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Reading Classics - The Religious Affections (XII)

Today we turn to one of our final readings in The Religious Affections. We are quickly closing in on the book’s closing pages. In another few weeks we’ll be ready to turn to another book. But for now, let’s look to what we read this week.

Summary

Here is what we have learned so far about religious affections:

  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.
  5. They are attended with a reasonable and spiritual conviction of the reality and certainty of divine things.
  6. They are attended with evangelical humiliation.
  7. They are attended with a change of nature.
  8. They are attended with, the lamb-like, dove-like spirit and temper of Jesus Christ.

This week Edwards adds two new signs, the ninth and tenth: gracious affections soften the heart and are attended and followed with a Christian tenderness of spirit; and truly gracious and holy affections have beautiful symmetry and proportion.

Discussion

While I wish I would have taken more time to read through this section, there was still much to glean. I’m quickly learning that The Religious Affections is a book that will reward repeated readings.

In the first of this week’s signs of true affections, Edwards writes about Christian tenderness of spirit. False affections have a tendency in the end to harden the heart while true affections must necessarily soften it. “False affections, with the delusion that attends them, finally tend to stupefy the mind, and shut it up against those affections wherein tenderness of heart consists: and the effect of them at last is, that persons in the settled frame of their minds, become less affected with their present and past sins, and less conscientious with respect to future sins, less moved with the warnings and cautions of God’s word, or God’s chastisements in his providence, more careless of the frame of their hearts, and the manner and tendency of their behavior, less quicksighted to discern what is sinful, less afraid of the appearance of evil, than they were while they were under legal awakenings and fears of hell.” This is a sound warning to any Christian to discern whether his affections for Christ are true or false. A person cannot continually express a false love to Christ and remain unaffected. Sooner or later a refusal to submit to Christ will lead to greater hardening.

I thought this was a great sentence that offered a lot to think about: “Such persons as these [who display false affections], instead of embracing Christ as their Savior from sin, trust in him as the Savior of their sins.” In other words, “They trust in Christ to preserve to them the quiet enjoyment of their sins, and to be their shield to defend them from God’s displeasure.” Instead of trusting that Christ will save them from their sin and destroy the power of those sins in their lives, instead they trust Christ to overlook those sins and to mediate with God even though they have no intention of giving up the sin. I had to highlight this sentence as well: “Godly sorrow has much greater influence to make the heart tender, than mere legal sorrow from selfish principles.”

I also enjoyed this, dealing with boldness, a topic I’ve thought about a great deal. “There is doubtless such a thing [as boldness]; and it is chiefly to be found in eminent saints, persons of great degrees of faith and love. But this holy boldness is not in the least opposite to reverence.” There are some who, in their boldness, show a great disrespect to God. But our boldness as we approach God as people reconciled to him must always be marked with humility and reverence.

I could go on, but will turn to the next sign of gracious affections. Here Edwards discusses something that at first struck me as very strange: symmetry and proportion as a mark of a true follower of Christ. But as he explained himself, it began to make good sense. He says that in all God has made there is beauty and symmetry and this ought to be true in the lives of Christians. Christians should not display a lack of balance, focusing on only particular issues or sins. Thus “one great difference between saints and hypocrites is this, that the joy and comfort of the former is attended with godly sorrow and mourning for sin. They have not only sorrow to prepare them for their first comfort, but after they are comforted, and their joy established.” There is proportion between joy and sorrow in the lives of those who are truly saved. Those who are not may experience great joy but never with accompanying sorrow for sin.

Edwards provides several examples of other unbalances. “Some men show a love to others as to their outward man, they are liberal of their worldly substance, and often give to the poor; but have no love to, or concern for the souls of men. Others pretend a great love to men’s souls, that are not compassionate and charitable towards their bodies. The making a great show of love, pity and distress for souls, costs them nothing; but in order to show mercy to men’s bodies, they must part with money out of their pockets. But a true Christian love to our brethren extends both to their souls and bodies; and herein is like the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.”

This line rang true as I thought about “the dangers of discernment” I outlined in The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment. “It is a sign that affections are not of the right sort, if persons seem to be much affected with the bad qualities of their fellow Christians as the coldness and lifelessness of other saints, but are in no proportion affected with their own defects and corruptions.” It is so easy to see the sin in other people while ignoring the sin in ourselves. This comes from the pen of the man who offered this as one of his Resolutions: “Resolved, To act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings, as others, and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.” A person who shows truly gracious affections will be a person far more affected by his own sin than by the sin of another person.

Here is how a person might know that he is displaying false affections: “Some pretend to have a great abhorrence of their own sins of heart, and cry out much of their inward corruption; and yet make light of sins in practice, and seem to commit them without much restraint or remorse; though these imply sin both in heart and life.”

And finally, Edwards offers this as a vivid illustration: “They [false believers] are like the waters in the time of a shower of rain, which, during the shower, and a little after, run like a brook, and flow abundantly; but are presently quite dry; and when another shower comes, then they will flow again. Whereas a true saint is like a stream from a living spring; which, though it may be greatly increased by a shower of rain, and diminished in time of drought, yet constantly runs.” Are your affections to Christ stirred by times of great emotion but then disappear altogether until stirred once more? If so, this may be a sign that you are displaying false affections.

Next Time

The eleventh mark is very short while the twelfth is very long. I think we will tackle only the eleventh next week and then try to find a logical way of breaking up the twelfth. So next week’s reading is short and should be easy!

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!