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Reading Classics Together

November 13, 2008

We made it! This marks the final reading in Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. I hesitated for a while before suggesting that we read a 380-page book together, but we did it. And what a read it was. My only real regret is that I feel like I have only skimmed the surface. In his companion volume to this book, Sam Storms says that he had to read the Affections many times through to have any confidence that he knew what Edwards was saying. I am sure that is a near-necessity. While I know I’ve learned a lot from the book, I know also that I could read it again and benefit just as much. Someday I’ll have to do that.

This week we read a rather lengthy portion of the book—Edwards’ twelfth and final mark of genuine religious affections—that they have their exercise and fruit in Christian practice. He saved the best and most important mark for last and, over 80 pages, proved time and time again that a Christian’s confidence in his salvation is to be found primarily in his practice of the Christian faith. A person will know he is a Christian if he is inwardly and outwardly conformed to the image of Christ. As Edwards says, “Christian practice is the most proper evidence of the gracious sincerity of professors, to themselves and others; and the chief of all the marks of grace, the sign of signs, and evidence of evidences, that which seals and crowns all other signs.”

Instead of interacting with all 80 pages of this week’s reading, I thought I’d simply share some of the quotes I highlighted. These will give the flavor of all Edwards had to say.

“Hypocrites may much more easily be brought to talk like saints, than to act like saints.”

“In order to a man’s being properly said to make a profession of Christianity, there must undoubtedly be a profession of all that is necessary to his being a Christian, or of so much as belongs to the essence of Christianity.”

“No external manifestations and outward appearances whatsoever, that are visible to the world, are infallible evidences of grace.”

“A man’s actions are the proper trial what a man’s heart prefers.”

“The things that put it to the proof whether men will prefer God to other things in practice, are the difficulties of religion, or those things which occur that make the practice of duty difficult and cross to other principles beside the love of God.”

“If we put true gold into the furnace, we shall find its great value and preciousness: so the truth and inestimable value of the virtues of a true Christian appear when under these trials.”

“God’s future judging of men, in order to their eternal retribution, will not be his trying, and finding out, and passing a judgment upon the state of men’s hearts, in his own mind; but it will be, a declarative judgment; and the end of it will be, not God’s forming a judgment within himself, but the manifestation of his judgment, and the righteousness of it, to men’s own consciences, and to the world. And therefore the day of judgment is called the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”

“Certainly that which our supreme Judge will chiefly make use of to judge us by, when we come to stand before him, we should chiefly make use of, to judge ourselves by.”


And that’s it for The Religious Affections. Please feel free to add comments, share your experiences, and so on. If you’d like to suggest the next book we read together, feel free to leave a comment on that as well. We’ll start our next round of Reading Classics Together in a few weeks.

October 30, 2008

Today we are supposed to continue with our reading of Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. Unfortunately my week was such that I did not manage to get through the whole reading. Thus I am going to defer this until Saturday. I do apologize. However, if you have read the chapter and have something to say about it, please do so in the comments. I’ll update this on Saturday.

October 23, 2008

Don’t tune out just because this is about Jonathan Edwards. For the second time in this round of “Reading Classics” I want to withhold comment and just leave readers with some of Edwards’ wisdom. In this week’s reading he has been suggesting that a “great and very distinguishing difference between gracious affections and others is, that gracious affections, the higher they are raised, the more is a spiritual appetite and longing of soul after spiritual attainments increased. On the contrary, false affections rest satisfied in themselves.” And here are a few of the things he says on the subject:

*****

The more a true saint loves God with a gracious love, the more he desires to love him, and the more uneasy is he at his want of love to him; the more he hates sin, the more he desires to hate it, and laments that he has so much remaining love to it; the more he mourns for sin, the more he longs to mourn for sin; the more his heart is broke, the more he desires it should be broke the more he thirsts and longs after God and holiness, the more he longs to long, and breathe out his very soul in longings after God: the kindling and raising of gracious affections is like kindling a flame; the higher it is raised, the more ardent it is; and the more it burns, the more vehemently does it tend and seek to burn.

*****

Spiritual good is of a satisfying nature; and for that very reason, the soul that tastes, and knows its nature, will thirst after it, and a fullness of it, that it may be satisfied. And the more he experiences, and the more he knows this excellent, unparalleled, exquisite, and satisfying sweetness, the more earnestly will he hunger and thirst for more, until he comes to perfection. And therefore this is the nature of spiritual affections, that the greater they be, the greater the appetite and longing is, after grace and holiness.

*****

But with those joys, and other religious affections, that are false and counterfeit, it is otherwise. If before, there was a great desire, of some sort, after grace; as these affections rise, that desire ceases, or is abated. It may be before, while the man was under legal convictions, and much afraid of hell, he earnestly longed that he might obtain spiritual light in his understanding, and faith in Christ, and love to God: but now, when these false affections are risen, that deceive him, and make him confident that he is converted, and his state good, there are no more earnest longings after light and grace; for his end is answered; he is confident that his sins are forgiven him, and that he shall go to heaven; and so he is satisfied. And especially when false affections are raised very high, they put an end to longings after grace and holiness. The man now is far from appearing to himself a poor empty creature; on the contrary, he is rich, and increased with goods, and hardly conceives of anything more excellent than what he has already attained to.

*****

Where we read in Scripture of the desires, longings, and thirstings of the saints, righteousness and God’s laws are much more frequently mentioned as the object of them, than anything else. The saints desire the sincere milk of the word, not so much to testify God’s love to them, as that they may grow thereby in holiness. I have shown before, that holiness is that good which is the immediate object of a spiritual taste. But undoubtedly the same sweetness that is the chief object of a spiritual taste, is also the chief object of a spiritual appetite. Grace is the godly man’s treasure: Isa. 32:6, “The fear of the Lord is his treasure.” Godliness is the gain that he is covetous and greedy of. 1 Tim. 6:6. Hypocrites long for discoveries more for the present comfort of the discovery, and the high manifestation of God’s love in it, than for any sanctifying influence of it. But neither a longing after great discoveries, or after great tastes of the love of God, nor longing to be in heaven nor longing to die, are in any measure so distinguishing marks of true saints, as longing after a more holy heart, and living a more holy life.

Next Week

What a great chapter. And now, the end is in sight. The final portion of the book is longest, coming in at over 70 pages. This is too much for one week, I’m sure. So here is what I propose. For next Thursday we will read the first twenty pages or so of the Twelfth mark as they comprise a kind of introduction to the section. We will stop before reading point I (“I shall consider Christian practice and holy life, as a manifestation…”). So we will read the first twenty pages this week before taking two to read the final sixty. And then, those of us who have made it through, will have finished another classic!

October 16, 2008

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!

October 08, 2008

Because I am traveling to Chicago tomorrow, I am posting this week’s “Reading Classics” entry a day early. This week brings us to our twelfth reading in Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections and turns to the seventh and eighth signs of true religious affections.

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.

This week Edwards adds two new signs, the seventh and eighth: they are attended with a change of nature and they tend to, and are attended with, the lamb-like, dove-like spirit and temper of Jesus Christ.

Discussion

I’ll be surprised if any of Edwards’ marks hit deeper than the sixth. I found that section deeply challenging and it has given me a lot to think about, even a couple of weeks later. Having said that, this week also offered some great opportunities for reflection.

The seventh sign is perhaps one of the most obvious—that true religious affections are accompanied with a change of nature. Scripture makes it clear that, though men may love religion and drive themselves to change, those who are Christians are only those whose very natures have been changed and renewed by the Spirit of God. So we can only right expect to see true affections arising from the hearts of those who have been given new natures. Edwards says (in a sentence that displays many of his punctuation peculiarities), “A man may be restrained from sin, before he is converted; but when he is converted, he is not only restrained from sin, his very heart and nature is turned from it unto holiness: so that thenceforward he becomes a holy person, and an enemy to sin.” For those who claim to be converted but who seem to undergo no great change in his bad qualities, “it is greater evidence against him than the brightest story of experiences that ever was told is for him.” Edwards warns against those who claim to be converted by who hold on to their pet sin, their besetting sin. “He that forsakes other sins but saves his leading sin, the iniquity he is chiefly inclined to, is like Saul when sent against God’s enemies the Amalekites with a strict charge to save none of them alive, but utterly to destroy them, small and great; who utterly destroyed inferior people, but saved the king, the chief of them all, alive.” That is an excellent insight and one well worth pondering.

The eighth sign Edwards offers is that true Christians are marked by the lamb-like, dove-like spirit and temper of Jesus Christ. “In other words, they naturally beget and promote such a spirit of love, meekness, quietness, forgiveness and mercy, as appeared in Christ.” There is abundant Scriptural evidence for this. “Everything that appertains to holiness of heart does, indeed, belong to the nature of true Christianity and the character of Christians; but a spirit of holiness as appearing in some particular graces may more especially be called the Christian spirit or temper.”

Edwards offers this statement and challenge: “Christians are Christlike; none deserve the name of Christians, that are not so in their prevailing character.” Even in times of pain and persecution, Christians are to be marked by such qualities. “The strength of the good soldier of Jesus Christ appears in nothing more than in steadfastly maintaining the holy calm, meekness, sweetness, and benevolence of his mind, amidst all the storms, injuries, strange behavior, and surprising acts and events of this evil and unreasonable world.” He goes on to say, “If we see any of the followers of Christ, in the midst of the most violent, unreasonable, and wicked opposition of God’s and his own enemies, maintaining under all this temptation, the humility and quietness and gentleness of a lamb, and the harmlessness and love and sweetness of a dove, we may well judge that here is a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” However, “when persons are fierce and violent, and exert their sharp and bitter passions, it shows weakness instead of strength and fortitude.”

I enjoyed and was challenged by this reflection: “There is a pretended boldness for Christ that arises from no better principle than pride. A man may be forward to expose himself to the dislike of the world, and even to provoke their displeasure, out of pride. For it is the nature of spiritual pride to cause men to seek distinction and singularity; and so oftentimes to set themselves at war with those that they call carnal, that they may be more highly exalted among their party.” It reminds me of Westboro Baptist Church (and, sadly, a little bit of me).

And let me draw your attention to one more quote, this one speaking about mean and contentious Christians. “The Scripture knows of no such true Christians, as are of a sordid, selfish, cross and contentious spirit. Nothing can be invented that is a greater absurdity than a morose, hard, close, high-spirited, spiteful, true Christian. We must learn the way of bringing men to rules, and not rules to men, straining and stretching the rules of God’s word to take in ourselves, and some of our neighbors, until we make them wholly of none effect.” What a warning this is to Christians who find themselves drawn to conflict!

Next Time

For next week, as you might expect, we will read the ninth and tenth signs of true religious affections. This will leave us just two more to cover!

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!

October 02, 2008

I am guessing that the majority of the readers of this site do not read the “Reading Classics Together” posts. And, unless you’re reading the books along with us, why would you? But today (if you’ve read this far) I’d like you to read one. I think you’ll find it immensely useful. I am going to do little more than provide some quotes from Edwards, hoping it will give you a sense as to just how great and how applicable are his writings. These are drawn from The Religious Affections in a section where Edwards is explaining in what true affections, true Christianity, consists. In this section he says “Gracious affections are attended with evangelical humiliation.”

Here is how he defines his term. “Evangelical humiliation is a sense that a Christian has of his own utter insufficiency, despicableness, and odiousnesss, with an answerable frame of heart.” He compares this with legal humiliation which is a kind of false humility which may extend to any person. And he spends this chapter explaining the difference, showing that a true Christian will be marked by true humility. From here on out, you’re reading pure Edwards. There may be little flow from paragraph-to-paragraph as they are drawn from different parts of the chapter.

It concerns us greatly to look at this humiliation, as one of the most essential things pertaining to true Christianity. This is the principal part of the great Christian duty of self-denial. That duty consists in two things, viz., first, in a man’s denying his worldly inclinations, and in forsaking and renouncing all worldly objects and enjoyments; and, secondly, in denying his natural self-exaltation, and renouncing his own dignity and glory and in being emptied of himself; so that he does freely and from his very heart, as it were renounce himself, and annihilate himself. Thus the Christian does in evangelical humiliation.

It is inexpressible, and almost inconceivable, how strong a self-righteous, self-exalting disposition is naturally in man; and what he will not do and suffer to feed and gratify it: and what lengths have been gone in a seeming self-denial in other respects, by Essenes and Pharisees among the Jews, and by Papists, many sects of heretics, and enthusiasts, among professing Christians; and by many Mahometans; and by Pythagorean philosophers, and others among the Heathen; and all to do sacrifice to this Moloch of spiritual pride or self-righteousness; and that they may have something wherein to exalt themselves before God, and above their fellow creatures.

The deceitfulness of the heart of man appears in no one thing so much as this of spiritual pride and self-righteousness. The subtlety of Satan appears in its height, in his managing of persons with respect to this sin. And perhaps one reason may be, that here he has most experience; he knows the way of its coming in; he is acquainted with the secret springs of it: it was his own sin. Experience gives vast advantage in leading souls, either in good or evil.

He that has much grace, apprehends much more than others that great height to which his love ought to ascend; and he sees better than others, how little a way he has risen towards that height. And therefore estimating his love by the whole height of his duty, hence it appears astonishingly little and low in his eyes. And the eminent saint, having such a conviction of the high degree in which he ought to love God, this shows him, not only the littleness of his grace, but the greatness of his remaining corruption. In order to judge how much corruption or sin we have remaining in us, we must take our measure from that height to which the rule of our duty extends: the whole of the distance we are at from that height, is sin.

How can we rationally suppose the most eminent saints on earth appear to them [heavenly beings], if beheld any otherwise than covered over with the righteousness of Christ, and their deformities swallowed up and hid in the coruscation of the beams of his abundant glory and love? How can we suppose our most ardent love and praises appear to them, that do behold the beauty and glory of God without a veil? How does our highest thankfulness for the dying love of Christ appear to them, who see Christ as he is, who know as they are known, and see the glory of the person of him that died, and the wonders of his dying love, without any cloud of darkness? And how do they look on the deepest reverence and humility, with which worms of the dust on earth approach that infinite Majesty which they behold? Do they appear great to them, or so much as worthy of the name of reverence and humility, in those that they see to be at such an infinite distance from that great and holy God, in whose glorious presence they are? The reason why the highest attainments of the saints on earth appear so mean to them, is because they dwell in the light of God’s glory, and see God as he is. And it is in this respect with the saints on earth, as it is with the saints in heaven, in proportion as they are more eminent in grace.

Christian affections are like Mary’s precious ointment that she poured on Christ’s head, that filled the whole house with a sweet odor. That was poured out of an alabaster box; so gracious affections flow out to Christ out of a pure heart. That was poured out of a broken box; until the box was broken, the ointment could not flow, nor diffuse its odor; so gracious affections flow out of a broken heart. Gracious affections are also like those of Mary Magdalene (Luke 7 at the latter end), who also pours precious ointment on Christ, out of an alabaster broken box, anointing therewith the feet of Jesus, when she had washed them with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head. All gracious affections that are a sweet odor to Christ, and that fill the soul of a Christian with a heavenly sweetness and fragrancy, are broken-hearted affections. A truly Christian love, either to God or men, is a humble broken -hearted love. The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires. Their hope is a humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable, and full of glory, is a humble broken-hearted joy, and leaves the Christian more poor in spirit; and more like a little child, and more disposed to a universal lowliness of behavior.


If you are reading the classics with us, please read sections VII and VIII for next week (they are reasonably short and shouldn’t pose too much difficulty when doubled-up).

September 25, 2008

Thursdays are the day I dedicate to reading and writing about the classic books of the Christian faith. We’re well into Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections and have been moving at about a chapter (or heading) per week. This week I did not live up to my end of the bargain. It was one of those crazy weeks where it seems I spent more time out of the house than in and where the time I spent in the house was dedicated to everything but reading. So with my apologies I am going to have to bump this week’s reading into next week. Hopefully this gives us all a chance to take a breather and catch up with our reading. I’ll bring you the next update next Thursday. Sorry!

September 18, 2008

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!

September 11, 2008

Today we come to our ninth 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.

Added to the list this week is this fourth sign: Gracious affections do arise from the mind’s being enlightened, rightly and spiritually to understand or apprehend divine things.

Discussion

For some reason I found this a difficult chapter. The underlying idea was really quite simple (a renewed mind is the source of holy affections) but somehow I seemed to get lost in the details or in the explanations. Or maybe I read it too early in the week. Either way, I felt that in my understanding of the chapter I was only scraping the surface. Reading Sam Storms’ summary in Signs of the Spirit definitely helped, but the nagging thought remains that I am taking away only a fraction of what I should be.

What Edwards wanted to convey in this chapter is that holy affections are not heat without light; they are not great feelings and emotions built upon a foundation of little real knowledge of God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. Holy affections arise from the Christians’ increasing understanding of God and His ways. “The child of God is graciously affected because he sees and understands something more of divine things than he did before, more of God or Christ, and of the glorious things exhibited in the gospel; he has some clearer and better view than he had before, when he was not affected. Either he receives some understanding of divine things that is new to him, or has his former knowledge renewed after the view was decayed.” So knowledge is the key that opens the heart and enlarges the affections.

This chapter, like several before it, drew my thoughts to so many of the counterfeit revivals we’ve seen in our day. Edwards says that there are many affections which do not arise from any increased light in the understanding. These are no evidence of a person’s salvation; such affections can be generated by enthusiasm or excitement or Satan or any number of sources. Their presence is no evidence of salvation. Whenever such revivals pop up (as they do every few years) we need to look not for the outward signs but for the presence of Scripture; we need to look for evidence that we are seeing more than mere heat.

Edwards spends much of this chapter writing about “spiritual sense.” He uses this term to describe a kind of sense beyond the five senses common to all men that allows those who are indwelt by the Spirit to have a kind of knowledge or understanding that draws them to what is truly gracious and spiritual. There are many similarities here with discernment where the Spirit works to draw people away from what is false and toward what is true.

And these are my rather rambling thoughts on this chapter. As I said from the outset, somehow a lot of the chapter seems to have passed me by!

Next Time

For next week, as you might expect, we will read the fifth distinguishing sign of truly gracious and holy affections. I will hope to have something more interesting or profound to say about this one!

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. The discussion in the past weeks really has been very helpful to me and to others. So please keep it up!

September 04, 2008

Today we come to our eighth reading in Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. Though this book is a long haul, we are making some good progress, and I happen to think that it is getting better and better, particularly as we head into chapters which provide opportunity for reflection and application. This week we looked to the third 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.

Added to the list this week is this third sign: They are founded on the loveliness of the moral excellency of divine things.

Discussion

Last week Edwards taught that the greatest benefit Christians receive from Christ is Christ Himself. “The supremely excellent nature of divine things is the first, or primary and original, objective foundation of the spiritual affections of true saints.” And so, as Christians, we are drawn primarily not to the benefits that come to those who are adopted into the family of Christ, but we are drawn to Christ. This week Edwards built further upon that foundation, saying that truly gracious and holy affections are founded on the loveliness of the moral excellency of divine things. For the benefit of “the more illiterate reader,” (a status I’m sure I qualify for), he spent a couple of awfully confusing pages distinguishing between moral and natural excellency. If I read it properly, by “moral excellency” he refers simply to holiness. This stands in contrast to God’s natural excellency which refers not to His moral goodness or holiness but to his power, knowledge, eternality, omnipresence, and so on.

“Holy persons, in the exercise of holy affections, do love divine things primarily for their holiness. They love God, in the first place, for the beauty of His holiness or moral perfection, as being supremely amiable in itself. Not that the saints, in the exercise of gracious affections, do love God only for His holiness; all His attributes are amiable and glorious in their eyes; they delight in every divine perfection; the contemplation of the infinite greatness, power, and knowledge, and terrible majesty of God, is pleasant to them. But their love to God for His holiness is what is most fundamental and essential in their love. Here it is that true love to God begins; all other holy love to divine things flows from hence.” Thus anyone who loves God for His moral excellency (or holiness) will find that he also and subsequently loves God for each of His attributes. But that love needs to begin with God’s holiness.

Edwards proves this by going on to show that the beauty of all divine things flows from their holiness. Saints are beautiful because of the holiness of God that He provides to them; the beauty of the Christian faith is in its holiness; the excellence of Scripture is in its holiness; Christ’s human nature and divine nature are beautiful through holiness; the gospel, Christian doctrine and salvation are holy and thus are beautiful; and finally, heaven is beautiful to the Christian because it is a place of uninterrupted holiness. “It is primarily on account of this kind of excellency that the saints love all these things.”

There were many notable quotes in this section, but here are just a couple I wanted to draw attention to. “A holy love has a holy object. The holiness of love consists especially in this, that it is the love of that which is holy, for its holiness.” And, “We know that holiness is of a directly contrary nature to wickedness; as therefore it is the nature of wickedness chiefly to oppose and hate holiness, so it must be the nature of holiness chiefly to tend to, and delight in holiness.”

Edwards offers this point of examination and application. “You may try your discoveries of the glory of God’s grace and love, and your affections arising from them.” And here is how we do that: God’s grace can appear lovely for two reasons, either for its profitability to me or for its intrinsic holiness. “In this latter respect it is that the true saints have their hearts affected, and love captivated, by the free grace of God.” So like last week, Edwards is pushing Christians to test their hearts to see if they love God for what He does (and, in particular, what He does for them) or for who He is. The truest, purest love, says Edwards, is love that is directed at who God is. God is first holy and our affections ought to be drawn to this holiness. Anyone can be drawn to the benefits of knowing God, but only a true believer can be drawn to the holiness of God. Christians, having been given a kind of spiritual sense, are led or drawn to what is holy. This sense is a distinguishing characteristic of those who have been regenerated by God.

I’ve heard it said that a Christian cannot read this book without deeply questioning his own faith. At the very least, I think, a Christian cannot read this book without having to question the ground of his faith. And I have been forced to ask myself the questions Edwards is raising here. Do I love God for who He is, or do I love Him for what He does? Or pushing just a bit further, is my love for God founded on Him or on myself?

Next Time

For next week we will read the fourth distinguishing sign of truly gracious and holy affections. Though it is a little bit longer than what we’ve read during the past couple of weeks, I think there is little benefit in dividing it into multiple readings. So have at it!

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. The discussion in the past weeks really has been very helpful to me and to others. So please keep it up!

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