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Reading Classics – The Religious Affections (VIII)

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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.


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.


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!

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