This post has been a long time coming. When I got back from California my church was doing VBS in the evenings, and I needed to write a sermon for Sunday, and Stephanie's parents and sister were in town, and Hope's birthday was this past weekend. So, anyway, Edwards and Religious Affections hasn't been on the top of the priority list. But here is the next and possibly last installment of my summary and interaction with Edwards's great book. Any comments you have are welcome and encouraged. Here goes . . . .
The change wrought by the Holy Spirit does not end when a person embraces the gospel. In fact it has just begun. The Spirit’s work is not a one time thing. The sense of the heart not only enables a person to see and believe the gospel, but it is also “maintained by the Spirit of God, in the hearts of the saints, whereby they are in like manner led and guided in discerning and distinguishing the true spiritual and holy beauty of actions” (209). The birth of holy affections causes a person to see and delight in the beauty of God’s holiness, and also causes him to see and pursue the beauty of practical holiness. If someone truly delights in the holy beauty of God he will also delight in holy beauty of a given action. The point is that the birth of holy affections necessarily leads to holy behavior. In fact, Edwards believes this point so strongly he writes, “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).
At first appearance it seems odd that in a work entitled Religious Affections, in which Edwards meticulously argues for the significance of right affections in discerning true religion, that he would conclude by submitting actions as the greatest test of grace in the soul. However, this apparent contradiction is obliterated by a proper understanding of the relationship between the affections and the will. Edwards explains, “The affections are no other than the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul” (24). And later he writes, “The Author of the human nature has not only given affections to men, but has made them very much the spring of men’s actions” (29). A man’s affections determine his will, and thus his actions. So examining the actions of a man is a valid way to discern his affections.
When faced with a choice, a person will always choose what he desires the most, or finds most valuable (see his still foundational work, Freedom of the Will). So it is in the day to day choices of men where the affections of the heart become most visible. Over time the Christian will demonstrate he has holy affections by an increasingly holy practice. For example, “If we see a man who in the course of his life seems to follow and imitate Christ, and greatly to exert and deny himself for the honour of Christ, and to promote His kingdom and interest in the world; reason teaches that this is an evidence of love to Christ” (330). On the other hand, if a man demonstrates by his lifestyle a disregard for Christ’s example and a selfish and prideful attitude, it is foolish to believe he is possessor of gracious affections. The true object of a person’s affections becomes most clear when he is forced to choose between Christ and sin. If one repeatedly chooses sin, he has no ground for assurance. But through consistently holy practice a Christian demonstrates the fruit of holy affections, and has reliable grounds for assurance.
There is a lot more I can say about this, and wish I could. Basically love for God includes necessarily love for His holy moral character, and if we truly love His moral character, we will desire to imitate His holiness and obey His gracious commands. I hope you will be encouraged to read the book.