Religious Affections, the Twelfth Sign, Part 1

Apparently, and without realizing it, I fell a week behind in our on-line reading group over at We are reading through Jonathan Edwards’ work Religious Affections. This last section, because of its length, has been divided into two readings. This is Part One of the final section: The Twelfth Sign.

Edwards’ personal genius and orderly mind is becoming overwhelmingly evident, as he begins to gather all the ends from all the previous signs and uses this last sign as a drawstring of sorts to pull up and tie the whole great bundle together. This last sign is connected with and comprises every one previous. All the signs seem to be melding together into a very cohesive whole, the summation of the Christian life. I can think of little to add by way of commentary, so what follows will be mainly a compilation of quotes. For the sake of clarity, I will italicize my own words.

"Gracious and holy affections have their exercise and fruit in Christian practice. I mean, they have that influence and power upon him who is the subject of ‘em, that they cause that a practice, which is universally conformed to, and directed by Christian rules, should be the practice and business of his life."

"This implies three things; (1) That his behavior or practice in the world, be universally conformed to, and directed by Christian rules. (2) That he makes a business of such a holy practice above all things; that it be a business which he is chiefly engaged in, and devoted to, and pursues with highest earnestness and diligence… (3) That he persists in it to the end of life…through all changes, and under all trials, as long as he lives.

"’Tis necessary that men should be universally obedient"
This means the true Christian life does not consist in merely picking and choosing what sins we are willing to part with, and what Christ-like activities we are willing to participate in, as it suits us. Rather:

"If one member only be corrupt and we don’t cut it off, it will carry the whole body to hell (Matt. 5:29-30). Saul was commanded to slay all God’s enemies; the Amalekites; and he slew all but Agag, and the saving him alive proved his ruin….it is necessary that men should part with their dearest iniquities, which are as their right hand and right eyes, sins that most easily beset them, and which they are most exposed to by their natural inclinations, evil customs, or particular circumstances, as well as others."

"…his obedience must not only consist in negatives, or in universally avoiding wicked practices, consisting in sins of commission; but he must also be universal in the positives of religion. Sins of omission are as much breaches of God’s commands, as sins of commission….he is falsely said to be of a conversation that becomes the gospel, who goes thus far and no farther; but in order to this, it necessary that he should also be of a serious, religious, devout, humble, meek, forgiving, peaceful, respectful, condescending, benevolent, merciful, charitable and beneficent walk and conversation."

"So it oftentimes is with sinners: they are willing to part with some of their sins; but not all: they are brought to part with the more gross acts of sin; but not to part with their lusts, in lesser indulgences of ‘em. Whereas we must part with all our sins, little and great; and all that belongs to ‘em….Thus there may be a force parting with ways of disobedience to the commands of God, that may seem to be universal, as to what appears, for a little season; but because ‘tis a mere force, without the mortification of the inward principle of sin, they will not persevere in it; but will return as the dog to his vomit; and so bring on themselves dreadful and remediless destruction. There were many false disciples in Christ’s time, that followed him for a while; but none of them followed him to end; but some on one occasion, and some on another, went back and walked no more with him."

"…it is necessary that they prosecute the business of religion, and the service of God with great earnestness and diligence, as the work which they devote themselves to, and make the main business of their lives. All Christ’s peculiar people, not only do good works, but are zealous of good works (Titus 2:14)….Christians in their effectual calling, are not called to idleness, but to labor in God’s vineyard, and spend their day in doing a great and laborious service... Slothfulness in the service of God, in his professed servants, is as damning, as open rebellion: for the slothful servant is a wicked servant, and shall be cast into outer darkness among God’s open enemies (Matt. 25: 26-28)."

"Every true Christian perseveres in this way of universal obedience, and diligent and earnest service of God, through all the various kinds of trials that he meets with, to the end of life."

I found this bit regarding temptations/trials is really helpful:

"By trials, here I mean, those things that occur, and that a professor meets with in his course, that do especially render his continuance in his duty, and faithfulness to God, difficult to nature. These things are from time to time called in Scripture by the name of trials, or temptations (which are words of the same signification). These are of various kinds: There are many things that render persons’ continuance in the way of their duty difficult, by their tendency to cherish and foment, or to stir up and provoke their lusts and corruptions. Many things make it hard to continue in the way of duty, by their being of an alluring nature, and having a tendency to entice persons to sin; or by their tendency to take off restraints and embolden ‘em in iniquity. Other things are trials of the soundness and steadfastness of professors, by their tendency to make their duty appear terrible to ‘em, and so to affright and drive ‘em from it: such as the sufferings which their duty will expose ‘em to; pain, ill will, contempt, and reproach, or loss of outward possessions and comforts. If persons, after they have made a profession of religion, live any considerable time, in this world which is so full of changes, and so full of evil, it can’t be otherwise, than that they should meet with many trials of their sincerity and steadfastness."

I’ve learned through personal study that in the original language this word translated variously as "trials" and "temptations" is one and the same word, translated differently based upon the context. And in actual experience it is much like that. Whether a circumstance is to us a trial or a temptation depends ultimately upon the context of our heart toward it, whether it tends to entice us, or whether to discourage us.

And as regards backsliding, he has this to say:

"True saints may be guilty of some kinds and degrees of backsliding, and may be soiled by particular temptations, and may fall into sin, yea great sins; but they can never fall away so, as to grow weary of religion, and the service of God, and habitually to dislike it and neglect it; either on its own account, or on account of the difficulties that attend it: as is evident by Gal. 6:9; Rom. 2:7; Heb. 10:36; Is. 43:22; Mal. 1:13. They can never backslide, so as to continue no longer in a way of universal obedience; or so, that it shall cease to be their manner to observe all the rules of Christianity, and do all duties required, even the most difficult, and in the most difficult circumstances….Nor can they ever fall away so, as habitually to be more engaged in other things, than in the business of religion; or so that it should become their way and manner to serve something else more than God; or so as statedly to cease to serve God, with such earnestness and diligence, as still to be habitually devoted and given up to the business of religion."

"Hence saving affections, though oftentimes they don’t make so great a noise and show as others; yet have in them a secret solidity, life and strength, whereby they take hold of, and carry away the heart, leading it into a kind of captivity (II Cor. 10:5), gaining a full and steadfast determination of the will for God and holiness….holy affections have a governing power in the course of a man’s life."

"What makes men partial (as opposed to universal) in religion is, that they seek themselves, and not God, in their religion, and close with religion, not for its own excellent nature, but only to serve a turn. He that closes with religion only to serve a turn, will close with nor more of it than he imagines serves that turn; but he that closes with religion for its own excellent and lovely nature closes with all that has that nature: he that embraces religion for its own sake, embraces the whole of religion."

"No wonder that a love to holiness, for holiness’ sake, inclines persons to practice holiness, and to practice everything that is holy. Seeing holiness is the main thing that excites, draws and governs all gracious affections, no wonder that all such affections tend to holiness. That which men love, they desire to have and to be united to, and possessed of. That beauty which men delight in, they desire to be adorned with. Those acts which men delight in, they necessarily incline to do."
(In sayings like this Edwards' powerful influence on John Piper's work is clearly evident.)

"True grace is not an unactive thing; there is nothing in heaven or earth of a more active nature; for ‘tis life itself, and the most active kind of life, even spiritual and divine life. ‘Tis no barren thing; there is nothing in the universe that in its nature has a greater tendency to fruit. Godliness in the heart has as direct a relation to practice, as a fountain has to a stream, or as the luminous nature of the sun has to beams sent forth, or as life has to breathing, or the beating of the pulse, or any other vital act…"

"From what has been said it is manifest, that Christian practice or a holy life is a great and distinguishing sign of true and saving grace. But I may go further, and assert, that it is the chief of all the signs of grace, both as an evidence of the sincerity of professors unto others, and also to their own consciences."

(All emphasis mine.)


jeri said…
I'm looking forward to reading this; I've pasted and copied it to notepad so I can take it with me for when I can grab a few minutes. I'm thankful for all who faithfully persevered and finished this book; I know I missed out by not doing so! What a blessing to the church is Jonathan Edwards.
Laurie M. said…
Well, I ended with a wimper myself, falling behind a week without realizing it. So, I'm going to try to finish it up this week, before I lose momentum.

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