CONCERNING RELIGIOUS AFFECTIONS
A Continuation of 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.
I come now to take notice of some things, wherein those affections that are spiritual and gracious, differ from those that are not so. But before I proceed I would mention some things which I desire may be observed, concerning the marks I shall lay down.
1. I am far from undertaking to give such signs of gracious affections, as shall be sufficient to enable any certainly to distinguish true affections from false in others; or to determine
positively which of their neighbours are true professors, and which are hypocrites.
2. No such signs are to be expected, that shall be sufficient to enable those saints certainly to discern their own good estate, who
are very low in grace, or are such as have much departed from God, and are fallen into a dead, carnal, and unchristian frame. It is not agreeable to God’s design, (as already observed,) that such should know their good estate: nor is it desirable that they should; but on the contrary, it is every way best that they should not. We have
reason to bless God, that He has made no provision that such should certainly know the state they are in, any other way, than by first
repenting of their sin.
Therefore, though good rules to distinguish true grace from counterfeit, may tend to convince hypocrites, and be of great use to the saints, in many respects; and among other benefits, they may be very useful to them in order to remove many needless scruples, and establish their hope; yet I am far from pretending to lay down any such rules as shall be sufficient of themselves, without other means, to enable all true saints to see their good estate, or from supposing that they should be the principal means of their satisfaction.
3. Nor is there much encouragement, from the experience of present or past times, to lay down rules or marks to distinguish between true and false affections, in hopes of convincing any considerable number of that sort of hypocrites, who have been deceived with great false discoveries and affections, and are once settled in false confidence. Such hypocrites are conceited, blinded and hardened with self-righteousness. But yet the laying down of good rules may be a means of convincing other kinds of hypocrites;
and God is able to convince even this kind, and His grace is not to be limited, nor means to be neglected. Besides, such rules may be of use to the true saints, in order to detect false affections, which they may have mingled with true; and be a means of their religion becoming more pure, and like gold tried in the fire.
Having premised these things, I now proceed directly to take notice of those things in which true religious affections are distinguished from false.
1. Affections that are truly spiritual and gracious, arise from those influences and operations on the heart, which are spiritual, supernatural, and divine.
I will explain what I mean so as to distinguish between those affections which are spiritual, and those which are not so.Â—We find that true saints, or those persons who are sanctified by the Spirit of God, are in the New Testament called spiritual persons. Those who are spiritual are set in opposition to natural men, and carnal men. Thus the spiritual man and the natural man are set in opposition one to another, 1 Cor. 2.14,15. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him:
neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual, judgeth all things.”
Now it may be observed, that the epithet spiritual, in this and other parallel texts of the New Testament, is not used to signify any relation of persons or things to the spirit or soul of man, as the spiritual part of man, in opposition to the body, or material part.
Christians are called spiritual persons, because they are born of the Spirit, and because of the indwelling and holy influences of the Spirit of God in them. And things are called spiritual as related to the Spirit of God; 1 Cor. 2.13,14. “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth . but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” Though the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, which natural men might have, are sometimes called spiritual, because they are from the Spirit; yet natural men, whatever gifts of the Spirit they had, were not, in the usual language of the New Testament, called spiritual persons.
So that although natural men may be the subjects of many influences of the Spirit of God, yet they are not in the sense of the Scripture, spiritual persons; neither are any of those effects, common gifts, qualities, or affections, that are from the influence of the Spirit of God upon them, called spiritual things. The great difference lies in these two things.
1. The Scriptures represent the Holy Spirit, not only as moving, and occasionally influencing, the saints, but as dwelling in them as His temple, His proper abode, and everlasting dwelling-place, (1 Cor. 3.16:2. Cor. 6.16: John 14.16,17.) And He is represented as being there so united to the faculties of the soul, that He becomes there a principle or spring of a new nature and life.
2. Another reason why the saints and their virtues are called spiritual, (and which is the principal thing,) is, that the Spirit of God, dwelling as a vital principle in the soul, produces there those effects wherein He exerts and communicates Himself in His own proper nature. Holiness is the nature of the Spirit of God, therefore He is called in Scripture that Holy Ghost. Holiness, which is as it were the beauty and sweetness of the divine nature, is as much the proper nature of the Holy Spirit, as heat is the nature of fire.
But the Spirit of God never influences the minds of natural men after this manner. Though He may influence them many ways, yet He never, in any of His influences, communicates Himself to them in His own proper nature. Thus, for instance, the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, and there was nothing disagreeable to His nature in that action; but yet He did not at all communicate Himself in that action, there was nothing of the proper nature of the Holy Spirit in that motion of the waters. And so He may act upon the minds of men many ways, and not communicate Himself any more than when He acts on inanimate things.
Only true saints have that which is spiritual; others not only have not these communications of the Spirit in so high a degree as the saints, but have nothing of that nature or kind. For the apostle James tells us, that natural men have not the Spirit; and Christ teaches the necessity of a new birth, or a being born of the Spirit,
from this, that he that is born of the flesh, has only flesh, and no spirit, John 3.6.
3. It is evident, that those gracious influences of God’s Spirit which the saints experience, are entirely above nature, and altogether of a different kind from any thing that men find in
themselves by the exercise of natural principles. And this is what I mean by supernatural, when I say, that gracious affections are from those influences that are supernatural.
From hence it follows, that in those gracious exercises and affections which are wrought in the saints, through the saving influences of the Spirit of God, there is a new inward perception or sensation of their minds, entirely different in its nature and kind from any thing that ever their minds were the subjects of before they were sanctified. And something is perceived by a true saint, in the
exercise of this new sense of mind in spiritual and divine things, as
entirely diverse from any thing that is perceived in them by natural men, as the sweet taste of honey is diverse from the ideas men get of honey by only looking on and feeling it. The Spirit of God in His spiritual influences on the hearts of His saints, operates by infusing or exercising new, divine, and supernatural principles; principles which are indeed of a new and spiritual nature, and principles vastly more noble and excellent than all that is in natural men.
From what has been said it follows, that all spiritual and gracious affections are attended with, and arise from, some apprehension, idea, or sensation of mind, which is in its whole nature different, yea exceeding different, from all that is or can be in the mind of a natural man. The natural man discerns nothing of it, (1 Cor. 2.14.) any more than a man without the sense of tasting can conceive of the sweet taste of honey; or a man without the sense of hearing can conceive of the melody of a tune; or a man born blind can have a notion of the beauty of the rainbow.
Upon the whole, I think it is clearly manifest, that all truly gracious affections arise from special and peculiar influences of the spirit, working that sensible effect or sensation in the souls of the saints, which is entirely different from all that is possible a natural man should experience; different, not only in degree and circumstances, but in its whole nature.
From hence it appears, that impressions which some have on heir imaginationÂ—their imaginary ideas of God, or Christ, or leaven, or any thing appertaining to religionÂ—have nothing in hem that is spiritual, or of the nature of true grace. Though such things may attend what is spiritual, and be mixed with it, yet in themselves they are not any part of gracious experience.
Many who have had such things, have ignorantly supposed them to be of the nature of spiritual discoveries. They have had lively ideas of some external shape, and beautiful form of countenance;
and this they call spiritually seeing Christ. Some have had impressed upon them ideas of a great outward light; and this they call a spiritual discovery of God’s or Christ’s glory. Some have had ideas of Christ hanging on the cross, and His blood running from His wounds; and this they call a spiritual sight of Christ crucified, and he way of salvation by His blood. Some have seen Him with His arms open ready to embrace them; and this they call a discovery of the sufficiency of Christ’s grace and love. Some have had lively ideas of heaven, and of Christ on His throne there, and shining ranks of
saints and angels; and this they call seeing heaven opened to them. Some from time to time have had a lively idea of a person of a beautiful countenance smiling upon them; and this they call a spiritual discovery of the love of Christ to their souls, and tasting the love of Christ. And they look upon it as a sufficient evidence that these things are spiritual discoveries, and that they see them spiritually, because they say they do not see these things with their bodily eyes, but in their hearts; for they can see them when their eyes are shut. And in like manner, the imaginations of some have been impressed with ideas of the sense of hearing; they have had ideas of words, as if they were spoken to them, sometimes the words of Scripture, and sometimes other words. They have had ideas of Christ speaking comfortable words to them. These things they have called having the inward call of Christ, hearing the voice of Christ spiritually in their hearts, having the witness of the Spirit, the inward testimony of the love of Christ.
As to a truly spiritual sensation, not only is the manner of its coming into the mind extraordinary, but the sensation itself is totally diverse from all that men have, or can have, in a state of nature, as has been shown. But as to these external ideas, though the way of their coming into the mind is sometimes unusual, yet the ideas in themselves are not the better for that; they are still of no different sort from what men have by their senses; they are of no higher kind. Yea, if men should actually receive such external ideas by the immediate power of the most high God upon their minds, they would not be spiritual, they should be no more than a common work of the Spirit of God; as is evident in fact, in the instance of Balaam, who had impressed on his mind, by God himself, a clear and lively outward representation or idea of Jesus Christ, as the Star rising out of Jacob, when he heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the Most High, and saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, Numb. 24.16,17. But Balaam had no spiritual discovery of Christ; that day-star never spiritually rose in his heart, he being but a natural man.
The first comfort of many persons, and what they call their conversion, is after this manner: after awakening and terrors, some comfortable promise comes suddenly and wonderfully to their minds; and the manner of its coming makes them conclude it comes from God to them. This is the very foundation of their faith, hope, and comfort: from hence they take their first encouragement to trust in God and in Christ, because they think that God, by some scripture so brought, has now already revealed to them that He loves them, and has already promised them eternal life. But this is very absurd; for every one with a common knowledge of religious principles, knows that it is God’s manner to reveal His love to men, and their interest in the promises, after they have believed, and not before. They must first believe, before they have any personal and possessive interest in the promises to be revealed. The Spirit of God is a Spirit of truth, and not of lies: He does not bring scriptures to men’s minds in order to reveal to them that they have a personal and
possessive interest in God’s promises, when they have none, having
not yet believed. For this would be the case, if God bringing texts of scripture to men’s minds, in order to show them that their sins were forgiven, or that it was God’s pleasure to give them the kingdom, or any thing of that nature, went before and was the^foundation of their first faith. No promise of the covenant of grace belongs possessively to any man, until he has first believed in Christ; for it is by faith alone that we become thus interested in Christ, and the promises of the new covenant made in him.
But here, some may be ready to say. What, is there no such thing as any particular spiritual application of the promises of Scripture by the Spirit of God? I answer, there is doubtless such a thing as a spiritual and saving application of the invitations and promises of Scripture to the souls of men. But the spiritual application of a
scripture promise does not consist in its being immediately suggested to the thoughts by some extrinsic agent, and being borne into the mind with this strong apprehension, that it is particularly spoken and directed to them at that time. There is nothing of the hand of God evidenced in this effect, as events have proved in many notorious instances. It is a mean notion of a spiritual application of Scripture; there is nothing in the nature of it at all beyond the power of the devil; for there is nothing in the nature of the effect implying i any vital communication of God. A truly spiritual application of the word of God is of a vastly higher nature; as much above the devil’s power, as it is for him to apply the word of God to a dead corpse so as to raise it to life; or to a stone, to turn it into an angel. A spiritual application of the word of God consists in applying it to the heart; in spiritual, enlightening, sanctifying influences. Spiritual application of the promises of Scripture, for the comfort of the saints, consists in enlightening their minds to see the holy excellency and sweetness of the blessings promised, also the holy excellency of the Promiser, His faithfulness and sufficiency; thus drawing forth their hearts to embrace the Promiser, and the thing promised. An application not consisting in this divine sense and enlightening of the mind, but consisting only in the words being borne into the thoughts, as if immediately then spoken, so making persons believe, on no other foundation, that the promise is theirs; is a blind application, and belongs to the spirit of darkness, and not of light.
Again, it plainly appears from what has been demonstrated, that no revelation of secret facts by immediate suggestion, is anything spiritual and divine, in that sense wherein gracious effects and , operations are so. By secret facts, I mean things that have been done, or are come to pass, or shall hereafter come to pass, which do not appear to the senses, nor are known by any argumentation, nor any other way, but only by immediate suggestion of ideas to the mind. Thus for instance, if it should be revealed to me, that the next year this land would be invaded by a fleet from France, or that such and such persons would then be converted, or that I myself should then be convertedÂ—not by enabling me to argue these events from any thing which now appears in providence; butÂ—immediately
suggesting, in an extraordinary manner, that these things would come to pass; not by having any other evidence of these facts, but an immediate extraordinary suggestion or excitation of these ideas, and a strong impression of them upon my mind: this is a revelation of secret facts by immediate suggestion, and it is evident that this revelation of secret facts by immediate suggestion, has nothing of the nature of a spiritual and divine operation, in the sense fore-mentioned. There is nothing at all in the nature of the ideas themselves, excited in the mind, that is divinely excellent, above the ideas of natural men; though the manner of exciting the ideas be extraordinary. In those things which are spiritual, as has been shown, not only the manner of producing the effect, but the effect wrought is divine, and so vastly above all that can be in an unsanctified mind.
Hence it follows, from what has been already shown, that those affections which are properly founded on such immediate suggestions of secret facts, are not gracious affections. Not but that it is possible that such suggestions may be the occasion or accidental cause of gracious affections; but they are never properly the foundation of gracious affections: for gracious affections, as has been shown, are all the effects of an influence and operation which is spiritual, supernatural, and divine.
Here it may be proper to observe, from what has been said, that what many persons call the witness of the Spirit, that they are the children of God, has nothing in it spiritual and divine; and consequently, that the affections built upon it, are vain and delusive. That which many call the witness of the Spirit, is no other than an immediate suggestion and impression of that fact, otherwise secret, that they are made the children of God, and so that their sins are pardoned, and that God has given them a title to heaven. What has misled many in their notion of that influence of the Spirit of God of which we are speaking, is the word WITNESS, its being called the witness of the Spirit. Hence they have taken it to be not any work of the Spirit upon the heart, giving evidence from whence men may argue that they are the children of God, but an inward immediate suggestion, as though God inwardly spoke to the man, and told him that he was His child, by a kind of secret voice, or impression.
But the apostle, when (Rom. 8.16.) he speaks of the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God, sufficiently explains himself. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God: for ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear: but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father: the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirits, that we are the children of God.” Here, what the apostle has respect to, when he speaks of the Spirit’s giving us witness or evidence that we are God’s children, is His dwelling in us, and leading us, as a spirit of adoption, or of a child, disposing us to behave towards God as to a father. And what is that, but the spirit of love? There are two kinds of spirits of which the apostle speaks, the spirit of bondage, that is fear; and the spirit of adoption, and that is
love. The apostle says, we have not received the spirit of bondage, or of slaves, which is a spirit of fear; but we have received the more ingenuous, noble spirit of children, a spirit of love, which naturally disposes us to go to God, as children to a father. And this is the witness which the Spirit of God gives us that we are children. This is the plain sense of the apostle. The spirit of bondage works by fear, the slave fears the rod; but love cries, Abba, Father; it disposes us to go to God, and behave ourselves as children. So that the witness of the Spirit of which the apostle speaks, is far from being any whisper, or immediate suggestion; but is that gracious holy effect of the Spirit of God in the hearts of the saints giving the disposition and temper of children, which appears in sweet child-like love to God and which casts out fear. It is plain the apostle speaks of the Spirit, over and over again, as dwelling in the hearts of the saints, as a gracious principle, in opposition to the flesh or corruption; as in the words that immediately introduce this passage, ver. 13. “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the flesh, ye shall live.”
Indeed it is past doubt with me, that the apostle has a more special respect to the spirit of grace, or of love, or the spirit of a child, in its more lively actings; for it is perfect love or strong love only, which so witnesses or evidences that we are children, as to cast out fear, and wholly deliver from the spirit of bondage. The strong and lively exercises of evangelical, humble love to God, give clear evidence of the soul’s relation to God, as His child; which very greatly and directly satisfies the soul. And though it be far from true, that the soul in this case judges only by an immediate witness, without any sign or evidence; yet the saint stands in no need of multiplied signs, or any long reasoning upon them. And though the sight of his
relative union with God, and being in His favour, is not without a medium viz.. his love; yet his sight of the union of his heart to God is immediate. Love, the bond of union, is seen intuitively; the saint sees and feels plainly the union between his soul and God; it is so strong and lively, that he cannot doubt of it. And hence he is assured that he is a child. How can he doubt whether he stands in a child-like elation to God, when he plainly sees a child-like union between God and his soul, and hence cries, Abba, Father.
Many mischiefs have arisen from that false and delusive notion of the witness of the Spirit, that it is a kind of inward voice, suggestion, or declaration from God to a man, that he is beloved, pardoned, elected, or the like, sometimes with and sometimes without a text of Scripture; for many have been the false and vain (though very high) affections that have arisen from hence. It is to be feared that multitudes of souls have been eternally undone by it; I have therefore insisted the longer on this head.Â—But I proceed now to a
second characteristic of gracious affections.
2. The first objective 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.
It was before observed, that the affection of love is as it were the fountain of all affection; and particularly, that Christian love is the fountain of all gracious affections. Now the divine excellency of God, and of Jesus Christ, the word of God, His works, ways, &c. is the primary reason why a true saint loves these things; and not any supposed interest that he has in them, or any conceived benefit that he has received or shall receive from them.
The first foundation of the delight a true saint has in God, is His own perfection; and the first foundation of the delight he has in Christ, in His own beauty; He appears in Himself the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely. The way of salvation by Christ is a delightful way to him, for the sweet and admirable manifestations of the divine perfections in it. The holy doctrines of the gospel, by which God is exalted and man abased, holiness honoured and promoted, sin greatly disgraced and discouraged, and free, sovereign love manifested, are glorious doctrines in his eyes, and sweet to his taste, prior to any conception of his interest in these things. Indeed the saints rejoice in their interest in God, and that Christ is theirs; and so they have great reason: but this is not the first spring of their joy. They first rejoice in God as glorious and excellent in Himself, and then secondarily rejoice in it, that so glorious a God is theirs. They first have their hearts filled with sweetness, from the view of Christ’s excellency, the excellency of His grace, and the beauty of salvation by Him; and then, they have a secondary joy, in that so excellent a Saviour and such excellent grace, is theirs. But that which is the true saint’s superstructure is the hypocrite’s foundation. When they hear of the wonderful things of the gospel, of God’s great love in sending His Son, of Christ’s dying love to sinners, the great things Christ has purchased and promised to the saints, and hear these things eloquently set forth; they may hear with a great deal of pleasure, and be lifted up with what they hear. But if their joy be examined, it will be found to have no other foundation than this, that they look upon these things as theirs, all this exalts them, they love to hear of the great love of Christ vastly distinguishing some from others; for self-love makes them affect great distinction from others. No wonder, in this confident opinion of their own good estate, that they feel well under such doctrine, and are pleased in the highest degree, in hearing how much God and Christ makes of them. So that their joy is really a joy in themselves, and not in God.
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 himself, to stand at that time to view himself, and his own attainments. It would be a loss which he could not bear, to have his eye taken off from the ravishing object of his contemplation, in order to survey his own experience, and to spend time in thinking with himself. What a high attainment this is, and what a good story I now have to tell others! Nor does the pleasure and sweetness of his mind at that time, chiefly arise from the consideration of the safety of his state, or any thing he has in
view of his own qualifications, experiences, or circumstances; but from the divine and supreme beauty of what is the object of his direct view, without himself; which sweetly entertains, and strongly holds his mind.
As the love and joy of hypocrites are all from the source of self-love, so it is with their other affections, their sorrow for sin, their humiliation and submission, their religious desires and zeal. Every thing is as it were paid for beforehand, in God’s highly gratifying their self-love, by making so much of them, and exalting them so highly, as things are in their imagination. It is easy for nature, corrupt as it is, under a notion of being already some of the highest favourites of heaven, and having a God who so protects and favours them in their sins, to love this imaginary God that suits them so well;
and equally easy to extol him, submit to him, and to be fierce and zealous for him. The high affections of many are all built on the supposition of their being eminent saints. If that opinion which they have of themselves were taken away, if they thought they were some of the lower forms of saints, (though they should yet suppose themselves to be real saints,) their high affections would fall to the ground. If they only saw a little of the sinfulness and vileness of their own hearts, and their deformity in the midst of their best duties and their best affections, it would destroy their affections; because they are built upon self, self-knowledge would destroy them. But as to truly gracious affections, they have their foundation in God and Jesus Christ; and therefore a discovery of themselves, of their own deformity, and the meanness of their experiences, though it will purify their affections, yet it will not destroy them, but in some respects sweeten and heighten them.
3. Those affections that are truly holy, are primarily founded on the moral excellency of divine things. Or, a love to divine things for the beauty and sweetness of their moral excellency, is the spring of all holy affections.
The true beauty and loveliness of all intelligent beings primarily and most essentially consist in their moral excellency or holiness. Herein consists the loveliness of angels, without which, notwithstanding all their natural perfections, they would have no more loveliness than devils. It is moral excellency alone, that is in itself, and on its own account, the excellency of intelligent beings: it is this that gives beauty to, or rather is the beauty of, their natural perfections and qualifications. Moral excellency, if I may so speak, is the excellency of natural excellencies. Natural qualifications are either excellent or otherwise, according as they are joined with moral excellency or not.
And therefore it must needs be, that a sight of God’s loveliness must begin here. A true love to God must begin with a delight in His holiness, and not with a delight in any other attribute; for no other attribute is truly lovely without this, and no otherwise than as [according to our way of conceiving God) it derives its loveliness frorn this. Therefore, it is impossible that other attributes should
appear lovely, in their true loveliness, until this is seen: and it is impossible that any perfection of the divine nature should be loved with true love until this is loved. If the true loveliness of all God’s perfections, arises from the loveliness of His holiness; then the true love of all His perfections, arises from the love of His holiness. They that do not see the glory of God’s holiness, cannot see any thing of the true glory of His mercy and grace. They see nothing of the glory of those attributes, as any excellency of God’s nature, as it is in itself; though they may be affected with them, and love them, as they concern their interest. For these attributes are no part of the excellency of God’s nature, as that is excellent in itself, any otherwise than as they included in His holiness, more largely taken;
or as they are a part of His moral perfection.
As the beauty of the divine nature primarily consists in God’s holiness, so does the beauty of all divine things. Herein consists the beauty of the saints, that they are saints, or holy ones: it is the moral image of God in them, which is their beauty; and that is their holiness. Herein consists the beauty and brightness of the angels of heaven, that they are holy angels, and so not devils; (Dan. 4.13,17,23. Matt. 25.31. Mark 8.38. Acts 10.22. Rev. 14.10.) Herein consists the beauty of the Christian religion, above all other religions, that it is so holy a religion. Herein consists the excellency of the word of God, that it is so holy; Psal. 119.140. “Thy word is very pure, therefore thy servant loveth it.” Herein primarily consists the amiableness and beauty of the Lord Jesus, whereby He is the chief among ten thousands, and altogether lovely; even in that He is the holy One of God, Acts 3.14.’and God’s holy Child, Acts 4.27. and he that is holy, he that is true, Rev. 3.7. All the spiritual beauty of His human nature. His meekness, lowliness, patience, heavenliness, love to God, love to men, condescension to the mean and vile, compassion to the miserable, &c. all is summed up in His holiness. And the beauty of His divine nature, of which the beauty of His human nature is the image and reflection, also primarily consists in His holiness. Herein primarily consists the glory of the
gospel, that it is a holy gospel, and so bright an emanation of the holy beauty of God and Jesus Christ. Herein consists the spiritual beauty of its doctrines, that they are holy doctrines, or doctrines according to