Section I dealt with definitions and establishing his premises, Section II was filled with descriptions of things which may, but may not be, signs of God at work, so after 119 pages of Edwards’ weighty prose, the title of Section III “Showing What Are Distinguishing Signs Of Truly Gracious and Holy Affections” had me fully primed to learn what these certain signs were. Alas, after another 35 pages, such was not to be. (Now I know 35 pages doesn’t sound like much, but it took me less time to get through 1000 plus pages of Atlas Shrugged.)
Now this is not to say that this portion wasn’t helpful, it’s just not what I was expecting. Edwards begins this section by observing that while principles of discernment are found in the scripture, no absolutely certain techniques exist for distinguishing false characteristics of saving grace from true ones. He points out how difficult it is for an individual to be certain of God’s true working in his own life, and concludes that an outside observer has even less expectation for making a determination about that person’s spiritual state.
He then goes on to note, however, that the Bible does present a category for describing the state of person who is a true saint. These persons, he observes, are always described by the term spiritual, while those who are not are described by the terms natural, carnal or unspiritual. (I had to remember he’s citing King James language.) As evidence, he references numerous scriptures, such as 1 Corinthians 2:14-15 and Romans 7:14-8:13.
I have to confess I never would have noticed this classification in scripture, but now aware of it, I realize how wonderfully helpful it is to describe the differences between the person who is being sanctified and someone who isn’t.
Edwards goes on to make the conclusion that the effects of God’s working arise from the constitution of completely different nature, not simply the improvement or modification of the natural state. Thus, whenever evidences exist of a true work of grace, they are divine in origin, and do not arise from ordinary causes. He then uses this observation as a springboard to examine more of what are not sure evidences of “gracious affections.” For example, he points out that everyone apprehends ideas in the mind. This is an ordinary function of human experience. Thus, just because an idea suddenly appears in the mind, though it may even have a basis in Bible truth, it is no sign of a true work of God. Because Satan can create pictures or ideas that appear in the mind, there is no assurance that merely because an idea suddenly arises in a person’s thinking it therefore has its origin in God. Here’s how Edwards puts it:
"And there is not only nothing in the nature of external ideas or imaginations of outward appearances, from whence we can infer that they are above the power of the devil; but it is certain also that the devil can excite, and often hath excited, such ideas."He then cites as illustration Satan’s ability to create impressions even in the mind of Jesus, as when he showed him “all the kingdoms of the world, with glory of them, when those kingdoms were not really in sight.”
He carries this basic idea further, noting that even Bible promises can be projected into the mind without guarantee that they have their origin from God. The practical upshot of all this? I’ll let Edwards speak directly:
"Many have been the mischiefs that have arisen from that false and delusive notion of the witness of the Spirit, that it is a kind of inward voice, suggestion, or declaration from God to man that he is beloved of Him, and pardoned, elected, or the like, sometimes with and sometimes without a text of Scripture; and many have been the false and vain (though very high) affections that have arisen from hence. And it is to be feared that multitudes of souls have been eternally undone by it."
Sober words indeed.
Religious Affections Entry #1
Religious Affections Entry #2
Religious Affections Entry #3
Religious Affections Entry #4