The Religious Affections: Part III(Point 2)

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My thoughts (and quotes) from the second point of Part III

II] The primary ground of gracious affections is the transcendently excellent and amiable nature of divine things as they are in themselves, and not any conceived relation they bear to self, or self-interest. (In other words: The elect of God are thrilled with the excellence of divine things, such as God’s glory and perfection, even before they note that this excellent God has done something for them personally)

Do we love God for who He is. Or do we love God because of what He has done for us. Edwards is of the opinion that true believers love God for who He is. Notice how carefully he puts forward his reasons.

Some say that all love arises from self-love . . . They argue that whoever loves God, and desires His glory or the enjoyment of Him, desires these things as his own happiness.

But how came these things to be so agreeable to him that he esteems it his highest happiness to glorify God? . . . A man must first love God . . . before he will esteem God’s good his own, and before he will desire the glorifying and enjoying of God as his happiness

A person who has not really been saved is influenced by self love. He loves because of what he perceives God has done for him. On the contrary, the elect person has a change made in the views of his mind, and relish of his heart, whereby he apprehends a beauty, glory, and supreme good, in God’s nature as it is in itself.

To be grateful for what one has received at the hands of another is natural. For example: A wicked judge is influenced by a bribe. The devil accused Job of being a natural man who loved God because of what God had blessed him with. “Doth Job fear God for nought?” God was confident and knew that Job’s affections were genuine.

. . . what chiefly renders God lovely, and must undoubtedly be the chief ground of true love, is His excellency.

And there may be a kind of gratitude without any true or proper love: as there may be anger without any proper hatred, as in parents towards their children. . . even “Sinners love those that love them” . . . it is a principle even the brute beasts do exercise; a dog will love his master that is kind to him . . . Thus Saul was once and again greatly affected, and even dissolved with gratitude towards David, for sparing hi life and yet remained an habitual enemy to him . . . as in the children of Israel who sang God’s praises at the Red Sea, but soon forgat God’s works . . .

Gratitude being thus a natural principle, it renders ingratitude so much the more vile and heinous; . . . But that the want of gratitude or natural affection is evidence of a high degree of vice, is no argument that all gratitude and natural affection has the nature of virtue or saving grace.

Self-love through the exercise of mere natural gratitude . . . may arise from a false notion of God, that men have been educated in or have some way imbibled, as though He were only goodness and mercy, and not revenging justice.

And so having formed in their minds such a God as suits them, and thinking God to be such a one as themselves, who favours and agrees with them, they may like Him very well and feel a sort of love to Him, when they are far from loving the true God.

. . . they may suddenly get a notion, through some impression on their imagination, or immediate suggestion with or without texts of Scripture, or by some other means, that God loves them, and has forgiven their sins, and made them His children; and this is the first thing that causes their affections to flow towards God and Jesus Christ; and then after this, and upon this foundation, many things in god may appear lovely to them, and Christ may seem excellent.

It is easy for them to own Christ to be a lovely person, . . . when they are first firm in it, that He, though the Lord of the universe, is captivated with love to them, . . . and prizes them far beyond most of their neighbours, and loved them from eternity, and died for them, and will make them reign in eternal glory with Him in heaven. When this is the case, their very lusts will make Him seem lovely . . .

False affection

  • First see that God loves them
  • Then see that Christ is excellent and glorious

True affection

  • First, their hearts are captivated by the view that God is lovely and that Christ is excellent and glorious
  • Then consequentially, they see God’s love and great favour to them.

Not only can self-love influence men to be affected with God’s kindness to them separately, but it can also cause them to be affected with God’s kindness to them as parts of a community: eg 1, how God has blessed the inhabitants of the earth beyond those who may belong to other planets. eg 2, how mankind has more benefits compared to the fallen angels.

The fact that gratitude is a natural affection does not imply, that all gratitude to God is a mere natural thing, and that there is no such thing as a spiritual gratitude, which is a holy and divine affection.

How is gracious gratitude different from natural gratitude?

  • The gracious stirrings of grateful affection to God, for kindness received, always are from a stock of love already in the heart, established in the first place on the grounds of God’s own excellency. When the believer experiences an earthly blessing in his life, say a dire need met, his heart becomes tender and easily affected with kindness received.
    The difference between the gratitude of a saint who already has the stock of love in his heart and that of hypocrite can be understood from the following examples: Saul had no love for David, and yet when met with extraordinary kindness, was moved by gratitude to David. But this is not the same kind of thing as a man’s gratitude to a dear friend, for whom his heart was before possessed with a high esteem and love, and by this means became tender towards him.
    .
  • Self-love (gratitude for what God has done for believers personally) assists them as a handmaid . . . to lead forth the mind to the view and contemplation, and engage and fix the attention on higher things. God’s kindness to them is a glass that God sets before them, wherein to behold the beauty of the attribute of God’s goodness.

What about the scripture which says: “We love Him because He first loved us” IJn 4:19?

  1. God’s love is indeed the foundation of believers’ love, just as it is of their regeneration and redemption.
  2. God’s love to sinful men through Jesus Christ on the cross is the chief manifestation of God’s moral perfection before men and angels.
  3. Therefore, when an individual believer discovers God’s love in personal ways, his holy gratitude is excited as he sees the moral perfection of God. (He does not dwell on the personal aspect of the discovery but quickly is transported in mind to focus on the excellence of God.)

(Nahomi’s thoughts:

  • Edwards’ premise is: A saint does not love God because of what God has personally done for him but rather for who God is. Let us refer to the personal favour of God as (A)
  • 1Jn 4:19 says: We love Him because He first loved us. Let us refer to this love of God as (B).
  • Let us refer to the affection and love of an individual (whether saint or hypocrite) for God as (C).

(A) and (B) are two different things. (B) is talking about the ‘first cause’ love of God in chosing, calling, regenerating, and redeeming saints. When this happens, the saint’s very nature changes and he begins to be able to appreciate the wonder of God, and his heart has the ‘stock of love’ that Edwards mentions. After this, whenever he experiences (A), his heart is made more tender towards God, but (C) is an ever-present love in the saint’s heart in appreciation of who God is. I think, Edwards is pointing out that the recurring event in a hypocrite’s life is A –> C whereas 1 Jn 4:19 speaks of B –> C. To get the big picture, we must understand that for the saint it is B –> C –> A (where A makes his heart tender and acts as a glass to understand B even better), with Edwards currently focussing on the C –> A aspect in this point.

The basis of spiritual joy and delight and pleasure is that it primarily consists in the sweet entertainment their minds have in the view or contemplation of the divine and holy beauty of these things, as they are in themselves. And this is indeed the main difference between the joy of the hypocrite and the joy of the true saint. The former rejoices in himself; self is the first foundation of his joy: the latter rejoices in God.

He (Christ) appears in Himself the chief among ten thousand and altogether lovely. The saint exults in the way of salvation and the doctrines of the gospel–how God is exalted and man abased, holiness honoured . . . and sin greatly disgraced . . . free and sovereign love manifested.

Indeed, the saints rejoice in their interest in God, and that Christ is theirs . . . but this is not the first spring of their joy.

But that which is the true saint’s superstructure is the hypocrite’s foundation. The hypocrite thinks only of himself. What a good experience this is! What a great discovery is this! What wonderful things have I met with! . . . Instead of rejoicing in Christ Jesus, they rejoice in their admirable experiences . . . or at least they view them (the excellent things of God) only as it were sideways.

(Nahomi’s thoughts: I am glad Edwards started off Part III by stating that one could not be completely sure whether a person was a true saint or not. The fact that hypocrites also do view the things of God, albeit sideways and secondarily, makes it difficult to differentiate between true believers and hypocrites. How much we rely on the grace of God in every aspect of our lives, even in the choice of godly associations.)

A typical testimony time in some groups is exactly as Edwards describes where people come forward to tell of what God has done in their lives. When something good happens in their lives, the thought that comes to mind is: What a high attainment this is, and what a good story I now have to tell others!

On the other hand, a true saint, when in the enjoyment of true discoveries of the sweet glory of God and Christ, has his mind too much captivated and engaged by what he views without (outside of) himself, to stand at the that time to view himself, and his own attainments. It would be a diversion and loss which he could not bear, to take his eye off from the ravishing object of his contemplation, to survey his own experience . . .

(Nahomi’s thoughts: The saint’s interests should be the kingdom of God and His righteousness. His interest should be that God’s name be hallowed, and His will be done. When the saint strives to do God’s will, all his needs are met, sometimes in amazing ways. Grateful though he is, the saint must not waste time dwelling on the ‘all other things’. According to Edwards, these worldly blessings become paramount to the hypocrite.)

It is easy for nature, corrupt as it is, to love this imaginary God, that suits them so well, and to extol Him, and submit to Him, and to be fierce and zealous for Him. The high affections of many are built on the supposition of their being eminent saints. If they only saw a little of the sinfulness and vileness of their own hearts, and their deformity, it would knock their affections on the head. But if the true saints were shown a little of their own deformity . . . though it will be hard and purify their affections, yet it will not destroy them, but in some respects sweeten and heighten them.

[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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