Dare I Disagree With Jonathan Edwards?!
This post has taken some time for me to write because I am not really qualified to write it. With this post I run the risk of angering my “Edwardian” brothers and sisters. I have been reading Edward’s Religious Affections and have some minor quibbles with his theology – actually they are more like questions than quibbles. Now, before lightning strikes me, or my inbox gets flooded with emails exclaiming my theological fallaciousness, or exhorting me to repent, or telling me how mightily Edwards was used in the Great Awakening …I am well aware of the fact that I can not hold a candle to Edwards when it comes to anything regarding theology, Christian living, piety, writing, intelligence, affections, and I am sure that my preference for German lagers pales in comparison to his fine tastes…in fact I really do appreciate Jonathan Edwards. He was a giant of orthodoxy who was, and still is, mightily used by God for advancing the kingdom. I have learned much from him and I appreciate his works. I even really appreciate his Religious Affections, the work I have my quibble with. So, here is my quibble or question. I disagree with Edwards emphasis on finding assurance in our affections. Here is one such quote,
From hence it clearly and certainly appears, that great part of true religion consists in the affections. For love is not only one of the affections, but it is the first and chief of the affections, and the fountain of all the affections. From love arises hatred of those things which are contrary to what we love, or which oppose and thwart us in those things that we delight in: and from the various exercises of love and hatred, according to the circumstances of the objects of these affections, as present or absent, certain or uncertain, probable or improbable, arise all those other affections of desire, hope, fear, joy, grief, gratitude, anger, &c. From a vigorous, affectionate, and fervent love to God, will necessarily arise other religious affections; hence will arise an intense hatred and abhorrence of sin, fear of sin, and a dread of God’s displeasure, gratitude to God for his goodness, complacence and joy in God, when God is graciously and sensibly present, and grief when he is absent, and a joyful hope when a future enjoyment of God is expected, and fervent zeal for the glory of God. And in like manner, from a fervent love to men, will arise all other virtuous affections towards men.
I agree that where our affections lie certainly is evidence of where we are spiritually, but I am concerned that he is causing his readers to look inward rather than outward to Christ for assurance of faith. The overall emphasis of Edward’s work here appears to me to be that we should look for evidence of faith in ourselves – where our affections lie, rather than trust in the promises of God alone. Yet when I read the Reformers, and the Three Forms of Unity, it appears that they avoid the teaching that we should look inside of ourselves but rather outside of ourselves to Christ. To quote Luther in his Lectures on Genesis:
Abraham is Righteous…because he believed God who gave a promise…For faith is the firm and sure thought or trust that through Christ God is propitious and that through Christ His thoughts concerning us are thoughts of peace, not of affliction or wrath. God’s thought or promise–these belong together…The confident laying hold of the promise is called faith; and it justifies, not as our own work but as the work of God…Faith alone lays hold of the promise, stretches out its hand when God offers something, and accepts what He offers…The only faith that justifies is the faith that deals with God in His promises and accepts them…Furthermore, every promise of God includes Christ; for if it is separated from this mediator, God is not dealing with us at all. (Emphasis added.)
The Canons of Dort (CoD) says in 5/10:
This assurance is not produced by a certain private revelation besides or outside the Word, but by faith in the promises of God, which He has most abundantly revealed in His Word for our comfort; by the testimony of the Holy Spirit, witnessing with our spirit that we are children and heirs of God; and, finally, by the serious and holy pursuit of a clear conscience and of good works. And if the elect of God did not have in this world the solid comfort of obtaining the victory and this unfailing pledge of eternal glory, they would be of all men the most miserable.
I may be completely mistaken, but what I perceive Edwards to be saying is that we are to look inward to judge whether we are looking to Christ. Now the CoD appear to say something similar as Edwards when it mentions the “serious pursuit of a clear conscience and good works.” Obviously a pursuit of good works will have its affections in Christ. But there is a subtle difference, I think. Edwards appears to call us to look to the quality of our faith, while the Reformers and the Reformed confessions exhort us to look away from ourselves and to cast our gaze upon the work of Jesus Christ. And what of Lord’s day 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism?
That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.
Do you see it? It says, “by His Holy Spirit He also assures me…” it does not say, “by the affections I have He assures me…”
I am not an emotional person. I am very even keel in my affections. I don’t get to high, or too low – for the most part. My wife will confirm that I love her deeply, but emotional affection is not prevalent in my personality. If I look too my affections, I have to admit that there are times when looking at myself I wonder if I am saved or if I care about anyone or anything in the world. There are days, when I am simply done, exhausted, and my affection is sinful and for myself. If I look for assurance in myself at those times, I would certainly be damned to hell. So even on the good days, when I am standing on a mountain top and God is near, and it feels like Jesus is close, and my heart is overflowing with affection for him, I can not take comfort in that. But I can take comfort from the thought that Jesus Died for me. I find assurance in the promise that He will never leave me nor forsake me. When my affections are not right, when I am faithless, His affection for me is good and He is faithful.
So have I completely misunderstood what Edwards is writing? Thoughts are welcome. I appreciate any feedback.