False Positive 11—That Affections Make a Person Confident that Their Experience is Divine and that They are in Good Estate.

Tuesdays with Edwards!

For those who might be just joining us….

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.
  9. That they dispose people to spend much time in religious activity.
  10. That they lead people to praise and glorify God.

In today’s post, we will start to look at Edwards’ eleventh false positive: “that they make persons that have them, exceeding confident that what they experience is divine, and that they are in a good estate.” You can imagine that this needs some explaining, so he spends significantly more time on this. Today we will look at his first point which is on the positive side of this—that there is good reason in the Bible for believing that a Christian can be confident in his or her salvation.

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 167-169.


11. ‘Tis no sign that affections are right, or that they are wrong, that they make persons that have them, exceeding confident that what they experience is divine, and that they are in a good estate.

It is an argument with some, against persons, that they are deluded if they pretend to be assured of their good estate, and to be carried beyond all doubting of the favor of God; supposing that there is no such thing to be expected in the church of God, as a full and absolute assurance of hope; unless it be in some very extraordinary circumstances; as in the case of martyrdom: contrary to the doctrine of Protestants, which has been maintained by their most celebrated writers against the Papists; and contrary to the plainest Scripture evidence. It is manifest that it was a common thing for the saints that we have a history, or particular account of in Scripture, to be assured. God in the plainest and most positive manner, revealed and testified his special favor to Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Daniel, and others. Job often speaks of his sincerity and uprightness with the greatest imaginable confidence and assurance, often calling God to witness to it; and says plainly, “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that I shall see him for myself, and not another” (Job 19:25, etc.). David, throughout the Book of Psalms, almost everywhere speaks without any hesitancy, and in the most positive manner of God as his God; glorying in him as his portion and heritage, his rock and confidence, his shield, salvation, and high tower, and the like. Hezekiah appeals to God, as one that knew that he had walked before him in truth and with a perfect heart (II Kings 20:3). Jesus Christ, in his dying discourse with his eleven disciples, in the 14th, 15th, and 16th chapters of John (which was as it were Christ’s last will and testament to his disciples, and to his whole church), often declares his special and everlasting love to them, in the plainest and most positive terms; and promises them a future participation with him in his glory, in the most absolute manner; and tells them at the same time, that he does so, to the end, that their joy might be full; John 15:11, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” See also at the conclusion of his whole discourse, ch. 16:33, “These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Christ was not afraid of speaking too plainly and positively to them: he did not desire to hold them in the least suspense. And he concluded that last discourse of his, with a prayer in their presence, wherein he speaks positively to his Father of those eleven disciples, as having all of them savingly known him, and believed in him, and received and kept his word; and that they were not of the world; and that for their sakes he sanctified himself; and that his will was that they should be with him in his glory: and tells his Father, that he spake these things in his prayer, to the end, that his joy might be fulfilled in them (v. 13). By these things it is evident, that ’tis agreeable to Christ’s designs, and the contrived ordering and disposition Christ makes of things in his church, that there should be sufficient and abundant provision made, that his saints might have full assurance of their future glory.

The apostle Paul, through all his Epistles, speaks in an assured strain; ever speaking positively of his special relation to Christ, his Lord and Master and Redeemer, and his interest in, and expectation of the future reward. It would be endless to take notice of all places that might be enumerated; I shall mention but three or four. Galatians 2:20, “Christ liveth in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God; who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” II Timothy 1:12, “I know whom I have believed; and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him, against that day.” II Timothy 1:8, “I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me at that day.”

And the nature of the covenant of grace, and God’s declared ends in the appointment and constitution of things in that covenant, do plainly show it to be God’s design to make ample provision for the saints having an assured hope of eternal life, while living here upon earth. For so are all things ordered and contrived in that covenant, that everything might be made sure on God’s part. The covenant is “ordered in all things, and sure” [II Samuel 23:5]: the promises are most full, and very often repeated, and various ways exhibited; and there are many witnesses, and many seals; and God has confirmed his promises with an oath. And God’s declared design in all this is, that the heirs of the promises might have an undoubting hope, and full joy, in an assurance of their future glory. Hebrews 6:17–18, “Wherein God willing, more abundantly to show to the heirs of promise, the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath; that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge, to lay hold on the hope set before us.” But all this would be in vain, to any such purpose, as the saints’ strong consolation, and hope of their obtaining future glory, if their interest in those sure promises in ordinary cases, was not attainable. For God’s promises and oaths, let them be as sure as they will, can’t give strong hope and comfort to any particular person, any further than he can know that those promises are made to him. And in vain is provision made in Jesus Christ, that believers might be perfect as pertaining to the conscience, as is signified, Hebrews 9:9, if assurance of freedom from the guilt of sin is not attainable.

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