The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards

I finally got back into the reading swing a few months ago and first on my list was a book that had been on my list for a long time, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards.  This book, even after having finished a complete reading, is so monumental that it would require several more readings, at a much slower pace, to even begin to comprehend it’s value.  First published in 1746, written around the time of the Great Awakening when “affections” were running wild (many people would have a dramatic “religious awakenings” with loud wailing and moaning but not a true change of heart), this book must have been seen by the people of North Hampton at the time as quite a controversial book.  Today, The Religious Affections has the honor to be listed among the classics delivered by some of the greatest theologians, but if read in context of today’s culture, and viewed as being directly applicable today, it might be seen as even more controversial today than it did in the late 18th century.

Still, it’s truths are so relevant, it’s pious statements so profound, it tends to show how far we have come (or how far we have slid) from the “religion” of the Great Awakening. Where Edwards was once trying to discern true affections from Pharisaical outcries, we the church in the 21st century are similar to the 18th century church of North Hampton in some respects.  We have and show almost no true affection in worship to God, a breaking of the will by the heart, for a God who deserves the utmost adoration for every breath we take, and yet we posses more entertainment emotion (for lack of a better phrase) than any generation in previous history.

As the book opens, Edwards puts forth nine evidences that true religion lies much in the heart of the affections.  In seminary (of all places) it has often been said to me that a mature Christian needs both the head and the heart, both knowledge and true affections towards God.  If you are in the camp that uses “knowledge puffs up but love edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1) to excuse yourself from study you are missing half of what Paul is saying, and the same is true to those who only seek after knowledge.  Any surface reading of scripture clearly shows that God insists on both, and Edwards certainly agrees.  “He that has doctrinal knowledge and speculation only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of religion.” [1]

In these nine evidences Edwards lays out his thesis and speaks directly to the church of the 21st century.

That religion which God requires, and will accept, does not consist in weak, dull, and lifeless wishes, raising us but a little above a state of indifference: God, in His word, greatly insists upon it, that we be in good earnest, “fervent in spirit,” and our hearts vigorously engaged in religion (Romans 12:11) and to “Be ye fervent in spirit, serving the Lord… serving the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and will all thy soul?” (Deuteronomy 10:12).

While we certainly can claim we don’t have dull and lifeless worship services (in fact we can claim the opposite since our worship “production” can rival that of the Discovery Channel at this point), we can still have a lifeless and dull heart.  Paul in Romans 12 isn’t saying the dB rating of the worship should be vigorous, he is saying that “our hearts [should be] vigorously engaged” in worship.  John takes it one step farther when talking about the church in Laodicea saying that Christ utterly detests a lukewarm church (Revelation 3:16).

I would highly recommend The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards to anyone who might be interested.  It certainly was a challenging read, it wasn’t the most straight forward easy to read pop-Christian publication that tends to make the rounds today, but I wouldn’t expect it to be either.  Books that we fully understand from a quick initial read probably don’t further our understanding in the subject at hand and Affections is one of those pieces of literature that could be read over and over again.


[1] Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections, (Carlisle, CA: The Banner of Truth Trust, Versa Press, Inc., 1986), 30, 27.

The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards

I finally got back into the reading swing a few months ago and first on my list was a book that had been on my list for a long time, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards.  This book, even after having finished a complete reading, is so monumental that it would require several more readings, at a much slower pace, to even begin to comprehend it’s value.  First published in 1746, written around the time of the Great Awakening when “affections” were running wild (many people would have a dramatic “religious awakenings” with loud wailing and moaning but not a true change of heart), this book must have been seen by the people of North Hampton at the time as quite a controversial book.  Today, The Religious Affections has the honor to be listed among the classics delivered by some of the greatest theologians, but if read in context of today’s culture, and viewed as being directly applicable today, it might be seen as even more controversial today than it did in the late 18th century.
Still, it’s truths are so relevant, it’s pious statements so profound, it tends to show how far we have come (or how far we have slid) from the “religion” of the Great Awakening. Where Edwards was once trying to discern true affections from Pharisaical outcries, we the church in the 21st century are similar to the 18th century church of North Hampton in some respects.  We have and show almost no true affection in worship to God, a breaking of the will by the heart, for a God who deserves the utmost adoration for every breath we take, and yet we posses more entertainment emotion (for lack of a better phrase) than any generation in previous history.

As the book opens, Edwards puts forth nine evidences that true religion lies much in the heart of the affections.  In seminary (of all places) it has often been said to me that a mature Christian needs both the head and the heart, both knowledge and true affections towards God.  If you are in the camp that uses “knowledge puffs up but love edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1) to excuse yourself from study you are missing half of what Paul is saying, and the same is true to those who only seek after knowledge.  Any surface reading of scripture clearly shows that God insists on both, and Edwards certainly agrees.  “He that has doctrinal knowledge and speculation only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of religion.” [1]

In these nine evidences Edwards lays out his thesis and speaks directly to the church of the 21st century.

That religion which God requires, and will accept, does not consist in weak, dull, and lifeless wishes, raising us but a little above a state of indifference: God, in His word, greatly insists upon it, that we be in good earnest, “fervent in spirit,” and our hearts vigorously engaged in religion (Romans 12:11) and to “Be ye fervent in spirit, serving the Lord… serving the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and will all thy soul?” (Deuteronomy 10:12).

While we certainly can claim we don’t have dull and lifeless worship services (in fact we can claim the opposite since our worship “production” can rival that of the Discovery Channel at this point), we can still have a lifeless and dull heart.  Paul in Romans 12 isn’t saying the dB rating of the worship should be vigorous, he is saying that “our hearts [should be] vigorously engaged” in worship.  John takes it one step farther when talking about the church in Laodicea saying that Christ utterly detests a lukewarm church (Revelation 3:16).

I would highly recommend The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards to anyone who might be interested.  It certainly was a challenging read, it wasn’t the most straight forward easy to read pop-Christian publication that tends to make the rounds today, but I wouldn’t expect it to be either.  Books that we fully understand from a quick initial read probably don’t further our understanding in the subject at hand and Affections is one of those pieces of literature that could be read over and over again.


[1] Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections, (Carlisle, CA: The Banner of Truth Trust, Versa Press, Inc., 1986), 30, 27.

Can We Actually Know the Attributes of God?

This coming Sunday our church moves into their fall schedule with the start of a new series on the attributes of God. This should be a great look at a few of the many elements that make up the existence and nature of God Himself. I was thrilled when I found out this was the next series since I had just finished my own research on the attributes of God, specifically that of God’s love (research post as The Attributes of God: Analysis on the Basic Dimensions of God’s Love if you are bored), but there are an infinite number attributes that could be studied in detail.  Paul says it best in Romans when he asks “who has known the mind of the Lord?”, for the depth of the riches, wisdom, and knowledge of God is so great, that we could never fully exhaust our understanding of God’s greatness (Romans 11:33-34).

One of the more recent theological champions of the attributes of God is the author, theologian, and pastor, A. W. Tozer (April 21, 1897 – May 12, 1963). Tozer wrote a book entitled The Attributes of God (Volume 1): A Journey Into the Father’s Heart, which takes a look at God’s infinitude, immensity, goodness, justice, mercy, grace, omnipresence, immanence, holiness and perfection, and this is the reference book for our upcoming series on the attributes of God.  Tozer spent much of his ministry studying what he deemed to be one of the most important questions to ask, what is God like?

Can We Actually Know God?

I think too often today we take a more pluralistic (or post-modern if you like) view of this question, and answer “who are we to think we can know God?”, and then push it off to the back burner and say why bother trying something impossible.  To answer in that manner is to excuse oneself from the rigors of pursuing a relationship with God, but it is more than that, it is to deny scripture itself.

In Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians he talks to the church about Christ’s judgment at the second coming (2 Thessalonians 1:8).  At the time of the second coming, Christ will punish two distinct classes of people; those who “do not know God” (cf. Romans 1:18-32), and those who “do not obey the gospel” (cf. John 3:36).  Jeremiah the Prophet spoke to Judah just before the impending invasion of the Babylonian army and told them they were fools because they didn’t know God, but instead certainly knew the way of evil (Jeremiah 4:22Isaiah 1:3 and Psalm 82:5).

There are many other examples, but the point is, if we are called by His name, we are called to know God.  We can spend a lifetime doing this, but God loves those, and has made Himself known, to those who seek Him out (Proverbs 8:17).

Great Resource for Audiobooks

A quick plug to those who enjoy digging in deeper to these and other topics of faith.  Christian Audio (christianaudio.com) has one of the largest selections of Christian audiobooks, and each month they give away a free audiobook.  This month happens to be The Pursuit Of God (Unabridged) by A. W. Tozer, and you can download it for free until July 31st.  Not only is this title free, but all of A. W. Tozer’s other books are only $4.95 until the end of the month.  This is a fantastic resource, and I would recommend Christianaudio to anyone interested in audiobooks (you can listen on your iPod, MP3 player, iPad, iPhone, whatever, and you can also follow them on Twitter @ChristianAudio).

I have no stake in the company or know anyone personally over there, I have just used their resources and have never had any issues with quality or service (only wish they had even more titles than they do).  I often depend on a wide range of resources for studying, but even iTunes can’t beat an unabridged book like that for $4.95.  That’s my plug for the month, if audiobooks are not your thing, get a copy of Tozer’s books in print, you won’t be disappointed.

The Complete Egoist by Arthur Guiterman

I have tried over the years to reconcile the whole of what is social networking to how it helps or destroys the effort of devoting one’s life to the pursuit of God.  Reading through a sermon written by a family member in 1976, I came across this poem by Arthur Guiterman called “The Complete Egoist”, who wrote this around 1930 about our pursuit to self. I wonder what he would think of our narcissism in 2010.

A Mollusc who dwelt in primordial slime
Was always himself to the innermost core;
As being himself took up most of his time,
He never did anything more.
Still just as he was, though long ages have flown,
He stands on the specimen-cabinet shelf
A fossil, immortal in durable stone,
A monument raised to himself.

–Guiterman ~1930