This was one of the books that God used in the last half of 2005 to convict me of my mostly head/truth-based Christian life. Rereading it in the last half of 2019 and beginning of 2020 edified me greatly, even as I noticed more of Edwards’ repetitiveness. He also borders on stimulating doubt more than faith, but still a good challenge to loving obedience. The book in one sentence: you always do what you most want to do.
Tag: Jonathan Edwards
In his book The Religious Affections Jonathan Edwards explained how the defining feature of real religion is love for God. He defines affections, shows how some affects in a person’s life may not be from genuine affections for God, and then spends most of the book describing the characteristics of true love for God.
One of his concerns, as should be a concern for all of us, is the possibility of false comforts. It is possible to think things are great, to be optimistic about your condition, and to believe you have peace with God when there is no peace.
On the other hand, I think that some believers have heard these warnings so much that we are afraid of comforts. We are afraid of communion as a celebration because, Hello?!, we might not take it seriously (enough). These are not the only ways to mess up participation in the Lord’s Table, but they are actual misunderstandings.
What should we do? We should read all the words in Scripture. The communion cup is, for example, “a cup of blessing.” So we thank God for it. We remember God’s favor to us so we are glad in it. And, then we go on to remember that this cup is “a participation in the blood of Christ.” It is a costly cup.
“The comforts of the true saints increase awakening and caution, and a lively sense of how great a thing it is to appear before an infinitely holy, just and omniscient Judge.”
Our comforts are not in oblivion, our comforts are purchased at the cross. We have blood-love, love bought by the blood of the Lamb.
The book of Proverbs is full of wisdom, wisdom for those who need to get wisdom, and wisdom for those who need to give it. Solomon helps the one who already understands obtain guidance and then also give guidance to others.
One of the proverbs most quoted in our house is Solomon’s lesson on the unteachable.
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but he who hates reproof is stupid.
(Proverbs 12:1, ESV)
The word “stupid” (translated as such in the ESV, NAS, NIV) usually referred to an animal that lacks sense. To hate correction is “brutish” (KJV). Lots of times parents are up against the worst sort of willful stupidity. Some other times parents are the worst at keeping their kids dumb.
Jonathan Edwards illustrated it this way.
If any of you that are heads of families, saw one of your children in a house that was all on fire over its head, and in eminent danger of being soon consumed in the flames, that seemed to be very insensible of its danger, and neglected to escape, after you had often spake to it, and called to it, would you go on to speak to it only in a cold and indifferent manner? Would not you cry aloud, and call earnestly to it, and represent the danger it was in, and its own folly of delaying, in the most lively manner you were capable of? Would not nature itself teach this, and oblige you to it? If you should continue to speak to it only in a cold manner, as you are wont to do in ordinary conversation about indifferent matters, would not those about you begin to think you were bereft of reason yourself? (emphasis mine)
Who has the bigger problem, the child in the burning house or the dad who sees the child in the burning house and acts as if it’s no big deal? He who hates reproof is stupid. He who hates giving reproof when it is necessary sponsors stupidity, and death (Proverbs 19:18). Maybe the most ironic response is hating correction so much that you get fired up to correct the ones urging your kids to get out of the burning house because you don’t like their tone. We should be wiser than that.
The True Excellency of a Gospel Minister This is a sermon by Jonathan Edwards at the ordination of another minister. He took John 5:35 as his text, noting Jesus’ description of John the Baptist as a “burning and a shining light.” Edwards shows that a “burning” light is one that is fervent, zealous, energetic, with a “holy flame enkindled in the soul.” A “shining” light is one that is pure and clear, that brings truth to the souls of men.
Edwards illustrates the need for both heat and light:
It is the glory of the sun that such a bright and glorious light, and such a powerful, refreshing, vivifying heat, are both together diffused from that luminary. When there is light in a minister…without a spiritual warmth and ardor in his heart, and a holy zeal in his ministrations, his light is like the light of an ignis fatuus, and some kinds of putrefying carcasses that shine in the dark, though they are of a stinking savor.
Truly excellent ministers must burn and shine. Edwards observes that, as we pursue both,
hereby our ministry will be likely to be as beneficial as our office is honorable.
Too many men love the honor of the office and do not consider if they are actually beneficial. They do not consider if their religion remains “only in the head,” or consists in “outward morality, or forms of religion” but if it “reaches the heart” and “burns there.” Those who fail in personal, spiritual fervency not only suffer an ineffectual ministry, they are also “so much the more hurtful and pernicious” to men and “the more abominable and inexcusable” before God.
A week from today I leave to preach a series of messages about The Religious Affections of Jonathan Edwards for the students of Foothill Bible Church, pastored by my friend Micah Lugg. A week after that, I’ll be preaching a series of messages about Repentance and seeing sin for what it is for the students of Faith Bible Church, pastored by my friend Mike Brown (whose wife is due with their second child the week before camp begins). I listened to this message while running earlier today and the following quote hit my preparation sweet spot.
Though [repentance] be a deep sorrow for sin that God requires as necessary to salvation, yet the very nature of it necessarily implies delight. Repentance of sin is a sorrow arising from the sight of God’s excellency and mercy, but the apprehension of excellency or mercy must necessarily and unavoidably beget pleasure in the mind of the beholder. ‘Tis impossible that anyone should see anything that appears to him excellent and not behold it with pleasure, and it’s impossible to be affected with the mercy and love of God, and his willingness to be merciful to us and love us, and not be affected with pleasure at the thoughts of [it]; but this is the very affection that begets true repentance. How much soever of a paradox it may seem, it is true that repentance is a sweet sorrow, so that the more of this sorrow, the more pleasure.
—Jonathan Edwards, “The Pleasantness of Religion,” quoted in A God Entranced Vision of All Things, 30.
Not What I Once Was
I am not what I ought to be–ah, how imperfect and deficient! I am not what I wish to be–I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good! I am not what I hope to be–soon, soon shall I put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection. Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”
—Newton as quoted in The Christian Pioneer (1856), edited by Joseph Foulkes Winks, 84
I appreciate Newton’s quote as I’ve taken to titling my journal entries as a “changelog.” “Journal” seemed unimaginative. I liked Edwards’ Miscellanies, but those entries are broad in type and besides, the name’s taken. A changelog is “a log or record of changes made to a project, such as a website or software project, usually including such records as bug fixes, new features, etc.” I’m a project of a different kind.
You might also say, He’s still working on me.
Disclosure: My mom had my sister and I sing this song in nursing homes when we were kids. Also, that’s not my mom in the video.
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)
This fifth mark is acutely helpful but typically ignored in the attempt to identify gracious, spiritual affections.
5. Genuine religious affections are relentless.
In other words, genuine affections are always increasing and developing. They are not stagnant nor are they easily satisfied with their attainments. They do not applaud themselves and pat themselves on the back for how far they’ve come. Truly spiritual affections are not easily satiated. They are always pressing and pushing to mature more.
The kindling and raising of gracious affections is like kindling a flame; the higher it is raised, the more ardent it is; and the more it burns, the more vehemently does it tend and seek to burn. (303)
A fire lit is a fire seeking to burn. Isn’t that exactly what we see of Paul?
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)
This is why in the New Testament, conversion is always seen as just the beginning. Men are to run the race with commitment and not stop until the course is completed. Believers are constantly striving and agonizing, wresting against principalities and powers, fighting, standing, pressing forward, crying to God day and night. Taking a break from the battle or calling a timeout during the fight is a sure way to be toast. Satan is not resting. Sin takes no breathers. That is why we must be ever alert and always active. Edwards dreadfully warns us away from half-heartedness:
Slothfulness in the service of God in His professed servants is as damning as open rebellion; for the slothful servant is a wicked servant and shall be cast into open darkness among God’s open enemies.
But gracious and genuine affections are not intermittent or listless, they are relentless.
Today we pick up with the next distinguishing mark of genuine religious affections.
4. Genuine religious affections are nature-changing.
Though I suppose that this one should be obvious, it apparently is not. When the Bible talks about salvation and conversion and becoming a Christian, it uses language like “born again,” “new creatures,” “taking off the old man and putting on the new man,” “being made partakers of the divine nature” and so on. These images do not present genuine Christian life as an add-on or a surface level change or simply behavior modification. Genuine religious affections stem from an entirely different, completely changed, new nature.
Of all the changes, perhaps the single most affected part is our perspective on ourselves. That is to say, genuine religious affections are always distinguished by the presence of humility. Whereas the natural man and the hypocrite are always lifting themselves up, genuine affections cause a man to be low. We know we must decrease while Christ increases. Edwards defined this “evangelical humiliation” as the
sense that a Christian has of his own utter insufficiency, despicableness, and odiousness with an answerable frame of heart. (237)
Religious posers compare themselves with others. They think that they are not nearly as bad as most everyone else and figure that they have done numerous noteworthy religious things. They are like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable who thanked God that he was not like others. They tend to be the hero of every story they tell.
But true saints compare themselves with God’s standard. And in proportion to God’s position and requirements, no one in this world is what they ought to be. The highest love that any have in this life is but skimpy, tepid, and diluted in comparison to what our obligations are. Edwards’ logic is watertight here.
The least sin against an infinite God has an infinite hatefulness or deformity in it; but the highest degree of holiness in a creature has not an infinite loveliness in it.
Our obligation to love and honor any being is in some proportion to his loveliness and honorableness, or to his worthiness to be loved and honored by us…We are surely under greater obligation to love a more lovely being than a less lovely; and if a Being be infinitely lovely or worthy to be loved by us, then our obligations to love Him are infinitely great, and therefore whatever is contrary to this love, has in it infinite iniquity, deformity, and unworthiness.
So much the greater distance between God and the creature, so much the less is the creature’s respect worthy of God’s notice or regard. A great degree of superiority increases the obligation of the inferior to regard the superior, and so makes the want of regard more hateful. But a great degree of inferiority diminishes the worth of the regard of the inferior; because the more he is inferior, the less he is worthy of notice; the less he is, the less is what he can offer worth…as he is little, and little worth, so is his respect little worth.
In other words, our wickedness is infinitely despicable and our best love is hardly admirable compared to what He deserves. Of course, we tend to overestimate our position and therefore underestimate the distance between ourselves and God. This is a monumental mistake.
Though the following illustration is far from Edwardsean, perhaps it will help to knock us off our proud pedestals.
Imagine that you are the curator of a worm farm. You have acquired an aquarium and collected a great number of worms for your colony. You provide your worm community with food, water, protection from attack, and all other things necessary for their pursuit of happiness. In return you require the group to follow, let’s say 10 commands. You even display those commands on a poster on the side of the aquarium for all to see. Most of the worms appreciate your care and oversight, so much so that they decided to hold weekly services to sing songs of thanks and praise.
But here are two very important questions. First, would that worm worship make you feel truly respected? When you were ignored at parties, would your self-image be boosted by remembering that at least the worms love you? Probably not. They are worms. Their admiration and submission is only worth so much.
And the second question is, what would you do if one of those worms disobeyed? Would you not find that utterly inappropriate and reprehensible? How dare a worm disregard you!
And though God is graciously more mindful of man than men are of worms, the point is in the parallel. The more we understand how infinitely great and holy God is the more we see how wicked and pathetic we are. And as we see the distance between us we will must be more humble. The best we can offer Him is worthless. The worst we can offer Him is infinitely bad. The more actually holy we get the more sense and sensitivity we will have to how holy we still are not. We will never imagine our humility to be low enough. As Edwards wrote,
It is really no argument of any great conviction of sin for some men to think themselves to be sinful beyond most others in the world; because they are so indeed very plainly and notoriously. (260)
So gracious affections come from a changed nature, and one evidence (on a great heap of evidences) of a changed nature is developing humility.
In spite of the fact that the 06SR is over, I am hoping that many of you will desire to learn more about and from Jonathan Edwards. While curious readers may already have clicked through my Edwards delicious tags, it seemed like an annotated list of Edwards resources available online might help get you started.
The above are not the only internet sites with JE material out there, but they are the online resources that I used and would recommend most. The audio and sermon notes for my messages at the 06SR are also available online.
- Jonathan Edwards.com | This is the self-proclaimed “World’s Largest Edwards Web Site,” and even though it hasn’t been updated in quite a while, this is the best place to go for some of JE’s scientific and personal writings. You can also view most of JE’s major works unabridged, such as Original Sin, The Religious Affections, Freedom of the Will, and of course The Religious Affections. Sometimes the site is down, but it’s worth a quick look.
- JE on Monergism.com | Monergism.com is one of the most helpful Bible/theology collection sites on the web in my opinion, and their page of Edwards materials does not disappoint. This is the best place to start, not only for primary Edwards material, but especially for biographical sketches and articles about his theology.
- JE on the Bible Bulletin Board | This site is by far the best place to go for Edwards’ own writings on the web. It is organized by category and all the documents are in the same format. BBB is the first place I go to check for JE sermons and shorter works.
- The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University | There is not a lot of content available yet at the Center, but if they upload half of what they claim, this will become the place to go period. I did find their biographical timeline the most complete available online.
- JE: The Life of a Master Preacher | This is a (small) online exhibit that includes some pictures and brief biographical information.
- A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards | This is a free online book available for pdf download from the Desiring God web site. The book includes chapters by various authors (like Piper, J.I. Packer, Mark Dever, Donald Whitney, etc.), originally presented at a conference by the same name held in October of 2003–Edwards’ 300th birthday. This is a terrific introduction to JE and his passion for the glory of God.
- Of course if you’d rather listen than read, most of the God-Entranced Vision of All Things seminars are available as mp3 files. I listened to all of these messages prior to the retreat; many of them three or four times while I was jogging. Piper also has another message on Edwards, The Pastor as Theologian that was from an earlier pastor’s conference.
The Religious Affections of Jonathan Edwards
- Session 1 – Shock and Awe – An Introduction to Religious Affections
- Session 2 – Logic on Fire – Jonathan Edwards and The Religious Affections
- Session 3 – Heat and Light – The Nature and Importance of Religious Affections
- Session 4 – No Sure Signs – Inconclusive Signs of Religious Affections
- Session 5 – Known by Fruit – Distinguishing Marks of Religious Affections
- Session 6 – The Body and Blood – The Examination of Religious Affections and the Lord’s Table