Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Religious Affections, Part I and II

Back in July, I said I would be reading through Religious Affections, by Jonathan Edwards. I don't know of any readers who planned to follow along with me, so I decided to take my sweet time on this project, reading just a little at a time as devotional reading.

So far, I've finished Parts I & II of Edwards' work and have really enjoyed it. Edwards stretches the mind and the soul, opening up new dimensions of understanding about God and human nature.

The main question he explores in the book is this:
What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favor with God, and entitled to his eternal rewards? Or, which comes to the same thing, What is the nature of true religion? And wherein do lie the distinguishing notes of that virtue and holiness that is acceptable in the sight of God?
In other words, how can we know we are pleasing God? There are certain impulses that should characterize believers and help measure our growth in godliness. But before giving an answer, Edwards explains twelve "unreliable" signs of genuine religious affections in Part II:
  1. It is no sign one way or the other, that religious affections are very great, or raised very high.
  2. ...that they have great effects on the body.
  3. ...that they cause those who have them to be fluent, fervent, and abundant, in talking of the things of religion.
  4. ...that persons did not make them themselves, or excite them of their own contrivance and by their own strength.
  5. ...that they come with texts of Scripture, remarkably brought to the mind.
  6. ...that there is an appearance of love in them.
  7. ...[that people experience] many kinds, accompanying one ...
  8. ...that comforts and joys seem to follow awakenings and convictions of conscience, in a certain order.
  9. ...that they dispose persons to spend much time in religion, and to be zealously engaged in the external duties of worship.
  10. ...that they much dispose persons with their mouths to praise and glorify God.
  11. ...that they make persons that have them exceeding confident that what they experience is divine, and that they are in a good estate.
  12. ...that the outward manifestations of them, and the relation persons give of them, are very affecting and pleasing to the truly godly, and such as greatly gain their charity, and win their hearts.
This is as far as I've gotten in the book, but I've already been challenged against using common "signs" to judge our faith and measure that we are growing in grace. There are many good things on this list, but any of these twelve can be counterfeited by the Enemy and are not sufficient evidence of a genuine walk with God.

I'm looking forward to reading Part III of his book, where Edwards finally addresses what are the distinguishing marks of true religion.

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