Jonathan Edwards and the Religious Affections
I entered Westminster Seminary California a pretty devout Edwardsian, and yet as I spent most of the summer of 2002 doing preparatory research for a directed study project with Dr. D.G. Hart on Edwards’s versus Calvin’s view of assurance (the paper was titled What Hath Geneva to do with Northampton?), my sympathies shifted from the eighteenth- to the sixteenth century, and from Massachusetts to Switzerland.
At present, the main thing I have in common with Jonathan Edwards is that I hate wasting paper….
Still, I have always appreciated his Treatise Concerning Religious Affections. Well, let me clarify that. That last part, you know, the part about how we can only know that we’re true believers because we love God for his inherent excellencies, and not because of the benefits we derive from him? Not a huge fan of that part.
But his thesis at the beginning of the book is that true religion largely consists in the realm of the affections, which he defines as “the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul.” In other words, an “affection” for Edwards is not saying “OK” when you are asked, “Would you like fries with that?” Rather, an affection occurs when the soul responds vigorously to information received (Think fainting upon learning you’ve won the lottery).
According to Edwards, things like love for God, hatred of sin, and hope in the fulfillment of divine promises are all affections, and he therefore argues that “as there is no true religion where there is nothing else but affection, so there is no true religion where there is no religious affection.”
I plan to interact with Edwards’s treatise over the next few posts, but if you have some preliminary thoughts (and I know you do), let’s hear ’em….