The Religious Affections: Part III (Point 4)

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

Iv] Gracious affections arise from the mind being enlighened, rightly and spiritually to understand or apprehend divine things.

[In other words, true religious affections come when:

  • The mind receives knowledge. (mind being enlighened)
  • The knowledge it receives is right. (rightly)
  • The Holy Spirit is involved in helping the person understand (spiritually)
  • This help is not just the common illumination of the Holy Spirit but the supernatural sense that is given to the elect that causes them to relish the divine things. (spiritually to understand or apprehend divine things)]

Knowledge is the key that opens the hard heart, and enlarges the affections, and so opens the way for men into the kingdom of heaven.

Such is the nature of man that it is impossible his mind should be affected, unless it be by something that he apprehends, or that his mind conceives. The unspiritual people also conceive something: a very beautiful pleasant form of countenance, or some shining light . . .  but there is nothing of the nature of instruction in it . . .  persons become never the wiser by such things, or more knowing about God . . .

But when Christ makes the Scripture a means of the heart’s burning with gracious affection, it is by opening the Scriptures to their understandings. Edwards here very aptly quotes the scripture in Luke 24:32 where the disciples say: Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?

When affection is founded on something that is supposed to be taught by it (scripture), which really is not contained in it, nor in any other Scripture; then the affection is also not what it is made out to be.

Unspiritual people have these fanciful ideas because their own minds conjure them up, aided by certain mental conditions and probably sometimes by the devil . . . causing persons to feel pleasantly in their bodies; These fanciful ideas surprise the person who thinks through his ignorance that it is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Not only do true religious affections arise from instruction or light in understanding, the instruction has to be of a spiritual nature. Men may be affected by common illumination of the Spirit of God but this will not lead to the affections being gracious.

There is such a thing . . . as a spiritual, supernatural understanding of divine things that is peculiar to the saints, and which those who are not saints have nothing of. 1 Cor 2:14 (neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned). Col 1:9 (in all wisdom and spiritual understanding). Yes it consists in the sensations of a new spiritual sense which the souls of natural men have not.

Edwards then differentiates between heart (sensible) knowledge and head (speculative) knowledge. The head knowledge in a spiritual person depends on and flows from heart knowledge.

When a person has this sense and knowledge given him, he will view nothing as he did before . . . True, when a person is regenerated, the change is drastically different. And yet, the measure of the difference at first is small. Therefore in the beginning the change may not appear remarkable.

Because of common illumination of the Holy Spirit, even natural men may appreciate some aspects of the sacrifice of Jesus and so on. Thus in the great goodness of God to sinners, and the wonderful dying love of Christ, there is a natural good which all men love . . . as well as a spiritual holy beauty which is seen only by the regenerate.

We are not to look for any new doctrinal explanation from the scriptures other than the intended meaning. As Calvin is quoted:  “. . . is not to make new and unheard-of revelations, or to coin some new kind of doctrine . . . but to seal and confirm to us that very doctrine which is by the gospel.”

It is possible that a man might know how to interpret all the types, parables, enigmas, and allegories in the Bible, and not have one beam of spiritual light in his mind. . .

Even if a person claims that God revealed His will to Him by inward suggestion, or if he is able to understand high theology, it means nothing if he cannot see the holy beauty of divine things, for he would then be a mere unregenerate natural man for all his wonderful experiences.

Spiritually to understand the Scripture is rightly to understand what is in the Scripture . . . it is to understand rightly what used to be contained in the meaning of it, and not the making of a new meaning. The meanings of scripture do not keep changing. They remain the same.

As to a gracious leading of the Spirit, it consists in two things:

  • In instructing a person in his duty by the Spirit . . .
  • In powerfully inducing him to comply with that instruction. . .

The gracious leading of the Spirit consists in a person’s being guided by a spiritual and distinguishing taste of that which has in it true moral beauty . . . This holy relish is a thing that discerns and distinguishes between good and evil, between holy and unholy, without being at the trouble of a train of reasoning.

When a holy and amiable action is suggested to the thoughts of a holy soul, that soul, if in the lively exercise of its spiritual taste, at once sees a beauty in it, and so inclines to it . . .

At this point, I was skeptical. Does this happen? Is the discernment of godly people really that accurate? If so how can God’s people be of such diverse opinions. How is it that God’s people do not always recognise each other to be genuine believers? But in a couple of pages Edwards clarifies his meaning when he says: . . . led and guided in discerning and distinguishing the true spiritual and holy beauty of actions; and that more easily, readily, and accurately, as they have more or less of the Spirit of God dwelling in them. The key is thus in the last line emphasised above. Discernment depends on the measure of the Spirit given to them.

Edwards describes the relationship between good taste and reason. A person with a good ear for music finds his ear wounded with a harsh sound. He does not need to wait till he has reasoned in his mind whether the sound is good or not. He has decided already. Reason may come afterwards to confirm it.

Good taste is . . . a kind of instinct of right reason, which hurries on with rapidity, and conducts more securely, than all the reasonings she could make.

The spiritual taste of the soul mightily helps the soul in its reasonings on the Word of God, and in judging of the true meaning of its rules: for it removes the prejudices of a depraved appetite, and naturally leads the thoughts in the right channel.

It casts a light on the Word of God, and causes the true meaning most naturally to come to mind, through the harmony there is between the disposition and relish of a sanctified sould and the true meaning of the rules of God’s Word.

Unspiritual people can also be led by the Spirit of God as were Balaam and Saul, but they did not have the spiritual taste we have been discussing. If this is so of such who nevertheless were led by the Spirit of God, what of those who have imaginary sights of God and Christ and heaven, all supposed witnessing of the Spirit, and testimonies of the love of God by immediate suggestion, and impressions of future events, and immediate revelations of secret facts. . . pleasant bodily sensation and so on.

Such people are not new to Edwards’ time or ours. The Essenes, an ancient sect among the Jews during the time of the apostles were like this. So also many of the ancient Gnostics, the Montanists and other monks, anchorites, and recluses.

Edwards compares Satan to the Abimelech, Gideon’s bastard son. Great and strict therefore should be the watch and guard the ministers maintain against such, especially at a time of great awakening.

We do not know how evil spirits communicate. But as for man, the only way to communicate is through the body, and its imaginations. The devil cannot produce thoughts in the soul immediately, or any other way than by the medium of the body, that he cannot immediately see or know the thoughts of the soul . . . This is peculiar to the omniscient God to do that. It is heartening that Satan cannot directly speak to my soul. And equally heartening to know that my thoughts cannot be relayed to Satan either. But Satan uses the body to create mental depressions and meddle with the seat of the fancy. And this seems to be the reason why persons that are under the disease of melancholy are so visibly and remarkably subject to the suggestions and temptations of Satan. . .  The brain thus weakened and diseased is less under the command of the higher faculties of the soul . . . and so the devil has greater advantage.

To those prone to depression and mental illness, Satan uses horrid suggestions and dreadful words. To normal people, he uses a lively and alluring manner and exciting thoughts.

Two interesting quotes in the footnote:

Anthony Burgess: Indeed (to speak exactly) the devil hath no efficient power over the rational part of a man; he cannot change the will, he cannot alter the heart of a man. So that the utmost he can do, in tempting a man to sin is by suasion and suggestion only.

Francois Turretine: But as to the rational soul itself, they can do nothing immediately upon that; for to God alone, who knows and searches the hearts, and who has them in His hands, does it also appertain to bow and move them whithersoever He will. But angels can act upon the rational soul, only immediately, by imaginations.

And here we come again to a point that worries me because so many acquaintences of ours seek after these delutions and have a continued course of them. These dear people attend meeting after meeting of godmen/ungodly preachers who are after their money more than anything else. And in going after these unworthy men, they expose themselves to the devil.

Edwards concludes this point by differentiating between the following:

  • Lively imaginations arising from strong affections (can accompany genuine godly affections)
  • Strong affections arising from lively imaginations (of the mentally weak)

[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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