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Reading Classics - The Religious Affections (II)

We come today to our third reading in Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. You can click here to read more about this effort..

Summary

While the first week of The Religious Affections felt a bit like drinking water from a fire hose, this week’s reading seemed quite a bit more manageable. In the first half of Part II of the book, Edwards simply lays out seven signs of “nothing.” This is to say that he points out seven things that are often offered as proof of authentic spirituality when in reality these cannot be said to prove or to disprove faith.

Here are the seven characteristics he points out:

  • Intense or high affections
  • Physical manifestations
  • Excessive excitement and talkativeness
  • The way in which affections are brought about
  • That Scripture is brought to mind
  • The existence of love in the affections
  • The fact that a wide variety of affections may exist

He offers his thoughts, at some length, on each of these.

Discussion

My preliminary observation is one I also made last week (or the week before). Edwards is difficult to read, but not that difficult. He compares favorably to John Owen, at any rate! If I am able to see past the occasional piece of repetition or over-abundance of proof for his points, I can make my way through fairly easily. There were only a few times in this chapter where I really had to pause and read it over several times.

The first thing that stood out to me in this portion of the book is his comparison of our affections to those of the saints in heaven. Here he says, “the only reason why their affections are so much higher than the holy affections of saints on earth is, they see the things they are affected by more according to their truth, and have their affections more conformed to the nature of things.” Hence, “they are all as a pure heavenly flame of fire in their love, and in the greatness and strength of their joy and gratitude.” And what a joy it must be to have one’s affections raised so high. Now we see things only dimly and thus our affections will also be dim. But when we see Christ face-to-face we will worship as do the saints and angels in heaven. We will worship in complete purity. And I can hardly wait!

I also appreciated Edwards’ insistence that Scripture cannot be used as a kind of trump card when it comes to affections. “It should be considered, affections may arise on occasion of the Scripture, and not properly come from the Scripture, as the genuine fruit of the Scripture and by a right use of it; but from an abuse of it.” And this is exactly the same as preaching—just because a person preaches from the Bible does not necessarily indicate that he is honoring Scripture and using it rightly. “All that can be argued from the purity and perfection of the Word of God, with respect to experiences, is this, that those experiences which are agreeable to the Word of God are right, and cannot be otherwise; and not that those affections must be right which arise on occasion of the Word of God coming to mind.”

But the piece of the text that earned as asterisk in my book was the one dealing with counterfeits. And here is something I wish I had thought of when I was writing The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment where I wrote about counterfeiting. Edwards’ point is at once obvious and profound. “It may be observed that the more excellent anything is, the more will be the counterfeits of it.” And of course this is true. Nobody counterfeits aluminum! Instead, people counterfeit was is precious and what is desirable. Because love is the chief of the graces and the source from which all true affections must flow, it is love that is most often counterfeited. “So there are perhaps no graces that have more counterfeits than love and humility, these being virtues wherein the beauty of a true Christian does especially appear.” And so we must be on guard against counterfeit love and counterfeit humility; we must watch for their presence in our own lives and be aware that they may be present in the lives of those who appear to be the most humble, most loving Christians.

Next Time

For next week’s reading we will complete Part II of the book. This will give us 30 or 40 pages to read and take us to the book’s final, longest, and most substantial part. Beginning next week we will probably need to slow down a little bit. So for next week please finish off Part II.

Your Turn

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.