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.
Here is what we have learned so far about religious affections:
- They are from a divine influence.
- Their object is the excellence of divine things.
- They are founded on the loveliness of the moral excellency of divine things.
- They arise from the mind’s being enlightened, rightly and spiritually to understand or apprehend divine things.
- They are attended with a reasonable and spiritual conviction of the reality and certainty of divine things.
- 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.
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!
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!
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!