I just finished The Religious Affections, by Jonathan Edwards, a nearly six-month project. I cannot say that it was even remotely near what you might call ‘light’ reading; rather, it was the first book that I had to eliminate all other distractions (music, for example) in order to be able to focus adequately. It is not a book that can be read in the leisurely jaunt of an afternoon, certainly. Nor is it a book that can be picked up just before bedtime with the intent of reading a couple pages while falling asleep. In short–not for the faint-of-heart.
That being said, it is well worth the effort to read this book. After reading it, I am left to seriously consider whether I am a Christian or not–and I find that to be a good thing. In the preface, Edwards’ purpose is clearly set forth: “What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favour with God, and entitled to His eternal rewards? What is the nature of true religion? And wherein do lie those distinguishing notes of that virtue and holiness that is acceptable in the sight of God?” And after setting forth a definition of what he terms “religious affections,” which, as nearly as I can tell, amounts to emotional involvement in religion, he moves right into the meat of the book.
The first half of the book, some twelve different sections, is spent in breaking down those things that might not be religious affections, the things that, in and of themselves, are not necessarily evidences of the Spirit within you. That the religious affections have great effects is no certain sign; that they are accompanied by love, joy, great confidence, even texts of Scripture is no sign of truth. Edwards goes so far as to say that even moving testimonies are no certain sign of true religious affections.
This first half was the easier half, honestly; it was much easier to pretend as though Edwards wasn’t writing it at me. While I was able to learn much and apply much, there was still the ability to force the point onto everyone else. My reasoning in my pride was quite simple: Because I have been and am being saved, these sections don’t apply to me; though they come near and point out the fallacies of many of the evidences in which I have put trust, there is still more direct application to those around me.
The second half was the contrast of the first, presenting twelve evidences of what are the gracious and holy affections. Notable sections were the emphasis on the Divine Influence, the promotion of the temper of Jesus, a change of nature, and humility; but the summation is the emphasis of fruit in Christian practice. Spiritual fruit, Edwards argues, is the greatest evidence of true religious affections, both to ourselves and others.
This half was draining, exhausting, challenging, and sobering. With its emphasis on the fruits of the Spirit and Christlikeness, I constantly found myself being drawn up short, faced with truths that I did not like to face. It is so tremendously easy in the Christian life to delude ourselves into thinking that we are “good enough;” that the gift of grace has been extended to us because we somehow deserve it. It is easy for us to justify sin in our lives as being covered by Christ’s sacrifice; it is all too easy to pick at sin in the lives of everyone around us while conveniently ignoring our own. And so, in reading this book, and through the light of the Word, I am beginning to get a still better picture of who I am–and I am ashamed of who I am.
But the result is that, now more than ever, I find in myself a desire for Spiritual Fruit. I am able to look back and see the beginnings of new patterns in my life, of new thoughts and priorities, of new understanding and new directions. I still see far too many thorns and weeds, too many pet sins and idols, too much pride and desire for control–but I am also beginning to understand where there is hope.
As I said, this book is not for the faint-of-heart; if you read it, be committed to reading it and be committed to holding the mirror of Scripture to reflect your heart. It is well worth it.