Reading Classics - The Religious Affections (Introduction)
This morning we kick off the fourth round of Reading Classics Together, an effort in which we read some of the great Christian classics together and convene here once a week to discuss them. In the past we’ve read J.C. Ryle’s Holiness, John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation and A.W. Pink’s The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross. We’ve had hundreds of people participate by reading the books together and discussing them each week. All along we’ve been reading some of the classics of the Christian faith—books many of us wish to read but books few of us have ever made time for. And now we begin on the fourth classic—The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. Well over 100 people have agreed to participate in reading this book together…and it all begins today. This is going to be our toughest challenge yet, I’m am sure!
“Read Religious Affections, at all costs read Religious Affections! And anything else you can get your hands on by this great saint.” I generally follow a certain format in posting about the chapters we are reading, but will deviate from that today. The assigned reading for this morning was simply the book’s Preface. The Preface is short and contains little of real substance, but I guess we need to begin somewhere! Edwards uses it to state the purpose for which he has written this book. He will seek to answer this question: What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favor with God, and entitled to His eternal rewards?
Sam Storms summarizes the book’s purpose by saying, “He endeavored to identify what constitutes true and authentic spirituality. Or, to put it in the form of a question: Are there certain features or characteristics in human thought and behavior that serve as ‘signs’ of the saving activity and presence of the Spirit of God? Again, is it possible for us to know with any degree of certainty whether or not a person who claims to have experienced the saving grace of God is truly born again?” This is essentially the same question said in many ways and it is the question we expect Edwards to answer in the text of this book. We will do well to keep this question in mind each week as we give ourselves to reading The Religious Affections. And it is an important one to answer for, as Edwards says, “it is by the mixture of counterfeit religion with true, not discerned and distinguished, that the devil has had his greatest advantage against the cause and kingdom of Christ.” From the earliest days of the church until today, the devil has done much damage to the cause of Christ in the world by men and women deluded into thinking that they are Christians when they are not.
It is my hope and expectation that this book will arm us to better discern the state of our own hearts and to see and understand the defining characteristics of those who belong to Christ. To quote Edwards, “It greatly concerns us to use our utmost endeavors clearly to discern, and have it well settled and established, wherein true religion does consist.”
Next week we will begin to discuss the heart of the book and I’d suggest we read all of Part I. In my book this comes to 32 pages—a rather long reading, but I think it makes sense to attempt to read it as a unit rather than dividing it rather artificially. I’ll try to keep future readings shorter since I know that 32 pages of Edwards may prove a challenge (or a chore!) but please bear with me. Just read five pages per day through the week and you’ll have no trouble keeping up.
Would You Like to Participate?
If this is the first you’ve heard of Reading Classics Together and it sounds like something you’d like to participate in, we’d be glad to have you along. I will be reading from the Banner of Truth edition of the work, but you can follow along in any of the unabridged editions (of which there are many available). For technophiles, there is a Kindle edition available for only a couple of dollars. For those who are not interested in spending money, CCEL has the complete text available in HTML, PDF and other formats right here.
We are only a few pages into the book so it’s definitely not too late for you to begin reading with us.