False Positive 12—That Affections Seem Real and Pleasing to Other Christians. Part 2.

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 conclude 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 185-190.


In the parable of the wheat and tares, Matthew 13:26, it is said, “When the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.” As though the tares were not discerned, nor distinguishable from the wheat, till then, as Mr. Flavel observes; who mentions it as an observation of Jerome’s, that wheat and tares are so much alike, till the blade of the wheat comes to bring forth the ear, that ’tis next to impossible to distinguish them. And then, Mr. Flavel adds: “How difficult soever it be to discern the difference between wheat and tares; yet doubtless the eye of sense can much easier discriminate them, than the most quick and piercing eye of man, can discern the difference between special and common grace. For all saving graces in the saints, have their counterfeits in hypocrites; there are similar works in those, which a spiritual and very judicious eye may easily mistake, for the saving and genuine effects of a sanctifying spirit.”

As ’tis the ear or the fruit which distinguishes the wheat from the tares, so this is the true Shibboleth, that he who stands as judge at the passages of Jordan, makes use of to distinguish those that shall pass over Jordan into the true Canaan, from those that should be slain at the passages. For the Hebrew word “Shibboleth,” signifies an ear of corn. And perhaps the more full pronunciation of Jephthah’s friends, Shibboleth, may represent a full ear with fruit in it, typifying the fruits of the friends of Christ, the antitype of Jephthah; and the more lean pronunciation of the Ephraimites his enemies, may represent their empty ears, typifying the show of religion in hypocrites, without substance and fruit. This is agreeable to the doctrine we are abundantly taught in Scripture, viz. that he who is set to judge those that pass through death, whether they have a right to enter into the heavenly Canaan or no, or whether they should not be slain, will judge every man according to his works.

We seem to be taught the same things, by the rules given for the priests discerning the leprosy. In many cases it was impossible for the priest to determine whether a man had the leprosy, or whether he were clean, by the most narrow inspection of the appearances that were upon him, till he had waited to see what the appearances would come to, and had shut up the person who showed himself to him, one seven days after another; and when he judged, he was to determine by the hair, which grew out of the spot that was shown him, which was as it were the fruit that it brought forth.

And here, before I finish what I have to say under this head, I would say something to a strange notion some have of late been led away with, of certainly knowing the good estate that others are in, as though it were immediately revealed to ’em from heaven, by their love flowing out to ’em in an extraordinary manner. They argue thus, that their love being very sensible and great, it may be certainly known by them who feel it, to be a true Christian love: and if it be a true Christian love, the Spirit of God must be the author of it: and inasmuch as the Spirit of God, who knows certainly whether others are the children of God or no, and is a Spirit of truth, is pleased, by an uncommon influence upon ’em, to cause their love to flow out, in an extraordinary manner, towards such a person, as a child of God; it must needs be that this infallible Spirit, who deceives none, knows that that person is a child of God. But such persons might be convinced of the falseness of their reasoning, if they would consider whether or no it be not their duty, and what God requires of ’em, to love those as the children of God, who they think are the children of God, and whom they have no reason to think otherwise of, from all that they can see in them.

Though God, who searches the hearts, know ’em not to be his children. If it be their duty, then it is good, and the want of it sin; and therefore, surely the Spirit of God may be the author of it: the Spirit of God, without being a spirit of falsehood, may in such a case assist a person to do his duty, and keep him from sin. But then they argue from the uncommon degree and special manner, in which their love flows out to the person; which they think the Spirit of God never would cause, if he did not know the object to be a child of God. But then I would ask them, whether or no it is not their duty to love all such as they are bound to think are the children of God, from all that they can see in them, to a very great degree, though God, from other things which he sees, that are out of sight to them, knows ’em not to be so. ‘Tis men’s duty to love all whom they are bound in charity to look upon as the children of God, with a vastly dearer affection than they commonly do. As we ought to love Christ to the utmost capacity of our nature, so ’tis our duty to love those who we think are so near and dear to him as his members, with an exceeding dear affection, as Christ has loved us; and therefore it is sin in us not to love them so. We ought to pray to God that he would, by his Spirit keep us from sin, and enable us to do our duty: and may not his Spirit answer our prayers, and enable us to do our duty, in a particular instance, without lying? If he can’t, then the Spirit of God is bound not to help his people to do their duty in some instances, because he can’t do it without being a spirit of falsehood. But surely God is so sovereign as that comes to, that he may enable us to do our duty when he pleases, and on what occasion he pleases. When persons think others are his children, God may have other ends in causing their exceedingly endeared love to flow out to them, besides revealing to them whether their opinion of ’em be right or no: he may have that merciful end in it, to enable them to do their duty, and to keep them from that dreadful infinite evil, sin. And will they say God shall not show ’em that mercy in such a case? If I am at a distance from home, and hear, that in my absence, my house is burnt, but my family have, in some extraordinary manner, all escaped the flames; and everything in the circumstances of the story, as I hear it, makes it appear very credible; it would be sin in me, in such a case, not to feel a very great degree of gratitude to God, though the story indeed be not true. And is not God so sovereign, that he may if he pleases, show me that mercy on that occasion, and enable me to do my duty in a much further degree than I used to do it, and yet not incur the charge of deceitfulness, in confirming a falsehood?

‘Tis exceeding manifest, that error or mistake may be the occasion of a gracious exercise, and consequently a gracious influence of the Spirit of God, by Romans 14:6. “He that eateth to the Lord, he eateth, and giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not to the Lord, he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.” The Apostle is speaking of those, who through erroneous and needless scruples, avoided eating legally unclean meats. By this it is very evident, that there may be true exercises of grace, a true respect to the Lord, and particularly, a true thankfulness, which may be occasioned, both by an erroneous judgment and practice. And consequently, an error may be the occasion of those truly holy exercises that are from the infallible Spirit of God. And if so, ’tis certainly too much for us to determine, to how great a degree the Spirit of God may give this holy exercise, on such an occasion.

This notion, of certainly discerning another’s state, by love flowing out, is not only not founded on reason or Scripture, but it is antiscriptural, ’tis against the rules of Scripture; which say not a word of any such way of judging the state of others as this, but direct us to judge chiefly by the fruits that are seen in them. And it is against the doctrines of Scripture, which do plainly teach us that the state of others’ souls towards God, cannot be known by us, as in Revelation 2:17. “To him that overcometh, will I give to eat of the hidden manna; and I will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it.” And Romans 2:29, “He is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart; in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” That by this last expression, “whose praise is not of men, but of God,” the Apostle has respect to the insufficiency of men to judge concerning him, whether he be inwardly a Jew or no (as they could easily see by outward marks, whether men were outwardly Jews) and would signify, that it belongs to God alone to give a determining voice in this matter, is confirmed by the same Apostle’s use of the phrase, in I Corinthians 4:5, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come; who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts”; and then shall every man have praise to God. The Apostle, in the two foregoing verses, says, “But with me, it is a very small thing, that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self, for I know nothing by my self, yet am I not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me is the Lord.” And again, it is further confirmed, because the Apostle in this second chapter to the Romans, directs his speech especially to those who had a high conceit of their own holiness, made their boast of God, and were confident of their own discerning, and that they knew God’s will, and approved the things which were excellent, or tried the things that differ (as it is in the margin), v. 18, “And were confident that they were guides of the blind, and a light to them which are in darkness, instructors of the foolish, teachers of babes”; and so took upon them to judge others, see v. 1, and 17–20.

And how arrogant must the notion be, that they have, who imagine they can certainly know others’ godliness, when that great apostle Peter pretends not to say any more concerning Silvanus, than that he was a faithful brother, as he supposed (I Peter 5:12). Though this Silvanus appears to have been a very eminent minister of Christ, and an evangelist, and a famous light in God’s church at that day, and an intimate companion of the apostles. See II Corinthians 1:19, I Thessalonians 1:1, and II Thessalonians 1:1.

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