Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Need for Discernment - Religious Affections 2

Yesterday I said I would post today concerning the nature of holy affections. Well, I'm going to have to bump that back a day. I needed to say a little something about how not all religious affections are necessarily signs of true salvation. If I would have talked about both in the same day it would have been too long. So read this short post today, and I will come back tomorrow with a foundational post on the nature of holy affections.

Once affections are accepted as an essential part of true religion, it does not suddenly become simple to discern the presence of true religion in a heart. During the Great Awakening there were many who recognized all manifestations of fervent religious affections as signs of grace. These advocates of emotional expression were labeled “enthusiasts” by some of their opponents. Edwards cautions against their undiscerning acceptance. He points out that all religious affections are not created equal. “There are false affections, and there are true. A man’s having much affection, does not prove that he has any true religion” (50).

In Part Two of Religious Affections, Edwards describes twelve displays of affections that are often falsely looked upon as sure signs of true religion. These twelve neutral signs display Edwards’ excellent pastoral discernment. The first point in the section is that “it is no sign one way or the other that religious affections are very great, or raised very high” (54). The second unreliable sign is the effect of emotion upon the body. It is clear that Edwards is not advocating a shallow emotionalism or enthusiasm. The nature of affections, rather than the intensity of them, is of primary importance. Other neutral signs include great zeal in religious duties, much religious talk, powerful testimonies of conversion, the appearance of love, or a high degree of confidence. All of these affections are inconclusive in determining the presence of grace in the soul. They neither prove a person is a Christian, nor do they demonstrate he is not. These neutral signs may flow from the heart of a true Christian, or they may be incited by other sources, such as the general or preparatory work of the Holy Spirit, or from Satan.

3 comments:

Keith said...

How much do you think the way Edwards frames the question and issue relates to a Cartesian spirit?

One gut reaction from me would be to say that this sure sounds like a theological assurance form of the issue of the Cartesian demon.

How would you evaluate the above comment in terms of similarity and difference conceptually? And then how would you evaluate that in terms of historical influences on Edwards?

Mark said...

Keith,
I am not trying to ignore this question. I just haven't had time to get to it today. I'm getting ready to go to CA.

When I do answer it I think I'm going to argue Edwards' argument was shaped much more by biblical, pastoral, and polemical concerns than by a philosophical framework, or search for a Cartesian kind of certainty.

Keith said...

Thanks for letting me know. I figured you were just busy.

I don't doubt that he is addressing the question because of pastoral and polemical concerns. Of this I am certain. I am also certain that he is trying to answer the question from Scripture. However, I just get a certain sense of doubt everything until you find that one thing that can't be doubted. A search for one characteristic that is beyond all doubt. Maybe one might call it a methodological skepticism. But that is just a gut reaction I have. I am just wondering there is something in the cultural/philosophical air that is maybe shaping the task he has set out to do.

Anyhow, I leave that for the experts!