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Reading Classics - The Religious Affections (IX)

Today we come to our tenth reading in Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. This is a long book but we’re making our way through it just as quickly as we can, I think. To speed up would be to leave us with very long and difficult readings. And so we press on, one “sign” at a time.

Summary

We continue to progress through the twelve signs of truly gracious and holy affections. So far we’ve seen:

  1. They are from a divine influence.
  2. Their object is the excellence of divine things.
  3. They are founded on the loveliness of the moral excellency of divine things.
  4. They arise from the mind’s being enlightened, rightly and spiritually to understand or apprehend divine things.

Added to the list this week is this fifth sign: Truly gracious affections are attended with a reasonable and spiritual conviction of the reality and certainty of divine things.

Discussion

This was a dense chapter and easily one of my favorites so far. I read it aloud to myself which seems to have aided my understanding and enjoyment of it. There is much to say about it, but I will hold to just a few points.

The first thing I need to get my mind around was Edwards’ use of the word reasonable. I am accustomed to using this word as a synonym for “rational” or “normal.” But Edwards uses it in its more pure form as a means of saying “by the mind.” So a reasonable conviction is a conviction formed by a rational and well-reasoned mind. Or that is how I understood it. Thus a person who has truly gracious affections has a conviction of the reality and certainty of divine things that is attended by both a reasonable and spiritual conviction. Said otherwise, the Christian’s conviction of the reality of the divine is based on both his heart and his mind.

Edwards insists that all those who are truly saved “have a solid, full, thorough and effectual conviction of the truth of the great things of the gospel; I mean, that they no longer halt between two opinions.” The great doctrines of the Christian faith are no longer doubtful or disputable or probable or matters of opinion; instead, these matters are settled and determined, undoubted and indisputable, so much so that the Christian is willing to venture his all upon such truth. This conviction is effectual in that it has a visible effect upon them, ruling their lives and governing their decisions.

True affections must be attended with a persuasion of the truth of the great truths of the faith and a sense of their reality. This is a distinguishing characteristic of true affections because there are many religious affections that are affecting but not convincing. Such affections will burn out quickly. As I usually do when reading Edwards, I found some contemporary application to this and began to think of the emerging church and many contemporary Christians for whom doubt is a virtue. For such people conviction is, if not a sin, a sign of a wrong mindset. Yet Edwards, looking to Scripture, tells us that certainty is a hallmark of one who is truly converted and not a sign of arrogance or misunderstanding. A Christian must be persuaded in both heart and mind.

I enjoyed Edwards’ correction that, though we are to have a reasonable conviction, this does not require that we have exhaustive or scholarly knowledge. The gospel is available to even the most simple of us.

The gospel was not given only for learned men. There are at least nineteen in twenty, if not ninety-nine in a hundred, of whose for whom the Scriptures were written, that are not capable of any certain or effectual conviction of the divine authority of the Scriptures by such arguments as learned men make use of. If men who have been brought up in Heathenism, must wait for a clear and certain conviction of the truth of Christianity, until they have learning and acquaintance with the histories of politer nations, enough to see clearly the force of such kind of arguments; it will make the evidence of the gospel to then immensely cumbersome, and will render the propagation of the gospel among them infinitely difficult. Miserable is the condition of the Houssatunnuck Indians, and others, who have lately manifested a desire to be instructed in Christianity, if they can come at no evidence of the truth of Christianity, sufficient to induce them to sell all for Christ, in any other way but this.

And finally, I enjoyed his discussion of those who have been martyred for the faith and the implication of those who have died as “witnesses” to the faith. “The true martyrs of Jesus Christ, are not those who have only been strong in opinion that the gospel of Christ is true, but those that have seen the truth of it; as the very name of martyrs or witnesses (by which they are called in Scripture) implies. Those are very improperly called witnesses of the truth of any them, who only declare they are very much of opinion that such a thing is true. Those only are proper witnesses, who can, and do testify, that they have seen the truth of the thing they assert. … Having had the eyes of their minds enlightened to see divinity in the gospel, or to behold that unparalleled, ineffably excellent, and truly divine glory shining in it, which is altogether distinguishing, evidential, and convincing: so that they may truly be said to have seen God in it, and to have seen that it is indeed divine; and so can speak in the style of witnesses.” Those who have given their lives for the faith are men and women who have proven that they were convicted in mind and heart, for they had seen, they had been witnesses of, the power of God.

Next Time

For next week, as you might expect, we will read the sixth distinguishing sign of truly gracious and holy affections. I think we are only a week or two away from being able to cover two signs per week, thus speeding our progress through the book a little bit!

Your Turn

As always, I am eager to know what you gained from this part of the book (and to know that I’m not the only one left reading). 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. The discussion in the past weeks really has been very helpful to me and to others. So please keep it up!