I am (almost) ashamed. I have been one post away from finishing Known By Fruit for two months. But today I fix that and complete the final distinguishing mark of religious affections. To catch us up to speed, you may remember that genuine affections are spiritual, Godward, truth-driven, nature-changing and relentless. In addition, Genuine religious affections are fruitful.
Not only is this the last and longest section in The Religious Affections it is also the most important. For Edwards the best proof was always here, not in talk, not in feelings, not in imaginations and impressions, but in the fruit of Christian practice. This implied three things about the Christian’s conduct:
- That his behavior or practice in the world, be universally conformed to, and directed by, Christian rules.
- That he makes a business of such a holy practice above all things; that it be a business which he is chiefly engaged in, and devoted to, and pursues with highest earnestness and diligence: so that he may be said to make this practice of religion eminently his work and business.
- That he persists in it to the end of life: so that it may be said, not only to be his business at certain seasons, the business of the Sabbath days, or extraordinary times, or the business of a month, or year, or of seven years, or his business under certain circumstances, but the business of his life; it being that business which he perseveres in through all changes, and under all trials as long as he lives. (308-309)
In other words, if a man’s affections are genuine and spiritual he will see Scripture as the definitive blueprint for right behavior, he will pursue of holy practice as the highest priority of his life, and he will be consistent and persevere in this for all his life. The apostle John clarifies the conclusive property of righteous practice in 1 John 3:6-10.
No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
And I mean, why wouldn’t our lives be fruitful? God has planned and prepared good works for us (Ephesians 2:10), He has made us dead to sin by our union with Christ (Romans 6), He has given us His Holy Spirit to enable holy living (Romans 8) and to produce fruit in us (Galatians 5). The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of finishing this for the future, so He who began a good work will be faithful to complete it. God is on our side! Edwards celebrates the certainty of divinely produces fruit:
No wonder that that which is divine is powerful and effectual; for it has omnipotence on its side. If God dwells in the heart, and is vitally united to it, He will show that He is God by the efficacy of His operation. (315)
This good fruit should be visible to others. Inconspicuous fruit is bad fruit. Our Lord not only declares that the true nature of a heart is disclosed externally and visibly but He also directs His followers to display good works for the sake of His Father’s glory.
Matthew 7:16 You will recognize them by their fruits.
Matthew 12:33 Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.
Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Edwards explains why the fruit illustration is so fitting:
The tree is made perfect in the fruit; it is not perfected in the first quickening of the seed and in its putting forth root and sprout; nor is it perfected when it comes up out of the ground; nor is it perfected in bringing forth leaves; nor yet in putting forth blossoms: but when it has brought forth good, ripe fruit; then it is perfected, therein it reaches its end; the design of the tree is finished: all that belongs to the tree is completed and brought to its proper effect in the fruit. (355)
Fruit is the point and the final part of the tree’s maturation process. Likewise for the Christian fruit is the main and most proper diagnostic. It is not talk or manner of speech or expressions of emotion, but fruit. As Edwards pointed out,
Passing affections easily produce words; and words are cheap. …Christian practice is a costly, laborious thing. (p.332, emphasis added)
Not only is good fruit visible to others but our good works are the chief evidences to our own consciences. Godliness is not in a heart that intends to do the will of God, but in a heart that actually does it.
It is therefore exceedingly absurd and even ridiculous for any to pretend that they have a good heart, while they live a wicked life, or do not bring forth the fruit of universal holiness in their practice. (348)
Christian practice is the sign of signs. (369)
The more fruit of holiness, the more evidence of your affections being genuine. To the degree that your practice is influenced for God, that is the degree of your affections for God.
How important is it for us to be lively and relentless and humble and Christlike and truth-driven and Godward fruit-bearers. If we long to live and do everything for the love of God, these are the things that will mark us; they will distinguish us to the world and they will be great signs of assurance that divine grace is at work in us.
Edwards final assertion in The Religious Affections from 300 years ago applies equally for us:
(This kind of spiritually fruitful life) would above all things, tend to convince men that there is a reality in religion, and greatly awaken them, and win them, by convincing their consciences of the importance and excellency of religion. (382)