Church History Teasers (Part 11): Jonathan Edwards ‘Treatise Concerning Religious Affections’
Brief Outline of ‘A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections’
Reason for Writing: To argue that true Christianity consists of Holy affections, and provide characteristics that allow one to properly distinguish proper affections.
Part I: Concerning the Nature of the Affections, and their Importance in Religion
a. True Religion Consists in Holy Affections
b. True Religion is Evidenced in Affections
c. Proof from Doctrine
Part II: Showing What are No Certain Signs that Religious Affections are Truly Gracious, or that They Are Not.
a. That Religious Affections are to not be humanly discerned by,
6. In Certain Kinds
7. In Certain Order
8. With Time and Zeal
9. Expression Of Praise
10. Great Confidence
11. Moving Testimony
Part III: What are Distinguishing Signs of Truly Gracious and Holy Affections
a. Great Affections are,
1. From Divine Influence
2. Founded on Morals
3. Arise from Divine Illumination
4. Attended to with Certainty
5. Attended with Humility
6. Attended with a Changed Nature
7. Show Christ Temper
8. Soften the Heart
9. Show Beauty in Proportion and Symmetry
b. Religious Affections are manifested in the Fruit of Christian Practice, and is the Chief sign to ourselves and others.
‘A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections’
Edwards writes out of a concern for the great spiritual revivals of his day, and the endurance of those who have professed such a faith. He attempts to lay the solid foundation which enables more successful labor in practical ministry by removing the obscurity in discerning true religion from fake by using the word of God as direction in these manners.
Edwards begins by considering the trials of men. He argues that trails benefit in this task of allowing one to distinguish the true religion against false, they refine and purify ones religious beliefs, and when proved true, results in honor to God by love and joy in his son, Jesus Christ. For Edwards, religion is not true unless it moves the affections with the excitement of the heart towards the obedience of the will. For affections are the ‘spring of men’s actions’, taking hold of the whole man, and causing him to earnestly engage in the work of God.
Edwards rightly points out that many may exhibit ‘religious affections’ but one must be discerning in observing their temper of mind, what these affections come to, and if these affections endure the test of time. Of those who seem to be not affected by the Word of God, Edwards rightly contends that they are blind, therefore their hearts cannot be strongly impressed and moved by such things.
For balance, Edwards adds that we ought not to condemn all affections; also that we must not approve all affections. One should not judge another by how great or high their affections are, or what effects it has on their body, neither how they articulate their words in reference to religion, nor should one judge their affections by the amount of scripture understood.
Edwards also adds that this treatise does not provide a perfect interpretive grid to apply in discerning if others affections are true or false, God has not given us such rules for certainty in this endeavor. Moreover, one should not look for ‘all signs’ that pertain in every situation, as seeking to understand the state of ones religion. We all have what Edwards call’s the ‘defect of the eye’.
In contrast, Edwards does contend that true affections arise in the heart from the divine, as outlined in scripture. It is the Spirit of God which dwells in man and is the spring of these affections, and this is communicated in a proper way as not to contradict God’s nature. These affections arise from the enlightenment of the man’s mind through the revelation of God, ‘Holy affections are not heat without light’. Beyond that, these affections are evidenced in the exercise and fruit of Christian practice. In conclusion, Edwards argues that ‘Christian practice is a great and distinguishing sign of true and saving grace’, it is ‘the chief mark of grace’.