The Twelfth Sign (part 2)
I’ll admit, this last assignment seemed like the longest of all the readings. It took me over two weeks to read, and toward the beginning I really had a hard time slogging through. However, that didn’t last too long; and ultimately I was rewarded for sticking with it. I had another run-in with his system of numbering points, only this time I abandoned trying to make sense of his outline.(Again, I don’t recommend reading Edwards at bedtime. I only do, because that’s often the only time I can spare.)
I will summarize his ideas below, mainly with quotes. I apologize for the length, but It's tough to narrow down 80 pages of meat.
First, Edwards considers “Christian practice and an holy life, as a manifestation and sign of the sincerity of a professing Christian, to the eye of his neighbors and brethren. And that this is the chief sign of grace in this respect…” He refers at this point to Matt. 7:16, 20; 12:33, and Luke 6: 44: “'Every tree is known by his own fruit.' ...Christ nowhere says, ye shall know the tree by its leaves or flowers, or ye shall know men by their talk, or ye shall know them by the good story they tell of their experiences, or ye shall know them by the manner and air of their speaking, and emphasis and pathos of expression, or by their speaking feelingly, or by making a very great show by abundance of talk, or by many tears and affectionate expressions, or by the affections ye feel in your hearts towards them: but by their fruits shall ye know them; the tree is know by its fruit; every tree is known by its own fruit.” Then, referring to Matt. 5:16 he says, “Here Christ directs us to manifest our godliness to others. Godliness is as it were a light that shines in the soul: Christ directs that this light should not only shine within, but that it should shine out before men, that they may see it.” And, in reference to James 2: 18, he has this to say: “A manifestation of our faith without works, or in a way diverse from works, is a manifestation of it in words, whereby a man professes faith. As the Apostle says, 'What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man SAY he hath faith?' (ver.14). Therefore here are two ways of manifesting to our neighbor what is in our hearts; one by what we say, and the other by what we do. But the Apostle abundantly prefers the latter as the best evidence.”
“Persons in a pang of affection may think they have a willingness of heart for great things, to do much and to suffer much and so may profess it very earnestly and confidently; when really their hearts are far from it….Passing affections easily produce words; and words are cheap; and godliness is more easily feigned in words than in actions. Christian practice is a costly laborious thing. The self-denial that is required of Christians, and the narrowness of the way that leads to life, don’t consist in words, but in practice. Hypocrites my much more easily be brought to talk like saints, than to act like saints.”
He then goes on to clarify first: that true Christian practice must not exclude a profession of faith, “So that if any man should say plainly that he was not a Christian, and did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God, or a person sent of God; these rules of Christ and his apostles don’t at all oblige us to look upon him as a sincere Christian.”
And further, that if a profession is made, it must not be lacking in any of the essentials of the faith. “If we take only a part of Christianity, and leave out a part that is essential to it, what we take is not Christianity; because something that is of the essence of it is wanting…..Thus it is essential to Christianity that we repent of our sins, that we be convinced of our own sinfulness and that we are sensible we have justly exposed ourselves to God’s wrath, and that our hearts do renounce all sin, and that we do with our whole hearts embrace Christ as our only Saviour, and that we love him above all, and are willing for his sake to forsake all, and that we do give up ourselves to be entirely and forever his, etc.”
He clarifies secondly that the profession must be accompanied by “a visibly holy life”. He gives a rather lengthy summary of what the Christian life looks like, which was essentially a single page summary of the entire book up until this point, and concludes it with this statement: “…in general, a manifestation of the sincerity of a Christian profession in practice, is far better than a relation of experiences.”
And a third and final point of clarification is “that no external manifestations and outward appearances whatsoever, that are visible to the world are infallible evidences of grace. These…are the best that mankind can have; and they are such as to oblige Christians entirely to embrace professors as saints, and love ‘em and rejoice in ‘em as the children of God, and are sufficient to give them as great satisfaction concerning them….But nothing that appears to them in their neighbor, can be sufficient to beget an absolute certainty concerning the state of his soul: for they see not his heart, nor can they see all his external behavior; for much of it is in secret, and hid from the eye of the world: and ‘tis impossible certainly to determine, how far a man may go in many external appearance and imitations of grace, from other principles.”
In other words, if the profession is right, and the life, so far as we can tell, is godly, then we can do no better in identifying someone as a brother or sister in Christ, and should embrace them as such – though it is no sure guarantee.
Having shown from Scripture and reason that Christian practice is the greatest and most reliable evidence of grace we can look for in the lives others, Edwards moves on to prove that it is also the evidence by which to evaluate our own lives. He refers to 1 John 2:3: “Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” (See also: Gal. 6:4; Ps. 119:6; Mt. 7:19-20.)
In this section I found some of the richest bits, particularly as pertains to trial and temptations. Since there are more than forty pages left in the chapter at this point, I’m going to let Edwards do most of the talking through a series of quotes.
“…a man’s actions are the proper trial what a man’s heart prefers….The main and most proper proof of a man’s having an heart to anything, concerning which he is at liberty to follow his own inclinations, and either to do or not to do as he pleases, is his doing of it….Godliness consists not in an heart to intend to do the will of God, but in an heart to do it.”
“'Tis therefore exceeding absurd, and even ridiculous for any to pretend that they have a good heart, while they live a wicked life, or don’t bring forth the fruit of universal holiness in their practice.”
“The things that put it to the proof whether men will prefer God to other things in practice, are the difficulties of religion…these things are all over the Scripture called by the name of trials or proofs. And they are called by this name, because hereby professors are tied and proved of what sort they be, whether they be really what they profess and appear to be; and because in them, the reality of a supreme love to God is brought to the test of experiment and fact; they are the proper proof, in which it is truly determined by experience, whether men have a thorough disposition of heart to cleave to God or no…. So the difficulties of religion are called trials, because they try those that have the profession and appearance of saints, whether they are what they appear to be, real saints.”
“If ‘trial of sincerity’ be the proper name of these difficulties of religion…the result of the trial or experiment (that is persons’ behavior or practice under such trials) is the proper and eminent evidence of their sincerity. For they are called trials or proofs, only with regard to the result, and because the effect is eminently the proof, or evidence. And this is the most proper proof and evidence to the conscience of those that are the subjects of these trials. For when God is said by these things to try men, and prove them, to see what is in their hearts, and whether they will keep his commandments or no; we are not to understand, that it is for his won information, or that he may obtain evidence himself of their sincerity (for he needs no trials for his information); but chiefly for their conviction, and to exhibit evidence to their consciences…it was to discover to themselves, that they might know what was in their own hearts….holy practice under trials is the highest evidence of the sincerity of professors to their own consciences.”
“Seeing therefore that these are the things that God makes use of to try us, ‘tis undoubtedly the surest way for us to pass a right judgment on ourselves, to try ourselves by the same things. These trials of his are not for his information, but for ours; therefore we ought to receive our information from thence. The surest way to know our gold, is to look upon it and examine it in God’s furnace, where he tries it for that end that we may see what it is.”
“If we would see the proper nature of anything whatsoever, and see it in its full distinction from other things; let us look upon it in the finishing of it. The apostle James says, ‘by works is faith made perfect’; and introduces this as an argument to prove that works are the chief evidence of faith, whereby the sincerity of the professors of faith is justified (James 2).”
“Indeed, in many of these places, love to the brethren is spoken of as a sign of godliness; and…there is no one virtuous affection or disposition so often expressly spoken of as a sign of true grace, as our having love one to another: but then the Scriptures explain themselves to intend chiefly this love as exercised and expressed in practice, or in deeds of love.”
And, most soberingly, he adds:
“…men’s practice is the only evidence, that Christ represents the future judgment as regulated by, in that most particular description of the Day of Judgment, which we have in the holy Bible….At the Day of Judgment, God for the manifestation of his righteous judgment, will weigh professors in a balance that is visible. And the balance will be the same that he weighs men in now….Hence we many undoubtedly infer, that men’s works (taken in the sense that has been explained) are the highest evidences, by which they ought to try themselves. Certainly that which our supreme Judge will chiefly make use of to judge us by, when we come to stand before him, we should chiefly make use of, to judge ourselves by. If it had not been revealed in what manner, and by what evidence the Judge would proceed with us hereafter; how natural would it be for on to say: ‘O that I know what token God will chiefly look for and insist upon in that last and decisive judgment: and which he expects that all should be able to produce who would then be accepted of him, and according to which sentence shall be passed; that I might know what token or evidence especially to look at and seek after now, as I would be sure not to fail then.’ And seeing God has so plainly and abundantly revealed what this token or evidence is; surely if we act wisely, we shall regard it as of the greatest importance.”
As I said, this reading was lengthy. And since the groundwork has mainly been laid, I will present his next points very briefly. He goes on to explain that “Christian practice is the sign of signs”; that “there is no one grace of the Spirit of God, but that Christian practice is the most proper evidence of the truth of it….the proper trial and proof of them is in their exercise in practice….So it is with all the virtues of the mind. The proper trial and proof of them, is in being exercised under those temptations and trials that God brings us under, in the course of his providence…"
“Practice is the proper proof of the true and saving knowledge of God…”
“Holy practice is the proper evidence of repentance.”
“Holy practice is the proper evidence of a saving faith.”
“Practice is the best evidence of a saving belief of the truth.”
“Practice is the most proper evidence of a true coming to Christ, and accepting of, and closing with him.”
“Practice is the most proper evidence of trusting in Christ for salvation.”
“Practice is the proper evidence of a gracious love, both to God and men.”
“Practice is the proper evidence of humility.”
“This is also the evidence of the true fear of God.”
“…the proper evidence of true thankfulness…”
“So the proper evidence of gracious desires and longings…to stir up persons earnestly and thoroughly to seek the things they long for.”
“Practice is the proper evidence of a gracious hope.”
“A cheerful practice of our duty and doing the will of God, is the proper evidence of a truly holy joy.”
“Practice also is the proper evidence of Christian fortitude.”
And to sum up this point:
“Whatever pretenses persons may make to great discoveries, great love and joys, they are no further to be regarded, than they have influence on their practice….Our wisdom and discerning, with regard to the hearts of men, is not much to be trusted. We can see but a little way into the nature of the soul, and the depths of man’s heart. The ways are so many whereby persons’ affections may be moved without any supernatural influence, the natural springs of the affections are so various and so secret, so many things have oftentimes a joint influence on the affections, that imagination (and that in ways innumerable and unsearchable), natural temper, education, the common influences of the Spirit of God, a surprising concourse of affecting circumstances, and extraordinary coincidence of things in the course of men’s thoughts, together with the subtle management of invisible malicious spirits; that no philosophy or experience will ever be sufficient to guide us safely through this labyrinth and maze, without our closely following the clue which God has given us in his word….But if we had got into the way of looking chiefly at those things, which Christ and his apostles and prophets chiefly insisted on, and so in judging of ourselves and others, chiefly regarding practical exercises and effects of grace, not neglecting other things; it would be of manifold happy consequence; it would above all things tend to the conviction of deluded hypocrites, and to prevent the delusion of those whose hearts were never brought to a thorough compliance with the strait and narrow way which leads to life.”
And there’s so much more. But, if anyone is interested in more, I recommend turning to the book itself, and starting from the beginning. I can guarantee, if you are a Christian, you will be challenged and humbled. You will not remain unchanged; and if you are a false professor of faith in Christ (and you somehow manage to get through this work), you will be left with no more illusions.
(All emphasis is mine.)