False Positive 9—That Affections Dispose Persons to Spend Much Time in Religion, and to be Zealously Engaged in the External Duties of Worship.

Tuesdays with Edwards!

A Treatise Concerning
Religious Affections is one of Edwards’ most widely read and influential works, and has come to be viewed as a classic in Christian literature; its popularity and influence attested to by the fact that since its original publication in 1746 it has never been out of print.

In the second part of his book, Edwards outlines twelve signs which neither prove nor disprove one’s affections to be truly gracious. For each of these signs, Edwards shows why a spiritually healthy Christian would and even should exhibit these signs; and then shows why it should not be looked at as a certain sign that it is a proof of saving grace…though sometimes he reverses the order and does the negative before the positive.

So far we have seen that Edwards believed it doesn’t prove one way or the other that religious affections are truly spiritual because:

  1. They are raised very high.
  2. They have great effects on the body.
  3. They cause one to talk a lot about God and religion.
  4. They inexplicably come about.
  5. They come with passages of Scripture being brought to mind.
  6. That there is an appearance of love in them.
  7. That there are many kinds of religious affections together.
  8. That they come in a specific or commonly experienced order.

In today’s post, Edwards gives his ninth false positive: “that they dispose persons to spend much time in religion, and to be zealously engaged in the external duties of worship.”

You can read Religious Affections in its entirety at www.edwards.yale.edu. This selection is from Religious Affections, ed. John E, Smith, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959) Pages 163-165.


9. ‘Tis no certain sign that the religious affections which persons have are such as have in them the nature of true religion, or that they have not, that they dispose persons to spend much time in religion, and to be zealously engaged in the external duties of worship.

This has, very unreasonably, of late been looked upon as an argument against the religious affections which some have had, that they spend so much time in reading, praying, singing, hearing sermons, and the like. ‘Tis plain from the Scripture that it is the tendency of true grace to cause persons very much to delight in such religious exercises. True grace had this effect on Anna the prophetess; Luke 2:37, “she departed not from the temple; but served God with fastings and prayers, night and day.” And grace had this effect upon the primitive Christians in Jerusalem; Acts 2:46–47, “And they continuing daily, with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness, and singleness of heart, praising God.” Grace made Daniel delight in the duty of prayer, and solemnly to attend it three times a day: as it also did David; Psalms 55:17, “Evening, morning and at noon will I pray.” Grace makes the saints delight in singing praises to God: Psalms 135:3, “Sing praises unto his name, for it is pleasant.” And Psalms 147:1, “Praise ye the Lord, for it is good to sing praises unto our God, for it is pleasant, and praise is comely.” It also causes them to delight to hear the Word of God preached: it makes the gospel a joyful sound to them (Psalms 89:15). And makes the feet of those who publish these good tidings, to be beautiful; Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings,” etc.!

It makes them love God’s public worship; Psalms 26:8, “Lord I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honor dwelleth.” And Psalms 27:4, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life; to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” Psalms 84:1–2, etc., “How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! my soul longeth, yea even fainteth, for the courts of the Lord. . . . Yea the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in thine house; they will be still praising thee. Blessed is the man in whose heart are the ways of them, who passing through the valley of Baca…go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.” V. 10, “A day in thy courts is better than a thousand.”

This is the nature of true grace. But yet, on the other hand, persons being disposed to abound and to be zealously engaged in the external exercises of religion, and to spend much time in them, is no sure evidence of grace; because such a disposition is found in many that have no grace. So it was with the Israelites of old, whose services were abominable to God; they attended the new moons, and sabbaths, and calling of assemblies, and spread forth their hands, and made many prayers (Isaiah 1:2–15). So it was with the Pharisees; they made long prayers, and fasted twice a week. False religion may cause persons to be loud and earnest in prayer: Isaiah 58:4, “Ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to cause your voice to be heard on high.” That religion which is not spiritual and saving, may cause men to delight in religious duties and ordinances: Isaiah 58:2, “Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my way; as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God. They ask of me the ordinances of justice, they take delight in approaching to God.” It may cause them to take delight in hearing the Word of God preached; as it was with Ezekiel’s hearers, Ezekiel 33:31–32. “And they come unto thee as my people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words; but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love; but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And lo, thou art unto them, as a very lovely song, of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not.” So it was with Herod; he heard John the Baptist gladly (Mark 6:20).

So it was with others of his hearers, for a season, they rejoiced in his light (John 5:35). So the stony-ground hearers heard the word with joy.

Experience shows that persons, from false religion, may be inclined to be exceeding abundant in the external exercises of religion; yea, to give themselves up to them, and devote almost their whole time to them. Formerly a sort of people were very numerous in the Romish church, called recluses; who forsook the world, and utterly abandoned the society of mankind, and shut themselves up close, in a narrow cell, with a vow never to stir out of it, nor to see the face of any of mankind any more (unless that they might be visited in the case of sickness); to spend all their days in the exercises of devotion and converse with God. There were also in old time, great multitudes called hermits and anchorites, that left the world to spend all their days in lonesome deserts, to give themselves up to religious contemplations and exercises of devotion; some sorts of them having no dwellings, but the caves and vaults of the mountains, and no food, but the spontaneous productions of the earth. I once lived, for many months, next door to a Jew (the houses adjoining one to another), and had much opportunity daily to observe him; who appeared to me the devoutest person that ever I saw in my life; great part of his time being spent in the acts of devotion, at his eastern window, which opened next to mine, seeming to be most earnestly engaged, not only in the daytime, but sometimes whole nights.

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