Thursday, September 18, 2008

Religious Affections - The Fifth Sign

This is the latest in my participation in Reading the Classics over at http://www.challies.com/ .
We're currently working our way through Jonathan Edwards' classic Religious Affections.

Religious Affections, The Fifth Sign

I found this section a bit more difficult to get a handle on than those previous, but, as usual, Edwards' way of restating the same thing in different ways, from different angles, over and over, finally got through my thick skull. This was not the section to try to read at bedtime. Once I caught on, however, I was amazed to recognize my pre-converted self yet again; and yet again received much understanding and encouragement.

There were a few years where my "Christianity" mainly involved reading and affirming things folks like Josh McDowell and CRI and ICR put out. (Mind you, I'm not diminishing the value of those things in the least.) I was constantly proving the truth of Christianity to myself and keeping myself convinced. My "faith" was entirely based upon arguments and evidences. Eventually, however, those proofs and arguments, convincing though they were, were not enough to hold me and I drifted. When it became clear to me that Christ demanded of me my life, I set my Bible aside, for over 7 years.

Later, shortly after my conversion, I picked up a volume by Josh McDowell and read about how the Bible as we know it came into being. I literally wept at the beauty of the sovereign providence of God throughout history. I find it interesting that since my conversion, I've never seriously doubted the veracity of the Gospel; instead I've doubted the legitimacy of my conversion. During the years when I falsely professed faith in Christ, I did not doubt my salvation, but the truth of the Gospel.

And here's how Edward puts it:
"...the great doctrines of the gospel cease to be any longer doubtful things, or matters of opinion, which, though probable, are yet disputable; but with them , they are points settled and determined, as undoubted and indisputable; so that they are not afraid to venture their all upon their truth. Their conviction is an effectual conviction; so that the great, spiritual, mysterious, and invisible things of the gospel have the influence of real and certain things upon them; they have the weight and power of real things in their hearts; and accordingly rule in their affections, and govern them through the course of their lives.....these things are of great weight with them, and have a mighty power upon their hearts, and influence over their practice, in some measure answerable to their infinite importance."

"But to have a conviction, so clear, and evident, and assuring, as to be sufficient to induce them, with boldness, to sell all, confidently and fearlessly to run the venture of the loss of all things, and of enduring the most exquisite and long-continued torments, and to trample the world under foot, and count all things but dung, for Christ..."

Faith that is genuine changes everything for us, and makes us so convinced of the beauty of Christ and the Gospel that we will count everything else rubbish.

"There are many persons who have been exceedingly raised with religious affections, and think they have been converted, they don't go about the world any more convinced of the truth of the gospel, than they used to be; or at least, there is no remarkable alteration; they are not men who live under the influence and power of a realizing conviction of the infinite and eternal things which the gospel reveals; if they were it would be impossible for 'em to live as they do."

"...but when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now theLord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." 2 Cor. 3:16-18

And as to why, since my conversion, I've been prone to doubt my salvation, and so routinely cry out for the Saviour, I can apply these words from Edwards: "...the same taste which relishes the sweetness of true moral good, tastes the bitterness of moral evil. And by this means a man sees his own sinfulness and loathsomeness; for he has now a sense to discern objects of this nature; and so sees the truth of what the Word of God declares concerning the exceeding sinfulness of mankind, which before he did not see. He now sees the dreadfull pollution of his heart, and the desperate depravity of his nature, in a new manner; for his soul has now a sense given it to feel the pain of such a disease; and this shows him the truth of what the Scripture reveals concerning the corruption of man's nature, his original sin, and the ruinous undone condition man is in, and his need of a Saviour, his need of the might power of God to renew his heart and change his nature.

And all this also stands to show, you don't have to be a brain surgeon, rocket scientist, or philosopher to experience God's salvation. A world full of proofs and arguments is not enough to save a single soul. All such arguments are meaningless unless the Holy Spirit lifts the veil. Edwards, speaking of the multitudes who have been martyred for the sake of the Gospel since the days of the Reformation, has this to say: "how few of them were there, that we can reasonably suppose, ever came by their assured persuasion, this way; or indeed for whom it was possible, reasonably to receive so full and strong an assurance, from such arguments! Many of them were weak women and children, and the greater part of them illiterate persons, many of whom had been brought up in popish ignorance and darkness, and were but newly come out of it, and lived and died in times, wherein those arguments for the truth of Christianity from antiquity and history, had been but very imperfectly handled. And indeed, 'tis but very lately that these arguments have been set in a clear and convincing light, even by learned men themselves; and since it has been done, there never were fewer thorough believers, among those who have been educated in the true religion: infidelity never prevailed so much in any age, as in this, wherein these arguments are handled to the greatest advantage." (How 'bout the irony of that last bit!)

This certainly provides hope and comfort for our evangelistic & missionary efforts. I love what Scott Anderson quoted in Comment #1: "if someone can talk you into it then someone else can talk you out of it "

So, once again, a lot to chew on.

(All emphasis mine.)

2 comments:

couragetotremble said...

I wonder if you were doing a post for this passage as well as replying my last email.
I understand Edwards, and you understand Edwards. Wow! Not just his English; that is secondary. But the thoughts they contain. Surely we have God's Spirit aiding us, and the others doing the reading.
-n-

Laurie M. said...

The work of God's Spirit is an amazing thing! It amazes me to think I even care what a man like Edwards has to say, let alone be so consumed by such things that all else fades in importance.

Actually, I was planning to respond to your e-mail later today.