CONCERNING RELIGIOUS AFFECTIONS
The Conclusion 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.
CERTAIN SIGNS (continued)
6. Gracious affections are attended with evangelical humiliation. Evangelical humiliation is a sense that a Christian has of his own utter insufficiency, despicableness, and odiousness, with an answerable frame of heart. There is a distinction to be made between a legal and evangelical humiliation. The former is what men may have while in a state of nature, and have no gracious affection; the latter is peculiar to true saints. In a legal humiliation men are made sensible that they are nothing before the great and terrible God, and that they are undone, and wholly insufficient to help themselves; as wicked men will be at the day of judgment: but they have not an answerable frame of heart, consisting in a disposition to abase themselves, and exalt God alone. This disposition is given only in evangelical humiliation, by overcoming the heart, and changing its inclination, by a discovery of God’s holy beauty. In a legal humiliation, the conscience is convinced; as the consciences of all will be most perfectly at the day of judgment; but because there is no spiritual understanding, the will is not bowed, nor the inclination altered. In legal humiliation, men are brought to despair of helping themselves; in evangelical, they are brought voluntarily to deny and renounce themselves: in the former, they are subdued and forced to the ground; in the latter, they are brought sweetly to yield, and freely and with delight to prostrate themselves at the feet of God.
7. Truly gracious affections differ from those that are false and delusive, in that they naturally beget and promote such a spirit of love, meekness, quietness, forgiveness, and mercy, as appeared in Christ.
The evidence of this in the Scripture is very abundant. If we judge of the nature of Christianity, and the proper spirit of the gospel, by the word of God, this spirit is what may, by way of eminency, be called the Christian spirit; These things are spoken of as what are especially the character of Jesus Christ himself, the great head of the Christian church. Christ is full of grace; and Christians all receive of His fulness, and grace for grace; i.e. there is grace in Christians answering to grace in Christ, such an answerableness as there is between the wax and the seal. All true Christians “behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord, and are changed into the same image, by his Spirit,” 2 Cor. 3.18. Now, it is out of such a heart as this, that all truly holy affections flow. Christian affections are like Mary’s precious ointment poured on Christ’s head, that filled the whole house with a sweet odour. That was poured out of an alabaster box;
so gracious affections flow out to Christ out of a pure heart. That was poured out of a broken box; (until the box was broken, the ointment could not flow, nor diffuse its odour;) so gracious affections flow out of a broken heart. Gracious affections are also like those of Mary Magdalene, (Luke 7, at the latter end,) who in like manner pours precious ointment on Christ, out of an alabaster broken box, anointing therewith the feet of Jesus, when she had washed them with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head. All gracious affections, which are a sweet odour to Christ, filling the soul of a Christian with a heavenly sweetness and fragrancy, are broken-hearted affections. A truly Christian love, either to God or men, is an humble broken-hearted love. The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires; their hope is a humble hope;
and they joy, even when it is unspeakable and full of glory, is humble, broken-hearted joy, leaving the Christian more poor in spirit, more like a little child, and more disposed to an universal lowliness of behaviour.
8. Another thing, wherein gracious affections are distinguished from others, is, that they are attended with a change of nature.
All gracious affections arise from a spiritual understanding, in which the soul has the excellency and glory of divine things discovered to it, as was shown before. But all spiritual discoveries are also transforming. They not only make an alteration of the present exercise, sensation, and frame of the soul; but such is their power and efficacy, that they alter its very nature; 2 Cor. 3.18. “But we all with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Such power as this, is properly divine, and is peculiar to the Spirit of the Lord. Other power may make a great alteration in men’s present frames and feelings; but it is the power of a Creator only that can change the nature. And no discoveries or illuminations, but those that are divine and supernatural, will have this supernatural effect. But this effect all those discoveries have, that are: truly divine. The soul is deeply affected by these discoveries; so affected, as to be transformed.
Thus it is with those affections of which the soul is the subject in its conversion. The scriptural representations of conversion, strongly imply and signify a change of nature: such as being born again; becoming new creatures; rising from the dead; being renewed in the spirit of the mind; dying to sin, and living to righteousness;
putting off the old man, and putting on the new man; being ingrafted into a new stock; having a divine seed implanted in the heart; being made partakers of the divine nature, &c.
Therefore if there be no great and remarkable abiding change in persons, who think they have experienced a work of conversion, vain are all their imaginations and pretences, however they may have been affected. Conversion (if we may give any credit to the Scripture) is a great and universal change of the man, turning him from sin to God. A man may be restrained from sin, before he is converted; but when he is converted, his very heart and nature is turned from it unto holiness: so that thenceforward he becomes a holy person, and an enemy to sin. If, therefore, after a person’s high affections at his supposed first conversion, it happens that in a little time there is no very remarkable alteration in him, as to those bad qualities and evil habits which before were visible in himÂ—and he is ordinarily under the prevalence of the same kind of dispositions as heretofore, and the same things seem to belong to his character, he appearing as selfish, carnal, stupid, and perverse, unchristian, and unsavoury as everÂ—it is greater evidence against him, than the brightest story of experiences that ever was told can be for him. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, neither high profession nor low profession, neither a fair story nor a broken one, avails any thing; but a new creature. If there be a very great alteration visible in a person for a while; yet if it be not abiding, but he afterwards return, in a stated manner, to his former habits; it appears to be no change of nature; for nature is an abiding thing. A swine may be washed, but the swinish nature remains; a dove may be defiled, but its cleanly nature remains.
But I would say something particularly concerning this Christian spirit as exercised in these three things, forgiveness, love, and mercy. The Scripture is very clear and express concerning the absolute necessity of each of these, as belonging to the temper and character of every Christian. A forgiving spirit is necessary, or a disposition to overlook and forgive injuries. Christ gives it to us both as a negative and positive evidence; and is express in teaching us, that if we are of such a spirit, it is a sign we are in a state of forgiveness and favour ourselves; and that if we are not of such a spirit, we are not forgiven of God; and seems to take special care that we should always bear it on our minds. Matt. 6. 12,14,15. “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. For, if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men then” trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Christ expresses the same at another time, Mark 11. 25,26. and again in Matt. 18.22, to the end, in the parable of the servant, who owed his lord ten thousand talents, and who
would not forgive his fellow-servant a hundred pence; and therefore was delivered to the tormentors. In the application of the parable Christ says, ver. 35. “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.”
And that all true saints are of a loving, benevolent, and beneficent temper, the Scripture is very plain and abundant. Without it, the apostle tells us, though we should speak with the tongues of men and angels, we are as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal: and though we have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; yet without this spirit we are nothing. There is no one virtue, or disposition of mind, so often and so expressly insisted on, as marks laid down in the New Testament, whereby to know true Christians.
And the Scripture is as plain as possible, that none are true saints, but those who are of a disposition to pity and relieve their fellow-creatures, who are poor, indigent, and afflicted: Psal. 37. 21. “The righteous showeth mercy, and giveth” ver. 26. “He is ever merciful, and lendeth.”
Thus we see how full, clear, and abundant, the evidence from the | Scripture is, that those who are truly gracious, are under the government of that lamb-like, dove-like Spirit of Jesus Christ, and that this is essentially and eminently the nature of the saving grace of the gospel, and the proper spirit of true Christianity. We may therefore undoubtedly determine, that all truly Christian affections are attended with such a spirit: and that this is the natural tendency of the fear and hope, the sorrow and the joy, the confidence and the zeal of true Christians.
9. Gracious affections soften the heart, and are attended with a Christian tenderness of spirit.
Gracious affections turn a heart of stone more and more into a heart of flesh. Holy love and hope are principles vastly more efficacious upon the heart, to make it tender, and to fill it with a dread of sin, or whatever might displease and offend God; and to engage it to watchfulness, and care, and strictness, than a slavish fear of hell. Gracious affections, as was observed before, flow out of a contrite heart, or (as the word signifies) a bruised heart, bruised and broken with godly sorrow; which makes the heart tender, as bruised flesh is tender, and easily hurt. Godly sorrow has much greater influence to make the heart tender, than mere legal sorrow ;
from selfish principles.
The tenderness of the heart of a true Christian, is elegantly signified by our Saviour, in his comparing such a one to a little child. The flesh of a little child is very tender: so is the heart of one that is new-bom.
Hence gracious affections do not tend to make men bold, forward, noisy, and boisterous; but rather to speak trembling; Hos. 13. 1. “When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died.” It tends to clothe them with a kind of holy fear in all their behaviour towards God and man.
One reason why gracious affections are attended with this tenderness of spirit, is, that true grace tends to promote convictions of conscience. Grace does not stupify a man’s conscience; but makes it more sensible, more easily and thoroughly to discern the sinfulness of that which is sinful, and to receive a greater conviction of the heinous and dreadful nature of sin. The conscience becomes susceptive of a quicker and deeper sense of sin, and the man is more convinced of his own sinfulness, and the wickedness of his heart;
consequently grace has a tendency to make him more jealous of his heart.
10. Another thing wherein those affections that are truly gracious and holy, differ from those that are false, is beautiful symmetry and proportion.
In the truly holy affections of the saints is found that proportion, which is the natural consequence of the universality of their sanctification. They have the whole image of Christ upon them:
they have put off the old man, and have put on the new man entire in all his parts and members. It hath pleased the Father that in Christ all fulness should dwell: there is in him every grace; he is full of grace and truth: and they that are Christ’s of his fulness receive, and grace for grace; (John 1.14,16.) There is every grace in them which is in Christ: grace for grace; that is, grace answerable to grace: there is no grace in Christ, but there is its image in believers to answer it. The image is a true image; and there is something of the same beautiful proportion in the image, which is in the original; there is feature for feature, and member for member. There is symmetry and beauty in God’s workmanship. The natural body which God hath made, consists of many members; and all are in a beautiful proportion: so the new man consists of various graces and affections. The body of one that was born a perfect child, may fail of exact proportion through distemper, weakness, or injury of some of its members; yet the disproportion is in no measure like that of those who are born monsters.
If therefore persons are religious only by fits and starts, if they now and then seem to be raised up to the clouds in their affections, and then suddenly fall down again, lose all, and become quite careless and carnal, and this is their manner of carrying on religion;
if they appear greatly moved, and mightily engaged in religion, only in extraordinary seasonsÂ—as in the time of a remarkable outpouring of the Spirit, or other uncommon dispensations of Providence, or upon the real or supposed receipt of some great mercy, but quickly return to such a frame, that their hearts are chiefly upon other things, and the prevailing stream of their affections is ordinarily towards the things of this world, they clearly evince their unsoundness.
And as there is a strange unevenness and disproportion in false affections, at different times; so there often is in different places. Some are greatly affected when in company; but have nothing that bears any manner of proportion to it in secret, in close meditation,
prayer and conversing with God when alone, and separated from all the world. So that if persons appear greatly engaged in social religion, and but little in the religion of the closet, and are often highly affected when with others, and but little moved when they have none but God and Christ to converse with, it looks very darkly upon their religion.
11. Another great and very distinguishing difference is, that the higher gracious affections are raised, the more is a spiritual appetite and longing of soul after spiritual attainments increased: on the contrary, false affections rest satisfied in themselves.
The more a true saint loves God with a gracious love, the more he desires to love Him, and the more uneasy is he at his want of love to Him: the more he hates sin, the more he desires to hate it, and laments that he has so much remaining love to it. The more he mourns for sin, the more he longs to mourn; the more his heart is broken, the more he desires it should be broken. The more he thirsts and longs after God and holiness, the more he longs to long, and breathe out his very soul in longings after God.
The saints desire the sincere milk of the word, not so much to testify God’s love to them, as that they may grow thereby in holiness. I have shown before, that holiness is that good which is the immediate object of a spiritual taste. But undoubtedly the same sweetness that is the chief object of a spiritual taste, is also the chief chief object of a spiritual appetite. Grace is the godly manÂ’s treasure; Isa. 33.6. Â“The fear of the Lord is his treasure.Â” Godliness is the gain of which he is covetous, 1 Tim. 6. 6. Hypocrites long for discoveries, more for the present comfort of the discovery, and the high manifestation of God’s love in it, than for any sanctifying influence of it. But neither a longing after great discoveries, or after great tastes of love of God, nor longing to be in heaven, nor longing to die, are in any measure so distinguishing marks of true saints, as longing after a more holy heart, and living a more holy life.
12. Gracious and holy affections have their exercise and fruit in Christian practice.
This implies three things about a Christian; 1. That his behaviour or practice in the world, be universally conformed to and directed by Christian rules. 2. That he makes a business of such a holy practice above all things; that it be a business which he is chiefly engaged in, and devoted to, and pursues with highest earnestness and diligence; so that he may be said to make this practice of religion eminently his work and business.Â—And, 3. That he persists in it to the end of life: so that it may be said, not only to be his business at certain seasons, the business of Sabbath-days, or certain extraordinary times, or the business of a month, or a year, or of seven years, or his business under certain circumstances; but the business of his life; it being that business which he perseveres in through all changes, and under all trials, as long as he lives. The necessity of each of these, in all true Christians, is most clearly and fully taught in the word of God.
The tendency of grace in the heart to holy practice, is very direct, and the connexion most natural, close, and necessary. True grace is not an inactive thing; there is nothing in heaven or earth of a more active nature; for it is life itself, the most active kind, even spiritual and divine life. It is no barren thing; there is nothing in the universe that in its nature has a greater tendency to fruit. Godliness in the heart has as direct a relation to practice, as a fountain has to a stream, or as the luminous nature of the sun has to beams sent forth, or as life has to breathing. From what has been said, it is manifest, that Christian practice, or a holy life, is a great and distinguishing sign of true and saving grace. But I may go further, and assert, that it is the chief of all the signs of grace, both as an evidence of the sincerity of professors UNTO OTHERS, and also to their OWN CONSCIENCES.
13. Christian practice or holy life, is a manifestation and sign of the sincerity of a professing Christian, to the eye of his neighbours and brethren.
And that this is the chief sign of grace in this respect, is very evident from the word of God. Christ, who knew best how to give us rules to judge of others, has repeated, and inculcated the rule, that we should know them by their fruits; Matt. 7. 16. “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” And then after arguing the point, and giving clear reasons, why men’s fruits must be the chief evidence of what sort they are, in the following verses, he closes by repeating the assertion; ver. 20. “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Again, chap. 12.33. “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good;
or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt.”
And as the Scripture plainly teaches that practice is the best evidence of the sincerity of professing Christians; so reason teaches the same thing. Reason shows that men’s deeds are better and more faithful interpreters of their minds than their words. The common sense of all mankind, through all ages and nations, teaches them to judge of men’s hearts chiefly by their practice in other matters: as, whether a man be a loyal subject, a true lover, a dutiful child, or a faithful servant.
14. Christian practice is a distinguishing and sure evidence of grace to persons’ own consciences.
This is very plain in 1 John 2. 3. “Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” And the testimony of our consciences, with respect to our good deeds, is spoken of as that which may give us assurance of our own godliness; 1 John 3.18-19. “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed (in the original it is, in work) and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.” And the apostle Paul, (Heb. 6.) speaks of the work and labour of love of the Christian Hebrews, as that which both gave him a persuasion that they had something above the highest common illuminations, and also as that evidence which tended to give them
the highest assurance of hope concerning themselves; ver. 9. “But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed towards his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence, to the full assurance of hope unto the end.”
Thus I have endeavoured to represent the evidence there is, that Christian practice is the chief of all the signs of saving grace. And before I conclude this discourse, I would say something briefly, in answer to two objections, that may possibly be made by some, against what has been said.
Object. 1. Some may be ready to say, this seems to be contrary to an opinion much received among good people; that professors should judge of their state chiefly by their inward experience, and that spiritual experiences are the main evidences of true grace.
I answer. It is doubtless a true opinion, and justly much received among good people, that professors should chiefly judge of their state by their experience. But it is a great mistake, that what has been said is at all contrary to that opinion. The chief sign of grace to the consciences of Christians being Christian practice, in the sense explained, and according to what has been shown to be the true notion of Christian practice, is not at all inconsistent with Christian experience being the chief evidence of grace. Christian or holy practice is spiritual practice flowing from a spiritual experience.
Object. 2. Some also may be ready to object against what has been said of Christian practice being the chief evidence of the truth of grace, that this is a legal doctrine; and that this making practice a thing of such great importance in religion, magnifies works, and tends to lead men to make too much of there own doings to the diminution of the glory of free grace, and does not seem well to consist with that great gospel-doctrine of justification by faith alone.
But this objection is altogether without reason. Which way is it inconsistent with the freeness of God’s grace, that holy practice should be a sign of God’s grace? It is our works being the price of God’s favour, and not their being the sign of it, that is the thing which is inconsistent with the freeness of that favour. Surely the beggar’s looking on the money he has in his hands, as a sign of the kindness of him who gave it to him, is in no respect inconsistent with the freeness of that kindness. It is his having money in his hand as the price of a benefit, that is the thing which is inconsistent with the free kindness of the giver. The notion of the freeness of the grace of God to sinners, as that is revealed and taught in the gospel, is not, that no holy and amiable qualifications or actions in us shall be a fruit, and so a sign, of that grace; but that it is not the worthiness or loveliness of any qualification or action of ours which recommends us to that grace. We should then get into the way of appearing lively in religion, more by being lively in the service of God and our generation, than by the forwardness of our tongues, and making a business of proclaiming on the house-tops the holy and eminent acts
and exercises of our own hearts. Then Christians who are intimate friends, would talk together of their experiences and comforts, in a manner better becoming Christian humility and modesty, and more to each other’s profit; their tongues not running before their hands and feet, after the prudent example of the blessed apostle, 2 Cor. 12. 6. Many occasions of spiritual pride would be cut off, and so a great door shut against the devil; and a great many of the main stumbling-blocks against experimental and powerful religion would be removed. Religion would be declared and manifested in such a way asÂ—instead of hardening spectators, and exceedingly promoting infidelity and atheismÂ—would above all things tend to convince men that there is a reality in religion, and greatly awaken them, and win them, by convincing their consciences of the importance and excellency of religion. Thus the light of professors would so shine before men, that others seeing their good works, would glorify their Father which is in heaven!