Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Issue of Assurance - Religious Affections

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is the greatest theologian America has produced, and many say he was also America's greatest homegrown philosopher. In his famous work, Religious Affections (1746), Edwards sought to answer the question, “What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favour with God, and entitled to His eternal rewards?” (Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections, reprinted, Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2004, 15.) Or in other words, what are the distinguishing characteristics of those that are truly saved and headed to heaven? There is perhaps no more important question for the church, or for individual Christians.

Edwards was uniquely qualified to construct an answer to this question. Religious Affections demonstrates his extensive study and reflection upon the Scriptures, as well as his keen reasoning abilities. However, this was not merely an academic exercise for Edwards. He was a pastor entrusted with a large New England congregation. His views were refined and sharpened in a local church laboratory of the First Great Awakening, as well as the polemics that accompanied the great revival. These factors enabled him to write a constructive theology of the nature of true Christianity that is still important and applicable today. People are still asking, “How can I know if my Christianity is real? How do I gain assurance of salvation? What should the real thing look like?” Over the next few days I plan to describe and analyze the way Edwards discerned true from false religion in his book Religious Affections, and to apply some of his insights specifically to the issue of assurance of salvation in the contemporary church. These posts will be an adaptation of a paper I wrote a couple of years ago.

The Centrality of the Affections in True Religion
Edwards believed that a primary way to determine if a person is a Christian is to examine his or her affections. He wrote, “True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections” (23). At this point we should define a couple of words that Edwards uses a lot, religion, and affections. When he says religion he is not speaking of dry formalism. True religion means true Christian experience with God. Edwards defines the affections as “the faculty by which the soul does not behold things as an indifferent unaffected spectator, but either as liking or disliking, pleased or displeased, approving or rejecting” (24). Affections are not the same as our modern evangelical notion of warm fuzzies and emotions that sometimes accompany worship experiences (I will explain this more fully in a couple of days). While affections are connected to the understanding of the mind, they are much more than just perception or head knowledge. They concern what a person loves and hates; what he is inclined to and repulsed from. They are the mind’s judgment of an object’s value or worth. It is in this inclination of heart that the work of God’s saving grace are most apparent.

In Part One of Religious Affections Edwards demonstrates that the Bible does not present Christianity as merely a disinterested belief and obedience, but instead as a life filled with holy affections. He writes, “There must be light in the understanding as well as an affected fervent heart” (49). True Christianity is not just head knowledge. Doctrinal orthodoxy is easily affirmed by the unregenerate (unsaved), but holy affections are impossible for them. He backs up his claim with a multitude of Scripture passages and arguments. These arguments include the fact that the Bible regularly emphasizes the presence of affections such as fear, love, joy, hate, and desire in the heart of a believer (31). He also points to fact that the Bible presents love, “the chief of affections,” as the summary of true religion, and hardness of heart as the essence of sin (35, 45). The absence of love toward God and man is a clear indication that the Holy Spirit is also absent. Edwards asserts, “He who has no religious affection is in a state of spiritual death, and is wholly destitute of the powerful, quickening, saving influences of the Spirit of God upon his heart” (49).

Where to From Here?
If you choose to read these posts there may be times of struggle and discouragement. Who knows, you may already be there. Edwards sets a pretty high bar. But let me encourage you at the outset in two ways. First, it is Biblical to examine our hearts to see if we are in the faith. 2 Peter 1:10 says, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure.” Second thing, be sure to see words like no in the above quote. Edwards said, and I think he is right, “Where there is no religious affection” there is spiritual death. The Biblical standard is not perfect love and affection for God, but the presence of love and affection for God. Sometimes that affection for God is characterized by a mourning and dissatisfaction with the cold state of our hearts.

Lord willing, Thursday I will look at Edwards’ explanation of the nature of holy and true affections. Then on Friday, I will look at where those affections come from or how they are born in our heart. Please comment freely. Ask questions. Edwards is certainly not infallible, so point it out if you think he is off. I am even more certainly fallible, so if you disagree with my reading of Edwards, or if I am not explaining things clearly, let me know. This is kind of an experiment. We've normally only done short, self-contained posts (by the way, the next couple posts will be much shorter). So I will only continue this series if there is some interest and people still come to the blog.


merea said...

Inspired by my father's lengthy posts? )

Mark and Stephanie said...

Exactly! :)

I figure I'll give it a shot and see what happens.

Steve Burlew said...

Mark - This is great. I will be interested in reading your thoughts as you share from this book. Obviously, "Religious Affections," by Edwards is one that we, here at Banner, have been shipping for some time. We are always very encouraged whenever we get to "meet" guys like yourself who are being spiritually impacted by the Lord through some of what we've shipped. May God bless you, brother, and those who stick with you in this upcoming series. And even though I don't know Merea's father, or his ability to post (!), my encouragement is, "Go for it!" regardless of length. You're sharing some good stuff here!
A Brother,
Steve B.

RobinDayle said...

I still come to this blog...admittedly because I like to check and see if there's any new pictures of my niece, but reading your insightful, lengthy posts are always a treat as well. :-)

Mark and Stephanie said...

Thanks for the encouraging words. Do you guys still print Religious Affections? The copy I have read and marked up is from Banner of Truth, but I don't see it in print anymore. I went to link it last night and couldn't find it.

I am also reading Murray's bio of John Murray right now. I'll probably post on that in a couple of weeks. Good stuff.

Don't worry. I know that HOpe is what keeps people coming back, and we will be sure to keep the pics coming. Although next week you won't need any:)

Jenni said...

I was encouraged by your post, especially the emphasis on "no" in Edwards quote. Thank you for the encouragement and for causing me to continually challenge my thinking.
-Jenni Price

Keith said...

Well since you are only going to continue the series if there is interest from people, then let me leave a response here to show my interest.

Here are just some random comments/questions:
1. While I think there is a verse or two about examining our hearts to see if we are in the faith, do you think that 2 Peter 1:10 is saying that? I don't know either way since I haven't dug through it but I just have several initial reactions. First, when it says "make certain about his calling" is that an objective or subjective thing? Second, in accordance with the general thrust of Schreiner's work on assurance, is this calling us to examine our hearts to see if we are in the faith or is it calling us to press forward in pursuit of such qualities of verses 6-7? I suspect it is more along the lines of what Schreiner is saying. The command is actually in verse 5 of "applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence..." Now verse 8 does say that "if these qualities are yours..." but that seems like it is the rationale for the command he gave in 5-7. Now "maybe" a command to examine the heart to see if you are in the faith is implicit, but even if this is the case it seems very secondary to me. The prime command is to pursue the increase of those qualities. It orients the believe forward, but it does so with a rationale about what a true believer is like.
2. That is an important statement that "The Biblical standard is not perfect love and affection for God, but the presence of love and affection for God." The way I like to phrase that is to say that love is not fully present but it is genuinely present in the life of believers. Various NT scholars (e.g. Seifrid, Laato, I think P. T. O'Brien) have seen a qualitative and quantitative distinction in works in Paul as important. This 2 Peter quote, other NT passages, does focus on quantity or at least increasing but I think the distinction does helps some.
3. You will probably address this in the future posts you mentioned, but if not, can you specify more of what religious affections are? They are not "warm fuzzies and emotions that sometimes accompany worship experiences". They are "connected to the understanding of the mind" but are "more than perception or heard knowledge." They concern "what he is inclined to."

Then you have the two clearest comments of what they are:
a. "They are the mind's judgment of an object's value or worth."
b. "It is in this inclination of the heart..."

How does the mind's judgment exceed head knowledge? Would this be a full definition or should it be something more like "They partially consist of the mind's judgment..." Then the second definition seems to define the affections as an inclination. Perhaps foundational to my understanding how these cohere together will be to understand Edwards' psychology. Those two ideas you noted above may weave together better if I understand how he connects the heart and mind and where inclination falls.

Keith said...

Oh and also at one point you said that Edwards defines affections as "the faculty..." Does he mean for it to be a faculty or the product of a faculty?

I am really looking forward into understanding Edwards' view of things.

Mark and Stephanie said...

Thanks for reading, and for your encouragement. Hope to see you Sunday.

It is late, so I will have to be brief, even though I don’t want to be. I think the passage in 2 Peter 1 is calling us to pursue the qualities listed, and make our call and election sure by the presence of the qualities listed being manifested in our lives. And yes, this is not a call merely to examine, but to pursue those characteristics. Now, as I go one I will show how Edwards argues that the affections of the heart are best demonstrated by the qualities of holiness like those listed by Peter. Here is a teaser: “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 the signs of grace” (327). Now, I think the beauty of Edwards work is how he demonstrates that Christian practice and the affections of the heart are inseparable. This connects with his view of the will and its relation to the affections. I’ll probably get to this in the 5th post or so. Thanks for asking about this.

I like your distinction between love being fully present and genuinely present. About the what religious affections are, I will explain that more in the 3rd and 4th posts. I think your questions about Edwards’ psychology will be better answered in a couple of days. I plan to explain a bit about how the heart and mind connects and where inclination falls on Friday’s post. But basically the heart and mind are very closely related. In short I might sum it up as the heart is an aspect of the mind, the faculty of the mind that perceives value and worth.
About your question concerning faculties. I think Edwards would see the affections as a product of the faculty of the heart, not as a faculty in themselves. Affections flow from the faculty of the heart, or spiritual taste. Thanks for helping me clarify that.
(Well, it turns out I didn't write short after all)

Steve Burlew said...

Mark - Absolutely, we sure do. Here's the URL that should take you to our Banner of Truth Web page that specifically offers Jonathan Edwards' "Religious Affections." Our course, we sell the 2-volume complete works of Edwards, too (I just thought I'd throw that in!).
If you, or anyone really, ever have any questions, write me at any time. My email address is: steve@banneroftruth.org. Either I or my staff will take care of whatever we can for you. Anyway, here's that URL:

Steve Burlew said...

Actually, Mark, I just checked - We have a quantity of "Religious Affections" on our slightly damaged shelves here at Banner - that means 50% off, or $9.50 instead of $19.00. It will be on that partial list that I'll be putting up on the blog tomorrow (Friday).

Keith said...

Thanks for the response! I have some further questions but I will just wait until you have written some more posts so I don't take up all your time. It seems like you grasp the material really well. I look forward to reading your future posts.

walter price said...

Behold, yon pot calleth yon kettle black!

Merea's Dad

Mark said...

Pastor Walter,
ha. yes. I guess so. Although this pot was not attempting to criticize the kettle.

It appears the intent of my recommendation of your blog has been interpreted a bit differently than I intended. I was not trying to criticize the length of your posts. I was trying to encourage people to read them even though many blog readers are used to only reading short stuff.

But, alas, I'm sure the ribbing will go on:) See you Sunday.

walter price said...

Hey, no criticism was ever suspected. I was honored by your recommendation but I can't resist a little trash talk........in love. 8-)

See ya Sunday. We're looking forward to your preaching here.

walter price said...

Now for some true response. I think in simple terms. What you and Edwards say so eloquently sounds fairly pedestrian coming from me. The presence of Christ in a life changes one's "want to"— a new mindset as Romans 8 makes so clear. You delineate what Edwards means wonderfully.

Mark said...

Pastor Walter,
Yes, the trash talk is enjoyable. . . . and irresistable.

You say "pedestrian." I prefer to call your way of explaining it as clear and simple, and much more easy to understand than the way Edwards explained it. That is one of great things about Piper too. He has taken all this stuff and translated it into a language out time can understand better.

Jonny Raine said...

Just wanted to say, thanks very, very much! You've got me out of a tight spot in Bible College since I was supposed to read the book and present on it and I just didn't have the time to do so! Cheeky and naughty I know, but hey, I've learnt plenty just from your post. One day I may get round to reading the whole book!

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