In the first part of the literature, Jonathan Edwards initiates the discussion by citing the book of 1 Peter 1: 8. It is imperative to note that the entire Religious Affections is based on this text. The author had an excellent reason for this choosing the text from the book of Peter. He asserts that a severe trial faced most of the recipients of Peter’s letters. It is against this backdrop that hardship or difficult moments are used to distinguish between people who belong to God and those who do not trust in Him at all. When God’s people go through trials, it confirms their faith in Him. In other words, true religion is manifested among Christians who are ready to face persecution to be purified. An example of how fire is used to refine gold appears in the text. According to Edwards (2013), “so true faith being tried as gold is tried in the fire, becomes more precious; and thus also is found unto praise, and honor, and glory” (93-94).
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In verse 8, the fruits of trials and tribulations have been documented by Apostle Paul. The apostle notes that true religion can only be manifested when God’s children are free of spiritual garbage. The correct form of religion is also found when the children of God have both the joy and love for Christ. The two elements of true religion bring glory to the Almighty God. Therefore, the above explanation establishes the treatise doctrine upon which the author anchors his arguments.
Edwards (2013) is categorical that the “true religion, in great part, consists in holy affections” (94-95). The intentions of the affections are then demonstrated by the author. He asserts that affection is the cornerstone and indicator of true religion.. the soul’s will and inclination have been referred by the author as the key determinants in the definition of affections. There are two faculties that the soul has been endued by God Himself.
First, speculation and perception play an integral role because human judgment is formed and derived from this faculty. This faculty also facilitates the overall understanding of an individual. In the second type of faculty, the perception and understanding of issues are not just enough. The soul tends to create a clear distinction on whether to incline. This faculty also refers to the will of mankind when making pertinent decisions in life. Perhaps, the author believes that this faculty of the soul plays the universal role of directing or guiding the life of an individual. It is indeed true that when we approve or disapprove certain decisions in life, the perception of the mind must first play its role.
It is the human will that eventually endorses the final decision or line of action to take. When the mind of man makes a choice, it is referred to as the will. There are instances when the human will is intensely affected. This implies that the degree of affection varies from one moment to another. Hence, Edwards expound affection as a situation whereby sensible and rigorous exercises affect the human will.
In the proceeding paragraphs, Edwards continues to highlight the aspects of true religion with special emphasis to the word of God, the most eminent saints and the desire to maintain holy affections. The power of worshipping and praising God has also been exemplified by the author. Edwards (2013) asserts that religious affections are expressed and excited by “singing praises to God” (115)
The spiritual state of mankind has been excluded in the 12 signs discussed by the author in this second part of the literature. A positive relationship between man and God cannot necessarily be evidenced by the 12 signs discussed by the author. For example, the biblical prophecy of the end times clearly warns of false prophets who will emerge when the world is drawing towards the end. Good standing with our creator largely depends on the deeper spiritual affection of an individual. According to the Puritan divine, the 12 signs may be witnessed among the good and evil people.
To begin with, some people can condemn all types of extreme affections by arguing that true religion does not exist. However, holy affections and genuine Christianity can hardly be separated from each other. Naturally, it is impossible for a person to claim that he or she loves Jesus Christ and God and yet does not profess the Christian faith. Also, the book of Mark 12:30 command that “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with your entire mind, and with all your strength.” Love is the greatest commandment that summarizes all types of commands in the Bible. The author has also cited several biblical verses that extol Christians to rejoice in the Lord always.
Some of the scriptural verses include Psalm 119:97 and Matthew 5:22. At this point, it is vital to mention that Paul was a servant of God who was well endowed with high affections. Religious affection is also a common metric among saints who are in heaven. From the author’s opinions, deluded enthusiasts are not part and parcel of individuals who possess religious affections. Nonetheless, possessing a high degree of religious affection cannot be equated to full conversion of an individual. The early church in Galatians faced a similar scenario when apostle Paul lamented that he was “laboring over them in vain” even though they manifested holy affections (Galatians 4:15, 11).
The man was created by God in the form of both soul and body. This implies that the human body also receives some degree of affection that emanates from the soul. Hence, the effect of the affection on the human body largely depends on the intensity of the affection itself. However, there is no direct correlation between the soul and body affections. In other terms, we cannot equate the body and soul affections. The modern religious world has several counterfeits of authentic affections.
In most cases, temporary things are mainly responsible for bodily effects. On the contrary, the same bodily effects have no relationship with religion. The body cannot be affected by the increase in holy affections. Some of the scriptural examples that can be used to back this statement include Revelation 1:17, Daniel 10:8 and Psalm 63:1.
The third sign explores the presence of hypocrites among the children of God. One of the attributes of hypocrites in the christen faith is “plenty of talks” regarding issues related to God. This can be explained better by people who are too religious and full of religious facts and doctrines. The author equates them to Pharisees who used to count themselves to be better than others. True religion has not been described by the scripture along this line. It is possible for an individual to be filled with the word of God even though he or she is still a sinner. People who have been converted will undoubtedly talk about God and Christ. This may be the case, although it does not give a vivid picture of the converted individual.
Some people may be full of vain talk as much as their speeches are fervent enough to attract and retain crowds. There are several characteristics of individuals who pursue true religion and also possess authentic affections. True believers in the word of God have been described in the 3rd part of this treatise. As already observed in the previous sections, true religion and holy affection are part and parcel of the will of God. The same will from the Almighty God should be assumed by mankind. However, it is not a mandatory affair, and that is why Edwards highlights some of the distinguishing features that can be used to differentiate right and false believers.
The author begins by highlighting three critical issues to the audience. First, differentiating true and false affections cannot be attained using any standard of analysis bearing in mind that such standards do not exist. Ascertaining the spiritual wellbeing of an individual is the preserve of God, and as such, no man can meet such a standard. It is the prerogative of God to weigh our spiritual standards. Second, even the saints cannot determine their state of spirituality. In most instances, they fall into sin, but God forgives them. The will of God aims at improving the spiritual condition of those who have backslidden and not comforting them in their sinful nature. The word of God also encourages us to examine ourselves deeply. However, we can regain assurance in our spiritual walk with God by minimizing extreme self-examination. Philippians 3:12-14 and 1st Corinthians 9:24-27 teach us on the aspect of self-examination.
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The third reminder from the author is that individuals who are living in a state of gracelessness or sin cannot be convinced by the fact they are spiritually out of order. In other terms, individuals can only be converted when they are convicted by the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. It is not our skills, strengths, or abilities that will invite sinners back to Christ. Even our positive spiritual lifestyles cannot make them think towards rescuing their dying souls.
According to Edwards (2013), “affections that are truly spiritual and gracious, do arise from those influences and operations on the heart, which are spiritual, supernatural, and divine” (197). The scripture describes holy persons as men and women who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. Holy people are born again. They also undergo continuous sanctification in the entire course of their lives. The indwelling spirit of God helps them to remain steadfast in their faith towards God. Moreover, spiritual persons are not carnal (1Cor. 2:14-15).
Two outstanding features distinguish a spiritual and natural man. God’s spirit dwells in a religious person. Their hearts are also influenced by the spirit of God, Almighty. In most cases, God’s spirit also dwells among holy people. Second, the saints or holy people communicate directly with the Holy Spirit of God. This does not happen in a natural man. According to the book of Romans 8:9, the Holy Spirit has no residence in a natural man. As much as the human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, a natural man is excluded from this divine benefit. Moreover, a natural man does not recognize the importance of the Holy Spirit in the divine life
One of the signs of a true believer has been brought out by the author when discussing the witness of the Spirit. It is not possible to witness the presence of the Holy spirit unless a person has received the spirit of God. People can claim to be filled with the spirit of God even though they are not. Those who truly believe in God will not merely witness about the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. They will also yield fruits of the Holy Spirit that will be witnessed by other people.
Divine excellence glorifies God in His holy presence. Edwards (2013) exemplifies that self-interest when seeking divine excellence is not an attribute associated with the children of God. He notes that “the first objective ground of gracious affections, is the transcendently excellent and amiable nature of divine things…” (240). The excellence of divine things is an important feature or characteristic of a true believer. After reading the above quote, it is still vital to understand that the author still has a place for self-worth. For example, a compounded self-love that has been guided in the right direction with correct motives is generally considered to be divine.
The author has expounded this type of self-worth as an approach that also considers the needs and wellbeing of others. True believers should not be concerned with themselves alone. They should learn to bear the burdens of others. A typical scriptural example of sinful self-love was witnessed when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. Immediately they went out of God’s divine purpose, the spirit of God disappeared from their inner beings.
God advances gracious affections to his people. On the same note, he requires mankind to share the same affection with fellow men and women. This implies that true believers should not exercise simple-self love. The latter does not glorify God at all. In the book of Luke 6:32, Christ observed that sinners also appreciate the love from people who love them. When the life of King Nebuchadnezzar was spared by David, great affection gripped King Saul. As a result, he demonstrated his love for David.
Edwards emphasizes that true believers should demonstrate gracious affections. Such affections are supposed to emanate from the inner mind of a person. Religious affections that are practiced by true believers are “not heat without light” (266). Edwards reiterates that spiritual instruction is rational. Therefore, true believers in the body of Jesus Christ should also exercise a high degree of rationalism when pursuing their Christian faith. Some people have a thorough understanding of the gospel of Christ, but they are not yet born again and are also not rational in their judgments. The author urges Christians to save the faith by being rational as believers.
Towards the end of the discussion, the author states that gracious affections that distinguish true believers from hypocrites are usually proportional to spiritual appetite. Alternatively, true believers should increase their spiritual appetites when there is high demand to share gracious affections. In the case of false affections, there is evident lack of spiritual pleasure that usually accompanies the spiritual presence of God. The author underscores that false affections tend to satisfy the victim. This type of affection creates a wrong or misleading impression in the mind that there is sufficient provision.
Edwards, J. (2013). Religious Affections: A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections. Boston: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Web.