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Reading Classics - The Religious Affections (VI)

This morning brings us to our seventh reading in Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. This week we looked to the second sign of authentic affections.

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.

Discussion

After being maybe a little bit confused or disappointed with last week’s reading, I found that this one smacked me right between the eyes. Edwards discusses something I’ve thought about before and a subject for which John Piper obviously (and by his own admission) owes much to Edwards. “The primary ground of gracious affections is the transcendently excellent and amiable nature of divine things as they are in themselves; and not any conceived relation they bear to self, or self-interest.” In other words, “the supremely excellent nature of divine things is the first, or primary and original, objective foundation of the spiritual affections of true saints.” All this to say that the greatest benefit we receive as Christians is Christ himself. Forgiveness of sins is an incredible gift; sanctification is something for which we give thanks to God; a better understanding of the world is a great benefit; but the best thing Christians receive is Christ. Edwards makes this point time and time again through the section—he will not let the reader escape without understanding this one thing. “The first foundation of a true love to God is that whereby He is in Himself lovely, or worthy to be loved, or the supreme loveliness of His nature.”

There are many applications of this teaching. I thought immediately of evangelism and how we tend to make much of people when we share the gospel with them instead of making much of God. Even if we are not fans of Joel Osteen, we may still try to woo people towards God by promising a kind of “Best Life Now” if only they will become Christians. But rarely do we tell them that the best gift of all is Christ. I thought of the megachurch movement, the church growth movement, and how those churches sometimes seem to offer everything but God. But as Edwards says, “If men’s affection to God is founded first on His profitableness to them, their affection begins at the wrong end; they regard God only for the utmost limit of the stream of divine good, where it touches them and reaches their interest, and have no respect to that infinite glory of God’s nature which is the original good, and the true foundation of all good, the first foundation of all loveliness of every kind, and so the first foundation of all true love.” Such a hypocrite “lays himself at the bottom of all, as the first foundation, and lays on God as the superstructure.” Rather than having a faith that begins with God, they have a faith that begins with self and adds God only as an afterthought.

When Edwards wrote about the “natural principle of self-love,” there were a couple of lines that stood out to me. “A dog will love his master that is kind to him,” and “Saul was once and again greatly affected, and even dissolved with gratitude towards David, for sparing his life, and yet remained an habitual enemy to him.” He uses these examples to teach that men may express gratitude toward someone without truly loving him. People can love what another person does for them, and even by affected by it, while never loving that person. And so unbelievers can seem to enjoy the benefits that come to those who know Christ even while hating Him. We are prone to loving God’s gifts more than God Himself. And so we must examine our hearts to determine whether we love God for what He is in Himself or if the foundation of our love is what He can do for us. “True saints have their minds, in the first place, inexpressibly pleased and delighted with the sweet ideas of the glorious and amiable nature of the things of God.”

A final great quote: “A true saint, when in the enjoyment of true discoveries of the sweet glory of God and Christ, has his mind too much captivated and engaged by what he views without himself, to stand at that time to view himself, and his own attainments. It would be a diversion and loss which he could not bear, to take his eye off from the ravishing object of his contemplation, to survey his own experience, and to spend time in thinking with himself. What a high attainment this is, and what a good story I now have to tell others!”

Next Time

For next week we will read the third distinguishing sign of truly gracious and holy affections. It is another section that should be quite manageable as it’s about the same size as this week’s reading.

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.