honey

What is the relationship between knowledge, experience, affections, love, and joy? It’s a complicated question with a number of answers. To put it simply, as we grow in understanding of something true or beautiful we experience it in greater ways, and as we experience it and understand it more we love it all the more. This is true when it comes to food, relationships, and especially when it comes to worship. One of the things I appreciate most about the Puritans is the strong emphasis upon experience, and yet it’s experience rooted in actual understanding (knowledge) that sinks in by producing joy in our affections (emotions & desires).

Consider these words from Paul in Philippians. “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ…” (Phil. 19-10) Paul himself has a beautiful vision of an ever-increasing love that has two feet firmly planted in knowledge and discernment. The love, knowledge, and discernment help us to approve, to rightly see, and to have proper affections and joy in the things that are most excellent. This knowledge, love, and approving leads to us being “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:11). Here we see a cycle of love rooted in knowledge that leads to rightly experiencing and approving what is excellent, which leads to a life of more love and knowledge.

Puritan theologian and politician Francis Rous (1579-1659) beautifully captures something similar to what Paul says by appealing to the image of honey (no Jonathan Edwards wasn’t the first or the last to do it). What a beautiful vision for us to be people constantly spinning in the cycle of tasting, loving, and knowing.

“In one place we are told, that Christ’s love is more pleasant than wine; and in another, that the laws of God are more pleasant than honey…By tasting the things themselves, God teaches us to know what the things are; and the more we know them; the more we shall love them; and the more we love them, the more we shall taste them, and the more we taste them, the more we shall know them. And thus shall we run on in an endless circle of tasting, loving, and knowing, which grows still greater, the more we round it.” [1]

Cited in Geoffrey Nuttall, The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947), 40.

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