The Religious Affections: Part II (1)

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My thoughts (and quotes) from Part II

Having religious affections, even a lot of them, does not prove that one is walking in the narrow way that leads to heaven.

Edwards wants to do the following:

  • Show some examples of religious affections that are not signs one way or other
  • Show some things about religious affections that differentiate between true and counterfeit religious affections

Of a total of 12 points in Part II, we covered seven points.

  1. The fact that one’s religious affections are intense does not tell us whether the affections are from God.
    True religious affections are intense as can be seen from these scriptures: rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory; Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength; Rejoice and be exceeding glad; shout for joy; leap for joy; O how I love Thy law; Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate Thee?; Rivers of water run down mine eyes, because they keep not Thy law; I will lift up my hands in Thy name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee; good tidings of great joy, that should be to all people
    On the other hand intense affections are no evidence that they are of a spiritual nature as can be seen from these examples. The Galatians who had been prepared to even pluck out their eyes; The Israelites who sang God’s praises after the Red Sea episode; The Israelites at Mt Sinai who said, “All that the Lord hath spoken will we do and be obedient.” only to exult in the golden calf a while later; The Jews who were thrilled at the raising of Lazarus, who cried “Hosanna Hosanna,” only to cry “Crucify Him crucify Him” a short while later.
  2. The fact that one’s religious affections have great effects on the body does not tell us whether the affections are from God.
    Scripture teaches us often that if these ideas or views should be given to such a degree as they are given in heaven, the weak frame of the body could not subsist under them, and that no man can, in that manner see God and live. Edwards goes on to say that the holy affections that saints on earth experience are of the same nature and kind with what the saints are subjects of in heaven, differing only in degree and circumstances; what God gives them here is a foretaste of heavenly happiness . . .
    It is possible for religious affections to have an effect on our bodies as can be seen from these scriptures: My soul longeth, yea , even fainteth for the courts of the Lord, my heart and flesh crieth out for the living God; My soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh longeth for thee; When I heard my belly trembled, my lips quivered at the voice, rottenness entered my bones, and I trembled in myself; My flesh trembleth for fear of Thee; And there remained no strength in me, for my comliness was turned to corruption; And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead
    Edwards completes his point to counter people who think that such physical reactions if displayed today are alien to God’s people: . . . I cannot think God would commonly make use of things which are very alien from spiritual affections, and are shrewd marks of the hand of Satan, and smell strong of the bottomless pit, as beautiful figures to represent the high degree of holy and heavenly affections
  3. The fact that one’s religious affections cause one to talk incessantly of spiritual matters does not tell us whether the affections are from God.
    A genuinely spiritual person may talk about spiritual things “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” It is also natural for people to speak of that which they are affected with: and not only to speak much but to speak very earnestly and fervently.
    Sadly, it is also seen that many people who speak earnestly and fervently do not do so from genuine grace and are like the biblical examples of a tree over-full of leaves, waterless clouds. This is because it is the nature of false religion to affect show and observation as it was with the pharisees.
  4. The fact that one’s religious affections have not been caused by one’s own effort or strength does not tell us whether the affections are from God.
    When someone believes that their reactions are not of themselves but supernatural, must we conclude that they must necessarily be under a delusion?
    But on the contrary, it is God’s manner in the great works of His power and mercy which He works for His people, to order things so as to make His hand visible, and His power conspicuous, and men’s dependence on Him most evident, that no flesh should glory in His presence, that God alone might be exalted . . .
    Examples of this are: redemption of Israel from Egyptian bondage with a strong and outstretched arm; redemption by Gideon with a tiny army; deliverance from Goliath by a stripling with a sling and a stone; the calling of the Gentiles after Christ’s ascension; conversions of particular persons- they were not wrought on in that silent, secret, gradual, and insensible manner which is now insisted on.
    On the other hand, just because one has a supernatural experience, it does not mean that the affections are from a genuinely saved heart. What they have been the subjects of may indeed not be from themselves directly, but may be from the operation of an invisible agent, some spirit besides their own; but it does not thence follow that it was from the Spirit of God. There are other spirits who have influence on the minds of men besides the Holy Ghost. We are not directed to believe every spirit, but to try the spirits . . . who often transform themselves into angels of light . . .
    Edwards goes on to mention another frightening possibility. It is also possible that some ones may actually taste of the heavenly gift itself and be made partakers of the Holy Ghost and yet be wholly unacquainted with those better things that accompany salvation. Although Edwards does not mention it, I wondered if the seed that fell on the rocky soil also illustrates this.
  5. The fact that one’s religious affections are accompanied by scripture texts that come to mind in an amazing way does not tell us whether the affections are from God.
    They will mention it as an evidence that all is right, that their experience came with the Word, and will say, “There were such sweet promises brought to my mind: they came suddenly, as if they were spoken to me” . . . “One scripture came flowing in after another . . . the tears flowed; I was full of joy and could not doubt any longer.” And thus they think they have undoubted evidence that their affections must be from God, and of the right kind . . . but without any manner of grounds. How came they by any such rule, as that if any affections or experiences arise with promises, and comfortable texts of Scripture unaccountably brought to mind without their recollection, or if a great number of sweet texts follow one another in a chain, that this is a certain evidence . . .
    Edwards goes on to say: What evidence is there that the devil cannot bring texts of scripture to the mind, and misapply them to deceive persons? . . . Or will any suppose that texts or scriptures are such sacred things that the devil durst not abuse them or touch them? . . . He who was bold enough to lay hold on Christ Himself . . . he was so bold with Christ, he then brought one scripture and another, to deceive and tempt Him. And if Satan did presume, and was permitted to put Christ Himself in mind of texts of scripture to tempt Him . . . and if he can bring one comfortable text to mind, so he may a thousand and may choose out such scriptures as tend most to serve his purpose . . .
    Even if the affections actually do come from the word rightly, they could still be like stony ground hearers whose relationship with God is not unto salvation.
  6. The fact that one’s religious affections are accompanied with love does not tell us whether the affections are from God.
    The argument is that a) Satan cannot love and b) Love is the chief of the chief of the graces of God’s Spirit, and the life, essence and sum of all true religion.
    Edwards then makes a very important observation: It may be observed that the more excellent anything is, the more will be the counterfeits of it . . . Though the more excellent things are, the more difficult it is to make anything that shall be like them in their essential nature and internal virtues. So the more excellent somethings is, we have more counterfeits and made with more skill and subtlety, and as good for nothing as things can get.
    Examples of such counterfeits are those who cried out Hosanna and those of whom it is written “the love of many shall wax cold.”
  7. The fact that one’s religious affections are manifold does not tell us whether the affections are from God.
    The argument here is that true religious affection ought have an entireness and symmetry. And therefore if we find religious affection that shows that completeness and manifold nature, it must be true. But Edwards goes on to show that counterfeits include varied affections such as godly sorrow in Pharaoh, Saul, and Ahab; . . . fear of God in the Samaritans “who feared the Lord and served their own gods” at the same time; . . . gracious gratitude, as in the children of Israel, who sang God’s praise at the Red Sea . . . So of spiritual joy, as in the stony-ground hearers, . . . particularly many of John the Baptist’s hearers, . . zeal, as in Jehu . . They may also have a strong hope of eternal life, as the Pharisees had.
    Not only can false affections be varied, one individual can have many of them together. Many affections accompanied those who cried Hosanna: admiration, . . . high affection of love, . . . a great degree of reverence, . . . great gratitude to Him, . . . praising Him with loud voices . . . earnest desires for the coming of God’s kingdom, . . . great hopes, . . . filled with joy, . . . animated in their acclamations as to make the whole city ring with the noise of them . . . zeal and forwardness to attend Jesus
    Edwards give a vivid example of a person who has seen a vision of someone he perceives to be Jesus with a beautiful countenance, smiling on him, and with arms open, and with blood dropping down . . . by some voice . . . spoken to him, such as “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee” or . . . It is only to be expected that such a person will be filled with affections and show much of the fervour seen in true holy affections.
    Edwards then gives three apt illustrations to explain how both the true and false are so similar in appearance:
    Fountain-stream example: . . . love is the fountain, and the other affections are the streams . . . if there be sweet water in the fountain, sweet water will from thence flow out into theose various channels; but if the water in the fountain be poisonous, then poisonous streams will also flow out into all those channels. So that the channels and streams will be alike, corresponding one with another; but the great difference will lie in the nature of the water.
    Sap-tree-fruit example: Or man’s nature may be compared to a tree with many branches coming from one root: if the sap in the root be good, there will also be good sap distributed throughout the branhces, and the fruit that is brought forth will be good and wholesome; but if the sap in the root and stock be poisonous, so it will be in many branches (as in the other case) and the fruit will be deadly. The tree in both cases may be alike; there may be an exact resemblance in shape; but the difference is found only in eating the fruit . . . There is sometimes a very great similitude between true and false experiences,
    Dreams of the Baker and Butler of Pharaoh: they seemed to be much alike insomuch that when Joseph interpreted the chief butler’s dream, . . . the chief baker had raised hopes and expectations, and told his dream also; but he was woefully disappointed . . .

[Tim Challies has a blog feature called Reading Classics, where he and many other online friends read a selected Christian classic in a synchronized way and share their views. The classic being studied currently is The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards.]

Click here to get to other posts in this and Tim Challies’ blog

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