Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Sign Which Is, and One Which Is Not

The further I get into The Religious Affections, the more it occurs to me that Jonathan Edwards must have personally known and been greatly concerned about individuals who claimed to be Christians but who gave him reason to doubt the genuineness of their conversion. My suspicions about this were first aroused by the sheer quantity of detail that Edwards puts into describing what are not in his opinion genuine marks of a true Christian experience. As I noted in my last post on the book, even when his section heading is titled “Showing What Are Distinguishing Signs of Truly Gracious and Holy Affections”, he repeatedly dwells on those which are not. When midway through the book he finally does dig into the positive signs of a genuine conversion, the shadow of false signs doesn’t depart. In fact, when he moves on to describing a second affirmative sign, he immediately brings up its doubtful counterpart. This second genuine trait that he points out, is that the true Christian possesses a powerful love for God, a love that,
“…is seen intuitively: the saint sees and feels plainly the union between his soul and God; it is so strong and lively that he cannot doubt of it.” (p. 164; The Religious Affections; The Banner of Truth Trust, 2004.)
Then, on the following page, he makes this observation:
“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.”
Perhaps it was a feature of Edward’s time that being a Christian was so normative, with so much pressure to be considered one, that non-believers not only claimed to believe, but also felt it necessary to testify to the internal reasoning for their assertion. I’m not sure where else Edwards would have gotten his material (and concern) apart from people he actually had contact with.

To be sure, some of this goes on today among church folk, but in most circles there is so little upside to being considered a Christian that not much need exists to make up something in order to be thought one. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Religious Affections Entry #1
Religious Affections Entry #2
Religious Affections Entry #3
Religious Affections Entry #4
Religious Affections Entry #5
Religious Affections Entry #6

No comments: