According to Jonathan Edwards… it is the sight of Jesus Christ beauty. I couldn’t agree more.
How excellent is that inner goodness and true religion that comes from this sight of the beauty of Christ! Here you have the most wonderful experiences of saints and angels in heaven. Here you have the best experience of Jesus Christ Himself. Even though we are mere creatures, it is a sort of participation in God’s own beauty. “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature.” (2 Pet 1:4) “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” (Heb 12:10) Because of the power of this divine working, there is a mutual indwelling of God and His people. “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)
This special relationship has to make the person involved as happy and as blessed as any creature in existence. This is a special gift of God, which he gives only to his special favorites. Gold, silver, diamonds, and earthly kingdoms are given by God to people who the Bible calls dogs and pigs. But this great gift of beholding Christ’s beauty, is the special blessing of God to His dearest children. Flesh and blood cannot give this gift: only God can bestow it. This was the special gift which Christ died to obtain for his elect. It is the highest token of his everlasting love, the best fruit of his labours, and the most precious purchase of his blood. By this gift, more than anything else, the saints shine as lights in the world. This gift, more than anything else, is their comfort. It is impossible that the soul who possesses this gift should ever perish. This is the gift of eternal life. It is eternal life begun: those who have it can never die. It is the dawning of the light of glory. It comes from heaven, it has a heavenly quality, and it will take its bearer to heaven. Those who have this gift may wander in the wilderness or be tossed by waves on the ocean, but they will arrive in heaven at last. There the heavenly spark will be made perfect and increased. In heaven the souls of the saints will be transformed into a bright and pure flame, and they will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Amen.
HT: Originally titled True Grace Distinguished from the Experience of Devils by Jonathan Edwards, 1752. This modern language version is Copyright 1994 by William Carson. Thanks!
A TRUE spiritual experience transforms the heart. Jonathan Edwards writes,
Those feelings and experiences which are good signs of God’s grace in the heart differ from the experience of demons in their source and in their results. Their source is the sense of the overwhelming holy beauty and loveliness of the things of God. When a person grasps in his mind, or better yet, when he feels his own heart held captive by the attractiveness of the Divine, this is an unmistakable sign of God’s working.
The demons and damned in hell do not now, and never will experience even the tiniest bit of this. Before their fall, the demons did have this sense of God. But in their fall, they lost it, the only thing they could lose of their knowledge of God. We have seen how the demons have very clear ideas about how powerful God is, his justice, holiness, and so on. They know a lot of facts about God. But now they haven’t a clue about what God is like. They cannot know what God is like any more than a blind man can know about colors! Demons can have a strong sense God’s awesome majesty, but they don’t see his loveliness. They have observed His work among the human race for these thousands of years, indeed with the closest attention; but they never see a glimmer of His beauty. No matter how much they know about God (and we have seen that they know very much indeed) the knowledge they have will never bring them to this higher, spiritual knowing what God is like. On the contrary, the more they know about God, the more they hate Him. The beauty of God consists primarily in this holiness, or moral excellence, and this is what they hate the most. It is because God is holy that the demons hate Him. One could suppose that if God were to be less holy, the demons would hate Him less. No doubt demons would hate any holy Being, no matter what He was like otherwise. But surely they hate this Being all the more, for being infinitely holy, infinitely wise, and infinitely powerful!
Wicked people, including those alive today, will on the day of judgment see all there is to see of Jesus Christ, except His beauty and loveliness. There is not one thing about Christ that we can think of, that will not be set before them in the strongest light on that brilliant day. The wicked will see Jesus “coming in clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:26) They will see his outward glory, which is far, far greater than we can possibly imagine now. You know the wicked will be thoroughly convinced of all who Christ is. They will be convinced about His omniscience, as they see all their sins replayed and evaluated. They will know first-hand Christ’s justice, as their sentences are announced. His authority will be made utterly convincing when every knee will bow, and every tongue confess Jesus as Lord. (Phil 2:10,11) The divine majesty will be impressed upon them in quite an effective way, as the wicked are poured into hell itself, and enter into their final state of suffering and death (Rev 20:14,15) When that happens, all their knowledge of God, as true and as powerful as it may be, will be worth nothing, and less than nothing, because they will not see Christ’s beauty.
Therefore, it is this seeing the loveliness of Christ that makes the difference between the saving grace of the Holy Spirit, and the experiences of demons. This sight or sense is what makes true Christian experience different from everything else. The faith of God’s elect people is based on this. When a person sees the excellence of the gospel, he senses the beauty and loveliness of the divine scheme of salvation. His mind is convinced that it is of God, and he believes it with all his heart. As the apostle Paul says in 2 Cor 4:34, “even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” That is to say, as was explained before, unbelievers can see that there is a gospel, and understand the facts about it, but they do not see its light. The light of the gospel is the glory of Christ, his holiness and beauty. Right after this we read, 2 Cor 4:6 “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Clearly, it is this divine light, shining into our hearts, that enables us to see the beauty of the gospel and have a saving belief in Christ. This supernatural light shows us the superlative beauty and loveliness of Jesus, and convinces us of His sufficiency as our Saviour. Only such a glorious, majestic Saviour can be our Mediator, standing between guilty, hell-deserving sinners such as ourselves, and an infinitely holy God. This supernatural light gives us a sense of Christ that convinces us in a way nothing else ever could.
Nick Batzig, Josh Walker and myself talked with Dr. Steve Lawson, senior pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama, about his book The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards. Dr. Lawson is the author of several books including Famine in the Land, Foundations of Grace, and The Expository Genius of John Calvin. Several of these works are published in Reformation Trust’s Long Line Profiles series. In The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards, Dr. Lawson gives consideration to the way in which Edwards’ zeal for the glory of God guided his intellectual attainments. The greatness of Edwards did not ultimately lie in his intellectual genius, rather it was the spiritual and eternal mindedness with which he pursued.
The Freedom of the Will set to RELEASE Feb. 11th. RHB’s line of SDG titles are being one by one reprinted for those who loved great work. This one however is going to be released in the next month! Also if you would like a PDF of their newest catalog, here ya go… Feb. 2009 Tolle Lege.
Many scholars believe this work, published in 1754, is the most important argument against Arminianism published in America. Freedom of the Will is divided into four parts. The first deals with terminology; the nature and determi- nation of the will; the meaning of necessity, impossibility, and contingency; the distinction between natural and moral necessity; and the nature of moral agency and liberty. The second considers the possibility of self-determination. The third analyzes divine agency regarding human beings and the world. In the conclusion, Edwards anticipates the recep- tion the work will receive.
Noteworthy is Edwards’s essential agreement with the empiricist John Locke that the question of whether or not the will was “free” was badly posed; the real issue, he said, is whether the person is free. The majority of the work, however, deals with the will’s freedom (in contrast to the freedom of the whole person) as it seeks to refute the Arminian notion of the will. For Edwards, the errors of the Arminians essentially resulted from denying God’s absolute sovereignty; in contrast to Calvinist orthodoxy, Arminians insisted that secondary causes could operate in the individual apart from the influence of the divine will. This notion of the will’s freedom had Pelagian roots, which Edwards rightly exposed. Furthermore, the refusal of the Arminians to acknowledge the individual’s total corrup- tion promoted further error. The will cannot be free as the Arminians would have it, Edwards argued, for true free- dom can only belong to God, who is self-sustaining and therefore free from other influences.
My plan in reviewing The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards is to break this review down into the same sections that he did in his book. There are three main areas in which he explains what the correct affections are that one must look for in the life of a believer. His first section shows what affections should be in the Christian life, and the importance of them. From there, Edwards goes deeper into explaining what signs seem to be genuine signs, but may not be genuine at all. Lastly, Edwards then gives the signs that he believes make the distinction of the true believer from the world.
The Religious Affections was quite hard to read due to Edwards’ overuse of commas, colons, and semicolons. His sentences never seemed to stop thinking. What I mean by this is that Edwards’ thoughts tend to be so deep and so long that he would barely give the reader time to rest his brain while reading the book. As the reader, you must constantly be entirely into this book or you’ll be lost in a matter of seconds. I have not thought so much while reading in a long, long time; but I have also not read a book more soul convicting, mind captivating, and heart grasping than this one by Jonathan Edwards.
What I found quite intriguing was the number of books I came across that commentated on this book, and how many authors have already given their own interpretation of this particular book due to its heaviness of material and ideas that Edwards goes over. But this does not mean that we shouldn’t plow along and walk through the deep trenches of his writings. As Sam Stone says in his interpretation of The Religious Affections,
“The theology of Jonathan Edwards and his insight into the nature of religious experience are simply too important, too relevant, and too enriching to sacrifice on the altar of some lofty ideal that is beneath his (and our) dignity to make his work accessible to a more general audience.”
Therefore, my plan to is go over each of the major sections, and while doing that, to cover one key idea, sign, theological importance, or whatever it may be in that section that I personally found most important.
I. Concerning the Nature of the Affections, and Their Importance in Religion
Jonathan Edwards does not beat around the bush when it comes to explaining what he believes or what he knows to be true. In this first section he gives ten evidences that you should be able to find in a true believer regarding their affections. Edwards deems that the outside of the believer should clearly show whether or not he is a Spirit-filled believer. From the first evidence he gives, Edwards states, “for who will deny that true religion consists in a great measure in vigorous and lively actings of the incarnation and will of the soul, or the fervent exercises of the heart?” Edwards reveals why God gave human nature affections, how men’s souls are taken captive by the Word of God, how the Holy Scriptures cause affections, how the Scriptures take us to the chief end of all affections, and even how saints in Scriptures have experienced such holy affections.
Characteristically, Edwards first makes the point he is trying to get across and then secondly gives his reasoning of it, always using the Scriptures. In this book, this process specifically shows the nature of the affections and their importance to religion. For example: In this section Edwards gives his evidence that true religion is found in the affection of the heart. He then goes deeper than simply stating what he believes, and moves to explain his reasoning behind what he believes to be true. Edwards gives example after example of his belief to back the point he is trying to get across. He shows from Scripture the affection of the heart and how it can bring displeasure to Christ in the hardening of the heart. He also gives both the negative and the positive aspects of the point he is covering, giving Scriptural reference of how the heart should not be (negative), and explaining the proper affections that the heart should practice (positive).
Although this section is short in length, its depth is measureless. Edwards expounds that true religion is shown and revealed in the reflections and actions of the life of one who says he is a believer, and also explains the twofold function of the heart – one which understands, and the other which determines your views or will.
II. Showing What Are No Certain Signs That Religious Affections Are Truly Gracious, or That They Are Not
In the second part of The Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards lays out a number of areas in a believer’s life that are often said to be true signs of religion, but really are not. No matter the greatness or the effects of the affection, these alone do not determine true signs of religion. Edwards not only deals with these, but also with other signs such as excessive excitement, intense affections, the appearance of love, knowing texts of Scripture, joys following a certain order, and zeal of following the Christian duty. One area of interest that stood out to me in particular was how Edwards did not use the Scriptures as the only way that affections may occur. Rather, he makes it clear that the affections that the believer may have on occasion come about from the fruit of the right use of Scripture, and not merely Scripture alone.
In this section Edwards also gives Scriptural basis from his personal observation of others. He clearly and straightforwardly gives not only Scriptural reference, but also everyday experiences pertaining to each affection. This second part of The Religious Affections is presented as the experiential section, which Edwards uses in showing the Christian faith. It details the significance and importance of how the believer ought to be – and can be – sure of his affections in what he believes in order for others to understand also. Jonathan Edwards’ reason for dealing with this is very helpful when he gives personal examples, and it is that which makes it experiential. Edwards shows best that a spiritual truth is not the affection itself, but is what may cause the religious affection in the heart. For example, he says, “That which many call the witness of the spirit… This kind of knowledge, knowing that a certain person is converted and delivered from hell and entitled to heaven, is no divine sort of knowledge in itself.”
One of the astounding facts that Jonathan Edwards writes about here is how the physical manifestations do not clearly reveal the work of the Holy Spirit. I found this quite intriguing because this issue was not only evident in the 18th century, but is also the same problem in modernity and post modernity. Just because someone acts as though they speak in tongues, or writes spiritually profound material, or attends church, does not mean that they are a believer of the work of the Holy Spirit. This problem existed in Edwards’ day, and appears as though it has forever been this way – and will continue to be this way – with those who let their affections override the authority of Scripture. Although a person may say that their full intention is not harmful to the spirit, their work can be ever deceitful to the body of Christ and harmful to those who follow an experience-based faith.
Structurally, part two is not nearly as difficult to read as part one, but seems to be longer in sentence structure. However, thanks to the powerful and compelling content, this is not a deterrent to reading it.
III. Showing What Are Distinguishing Signs of Truly Gracious and Holy Affections
Part three of Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections clearly shows the uniqueness of his theology. Here Edwards reveals how true affections that are spiritual differ from those that are not. Edwards shows his concern about allowing gracious affections to be the source of what enables a person to discern the way that they live. He then goes on to show how affections arise from the influences and operations that happen spiritually in the heart. In other words, the man who is a spiritual born again believer is not like the natural man, in the sense that only the affections of a spiritual man represent the things of the Spirit of God. This is what Jonathan Edwards spends his time breaking down in nearly 250 pages: how the spiritual man is to discern his affections so that they outwardly reveal the Spirit of God. Edwards then makes the claim that being a spiritual person does not mean that the believer will merely want or try to have affections that resemble the Triune God, but they will fully signify an all-embracing relationship with the Triune God, which will be reflected in their affections.
Near the end of Edwards’ book he focuses on the affections that a believer should live out like Christ. Affections such as love, meekness, quietness, forgiveness, and mercy are to be shown clearly in the life of the believer so that the affections resemble the One who laid down His life: Christ. Edwards says it best like this,
“The evidence of this in Scripture is very abundant, if we judge the nature of Christianity and the proper spirit of the Gospel by the Word of God, this spirit is what may, by the way of eminency, be called the Christian spirit: and may be looked upon as the true and distinguishing position of the hearts of Christians as Christians.”
What Edwards was trying to get across was that, for example, the Sermon on the Mount was Christ preaching to live affections like that of Himself. Matthew 5:5, 7, 9 says, “Blessed are the meek, blessed are the merciful and blessed are the peace makers”… these are the characteristics of one who bears witness of the Spirit; the one who reveals Who is manifested in him.
The whole section can ultimately be narrowed down into a few sentences, showing how the Lord’s operation upon the mind of the natural man works in making him spiritual, so that he is able to discern the characteristics that lie in the person, the will, and the work of Christ. These affections will then glorify God to His utmost, which is a perfect example of what Paul states in Galatians 5:16: “walk in the spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.”