The Religious Affections: Part III (Point 5)

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

[v] Truly gracious affections are attended with a reasonable and spiritual conviction of the reality and certainty of divine things.

[In other words, the right kind of belief is:

  • that which is unshakably convinced,
  • where the object of the faith (the gospel) is plausible and reasonable, and
  • where the Holy Spirit is at work in the person producing this faith]

The case for a strong conviction:
Edwards presents a paragraph (third para in this point) that compiles the instances in scripture where the certainty of godly people is listed. Much as I would like to reproduce it, it is too long. But it reads beautifully and is deeply edifying. The para begins thus: “That all true Christians have such a kind of conviction of the truth of the things of the gospel is abundantly manifest from the Holy Scriptures . . . ” And ends thus: “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” In my copy of the book I have added my “Amen”.

Yes, thus are truly gracious affections attended with a conviction and persuasion of the truth . . .

Many of the followers of Jesus believed for a while, but they did not have a thorough and effectual conviction. There are such today too, and their affections are not at all to be depended on, however great a show and noise they make . . .

Truly to see the truth of the Word of God, is to see the truth of the gospel; which is the glorious doctrine of the Word of God contains concerning God and Jesus Christ, and the way of salvation by Him, and the word of Glory that He is entered into an d purchased for all them who believe. This is the truth of the word of God, and not a revelation of who is saved.

Christians, like Muslims can have an unshakable faith because of their upbringing:
Many Mahometans (Muslims) are strongly persuaded of the truth of the Mahometan religion, because their fathers and neighbours and nation believe it
. One may believe in Christianity for the same reasons. Men may have a strong persuation that the Christian religion is true, when their persuation is not at all built on evidence, but altogether on education and the opinion of others. . . . And though the thing believed happens to be better, yet that does not make the belief itself to be of a better sort. For although the thing believed happens to be true, yet the belief of it is not owing to this truth, but to education. . .  so the affections that flow from it are not better in themselves than the religious affections of Mahometans.

Even if the belief of Christian doctrines be not merely from education (passed down from one’s forebears and the like), the belief must not just be a reasonable one but has to be a spiritual conviction.
Some examples of reasonable belief that was not a spiritual conviction:

  • Judas without doubt, thought Jesus to be the Messiah, from the things which he saw and heard; but yet all along was a devil.
  • We read many that believed in Christ’s name when they saw the miracles that He did.
  • So Simon the sorcerer believed, when he beheld the miracles . . .

From this stage or reasonable belief, it could go either way. Either towards a spiritual conviction or to a falling away.

The faith that produces true religious affections is different and of the Holy Spirit:
Those with a spiritual conviction are different from the rest in that their faith is accompanied by good works. But this is not the only difference. The very nature of the belief is different.

Scripture often portrays a saving belief of the reality and divinity of the things proposed and exhibited to us in the gospel, is from the Spirit of God’s enlightening the mind and causing it to have right apprehensions of the nature of those things, and so as it were unveiling things or revealing them, and enabling the  mind to view them and see them as they are.

  • Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes
  • and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son and he to whom the Son will reveal Him.
  • flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
  • For God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of  Jesus Christ.

The divine glory and unparalleled beauty of the gospel causes us to be convinced of their divine origin in two ways: Directly and Indirectly

Direct conviction of the gospel:
This is because the glory is a proof in itself, especially when discovered, or when the special supernatural sense is given. When men of great brilliance, such as Homer or Milton, speak or write, people see that they are different from the common man. But these men are but ‘worms of the dust.’ How much more it is reasonable to expect the appearance of the natural perfections of God, in the manifestations He makes of Himself, to be more excellent and distinguishable from the works of mere men, however brilliant.

When Christ comes at  the end  of the worlds, in the glory of His Father, it will be with such ineffable appearances of divinity as will leave no doubt to the inhabitants of His divinity.

But the spiritual glory and moral perfection of the Lord Jesus convicts the elect.

The disciples were assured that Jesus was the Son of God, “for they beheld His glory, the glory of the only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

The Apostle Peter says, “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”

When assessing works of mere men of talent, the judges need to have a taste and education in that field. Those distinguishing special styles of Milton may appear tasteless imperfections to an untrained person. Surely then when the Book has God as its author, the beauty of the Book will not be understood by those alienated from God by sin and a corrupt heart.

The sense of the spiritual excellency and beauty of divine things also tends directly to convince the mind of the gospel including the following:

  • The odiousness of sin against a glorious God.
  • Ones own sinfulness and loathesomeness; dreadful pollution of one’s heart and the desperate depravity of his nature
  • The just desert of that dreadful punishment and impossibility of our offering any satisfactory atonement for that which is infinitely evil.
  • Need for a Saviour and of the mighty power of God to renew his heart and change his nature
  • Concerning the Person of Jesus and the exceeding beauty and dignity of His person
  • The value of His blood and righteousness, and so the infinite excellency of that offering He has made to God for us, and its sufficiency to atone for our sins and recommend us to God.
  • Man’s chief happiness, as consisting in holy exercises and enjoyments.

The gospel presented with a good touch of apologetics and evidences from history/science/archaeology can look plausible to people who are trained in such thinking and logic. Yet this is not sufficient to have a conviction so clear and evident . . . as to be sufficient to run the venture of the loss of all things . . . enduring the most exquisite and long-contintued torments, and to trample the world under foot and count all things but dung for Christ.

Moreover, the gospel was not given only for learned men.

It is reasonable to suppose that God would give the greater evidence of those things which are the greatest . . . So we can expect to find many supportive evidences in archaeology and the like. But the spiritual conviction we are focusing on is not to be attained by the greater part of them who live under the gospel, by arguments fetched from such sources.

Many of them (martyrs for Christ since the Reformation) were weak women and children, and the greater part of them illiterate persons, many of whom had been brought up in popish ignorance and darkness, and were but newly come out of it, and livedand died in times wherein those arguments for the truth of Christianity from antiquity and history (apologetics) had been but very imperfectly handled . . . Isn’t it strange that Infidelity never prevailed so much in any age as in this, wherein these arguments are handled to the greatest advantage.

The word martyrs or witness implies that one has seen the truth of something. Only they can be witnesses who can fully testify of the given matter. They not only say that they think the gospel is divine, but that it is divine, giving it in as their testimony.

But among those who have that spiritual sight and taste, there is a great variety of degrees of strength of faith, and levels of clarity of sight. Yet there must be some manifestation of the evidence of this spiritual sight that only the regenerated have.

The gospel of the blessed God does not go a-begging for its evidence . . . it has its highest and most proper evidence in itself.

However apologetic tools are not to be neglected but highly prized and valued; for they may be greatly serviceable to awaken unbelievers, and bring them to serious consideration, and to confirm the faith of true saints . . .

Indirect conviction of the gospel:

1. The gospel removes hindrances to clear thinking: The disciples and the pharisees saw the same miracles. But only the former benefited from the miracles. This was because the disciples had been sanctified. When the gospel touches a person, it destroys that enmity (that natural men have for the things of God), removes prejudices, and sanctifies the reason, and causes it to be open and free.

2. The gospel causes clear thinking. The ideas themselves, which otherwise are dim and obscure, by this means have a light cast upon them, and are impressed with greater strength, so the the mind can better judge of them . . .

The following are commonly mistaken for saving faith:

  • Common enlightening of the Holy Spirit: There is a degree of conviction . . . that arises from the common enlightening of the Spirit of God. They see the natural perfections of God and His awesomeness. They may even have a sense of the great guilt which sin against such a God brings . . . And yet these persons have no sense of the beauty and amiablness of the moral and holy excellency of God.
  • Imaginations and delusion: The extraordinary impressions which are made on the imaginations of some persons. Although these imaginations wil finally turn them away from God and His word, for a time, such people may have a tendency to have a strong persuation of the truth. . . yet their confidence is founded in delusion. Counterfeit miracles done in churches where a statue bleeds or weeps cause the person to believe for a time under the influence of the lying spirits.
  • Persuation that they are spiritually OK: Being so fully persuade that he is saved, he then opposes zealously against those who deny God and the things of God.

[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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One response »

  1. A very helpful summary.

    I also found that bit about character of faith being pretty much the same between nominal Christians and Muslims helpful. I think it’s something that Christian parents need really to be alert to in bringing up their children. They (the children) need the Gospel and to be born again, not just raised up to think of themselves as Christians, affirm the creeds, and behave themselves accordingly. I suspect this sort of thing has much to do with why religious movements seem to be rather short-lived and denominations start strong and then fizzle out after a generation or two.

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