“And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32)
On the third day after the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, on the same day that astonishing reports of his resurrection had come forth, two sad-faced disciples walked away from the scene, talking it all over. Our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, being brought again from the dead, left the rest of his flock in order to seek these two sheep by coming and walking alongside them. On that occasion, the Lord Jesus made their hearts burn within them.
What gracious, holy affections did the preaching and presence of Jesus kindle in the hearts of Cleopas and his friend? No doubt, his rebuke of their slowness to believe made their hearts burn with godly sorrow: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Surely, his exposition of the Old Testament Scriptures made their hearts burn with love for the law of the Lord: “O how I love thy law! it is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97). His insistence upon the necessity of Messiah’s suffering and glory made their hearts burn with adoration for that wisdom of God, revealed in the cross, that makes foolish the wisdom of this world: “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:22-23). His personal presence, which they recognized only the moment before it was taken away, made their hearts burn with godly fear: “And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:16-17). These two, who arose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem to tell their story to the other disciples, did so because of a burning urge to testify and give thanks for this glimpse of the risen Redeemer: “I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye the Lord.” (Psalm 116:18-19)
Dear reader, has your heart been made to burn within you by the preaching and presence of Jesus Christ? Have you ever felt such gracious, holy affections as the ones just described?
Perhaps your heart has burned with unclean lust, or with desire for the world – its honors and possessions, its fads and fashions. Perhaps your heart has burned with a desire to get away from the voice of the risen Christ in the preaching of the Word on the Lord’s Day, but never with a desire to hear more. Your heart has burned with interest in books laced with lies, but has never burned with interest in the Book of God. Your heart has burned with the bitterness of a grudge or with eagerness to tell gossip, but has never burned with eagerness for an opportunity to forgive as God in Christ has forgiven. Or, there may appear to be a flame upon your altar, in that you are outwardly religious. But there is no burning of the heart “within,” no gracious affections arising to God out of a heart cleansed and made new by the blood and Spirit of Christ.
Reader, if this is your condition, you must know that it is not the Spirit’s fire but the fire of hell that burns within you. God would have you repent in haste, and flee to the same one who made the hearts of Cleopas and his friend burn within them. If he pursued them on their walk away from Jerusalem, may he not now be pursuing you? In one evening, he cleared away the smoking sulphur of their unbelief, and made their hearts golden altars from which the sweet-smelling incense of gracious affections ascended to the living God. Will he not do the same for you, if you flee to him?
Perhaps you have been brought to see that you have a soul, that there is a living and eternal God in heaven who ought to be worshipped and who has spoken in the Scriptures, that Christ is present in power in the meetings of his church, and that the gospel, when embraced by others, produces a holiness of life that you admire. You have felt some sparks, but as of yet there is no fire of gracious affections toward the Lord kindled within your own heart. Perhaps some young readers raised within the church may be in this position. My counsel to you is to be as the two disciples in that moment when their journey was ended, and the Lord made as if he would have gone further. “But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us” (Luke 24:29). The Lord gave much to the two disciples as they walked by the way, but they thirsted for more. Earnestly pray that the Lord would not leave you with only fading sparks, but that he would make your heart burn indeed. Go directly to the Lord Jesus, believing that he is willing and able to make your heart burn with gracious affections that will never die.
If this is your case, remember that if a believing view of Christ kindled such affections in your heart, then a believing view of Christ is what will sustain and nourish them. If we are to keep the heart with all vigilance (Prov. 4:23), we must engage in studying and watching our own affections. But our principal study should be Christ himself. Whether gracious affections within are at a low ebb, or are burning with intense heat, our safest, sweetest, and most suitable study will always be Christ and him crucified, Christ and his unsearchable riches. What Christ feasted those two disciples upon in the way to Emmaus was an extended, systematic, Scriptural study of himself!
Remember also that such gracious affections are not given for your benefit alone. The two disciples conferred together about their heart-experience (as in the text at the beginning of this article), and then went straight back to Jerusalem to tell their story. Satan tempts us to think that gracious heart-experience given by the risen Savior is a mere delusion, but conferring together is a means to combat this lie. We should do all that we can to confirm and stir up these gracious affections in one another. Not long after that first Lord’s Day, the Spirit was poured out upon the church in cloven tongues like as of fire, and Peter preached the risen Christ in such a way that his hearers “were pricked in their heart” (Acts 2:37). We should pray for the Spirit’s blessing upon the preaching of Christ’s Word, which is his chosen instrument to make formerly cold, indifferent hearts burn with gracious affections.
Remember also that such gracious affections are not given for one moment only. The two disciples whose hearts burned within them on the road to Emmaus were surely also among the number of those who later “continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people” (Acts 2:46-47). When gracious, holy affections are once truly kindled in the heart by Christ through his Word, a flame is lit that shall burn throughout this life and then perfectly unto eternity.
Because of the inconstancy of our hearts, the petition of David is very necessary, but because of the faithfulness of a promise-keeping God, it is also a petition that shall be fully answered: “O Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, our fathers, keep this forever in the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of thy people, and prepare their heart unto thee.” (2 Chronicles 29:18)