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Reading Classics Together

January 15, 2009

We’re continuing to make our way through C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity having reached the final chapters of the third book (out of four). We actually have only a couple of weeks left in this book. Compared to some of the ones we’ve covered in the past, this one has gone by very quickly. But the easy reading is, thankfully, in no way an indication of the value of the content.

Discussion

This week we covered the final six chapters of Book III, “Christian Behavior.” It may well be my favorite reading yet, and especially so through the first four of the chapters.

The first chapter deals with Forgiveness and Lewis’ take seemed to be something like this: “Look, I don’t quite understand or like it either, but it’s just something we have to do.” “I am not trying to tell you in this book what I could do—I can do precious little—I am telling you what Christianity is. I did not invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgiven those that sin against us.’ There is not the slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven. There are no two ways about it. What are we to do?” When discussing how hard it is to offer forgiveness, Lewis asks this difficult question: “How could you hate what a man did and not hate the man?” His answer is brilliant. “Years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life—namely myself. … In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.” Thus Christianity does not require us to reduce our hatred for what is evil, but it does require us to hate properly—to hate the evil but still hope that the person who has committed evil may be cured from it.

We need to remember that this book was written in the context of the Second World War and Lewis has to make his words applicable to that conflict. “Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves—to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not.”

Lewis turns next to The Great Sin of pride. He is brutally harsh on this sin. It “leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” It is an essentially competitive sin which “gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man” so that “once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” He, as do so many Christian writers, sets this as the greatest and most dangerous of all sins. A right knowledge of God is what helps us fight against pride. “The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.” When we see ourselves in the light of God’s holiness, there is no place for pride. After all, “He and you are two things of such a kind that if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble—delightedly humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you restless and unhappy all your life.”

The next chapter deals with Charity, one of the three great theological virtues. Charity is more than giving away money but really indicates “Love, in the Christian sense.” It is not an emotion or a state of the feelings, but a state of the will. These words are worth heeding: “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you do. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” The opposite is equally true. “The more cruel you are, the more you will hate; and the more you hate, the more cruel you will become—and so on in a vicious circle for ever. Good and evil both increase with compound interest.” The lesson in all of this is that Christian love does not demand that we sit and try to manufacture feelings. Instead, Christian love asks “If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?” and then does it.

Chapter 10 looks to hope. “Looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.” This chapter is filled with some of Lewis’ most memorable words. “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.” “The real want for Heaven is present in us, [but] we do not recognise it.” “The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.” He gets beautifully sarcastic when he writes about the stereotypes of heaven in which people spend eternity sitting on clouds playing harps. “The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. … People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.”

Lewis concludes with two chapters titled “Faith.” I found these chapters slightly more obscure than the ones preceding. He seeks to cover two ways that Christians use the word faith. In the first chapter, faith is “the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” In this way, both atheists and Christians exercise faith that may be strong at one time and weak at another. This habit of faith must be trained to persevere through weak times. He asks this good question: “If you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?” He also offers wisdom on accepting our own badness. “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.” “We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.” In the second chapter he looks at faith in a higher sense. This kind of faith comes after a person has tried to practice the Christian virtues and has still failed. He has discovered his moral bankruptcy and now has to put his faith in another—in Christ—trusting that He will make things right.

I could go on and on. But I will stop here. I am really looking forward to hearing what parts of this chapter you enjoyed the most.

Next Week

I think we’re keeping up a pretty good pace here. So why don’t we read the first six chapters of Book IV for next week. Again, that is only about 30 pages—pretty easy to cover over the course of a week. That will leave us just one more week after that and we’ll be done with Mere Christianity.

Your Turn

The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.

January 08, 2009

This morning, after a lengthy holiday break, we return to C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity in our effort to read together some of the classics of the Christian faith. After two short and preliminary sections (which were actually first published as short books) dealing with “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe” and “What Christians Believe.”, we are now in the heart of Lewis’ classic. And I think we are beginning to see what sets Lewis apart and why Mere Christianity remains an important and even unmatched book even today.

Discussion

In Book 3, Lewis turns to his discussion of “Christian Behavior.” Here he shows how Christians are to live. He immediately distinguishes moral ideals from moral rules and shows that he has foreseen society’s slide into postmodernism. These words are near-prophetic: “It is dangerous to describe a man who tries very hard to keep the moral law as a ‘man of high ideals,’ because this might lead you to think that moral perfection was a private taste of his own and that the rest of us were not called on to share it.” And this, of course, is exactly what society declares today. We have left behind morals and have turned instead to values; we have left what is absolute and unchanging and turned instead to what is personal and temporary.

A couple of the chapters seemed a little bit odd or unexpected to me and perhaps none more so than “Morality and Psychoanalysis.” I suppose this reflects the time in which the book was written since psychoanalysis isn’t a term we encounter so often today. Then again, perhaps psychology has become so ingrained in our culture and our minds that terms like that one have almost lost their meaning. I did appreciate this warning: “Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends. … That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it.” This is also a quote to file away and think about: “When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. … Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.”

Where I thought Lewis was at his best is in the chapters dealing with sexual morality and Christian marriage. I am quite sure I’ll write at length in the future on Lewis’ thoughts on modesty, chastity and such. More on that another day. Here are two statements I had to highlight: “Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body” and “Christianity has glorified marriage more than any other religion.” Lewis deals very well with the early years of the loosening of sexual mores that have continued and escalated between then and now. The lie in all of this “consists in the suggestion that any sexual act to which you are tempted at the moment is … healthy and normal.” While Christianity celebrates sex, it does so within its properly God-given context. Lewis’ encouragement to those who fight against sexual sin (or any other kind of sin) is well-taken. “Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again.” “We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.”

And then Lewis turns to marriage, presenting it as a good gift from God. “The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union.” I was really struck by his words about the way love inclines lovers to bind themselves to one another with promises. Lewis says, “The Christian law is not forcing upon the passion of love something which is foreign to that passion’s own nature: it is demanding that lovers should take seriously something which their passion of itself impels them to do.” Hence the promises of marriage are simply the promises of love taken to their natural end. For a man who, at this time in his life had never been married, Lewis had much mature wisdom to impart.

For sake of time I will stop with just these few reflections. I could go on at much greater length for this section really was a gold mine. I look forward to reading about the areas that stood out to you.

Next Week

For next Thursday, let’s just finish up book three. Again, six chapters seems like a lot, but in reality most of the chapters are only a few pages. To read only half of them would amount to only 20 pages of fairly light reading. After Edwards and Owen we should be well equipped to handle 40 pages of Lewis in a week!

Your Turn

The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.

December 11, 2008

Today we continue reading classics together. We have come to our second reading in C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. We read all of book I, “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.”

Discussion

In our reading we covered five short chapters: The Law of Human Nature, Some Objections, The Reality of the Law, What Lies Behind the Law, and We Have Cause to Be Uneasy. In this first book, Lewis sets out to prove the existence of some kind of universal moral law—what he calls the Law of Nature. Looking to how this law was explained in the past, he writes “The idea was that, just as all bodies are governed by the law of gravitation, and organisms by biological laws, so the creature called man also had his law—with this great difference, that a body could not choose whether it obeyed the law of gravitation or not, but a man could choose to either obey the Law of Human Nature or to disobey it.” This is a universal law that governs human behavior, telling us all what is wrong and what is right. Though there are some who deny such a law, they cannot do so in good conscience, for the moment they insist the law does not exist, you can outrage their sense of morality by doing something they consider unfair. Fairness can only exist in the presence of some higher moral standard.

Once we admit the existence of this universal law, we can examine ourselves (and others) to see that we do not always behave in the way this law demands. “These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.” A law exists; we do not keep the law.

Lewis is careful to nuance his argument to insist that the existence of this Law of Nature does not necessarily demand the existence of the God of Christianity. He will get to this God soon, but first he wants to have people understand that there is a morality that underlies all human beings. It is only at the very end of this short book that he suggests how the existence of this moral law ought to make us uneasy, for if this law exists and if it exists because of some law-giver and if we have broke this law, well, then there must be some kind of consequence. Lewis wants the reader to know that, properly understood, Christianity ends with comfort, but only if it first begins with terror.

Just a couple of observations I should make. First, I really enjoyed Lewis’ use of metaphor, whether he was discussing mice or pianos or rocks or clocks. He illustrates his points very well. And second, I find his writing style so consistent with The Chronicles of Narnia. This should not be a surprise, I suppose. But I’m enjoying seeing how his distinctive writing style remains so similar even between genres.

Next Week

For next week, let’s read Book II. Again, it’s not as bad as it sounds. As with last week, there are only five short chapters that together come in at 30 pages. I think this section is best read as a unit so we’ll treat it in that fashion. So read those pages and come back here next Thursday! Next week we’ll read a less than a whole book.

Your Turn

The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.

December 04, 2008

Here we are, at the beginning of another round of Reading Classics Together. In the past months we’ve read four great Christian classics—Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen, The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross by A.W. Pink and The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. And now we add to the list Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I trust that this will be a slightly easier read than Edwards, whose great work we finished just a few weeks ago.

If you are interested in joining in this effort, please feel free to do so. Simply buy, borrow or download a copy of Mere Christianity and start reading. Our assigned reading for this week was nothing more than the Preface and Foreword, so you will not be far behind. Every week we will read a portion of the book and then return here on Thursdays to enjoy a little bit of discussion. It’s a good, easy way of making your way through some of the classics of the Christian faith.

Discussion

This week’s reading was, by design, very simple. To help set the stage for the book, we read just the Preface and Foreword. Essentially, we learned a little bit about the book’s genesis and Lewis’ rationale for writing it. And, of course, we learned what he meant by the term “Mere Christianity.”

Lewis wastes no time discussing the book’s origins. “The contents of this book were first given on the air, and then published in three separate parts as Broadcast Talks (1942), Christian Behaviour (1943) and Beyond Personality (1944).” The book has been adapted slightly to fit the print medium, but is otherwise consistent with what he taught over the radio. In the Foreword, Kathleen Norris provides further context by setting these messages in the midst of the Second World War, in a day when people were asking questions about the nature and existence of God. Lewis “gave talks to men in the Royal Air Force, who knew that after just thirteen bombing missions, most of them would be declared dead or missing. Their situation prompted Lewis to speak about the problems of suffering, pain, and evil, work that resulted in his being invited by the BBC to give a series of wartime broadcasts on Christian faith.” This is not a work of academic philosophy but a work of oral literature, delivered to people at war.

In the Preface, Lewis addresses the inevitable question of “what is mere Christianity?”. He says it is “the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” While he does not hide his own Anglicanism, he says that he will not be arguing for one particular denomination. Nor will he concern himself with issues of secondary importance since, as he says, these tend to fracture rather than divide and are not very useful for purposes of apologetics. “I am not writing to expound something I would call ‘my religion,’ but to expound ‘mere’ Christianity, which is what it is and what it was long before I was born and whether I like it or not.”

Norris writes this: “The ‘mere’ Christianity of C.S. Lewis is not a philosophy or even a theology that may be considered, argued, and put away in a book on a shelf. It is a way of life, one that challenges us always to remember, as Lewis once stated, that ‘there are no ordinary people’ and that ‘it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit.’ Once we tune ourselves to this reality, Lewis believes, we open ourselves to imaginatively transform our lives in such a way that evil diminishes and good prevails. It is what Christ asked of us in taking on our humanity, sanctifying our flesh, and asking us in turn to reveal God to one another.”

And so mere Christianity is the essence of the Christian faith—those beliefs that have been held in common by all true Christians through all of the church’s history. And on that basis, I think we are ready to move forward, knowing what it is that Lewis hopes to accomplish through the book.

Next Week

For next week, let’s read Book I. It’s not as bad as it sounds. There are five short chapters that together come in at less than 30 pages (which together are probably easier to read than 5 pages of Edwards or Owen!). I think this section is best read as a unit so we’ll treat it in that fashion. So read those pages and come back here next Thursday!

Your Turn

The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.

November 18, 2008

Reading Classics Together

I’m inviting you to read one of the classics of the Christian faith with me. Read on to find out more…

To this point the “Reading Classics Together” effort has gone very well, at least in my opinion. Every week we’ve tackled together just a short portion of one of the classic texts of the Christian faith. In this way we’ve read through J.C. Ryle’s Holiness, John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation, A.W. Pink’s The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross and Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. We’ve had hundreds of people participate by reading the books together and discussing them each week (though, inevitably, I think many more people begin each of the efforts than finish them and many more people read than comment!). All along we’ve been reading some great works—books many of us have always wished to read but books few of us have ever made time for. And now it is time to decide on the next classic we’ll read together.

Through the first four rounds we have bounced from a more modern work to a more ancient one. We’ve gone from Ryle to Owen, Pink to Edwards. Now that we’ve finished Edwards and have slogged through his brilliant but difficult Affections, we’re ready to move forward in time to try something a little easier. And the next classic we will tackle together is one that should prove a far easier challenge: C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. This is regarded as a classic apologetic work that stands, even 55 years later, as a superior introduction to the Christian faith. It is a book that has been so widely quoted that I’m quite convinced that many of us have read most of it in other works!

Here is my disclaimer in which I hope to head off the inevitable critiques. I think we’re all aware that C.S. Lewis held to the odd point of strange theology—unbiblical theology. So as we read this book we’ll be appreciating it for what it does so well, but we’ll also be ready to take note if and when what Lewis teaches does not accord with Scripture. The purpose of Reading Classics Together is not only to read books we agree with entirely, but to read books that have become Christian classics, whether for good reasons or bad! In this case I’m convinced there will be far more gold than dross.

Let’s count on beginning with the Preface and Foreword on December 4. That gives you just over two weeks to find a copy and read the first few pages. After December 4 we’ll proceed at a pretty good clip. The book has over 30 chapters but we’ll read several chapters a week (many of them are just a few pages long) and try to work through it quite quickly. But we’ll be sure to move at a reasonable pace so everyone can keep up, even through the holiday season.

Mere Christianity is very widely available. It has gone through many printings in both hardcover and softcover, can be found in e-book, audio book and, I think, even on YouTube. I’m sure you can also find free versions online, though I believe these (and the YouTube versions) would be unlicensed and therefore either illegal at worst or pseudo-legal at best. Just about every used bookstore will have a few copies in stock. So if you have a couple of dollars to your name, you’ll be able to join in the fun.

If you are going to participate, please just leave a comment so I can try to gauge interest. And then find a copy of the book and get reading!

Here are links to three of the places you may shop (and in each case feel free to hunt around the sites as they probably have it in multiple versions):

Monergism Books | Westminster Books | Amazon

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!

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