False Positive 12—That Affections Seem Real and Pleasing to Other Christians. Part 1.


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.
  11. That they make persons confident that they are experiencing saving grace.

In today’s post, we begin hearing what Edwards has to say about his twelfth and final false positive concerning religious affections: “that any are the subjects of, from this, that the outward manifestations of them, and the relation persons give of them, are very affecting and pleasing to the truly godly, and such as greatly gain their charity, and win their hearts.”

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 181-185.

***

12. Nothing can be certainly concluded concerning the nature of religious affections, that any are the subjects of, from this, that the outward manifestations of them, and the relation persons give of them, are very affecting and pleasing to the truly godly, and such as greatly gain their charity, and win their hearts.

The true saints have not such a spirit of discerning, that they can certainly determine who are godly, and who are not. For though they know experimentally what true religion is, in the internal exercises of it; yet these are what they can neither feel, nor see, in the heart of another.

There is nothing in others, that comes within their view but outward manifestations and appearances; but the Scripture plainly intimates that this way of judging what is in men by outward appearances, is at best uncertain, and liable to deceit; I Samuel 16:7, “The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” Isaiah 11:3, “He shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears.” They commonly are but poor judges, and dangerous counsellors in soul cases, who are quick and peremptory in determining persons’ states, vaunting themselves in their extraordinary faculty of discerning and distinguishing, in these great affairs; as though all was open and clear to them. They betray one of these three things; either that they have had but little experience; or are persons of a weak judgment; or that they have a great degree of pride and self-confidence, and so ignorance of themselves. Wise and experienced men will proceed with great caution in such an affair.

When there are many probable appearances of piety in others, it is the duty of the saints to receive them cordially into their charity, and to love them and rejoice in them, as their brethren in Christ Jesus. But yet the best of men may be deceived, when the appearances seem to them exceeding fair and bright, even so as entirely to gain their charity, and conquer their hearts. It has been a common thing in the church of God, for such bright professors, that are received as eminent saints, among the saints, to fall away and come to nothing.

And this we need not wonder at, if we consider the things that have been already observed; what things it has been shown, may appear in men who are altogether graceless. Nothing hinders but that all these things may meet together in men, and yet they be without a spark of grace in their hearts. They may have religious affections of many kinds together; they may have a sort of affection towards God, that bears a great resemblance of dear love to him; and so a kind of love to the brethren, and great appearances of admiration of God’s perfections and works, and sorrow for sin, and reverence, submission, self-abasement, gratitude, joy, religious longings, and zeal for the interest of religion and the good of souls. And these affections may come after great awakenings and convictions of conscience; and there may be great appearances of a work of humiliation; and counterfeit love and joy, and other affections may seem to follow these, and one another, just in the same order, that is commonly observable in the holy affections of true converts. And these religious affections may be carried to a great height, and may cause abundance of tears, yea, may overcome the nature of those who are the subjects of them, and may make them affectionate, and fervent, and fluent in speaking of the things of God, and dispose them to be abundant in it; and may be attended with many sweet texts of Scripture, and precious promises, brought with great impression on their minds; and may dispose them with their mouths to praise and glorify God, in a very ardent manner, and fervently to call upon others to praise him, crying out of their unworthiness, and extolling free grace. And may, moreover, dispose them to abound in the external duties of religion, such as prayer, hearing the Word preached, singing, and religious conference; and these things attended with a great resemblance of a Christian assurance, in its greatest height, when the saints mount on eagles’ wings, above all darkness and doubting. I think it has been made plain, that there may be all these things, and yet there be nothing more than the common influences of the Spirit of God, joined with the delusions of Satan, and the wicked and deceitful heart. To which I may add, that all these things may be attended with a sweet natural temper, and a good doctrinal knowledge of religion, and a long acquaintance with the saints’ way of talking and of expressing their affections and experiences, and a natural ability and subtlety in accommodating their expressions and manner of speaking to the dispositions and notions of the hearers, and a taking decency of expression and behavior, formed by a good education. How great therefore may the resemblance be, as to all outward expressions and appearances, between an hypocrite and a true saint! Doubtless ’tis the glorious prerogative of the omniscient God, as the great searcher of hearts, to be able well to separate between sheep and goats. And what an indecent, self-exaltation, and arrogance is it, in poor fallible dark mortals, to pretend that they can determine and know, who are really sincere and upright before God, and who are not!

Many seem to lay great weight on that, and to suppose it to be what may determine them with respect to others’ real piety, when they not only tell a plausible story, but when, in giving an account of their experiences, they make such a representation, and speak after such a manner, that they feel their talk; that is to say, when their talk seems to harmonize with their own experience, and their hearts are touched and affected and delighted, by what they hear them say, and drawn out by it, in dear love to them. But there is not that certainty in such things, and that full dependence to be had upon them, which many imagine. A true saint greatly delights in holiness: it is a most beautiful thing in his eyes; and God’s work, in savingly renewing and making holy and happy, a poor, and before perishing soul, appears to him a most glorious work. No wonder therefore, that his heart is touched, and greatly affected, when he hears another give a probable account of this work, wrought on his own heart, and when he sees in him probable appearances of holiness; whether those pleasing appearances have anything real to answer them, or no. And if he uses the same words, which are commonly made use of, to express the affections of true saints, and tells of many things following one another in an order, agreeable to the method of the experience of him that hears him, and also speaks freely and boldly, and with an air of assurance: no wonder that the other thinks his experiences harmonize with his own. And if besides all this, in giving his relation, he speaks with much affection; and above all, if in speaking, he seems to show much affection to him, to whom he speaks, such an affection as the Galatians did to the apostle Paul; these things will naturally have a powerful influence, to affect and draw his hearer’s heart, and open wide the doors of his charity towards him. David speaks as one who had felt Ahithophel’s talk, and had once a sweet savor and relish of it. And therefore exceedingly great was his surprise and disappointment, when he fell; it was almost too much for him. Psalms 55:12–14, “It was not an enemy…then I could have borne it…but it was thou, a man, mine equal, my guide, and my acquaintance; we took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company.”

It is with professors of religion, especially such as become so in a time of outpouring of the Spirit of God, as it is with the blossoms in the spring; there are vast numbers of them upon the trees, which all look fair and promising; but yet very many of them never come to anything. And many of those, that in a little time wither up, and drop off, and rot under the trees; yet for a while, look as beautiful and gay as others; and not only so, but smell sweet, and send forth a pleasant odor: so that we can’t, by any of our senses, certainly distinguish those blossoms which have in them that secret virtue, which will afterwards appear in the fruit, and that inward solidity and strength which shall enable them to bear, and cause them to be perfected by the hot summer sun, that will dry up the others. ‘Tis the mature fruit which comes afterwards, and not the beautiful colors and smell of the blossom, that we must judge by. So new converts (professedly so), in their talk about things of religion, may appear fair, and be very savory, and the saints may think they talk feelingly. They may relish their talk, and imagine they perceive a divine savor in it; and yet all may come to nothing.

‘Tis strange how hardly men are brought to be contented with the rules and directions Christ has given them, but they must needs go by other rules, of their own inventing, that seem to them wiser and better. I know of no directions or counsels which Christ ever delivered more plainly, than the rules he has given us, to guide us in our judging of others’ sincerity; viz. that we should judge of the tree chiefly by the fruit: but yet this won’t do; but other ways are found out, which are imagined to be more distinguishing and certain. And woeful have been the mischievous consequences, of this arrogant setting up men’s wisdom above the wisdom of Christ. I believe many saints have gone much out of the way of Christ’s word, in this respect: and some of them have been chastised with whips, and (I had almost said) scorpions, to bring them back again. But many things which have lately appeared, and do now appear, may convince, that ordinarily, those who have gone furthest this way, that have been most highly conceited of their faculty of discerning, and have appeared most forward, peremptorily and suddenly to determine the state of men’s souls, have been hypocrites, who have known nothing of true religion.

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