively at peace with the world
(see below), when another driver cuts in on you, barely missing
contact, and speeds on! All of a sudden, your heart (body) is
racing, you grip the wheel tighter, and your muscles tense.
Similarly, your mind begins to race. “Wow, I just missed getting
hurt! Whew! I’m glad that he missed me! You ____ so and so, I
hope that you wreck somewhere!”
All that in less than a
second! Fear, relief, gladness, anger. Strong emotions and
feelings, “disturbances,“ occurring in both body and mind
Another example occurs
from the physical side. You awake with a fever of 102 degrees.
You “feel” bad. You don’t want to get up. You don’t want to
think, just get back in bed and forget the responsibilities of
the day. Body and mind are affected. We are a unity.
For a more lengthy
discussion on feelings and emotions, see
A Definition of Emotions written by me.
The word “heart” is
used more than 1000 times in the Old and New Testaments.
It is one designation of the non-material side of man, along
with soul, spirit, mind, conscience, and will. It is unusual, if
not rare, for "heart" to be used to describe emotion, but two
examples are I Samuel 1:8 and 2:1. Far and away the common use
of “heart” concerns the thoughts of man. “As
(a man) thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). “Do not
think in your heart” (Deuteronomy 9:4). “Nor does his heart
think so” (Isaiah 10:6). “Why do you think evil in your
thoughts” (Matthew 9:4). “If anyone among you thinks he is
religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own
heart” (James 1:26). Thus, the heart is inseparable from the
mind and the understanding. The heart gives values to the
things that the mind understands.
At this point, the
reader should do his own research. Simply, use a concordance and
look up verses on “heart,” Old or New Testament, and study the
context and meaning of the use of the word. He or she will
confirm what follows here. (You can also use the Bible Gateway
word/phrase Search at the end of this article.
“Heart in the Bible is
the inner life that one lives before God and himself, a life
that is unknown to others because it is hidden from them… the
most fully developed, most far-reaching and most dynamic concept
of the non-material man.” (1) One is tempted to say that
"heart" is the "real you" -- the real person. But, that is not
the case. Each person has many thoughts, both good and
especially evil, that never "overflow" into the physical world.
These thoughts are never acted upon by the will. The "real
you," or better, the "total you," includes the
restraining forces (conscience and will, for example) that
prevent these thoughts of the heart from overflowing into speech
Yet, the overflow of
the heart does reveal ourselves in ways that sometimes surprise
us and others. In these ways, we find more of the reality
of who we really are, often to our consternation, but testifying
to the accuracy and depth of a truly Biblical psychology in
which only God can fully "search the heart" (Jeremiah 17:9-10).
The importance of a
right understanding of “heart” can be more fully understood in the First
Great Commandment, “you shall love the LORD your God with all
your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all
your strength” (Mark 12:30). The reader should note that the
emphasis here is on the non-material side of man (heart, soul,
mind). Strength could be physical or spiritual, but is more
likely both. This commandment is not some mystical, powering up
of emotions but a concrete command to have knowledge of
God in all His attributes, His names, His history, His
redemption, His Second Advent, and more, much more. Then, we are
to have a thoroughgoing knowledge of His statutes,
directives, laws, and commandments in order “to love our
neighbors as ourselves.”
Our salvation is
dependent upon a right understanding of “heart.” “If you confess
with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that
God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with
the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth
confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10). The mind
and the heart are inseparable in these verses. In the
heart is where regeneration takes
The following was added
after the original essay. However, I believe that is fits
well with the flow of this article and adds much to it.
between the Heart and the Head (Mind)
The following is a
quote, as cited:
regenerate or apostate, gives the mind its basic “set,” but it
does not, in this life, completely control the mind. The
unregenerate heart, because of common grace, does not come to
full expression in the unbeliever’s mind. The regenerate heart,
because of sin, does not come to full expression in the
There is an unqualified and absolute antithesis between the
regenerate and unregenerate heart. There is not an absolute
antithesis between the Christian and non-Christian “mind.” He
who in his heart is a Christian, in principle Christ’s, may have
a mind that embraces egregious error and breathes a
reprehensible spirit. He who is in his heart a non-Christian, in
principle Satan’s, may have a mind that embraces much of truth
and breathes a temperate spirit. In the case of both the
Christian and the non-Christian, the mind, though for different
reasons, can be false to the heart." (Henry Stob, Theological Reflections, Eerdmans, 1981, page 236)
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and His Affections
The affections are
no other than the more vigorous and sensible exercises of
the inclination and will of the soul…. God has endued
the soul with two principle faculties: The one, that by
which it discerns and judges of things, which is called the
understanding. The other, that by which the soul is some way
inclined with respect to the things it views or considers:
or it is the faculty by which the soul beholds things…
either as liking, disliking… approving or rejecting. This
faculty is called … inclination, will… mind…
often called the heart. (Emphases are mine).(2)
Edwards is equating
heart and affections, as the inclination of the will, one of two
“faculties” of the soul in the “mind.” What is important here is
that the “inclination” of the soul includes knowledge (“liking,
disliking” etc.). So, affection is a deeper, ongoing attitude
than the fleeting emotions that we reviewed above. Webster’s
1828 Dictionary of a similar time period confirms the same
thoughts with his definitions of “emotion,” “passion,”
“affection,” and “heart.”(4)
It is a mistake, then,
to equate Edwards’ affection with “emotions,” especially with
all the psychological and pietistic baggage with which they are
attached today. (4)
Wedding and a Caution
Such discussion of
these subjects is difficult to manage in this short article. The
reader needs to search out numerous passages in the Bible to see
how “heart” is used in context. He should go to Webster’s 1828
dictionary and look up the words named above. He must wrestle
with what are and are not emotions. So, with those directions,
let me suggest a wedding between emotions and affections.
Emotions are more
temporary, superficial, with a paucity of associated thoughts.
Affections are more abiding, deeper, with thought-through
conviction. Consider some of the affections of the Bible: love,
joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control,
faithfulness, hope, and peace. Each involves considerable
Biblical understanding and are an abiding, deep presence in
believers. To be sure there is some overlap, but the distinction
should help to clarify these issues.
J. Gresham Machen gives
apparently so simple, is really just brimming with dogma. It
depends upon a host of observations treasured up in the mind
. . .. human affection is thus really dependent upon
And, finally a
perspective from Gordon Clark about “heart” in Scripture.
In eighty percent
or more of (Bible verses)… the context shows… that the
intellect or man’s mind is intended. Maybe ten percent mean
volition. Another ten percent signify the emotions. Hence
the actual usage very nearly identifies the heart with the
Apart from those
feelings that originate entirely within the body (fever, disease
and infection of organs and disease or injury), both feelings
and affections are “brimming” with knowledge. Our goal under the
Two Great Commandments is to be studied in the knowledge of God
and the knowledge of man from the Bible, so that we can have
right understanding in our hearts. Then, its overflow (Matthew
12:34) in word and action will be righteous: honoring to God and
promoting the good of our “neighbors.”
The separation of head
(as mind and knowledge) is a Biblically false identification. It
is one of the more serious issues for Biblically minded
Christians today. The concept of “heart” has been too much
determined by secular psychology and pietism, as a hangover of
the 19th century.
Christians who would be
world-changers through evangelism and world-view must be
students of Biblical definitions, as well as Biblical theology
and ethics. A right understanding of emotions, affection, and
heart is one of the foundations that is necessary to that end.
Adams, More Than Redemption, (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and
Reformed Publishing Company, 1979), p. 115).
Jay Adams has recently written an excellent, simple to
understand book that would supplement my article. That
book is Joyfully Counseling People with New Hearts,
Jonathan Edwards, “Religious Affections."
Webster's 1828 Dictionary
4. For a
more complete discussion of feelings and emotions, see
A Definition of Emotions written by me.
Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, (Grand Rapids: Wm.
B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprint 1981), p. 55.