CONCERNING RELIGIOUS AFFECTIONS
An Abridgment of a treatise by Jonathan Edwards first published in 1746.
Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. 1 Peter 1.8.
The doctrine I state from these words is that true religion largely consists of holy affections.
The apostle singles out the religious affections of love and joy, as those exercises, wherein their religion did appear true, pure, and glorious.
Here it may be inquired, what the affections of the mind are? I answer, The affections are no other, than the more vigorous and emotional movements of the inclination and will of the soul.
God has endued the soul with two principal faculties: The one, by which it discerns and judges things; which is called the understanding. The other, that by which the soul is some way inclined with respect to the things it views or considers: either as liking or disliking, pleased or displeased, approving or rejecting. This faculty is called by various names: it it sometimes called the inclination; and is often called the heart. It is the more vigorous and emotional movements of this faculty which are called the affections.
The affections are not essentially distinct from the will, they differ from the mere actings of the will and inclination only in their liveliness.
For example, a liking or inclination of the soul to a thing, if it be in a high degree vigorous and lively, is the very same thing as the affection of love: and a disliking, if in a great degree, is the very same with hatred.
Such seems to be our nature, and such the laws of the union of soul and body, that there never is any lively and vigorous exercise of the inclination, without some effect upon the body. And, on the other hand, from the same laws of union over the constitution of the body, its physical state may promote the exercise of the affections. But it is not the body, but the mind only, that is the proper seat of the affections. The body of man is no more capable of being really the subject of love or hatred, joy or sorrow, fear or hope, than the body of a tree. It is the soul only that has ideas, so it is the soul only that is pleased or displeased with its ideas. As it is the soul only that thinks, so it is the soul only that loves or hates, rejoices or is grieved at, what it thinks of. Nor are physical effects in the body, any thing properly belonging to the nature of the affections; though they always accompany them. They are entirely distinct from the affections themselves, and no way essential to them.
True religion consists, then, largely in vigorous and lively actings of the inclination and will of the soul, or the fervent exercises of the heart. That religion which God requires, and will accept, does not consist in weak, dull, and lifeless wishes, raising us but a little above a state of indifference. God, in His word, greatly insists upon it, that we be in good
earnest, fervent in spirit, and our hearts vigorously engaged in religion:
Rom. 12.11. “Be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” Deut. 10.12. “And now Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul?”
If we are not in good earnest in religion, and our wills and inclinations are not strongly exercised, we are nothing. The things of religion are so great, that the exercises of our hearts must be lively and powerful. In nothing is vigour in the actings of our inclinations so requisite, as in religion; and in nothing is lukewarmness so odious. True religion is a powerful thing and is called the power of godliness, in distinction from external appearances, which are the form of it, 2 Tim. 3.5. “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power.” The Spirit of God, in those who have sound and solid religion, is a Spirit of powerful holy affection;
and therefore. God is said’ ‘to have given them the Spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind,” (2 Tim. 1.7.) And such, when they receive the Spirit of God in His sanctifying and saving influences, are said to be “baptized with the Holy Ghost, and with fire;” by reason of the power and fervour of those exercises which the Spirit of God excites in them, and whereby their hearts may be said to burn within them. (Luke 24.32.)
The business of religion is, from time to time, compared to those exercises, wherein men usually have their hearts and strength greatly exercised and engaged; such as running, wrestling, or agonizing for a great prize or crown, and fighting with strong enemies that seek our lives.
Affections are very much the source of actions, and as true religion is practical, this also shows that true religion must largely exist in the affections.
As in worldly things, worldly affections are very much the source of men’s actions, so in religious matters, the source of their actions is very much religious affections: he that has doctrinal knowledge and speculation only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of religion. In a word, there never was any thing considerable brought to pass in the heart or life of any man living, by the things of religion, who did not have his heart deeply affected by those things.
The Holy Scriptures everywhere place religion very much in the affections; such as fear, hope, love, hatred, desire, joy, sorrow, gratitude, compassion, and zeal.
The Scriptures place much of religion in godly fear; insomuch that an experience of it is often spoken of as the character of those who are truly religious persons. They tremble at God’s word, they fear before Him, their flesh trembles for fear of Him, they are afraid of His judgments. His excellency makes them afraid, and His dread falls upon them. An appellation commonly given to the saints in Scripture is, “they that fear the Lord.” True godliness in general is very commonly called the fear of God.
So, hope in God, and in the promises of His word, is often spoken of in the Scripture, as a very considerable part of true religion. It is mentioned as one of the three great things of which religion consists, faith, hope, and love. (1 Cor. 13.)
The Scriptures also place religion very much in the affection of love;
love to God, and the Lord Jesus Christ; love to the people of God, and to mankind. The contrary affection of hatred also, as having sin for its object, is spoken of in Scripture as no inconsiderable part of true religion. It is spoken of as that by which true religion may be known and distinguished. Prov. 8.13. “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.”
Also holy desire, exercised in longings, hungerings, and thirstings after God and holiness, is often mentioned in Scripture as an important part of true religion: Isa. 26.8. “The desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee.”
The Scriptures speak of holy joy, as a great part of true religion. And as an important part of religion, it is often pressed with great eamestness;
Psalm 37.4. “Delight thyself in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” Psalm 97.12. This also is mentioned among the principal fruits of the Spirit of grace, Gal. 5.22. “The fruit of the Spirit is love,joy.”
Religious sorrow, mourning, and brokenness of heart, are also frequently spoken of as a great part of true religion. “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” Matt. 5.4. This godly sorrow and brokenness of heart is often spoken of, not only as a distinguishing character of the saints, but as that in them, which is peculiarly acceptable and pleasing to God: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (Psalm 51.17.)
Another affection often mentioned, is gratitude; especially as exercised in thankfulness and praise to God. This being so much spoken of in the book of Psalms, and other parts of the Holy Scriptures, I need not mention particular texts.
Finally, it must be said that the principal expression of religious affection is in the emotion of love. Jesus said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” And Paul speaks of love, as the greatest thing in religion, without which, the greatest knowledge and gifts, the most glaring profession, and everything else which appertains to religion, are vain and worthless. (1 Cor. 13.)
The religion of heaven consists very much in affection. There is doubtless true religion in heaven, and true religion in its utmost purity and perfection. According to scripture the religion of heaven consists chiefly in holy and mighty love and joy, and the expression of these in most fervent and exalted praises. So that the religion of the saints in heaven, consists of the same things with that religion of the saints on earth, which is spoken of in our text, love, and joy unspeakable, and full of glory.
On earth God has ordained that true religion be expressed in certain public ways each of which are designed to affect the heart, such as the duties of prayer, or singing praise to God. In baptism and the Lord’s supper there are visible representations of spiritual things designed to affect us more deeply.
God has also appointed a particular and lively application of His word, in the preaching of it, to affect sinners with the importance of religion,
their own misery, the necessity of a remedy, and the glory and sufficiency of a remedy provided; to stir up the pure minds of the saints, quicken their affections by often bringing the great things of religion to their remembrance, though they know them and have been fully instructed in them already. (2 Pet. 1.12-13.) And particularly, to promote those two affections in them, which are spoken of in the text, love and joy: Christ gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; that the body of Christ might be edified in love. (Eph. 4.11,12,16.)
Finally it is an evidence that true religion lies very much in the affections, that the Scriptures place the sin of the heart very much in hardness of heart. It was hardness of heart which excited grief and displeasure in Christ towards the Jews, Mark 3.5. “He looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts,” and it is from men’s having such a heart as this, that they treasure up wrath for themselves; Rom. 2.5. “After thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasures up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”
Now, by a hard heart is plainly meant an unaffected heart, or a heart not moved with virtuous affections, like a stone, insensible, stupid, unmoved, and hard to be impressed. Hence the hard heart is called a stony heart, and is opposed to a heart of flesh, that has feeling, and is sensibly touched and moved.
Now, therefore, since it is so plain, that by a hard heart in Scripture, is meant a heart destitute of pious affections; and since also the Scriptures so frequently place the sin and corruption of the heart in its hardness; it is evident, that the grace and holiness of the heart, on the contrary, must in a great measure consist in its having pious affections.
SOME INFERENCES FROM THE DOCTRINE
1. We may hence learn how great the error is, of discarding all religious affections, as having nothing substantial in them. Because many who appear to have great religious affections, do not manifest a right temper of mind, and run into many errors in the heat of their zeal; and because the high affections of many seem so soon to come to nothing,
religious affections in general are discounted by many, as though true religion did not at all consist in them. Thus we easily run from one extreme to another.
A little while ago we were in the other extreme; there was a prevalent disposition to look upon all high religious affections as eminent exercises of true grace, without much inquiry into the nature and source of those affections, and the manner in which they arose. If persons appeared to be very much moved and raised, so as to be full of religious talk, and to be filled, or to be very full, as the phrases were; it was too often concluded such persons were full of the Spirit of God, and had eminent experience of His gracious influences. Herein appears the subtilty of Satan. While he saw that affections were much in vogue, he knew he could best play his game, by sowing tares amongst the wheat, and mingling false affections with the works of God’s Spirit. He knew this to be a likely way to delude
many souls, and greatly to wound religion in the saints, and to bring all religion into disrepute.
But now, when the bad consequences of these false affections appear, the devil sees it to be for his interest to go another way to work, and to endeavour to his utmost to propagate and establish a persuasion, that all affections and sensible emotions of the mind in religion, are not to be regarded, but are rather to be avoided, and carefully guarded against, as things of a pernicious tendency. This he knows is the way to bring all
religion to a mere lifeless formality, and effectually to shut out the power of godliness and every thing spiritual.
This manner of slighting all religious affections, is the way exceedingly to harden the hearts of men, to encourage them in their stupidity and senselessness, to keep them in a state of spiritual death as long as they live, and bring them at last to death eternal.
They who condemn high affections in others, are certainly not likely to have high affections themselves. And let it be considered, that they who have but little religious affection, have certainly but little religion. And they who condemn others for their religious affections, and have none themselves, have no religion. There are false affections, and there are true. A man’s having much affection, does not prove that he has any true religion: but if he has no affection, it proves that he has no true religion. The right way, is not to reject all affections, nor to approve all: but to distinguish between them, approving some and rejecting others;
separating between the wheat and the chaff, the gold and the dross, the precious and the vile.
2. If true religion lies much in the affections, we may infer, that such means are to be desired, as have much tendency to move the affections. Such books, and such a way of preaching the word and the administration of ordinances, and such a way of worshipping God in prayer and praises,
as has a tendency deeply to affect the hearts of those who attend these means, is much to be desired.
3. If true religion lies much in the affections, hence we may learn, what great cause we have to be ashamed and confounded before God, that we are no more affected with the great things of religion. It appears from what has been said, that this arises from our having so little true religion.
No CERTAIN SIGNS
We ought not to reject and condemn all affections, as though true religion did not at all consist in them; so, on the other hand, we ought not to approve of all, as though every one that was religiously affected had true grace, and was therein the subject of the saving influences of the Spirit of God. Therefore, the right way is to distinguish among religious affections, between one sort and another. Let us now endeavour to do this, by noticing in the first place, some things, which are no signs that affections are gracious, or that they are not.
1. It is no sign, one way or other, that religious affections are very great, or raised very high.
Some are ready to condemn all high affection: if persons appear to have their religious affections raised to an extraordinary pitch, they are prejudiced against them, and determine that they are delusions, without
further inquiry. But if, as before proved, true religion lies very much in religious affections, then it follows, that if there be a great deal of true religion, there will be great religious affections; if true religion in the hearts of men be raised to a great height, divine and holy affections will be raised to a great height.
Love is an affection; but will any Christian say, men ought not to love God and Jesus Christ in a high degree? and will any say, we ought not to have a very great hatred of sin, and a very deep sorrow for it? or that we ought not to exercise a high degree of gratitude to God, for the mercies we receive of Him, and the great things he has done for the salvation of fallen men? or that we should not have very great and strong desires after God and holiness? Is there any who will profess, that his affections in religion are great enough; and will say,’ ‘I have no cause to be humbled, that I am no more affected with the things of religion than I am; I have no reason to be ashamed, that I have no greater exercises of love to God, and sorrow for sin, and gratitude for the mercies which I have received?” Who is there that will go and bless God, that he is affected enough with what he has read and heard of the wonderful love of God to worms and rebels in giving His only begotten Son to die for them, and of the dying love of Christ.
Our text plainly speaks of great and high affections, when it speaks of rejoicing with joy unspeakable, and full of glory. Here the most superlative expressions are used. The Scriptures often require us to exercise very high affections: thus in the first and great commandment of the law, there is an accumulation of expressions, as though words were wanting to express the degree in which we ought to love God; “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” So the saints are called upon to exercise high degrees of joy: Rejoice, says Christ to his disciples, and be exceeding glad. Matt. 5.12. So, Psalm 68.3. “Let the righteous be glad:
let them rejoice before God; yea, let them exceedingly rejoice.” So they are called upon to exercise high degrees of gratitude for mercies, to praise God with all their hearts, with hearts lifted up in the ways of the Lord, their souls magnifying the Lord, singing His praises, talking of His wondrous works, declaring His doings.
We find the most eminent saints in Scripture often professing high affections. Thus the psalmist mentions his love as if it were unspeakable;
Psalm 119.97. “Oh how lovely thy law!” So he expresses a great degree of hatred of sin; Psalm 139.21,22. “Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am I not grieved with them that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred.”
The apostle Paul expresses high exercises of affection. Thus he expresses the exercises of pity and concern for others’ good, even to anguish of heart; a great, fervent, and abundant love, earnest and longing desires, and exceeding joy. He speaks of the exaltation and triumphs of his soul, his earnest expectation and hope, his abundant tears, and the travails of his soul, in pity, grief, earnest desires, godly jealousy, and fervent zeal, in many places that have been cited already, and which therefore I need not repeat. John the Baptist expressed great joy, John 3.39. Those blessed women who anointed the body of Jesus, are represented as in a very high exercise of religious affection, at the
resurrection of Christ. Matt. 28.8. “And they departed from the sepulchre, with fear and great joy.”
It is often foretold of the church of God, in her future happy seasons on earth, that they shall exceedingly rejoice: Psalm 89.15,16. “They shall walk, OLord, in the light of thy countenance. In thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted.”
The saints and angels in heaven, who have religion in its highest perfection, are exceedingly affected with what they behold and contemplate of God’s perfections and works. They are all as a pure
heavenly flame of fire, in their love, and in the greatness and strength of their joy and gratitude.
From these things it certainly appears, that the existence of religious affections, in a very high degree, is no evidence that they are not such as have the nature of true religion. Therefore, they greatly err, who condemn persons as enthusiasts, merely because their affections are very high.
On the other hand, it is no evidence that religious affections are of a spiritual and gracious nature simply because they are great. It is very manifest by the Holy Scripture, our sure and infallible rule in things of this
nature, that there are very high religious affections which are not spiritual and saving.
The apostle Paul speaks of affections in the Galatians which had been exceedingly elevated, but yet he feared that they were vain, and had come to nothing, Gal. 4.15. “Where is the blessedness ye spake of ? for I bear you record, that if it had been possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.” And in the 11th verse he tells them, he was afraid of them, lest he had bestowed upon them labour in vain.
So the children of Israel were greatly affected with God’s mercy to them, when they had seen how wonderfully he wrought for them at the Red sea, where they sang God’s praise; though they soon forgat his works.
Great multitudes who were affected with the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, were elevated to a high degree, and made a mighty stir when Jesus very soon after entered into Jerusalem, exceedingly magnifying Christ, as though the ground were not good enough for the ass He rode to tread upon; and therefore cut down branches of palm trees, and strewed them in the way; yea, they pulled off their garments, and spread them; and cried with loud voices, Hosanna to the son of David, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest; so as to make the whole city ring again, and put all into an uproar. But Christ had few true disciples at that time. And how quickly was this fervour at an end! All is extinct when this Jesus stands bound, with a mock robe and a crown of thorns, to be derided, spit upon, scourged, condemned, and executed. Indeed there was a great and loud outcry concerning Him, among the multitude then, as well as before; but of a very different kind: it is not then Hosanna, hosanna, but. Crucify, crucify. – In a word, it is the judgment of all orthodox divines, that there may be religious affections raised to very high degree, and yet nothing of true religion.
2. It is no sign that affections have the nature of true religion, or that they have not, that they have great effects on the body.
All affections have some effect on the body. There cannot be so much as an intense thought, without an effect upon the body, and if all affections have some effect on the body, we may then well suppose, the greater those
affections, and the more vigorous their exercises are, (other circumstances being equal,) the greater will be the effect on the body. Hence it is not to be wondered at, that very great and strong exercises of the affections should have great effects on the body.
But great effects on the body certainly are no sure evidences that affections are spiritual; for we see them often arise from great affections about temporal things, and when religion is no way concerned in them.
However, there will certainly be great effects on the body when religious affections are intense. The psalmist speaking of his vehement religious affections, and of an effect in his flesh or body, besides what was in his soul, expressly distinguishes one from the other. Psalm 84.2. “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” Here is a plain distinction between the heart. and the flesh, as being each affected. So Psalm 63.1. “My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is.” Here also is an evident distinction between the soul and the flesh.
The prophet Habakkuk speaks of his body being overborne by a sense of the majesty of God, Hab. 3.16. “When I heard my belly trembled: my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself.” So the psalmist. Psalm 119.120 “My flesh trembleth for fear of thee.”
Daniel giving an account of an external representation of the glory of Christ, says, Dan. 10.8. “And there remained no strength in me; for my comeliness was turned into corruption, and I retained no strength.” And the apostle John, giving an account of a similar manifestation made to him, says, Rev. 1.17. “And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead.”
I further observe that it is plain the Scripture often makes use of bodily effects to express the strength of holy and spiritual affections; such as trembling, groaning, being sick, crying out, panting, and fainting.
3. It is no sign that affections are truly gracious, or that they are not, that they cause those who have them, to be fluent, fervent, and abundant in talking of religious things.
There are many persons, who, if they see this in others, are greatly prejudiced against them. Their being so full of talk, is with them a sufficient ground to condemn them as Pharisees, and ostentatious hypocrites. On the other hand, there arc many who, if they see this effect in any, are very ignorantly and imprudently forward, at once to determine that they are the true children of God, under the saving influences of his Spirit, and speak of it as a great evidence of a new creature. Such an one’s mouth, say they, is now opened: he used to be slow to speak; but now he is full and free: he is free now to open his heart, and tell his experiences, and declare the praises of God; it comes from him, as free as water from a fountain; and similar expressions.
But this is the fruit of little judgment, and short experience; as events abundantly show: and is a mistake into which persons often run, through their trusting their own wisdom, and making their own notions their rule, instead of the Holy Scripture.
This is but the religion of the tongue, and what is in the Scripture
represented by the leaves of a tree, which – though the tree ought not to be
without them, yet are nowhere given as an evidence of the goodness of the tree.
That persons are disposed to be abundant in talking of religious things, may be from a good cause, and it may be from a bad one. It may be because their hearts are very full of holy affections; for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh: and it may be because persons’ hearts are very full of affection which is not holy; for still out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. And therefore persons talking abundantly and very fervently about the things of religion, can be an evidence of no more than
this, that they are very much affected with the things of religion; but this may be without any grace.
The greater part of the Jews, in all Judah and Galilee, were greatly affected by John the Baptist’s preaching and Baptism, when they were willing for a season to rejoice in his light: a mighty stir was made all over the land, and among all sorts of persons, about this great prophet and his ministry. And so the multitude, in like manner, often manifested a great eamestness, a mighty engagedness of spirit, in every thing that was external, about Christ, His preaching and miracles, being astonished at His doctrine, anon with joy receiving the word. They followed Him sometimes night and day, leaving meat, drink, and sleep to hear Him; once they followed Him into the wilderness, fasting three days going to hear Him;
sometimes extolling Him to the clouds, saying. Never man spake like this man! being fervent and earnest in what they said. But what did these things come to, in the greater part of them?
A person may be over full of talk of his own experiences; falling upon it everywhere, and in all companies; and when so, it is rather a dark sign than a good one. A tree that is over full of leaves, seldom bears much fruit. And a cloud, though to appearance very well pregnant and full of water, if it
brings with it over much wind, seldom affords much rain to the dry and thirsty earth.
The Apostle Peter, says, 2 Pet. 2.17, “These are clouds without water, carried with a tempest.” False affections, if they are equally strong, are much more forward to declare themselves, than true: because it is the
nature of false religion to produce show and ostentation; as it was with the Pharisees.
4. It is no sign that affections are gracious, or that they are otherwise, that persons did not produce them by their own endeavours.
There are many in these days, who condemn all affections which are excited in a way that seems not to be the natural consequence of the faculties and principles of human nature, but to be from the influence of some extrinsic and supernatural power upon their minds. How greatly has the doctrine of the inward experience or sensible perceiving of the immediate power and operation of the Spirit of God, been reproached and ridiculed by many of late! They say, the manner of the Spirit of God, is to co-operate in a silent, secret, and undiscernable way with the use of means, and our own endeavours; so that there is no distinguishing by sense, between the influences of the Spirit of God, and the natural operations of the faculties of our own minds.
It is true, that for any to expect to receive the saving influences of the Spirit of God, while they neglect a diligent improvement of the appointed means of grace, is unreasonable presumption. To expect that the Spirit of God will savingly operate upon their minds, without the use of means, is enthusiastical. It is also undoubtedly true, that the Spirit of God is very varied in the manner and circumstances of His operations, and that sometimes He operates in a way more secret and gradual, and from smaller beginnings, than at others.
But there is indeed a power, entirely different from and beyond our power-or the power of all means and instruments, and above the power of nature – which is requisite in order to the production of saving grace in the heart.
If persons tell of effects that seem to them not to be from the natural power or operation of their minds, but from the supernatural power of some other agent, should it at once be looked upon as a sure evidence of their being under a delusion, because things seem to them to be as they are?
The Scripture abundantly teaches, that grace in the soul is the effect of God’s power, such as generation, or a being begotten, and resurrection, or a being raised from the dead, and creation, or a being brought out of nothing into being, that no flesh should glory in His presence, that God alone might be exalted, and that the excellency of the power might be of God and not of man, and that Christ’s power might be manifested in our weakness, and none might say. Mine own hand hath saved me.
And so it was in most of the conversions of particular persons recorded in the history of the New Testament: they were not affected in that silent, secret, gradual, and insensible manner, which is now insisted on; but with those manifest evidences of a supernatural power, wonderfully and suddenly causing a great change, which in these days are looked upon as certain signs of delusion and enthusiasm.
On the other hand, it is no evidence that affections are gracious, that they are not purposely produced by those who are the subjects of them, or that they arise in their minds in a manner which they cannot account for.
There are some who make this an argument in their own favour, when speaking of what they have experienced: “I am sure I did not make it myself: it was a fruit of no contrivance or endeavour of mine; it came when I thought nothing of it; if I might have the world for it, I cannot make it again when I please.” And hence they determine, that what they have experienced, must be from the mighty influence of the Spirit of God, and is of a saving nature; but very ignorantly, and without suffic