And Edwards saw these affections stirred by the intellect and right thinking. “Knowledge, then, is the key that first opens the hard heart, enlarges the affections, and so opens the way for men to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”5 Reading The Religious Affections, it’s obvious that Edwards didn’t see affections as an end in themselves. They were and are part and parcel of a godly life that includes obedience and effort. He wrote, “The great Christian duty is self-denial. This duty consist in two things: first, in denying worldly inclinations and its enjoyment, and second, in denying self-exultation and renouncing one’s self-significance by being empty of self.”6 It is not difficult to grasp the purpose or aim of Edwards’s work. The outline of the book shows it quite clearly.
Part 1: Concerning the nature of the affections and their importance in religion.
Part 2: Showing what are no certain signs that religious affections are truly gracious, or that they are not.
Part 3: Showing what are distinguishing signs of truly gracious and holy affections.7
Put simply, Edwards wanted people to recognize the vast chasm between true faith and its many counterfeits. The church today could benefit greatly from a healthy dose of Edwards’s clarity.
But I must quickly offer some cautions about reading Edwards. He’s not easy. Fortunately, we have a lot of aids to help us along the way. As part of an endorsement for a very helpful series, The Edwards Collection,8 New Testament scholar D.A. Carson wrote, “Everyone says Jonathan Edwards is important. Quite frankly, however, his writing style is pretty dense by contemporary standards, so few pastors and other Christian leaders have invested much time reading him.” The Essential Edwards Collection edited by Owen Strachen and Doug Sweeney presents an introduction to and a multitude of quotations from Edwards’s thought in ways that are accessible and tremendously helpful.
The edition of Religious Affections that I used for citations in this article is edited by C.S. Lewis Institute co-founder James Houston and makes the work more readable and beneficial than just the bare text without annotations. Houston’s section headings and many side notes brought the book to life to me, even though I had twice previously read the plain text without any aids.
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