In a philosophical sense, refers to the manner in which we are affected by any thing for a continuance, whether painful or pleasant: but in the most common sense, it may be defined to be a settled bent of mind towards a particular being or thing. It holds a middle place between disposition on the one hand, and passion on the other. It is distinguishable from disposition, which being a branch of one's nature originally, must exist before there can be an opportunity to exert it upon any particular object; whereas affection can never be original, because having a special relation to a particular object, it cannot exist till the object have once, at least, been presented. It is also distinguishable from passion, which, depending on the real or ideal presence of its object, vanishes with its object; whereas affection is a lasting connection, and, like other connections, subsists, even when we do not think of the objects. (
See DISPOSITION and PASSION.) The affections, as they respect religion, deserve in this a little attention. They may be defined to be the "vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul towards religious objects." Whatever extremes stoics or enthusiasts have run into, it is evident that the exercise of the affections is essential to the existence of true religion. It is true, indeed, "that all affectionate devotion is not wise and rational; but it is no less true, that all wise and rational devotion must be affectionate."
The affections are the springs of action: they belong to our nature, so that with the highest perceptions of truth and religion, we should be inactive without them. They have considerable influence on men in the common concerns of life; how much more, then, should they operate in those important objects that relate to the Divine Being, the immortality of the soul, and the happiness or misery of a future state! The religion of the most eminent saints has always consisted in the exercise of holy affections. Jesus Christ himself affords us an example of the most lively and vigorous affections; and we have every reason to believe that the employment of heaven consists in the exercise of them. In addition to all which the scriptures of truth teach us, that religion is nothing, if it occupy not the affections. Deu_6:4-5, . Deu_30:6. Rom_12:11. 1Co_13:13. Psa_27:14. A distinction however, must be made between what may be merely natural, and what is truly spiritual.
The affections may be excited in a natural way under ordinances by a natural impression, Eze_33:32; by a natural sympathy, or by the natural temperament of our constitution. It is no sign that our affections are spiritual because they are raised very high; produce great effects on the body; excite us to be very zealous in externals; to be always conversing about ourselves, &c. These things are often found in those who are only mere professors of religion, Mat_7:21-22. Now, in order to ascertain whether our affections are excited in a spiritual manner, we must enquire whether that which moves our affections be truly spiritual, whether our consciences be alarmed, and our hearts impressed; whether the judgment be enlightened, and we have a perception of the moral excellency of divine things; and lastly, whether our affections have a holy tendency and produce the happy effects of obedience to God, humility in ourselves, and justice to our fellow creatures.
As this is a subject worthy of close attention, the reader may commit Lord Kaim's Elements of Criticism, vol. 2: p.517; Edwards on the Affections; Pike and Hayward's Cases of Conscience; Watts' Use and Abuse of the Passions; M'Laurin's Essays, sect. 5 and 6, where this subject is masterly handled.