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Reading Classics Together

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!

August 28, 2008

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

Summary

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

  1. They are from a divine influence.
  2. Their object is the excellence of divine things.

Discussion

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

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

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

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

Next Time

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

Your Turn

As always, I am eager to know what you gained from this part of the book. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you can only say anything if you are going to say something that will wow us all. Just add a comment with some of the things you gained from the this week’s reading. To this point the discussion has been very helpful and engaging.

August 14, 2008

This morning brings us to our fifth reading in Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. This week’s reading was a very short one—just a few pages. I know that several of you took the opportunity to catch up with last week’s lengthy reading. So hopefully by now we are all on the same page!

Summary

In the Introduction to the book’s third part, Edwards asks the reader to keep three things in mind as he describes the distinguishing signs of truly gracious and holy affections (and here I’m relying on Sam Storms’ excellent summaries of these points):

  1. There will never be a time or system or standard of analysis of such issues that will yield infallible results. We will never be able to claim that we can, without error, discern who is a believer and who is not.
  2. We should not expect to find biblical signs that will enable a backslidden person to reassure himself that he is in a good way with God. It is God’s design that backslidden persons should have no assurance of their salvation.
  3. We should not expect that the signs by which we hope to differentiate between true and false affections will ever prove sufficient to convince those who are hypocrites and who have been deceived about their salvation.

Keeping these things in mind, we’ll turn in the following weeks to the twelve signs which will allow us to distinguish true religion from false religion.

Discussion

Because we read only a few pages, there was not a lot of content to interact with this week. However, there was one section that jumped off the pages at me. I very much appreciated Edwards’ exhortation that it is God’s design that men obtain assurance not by thinking a lot about assurance and not by a process of rigorous self-examination, but primarily through “mortifying corruption, and increasing in grace, and obtaining the lively exercises of it.” So assurance is obtained less by self-examination and more by action.

Edwards gives the example of the Apostle Paul and says, “He obtained assurance of winning the prize, more by running than by considering. The swiftness of his pace did more towards his assurance of a conquest than the strictness of his examination.” This is such an important point and I am guessing it is one Edwards will return to later in the book. When we experience moments of concern or doubt about our salvation, so often we can spend time thinking about ourselves and looking primarily inward for assurance of our faith. But the Bible makes it clear that we will be known by what we do and what we are. So we need to look outwards to see if we are putting sin to death and if we are living in the way Christ tells us to live. Here we will see whether or not we are being conformed to His image and whether our not our trust is in Him.

Finally, I was glad to see Edwards affirm that we can never know perfectly whether or not another person is saved. “It was never God’s design to give us any rules by which we may certainly know who of our fellow professors are His, and to make a full and clear separation between sheep and goats.” God has reserved this infallible knowledge for Himself and so we look for distinguishing characteristics, always knowing that we are so easily fooled.

Next Time

For next week we will read the first distinguishing sign of truly gracious and holy affections. This is a long section (around 40 pages in my edition) but I don’t see any real benefit in dividing it into two readings. So please read that section for next Thursday. Because it is a lengthy reading, you may wish to begin in the next day or two!

Your Turn

As always, I am eager to know what you gained from this part of the book. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you can only say anything if you are going to say something that will wow us all. Just add a comment with some of the things you gained from the this week’s reading. To this point the discussion has been excellent!

August 07, 2008

This morning brings us to our fourth reading in Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. You can click here to read more about this effort. If you have not been reading with us and would like to participate, this is as good a time as any to join in. Next week we’ll begin the real meat of the book and what has come before, though important, shouldn’t hinder your enjoyment of the rest of it.

Summary

This week we finished Part III in a reading that was probably too long. Here Edwards continues laying out his signs of “nothing.” This is to say that he points out things that are often offered as proof of authentic spirituality when in reality these cannot be said to prove or to disprove faith.

These were the seven characteristics he pointed out in the first half of the section:

  • Intense or high affections
  • Physical manifestations
  • Excessive excitement and talkativeness
  • The way in which affections are brought about
  • That Scripture is brought to mind
  • The existence of love in the affections
  • The fact that a wide variety of affections may exist

In this second part he adds to this list:

  • Comfort, joy and convictions of conscience
  • Spending much time in religious activity or worship
  • Praising God
  • Confidence in the experience of the divine
  • That true Christians believe these people to be truly saved

He offers his thoughts, at some length, on each of these.

Discussion

This section, though not exceedingly difficult to read, was undoubtedly too long. Forty pages is a tall assignment when it comes to Edwards. We’ll try to keep things more manageable in the future. As much as I am enjoying the book, I am looking forward to getting to the real heart of the book starting next week. At that time we’ll turn from the negative signs to the positive ones. I am prepared for a difficult, soul-searching time! But for today, let me offer some scattered thoughts on this week’s reading.

As I read this week, I kept thinking of that so-called revival in Florida. I’ve seen many video clips of what is going on there and it is amazing how often they parallel the marks of “nothing” Edwards discusses in this book. There are high emotions and affections, physical manifestations, excitement, Scripture, joy, worship, praise, experience of God…but all of these things may mean nothing! I thought of this revival as I read Edwards words that “[God] commonly first manifested Himself in a way which was terrible, and then by those things that were comfortable.” In God’s extraordinary revelations of Himself in Scripture, He often appeared first in a terrifying way and only then in a comfortable way. Yet in what passes for revival today, we often find that God appears only in a way that seems so very human, so very comforting.

I appreciated Edwards’ talk of the sufficiency of Scripture. “Which should be enough with Christians, who are willing to have the Word of God rather than their own philosophy, and experiences, and conjectures, as their sufficient and sure guide in things of this nature.” Too often Christians, or those who claim to be Christians, force Scripture and experience into opposition with each other. And when that happens experience always seems to win. But Edwards insists, as any Protestant should, that Scripture must be our “norming norm.” We cannot allow anything to diminish Scripture’s importance or to downplay its sufficiency. As much as we love experiences of God, we must understand that these are secondary means and that Scripture is primary.

I enjoyed this brief but profound sentence: “Nor does the Spirit of God proceed discernibly in the steps of a particular established scheme, one half so often as is imagined.” Even the most serious student of God must allow that God is in no way constrained by what we think we know of Him. What He says He will do, He will do; but what He tells us is only the smallest glimpse of His character.

And finally, closer to the end of the chapter, I had to highlight this (which is a great section but should have caused Edwards to fail English class): “There are no other principles which human nature is under the influence of, that will ever make men conscientious, but one of those two, fear or love; and therefore, if one of these should not prevail as the other decays, God’s people, when fallen into dead and carnal frames, when love is asleep, would be lamentably exposed indeed: and therefore God has wisely ordained, that these two opposite principles of love and fear should rise and fall, like the two opposite scales of a balance; when one rises the other sinks.” In explanation he says, “Fear is cast out by the Spirit of God no other way than by the prevailing of love; nor is fear ever maintained but when love is asleep.” Thus a person who would seek to have assurance of his salvation must have a heart stirred by the love of God. When love is absent, it is replaced by fear, just as light, when absent, is replaced with darkness.

There are many other passages I highlighted, but these will suffice for now!

Next Time

For next week’s reading we will complete only a short section—the Introduction to Part III. In my Banner of Truth edition this runs from page 120-124. Simply read from the beginning of Part III until immediately before the first mark of truly gracious and holy affections.. This will give people a chance to catch up and will also keep us from reading an exceptionally large section the week after.

Your Turn

As always, I am eager to know what you gained from this part of the book. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you can only say anything if you are going to say something that will wow us all. Just add a comment with some of the things you gained from the this week’s reading. To this point the discussion has been excellent!

July 31, 2008

We come today to our third reading in Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. You can click here to read more about this effort..

Summary

While the first week of The Religious Affections felt a bit like drinking water from a fire hose, this week’s reading seemed quite a bit more manageable. In the first half of Part II of the book, Edwards simply lays out seven signs of “nothing.” This is to say that he points out seven things that are often offered as proof of authentic spirituality when in reality these cannot be said to prove or to disprove faith.

Here are the seven characteristics he points out:

  • Intense or high affections
  • Physical manifestations
  • Excessive excitement and talkativeness
  • The way in which affections are brought about
  • That Scripture is brought to mind
  • The existence of love in the affections
  • The fact that a wide variety of affections may exist

He offers his thoughts, at some length, on each of these.

Discussion

My preliminary observation is one I also made last week (or the week before). Edwards is difficult to read, but not that difficult. He compares favorably to John Owen, at any rate! If I am able to see past the occasional piece of repetition or over-abundance of proof for his points, I can make my way through fairly easily. There were only a few times in this chapter where I really had to pause and read it over several times.

The first thing that stood out to me in this portion of the book is his comparison of our affections to those of the saints in heaven. Here he says, “the only reason why their affections are so much higher than the holy affections of saints on earth is, they see the things they are affected by more according to their truth, and have their affections more conformed to the nature of things.” Hence, “they are all as a pure heavenly flame of fire in their love, and in the greatness and strength of their joy and gratitude.” And what a joy it must be to have one’s affections raised so high. Now we see things only dimly and thus our affections will also be dim. But when we see Christ face-to-face we will worship as do the saints and angels in heaven. We will worship in complete purity. And I can hardly wait!

I also appreciated Edwards’ insistence that Scripture cannot be used as a kind of trump card when it comes to affections. “It should be considered, affections may arise on occasion of the Scripture, and not properly come from the Scripture, as the genuine fruit of the Scripture and by a right use of it; but from an abuse of it.” And this is exactly the same as preaching—just because a person preaches from the Bible does not necessarily indicate that he is honoring Scripture and using it rightly. “All that can be argued from the purity and perfection of the Word of God, with respect to experiences, is this, that those experiences which are agreeable to the Word of God are right, and cannot be otherwise; and not that those affections must be right which arise on occasion of the Word of God coming to mind.”

But the piece of the text that earned as asterisk in my book was the one dealing with counterfeits. And here is something I wish I had thought of when I was writing The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment where I wrote about counterfeiting. Edwards’ point is at once obvious and profound. “It may be observed that the more excellent anything is, the more will be the counterfeits of it.” And of course this is true. Nobody counterfeits aluminum! Instead, people counterfeit was is precious and what is desirable. Because love is the chief of the graces and the source from which all true affections must flow, it is love that is most often counterfeited. “So there are perhaps no graces that have more counterfeits than love and humility, these being virtues wherein the beauty of a true Christian does especially appear.” And so we must be on guard against counterfeit love and counterfeit humility; we must watch for their presence in our own lives and be aware that they may be present in the lives of those who appear to be the most humble, most loving Christians.

Next Time

For next week’s reading we will complete Part II of the book. This will give us 30 or 40 pages to read and take us to the book’s final, longest, and most substantial part. Beginning next week we will probably need to slow down a little bit. So for next week please finish off Part II.

Your Turn

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.

July 24, 2008

Today we come to the second week of reading through The Religious Affections. You can click here to read more about this effort.

This weeks’ reading really marked my first significant attempt at plowing through a substantial part of Edwards’ work. While I began with some trepidation, I have to say that it wasn’t as bad as I may have feared. Sure the language was a bit obscure and sure Edwards often uses several sentences when he could probably get away with just one, but overall I didn’t find that it was too difficult. Tough, yes; impossible, no.

Summary

Our assigned reading for this week was nothing less than the entirety of Part 1. While the reading was long, I think it made sense to read it as a unit rather than dividing it into two smaller portions. This makes sense logically as well as in terms of timing since it will take a very long time to read this book if we do only 15 pages at a time. In this first part, Edwards writes about the nature of the Affections and their importance in religion.

Having said that, a reader who is participating in this reading challenge sent along this comic. I definitely feel some of this:


Edwards first seeks to define true religion, saying, “true religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.” He defines the affections in this way: “The affections are no other than the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul.” He bases this definition on the understand that the human soul has two faculties, one of which he terms understanding. This is the faculty that allows the human soul to discern, view and judge. The second faculty he terms inclination or will or heart. It is this one that allows the soul not to just perceive and view things, but to incline or disincline it. Holy affections are those that are distinguished by “vigorous exercise of the inclination and will towards divine objects.”

The bulk of the chapter is given to ten biblical proofs that true religion lies much in the affections. It concludes with three inferences or applications from this doctrine.

Discussion

This was a long and dense chapter but one of uneven importance, meaning that there were some portions that were more important than others. I’m grateful for this since otherwise I don’t know that I could have absorbed very much! I am going to provide thoughts on just a few areas that jumped out at me.

After providing his ten biblical proofs that true religion requires true affection, Edwards summarizes by saying, “It is evident that religion consists so much in affection, as that without holy affection there is no true religion; and no light in the understanding is good which does not produce holy affection in the heart: no habit or principle in the heart is good which has no such exercise; and no external fruit is good which does not proceed from such exercises.” All of this to say that an affectionless Christian is no Christian at all. While the presence of affection does not necessarily prove a person to be a Christian, the complete absence proves that he cannot be one. Just last night my son asked how he can know that he is a Christian and here Edwards gives us a mark to look for. Is your heart stirred by these affections? If it is, that may point you to the reality that you are saved; if it is not, it will point you to the sad reality that you are unsaved. Affections are too close to the heart of the faith to be completely absent. At one point Edwards says, “I am bold to assert that there never was any considerable change wrought in the mind or conversation of any person, by anything of a religious nature that ever he read, heard or saw, that had not his affections moved.”

Edwards’ second inference about the affections is a logical one. If true religion lies in the affections, we must pursue those things that tend to move our affections. Here he points to prayer, preaching and praise. True Christians will necessarily wish to pursue such means of grace to stir our hearts and to grow in our affections. The application is obvious: do you find that your affections are tied to such means of grace? Is listening to a sermon a delight or a chore? Is prayer a duty or a delight?

The chapter’s final exhortation is one worth pondering. “So has God disposed things, in the affair of our redemption, and in his glorious dispensations, revealed to us in the gospel, as though everything were purposely contrived in such a manner as to have the greatest possible tendency to reach our hearts in the most tender part, and move our affections most sensibly and strongly. How great cause have we therefore to be humbled to dust that we are no more affected!” And really, what excuse do we have for being so little affected by the great things revealed to us? What a hard-hearted people we are…

Next Time

Our reading for next week will take us from the beginning of Part 2 up to the end of the seventh (VII) point. So stop when you hit point VIII and see “Nothing can certainly be determined concerning the nature of the affections by this, that comforts and joys seem to follow awakenings and convictions of conscience, in a certain order.” In my book (the Banner of Truth edition) this will take us from page 54 until page 78.

Your Turn

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.

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