False Positive 11—That Affections Make a Person Confident that Their Experience is Divine and that They are in Good Estate. Part 6.


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 finish Edwards’ discussion of his 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 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 178-181.

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Persons may be greatly to blame for doubting of their state, on such grounds as these last mentioned; and they may be to blame, that they have no more grace, and no more of the present exercises and experiences of it, to be an evidence to ’em of the goodness of their state: men are doubtless to blame for being in a dead carnal frame; but when they are in such a frame, and have no sensible experience of the exercises of grace, but on the contrary, are very much under the prevalence of their lusts, and an unchristian spirit, they are not to blame for doubting of their state. ‘Tis as impossible, in the nature of things, that a holy and Christian hope, should be kept alive, in its clearness and strength, in such circumstances, as it is to keep the light in the room, when the candle is put out; or to maintain the bright sunshine in the air, when the sun is gone down. Distant experiences, when darkened by present prevailing lust and corruption, will never keep alive a gracious confidence and assurance; but that sickens and decays upon it, as necessarily as a little child by repeated blows on the head with the hammer. Nor is it at all to be lamented that persons doubt of their state in such circumstances; but on the contrary, ’tis desirable and every way best that they should. ‘Tis agreeable to that wise and merciful constitution of things, which God hath established, that it should be so. For so hath God contrived and constituted things, in his dispensations towards his own people, that when their love decays, and the exercises of it fail, or become weak, fear should arise; for then they need it to restrain them from sin, and to excite ’em to care for the good of their souls, and so to stir them up to watchfulness and diligence in religion: but God hath so ordered that when love rises, and is in vigorous exercise, then fear should vanish, and be driven away; for then they need it not, having a higher and more excellent principle in exercise, to restrain ’em from sin, and stir ’em up to their duty. There are no other principles, which human nature is under the influence of, that will ever make men conscientious, but one of these two, fear or love: and therefore, if one of these should not prevail, as the other decayed, God’s people when fallen into dead and carnal frames, when love is asleep, would be lamentably exposed indeed. And therefore God has wisely ordained, that these two opposite principles of love and fear, should rise and fall, like the two opposite scales of a balance; when one rises, the other sinks. As light and darkness, necessarily and unavoidably succeed each other; if light prevails, so much does darkness cease, and no more; and if light decays, so much does darkness prevail; so it is in the heart of a child of God: if divine love decays and falls asleep, and lust prevails, the light and joy of hope goes out, and dark fear and doubting arises; and if on the contrary, divine love prevails, and comes into lively exercise, this brings in the brightness of hope, and drives away black lust, and fear with it. Love is the spirit of adoption, or the childlike principle; if that slumbers, men fall under fear, which is the spirit of bondage, or the servile principle: and so on the contrary. And if it be so, that love, or the spirit of adoption, be carried to a great height, it quite drives away all fear, and gives full assurance; agreeable to that of the Apostle, I John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” These two opposite principles of lust and holy love, bring hope and fear into the hearts of God’s children, in proportion as they prevail; that is, when left to their own natural influence, without something adventitious, or accidental intervening; as the distemper of melancholy, doctrinal ignorance, prejudices of education, wrong instruction, false principles, peculiar temptations, etc.

Fear is cast out by the Spirit of God, no other way than by the prevailing of love: nor is it ever maintained by his Spirit, when love is asleep. At such a time, in vain is all the saint’s self-examinations, and poring on past experience, in order to establish his peace, and get assurance. For it is contrary to the nature of things, as God hath constituted them, that he should have assurance at such a time.

They therefore, do directly thwart God’s wise and gracious constitution of things, who exhort others to be confident in their hope, when in dead frames; under a notion of living by faith, and not by sight, and trusting God in the dark, and living upon Christ, and not upon experiences; and warn them not to doubt of their good estate, lest they should be guilty of the dreadful sin of unbelief. And it has a direct tendency to establish the most presumptuous hypocrites, and to prevent their ever calling their state in question, how much soever wickedness rages, and reigns in their hearts, and prevails in their lives; under a notion of honoring God, by hoping against hope, and confidently trusting in God, when things look very dark. And doubtless vast has been the mischief, that has been done this way.

Persons can’t be said to forsake Christ, and live on their experiences of the exercises of grace, merely because they take them and use them as evidences of grace; for there are no other evidences that they can or ought to take. But then may persons be said to live upon their experiences, when they make a righteousness of them; and instead of keeping their eye on God’s glory, and Christ’s excellency, they turn their eyes off these objects without them, on to themselves, to entertain their minds, by viewing their own attainments, and high experiences, and the great things they have met with, and are bright and beautiful in their own eyes, and are rich and increased with good, in their own apprehensions, and think that God has as admiring an esteem of them, on the same account, as they have of themselves: this is living on experiences, and not on Christ; and is more abominable in the sight of God, than the gross immoralities of those who make no pretenses to religion. But this is a far different thing from a mere improving experiences as evidences of an interest in a glorious Redeemer.

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