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Reading Classics – The Religious Affections (VII)

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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.


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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Time

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

Your Turn

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

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