Since last September I have been slogging my way through Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. I expected Edwards to be deep and somewhat dense when Jerry Bridges told me last summer that Edwards was tough for him to understand! I am pressing on and hoping to finish sometime soon.
If you are not aware of who Edwards is, he was a pastor when the Great Awakening was sweeping across America. He has been called the Mount Everest of theologians, with Calvin and Luther being the foothills. He has been argued as the best philospher in American history.
His most famous, though just a fraction of his work, is enclosed in a sermon entitled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. It’s a shame that this is all most people know of Edwards since the delivery of the sermon and the response to the sermon is rarely, if ever, put into context. The message takes up about 4 pages out of more than 1700 in Edwards’ works (and that is not even his complete works), and Edwards’ talk of heaven was much bigger and more emphasized than his Hell. Critics say Edwards was not loving because he gave a sermon on Hell. However, when Edwards preached this message to a congregation that had not changed in light of the revival of the Great Awakening, people cried out, “What must I do to be saved?” He did not tell them what they wanted to hear; he told them what they needed to hear.
Now that Edwards has been at least slightly vindicated, let’s get back to The Religious Affections. The Affections was written to help instruct pastors, etc. what to look for in a true convert when the Great Awakening was spreading through the nation. It has a short introduction of terms, and is then broken down into three sections. The first section describes the affections, the emotions, in Christianity and their importance to it. The second section identifies certain traits or emotions and how they may, but are not necessarily, evidences of true Christianity. The final section is the longest, and there Edwards lays out what are the affetions that are truly Christian, for example: Affections from the Holy Spirit soften rather than harden the heart; they promote the spirit of love, meekness, forgiveness, quietness, mercy as appeared in Christ; and they are attended with humiliation. Edwards warns against trusting visions and dreams to give assurance of salvation or favor with God, but he affirms the true Christian affections- grief over sin, humility (becoming less while God becomes greater), weeping with those who weep, rejoicing in the truth, joy, etc.
I commend this book, with its difficulties, to my brothers and sisters. Don’t expect it to be easy, but do expect it to be deep, thoughtful, and weighty.
More details to come from within the book soon…