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Reading Classics - The Religious Affections (V)

This morning brings us to our sixth reading in Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. This week we had a rather long reading of the first sign of authentic affections—the first chapter where we really get to the heart of the book.

Summary

This week’s reading dealt with the first authentic affection. Here is what Edwards sought to prove: “Affections that are truly spiritual and gracious do arise from those influences and operations on the heart which are spiritual, supernatural and divine.” It took him forty pages to do so!

Discussion

This chapter surprised me a little bit. While this was to be the first of the “positive signs” and the first to follow the section dealing with the many “signs of nothing,” the chapter had a clear negative tone to it. It seemed that Edwards proved “something” primarily by disproving “nothing.” That may not make much sense but perhaps you see what I’m getting at. He proved his point by spending page after page disproving other things. It seems that the back story for this chapter involves people in Edwards’ day attempting to prove they were true Christians by stating that God had given them such knowledge, through feelings or through Scripture or through any other means. He responds by showing that such means can be brought about even in unregenerate men. Thus true affections can only be brought about by truly spiritual, supernatural and divine operations.

Edwards distinguishes here between the spiritual man and the natural man. Those who are spiritual are those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit; all other men are natural. The Holy Spirit may influence them in various ways and even work certain things in their hearts and minds, but they are not men who have undergone that supernatural act of regeneration. This is a good distinction to make in our day as we live at a time when anyone who acknowledges some kind of a deity or who has some kind of faith is called spiritual. Oprah Winfrey is as “spiritual” a person as you’ll find, but she utterly rejects Christianity. Edwards reminds us that no one can be spiritual unless he is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Hence we can acknowledge other people as religious, but, when we look to Scripture, must deny that they can be spiritual; there is no Spirit in them.

This is not to say that the Spirit is unable to influence people who are unregenerate. “The Spirit of God, in all His operations upon the minds of natural men, only moves, impresses, assists, improves, or some way acts upon natural principles; but gives no new spiritual principle.” In other words, He can work even in natural men by using natural means. “He only assists natural principles to do the same work to a greater degree which they do of themselves by nature.” This was something I had never really considered in the past and I found it valuable to think about.

Now maybe I missed something in this chapter—maybe my mind was mush by the end, but I found few points of application. Perhaps it is that I have never really encountered people in life whose claim to Christianity is some inward voice or the fact that verses of Scripture have come to their minds. But somehow I struggled with really applying this portion of the book to my own life. I am hoping that someone can leave a comment offering a few points of application.

Next Time

For next week we will read the second distinguishing sign of truly gracious and holy affections. This is quite a bit shorter than this week’s reading, so should not pose quite as much of a challenge. In my book it comes out at only fourteen pages.

Your Turn

As always, I am eager to know what you gained from this part of the book. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you can only say anything if you are going to say something that will wow us all. Just add a comment with some of the things you gained from the this week’s reading. To this point the discussion has been very helpful and engaging.