My thoughts (and quotes) from Part II
Of a total of 12 points in Part II, we covered seven points last week. This week we covered points 8 to 12.
- The fact that one’s religious affections are intense does not tell us whether the affections are from God.
- The fact that one’s religious affections have great effects on the body does not tell us whether the affections are from God.
- The fact that one’s religious affections cause one to talk incessantly of spiritual matters does not tell us whether the affections are from God.
- The fact that one’s religious affections have not been caused by one’s own effort or strength does not tell us whether the affections are from God.
- The fact that one’s religious affections are accompanied by scripture texts that come to mind in an amazing way does not tell us whether the affections are from God.
- The fact that one’s religious affections are accompanied with love does not tell us whether the affections are from God.
- The fact that one’s religious affections are manifold does not tell us whether the affections are from God.
- The fact that one experiences dramatic awakenings and convictions of conscience followed by feelings of comfort and joy does not tell us whether the affections are from God.
On the one hand, it may be that the affections in this sequence (of terror followed by comfort) are from God, as can be seen from the following examples:
- The Israelites cried out in their bondage in Egypt before God delivered them
- The Israelites were greatly distressed when they had no way to go, with the Red Sea before them and the Egyptians closing in behind them, and then God appeared, and turned their cries into songs
- . . . before they were brought to their rest, and to enjoy the milk and honey of Canaan, God led them (the Israelites) through a great and terrible wilderness that he might humble them.
- The woman with the issue of blood spent much on physicians before she came to the Great Physician without any money or price, and was healed by Him.
- Christ humbled the woman of Canaan, seeming utterly to deny her, and humbled her, and brought her to own herself worthy to be called a dog; and then He showed her mercy, and received her as a dear child.
- There was first a great tempest; the ship was covered with the waves . . . and then the winds and seas were rebuked , and there was a great calm.
- Joseph who was sold by his brethren allows his brothers to feel distressed and reflect on their sin, and to say, “We are verily guilty” . . . and then reveals himself to them, as their brother and their saviour.
- . . . a horror of great darkness fell upon him (Abraham), and then God revealed Himself to him in sweet promises.
- So it was with Elijah . . . there is a stormy wind, and earthquake, and devouring fire, and then a still, small, sweet voice
- Daniel saw Christ’s face as lightening, that caused him to faint. Then he is comforted with the words: O Daniel, a man greatly beloved.
- The Prodigal Son is humbled and owns his unworthiness before he is reinstated in his father’s home.
- The multitude on the Day of Pentecost are pricked in their hearts before they receive saving consolations
- The apostle Paul was greatly distressed before he was comforted.
On the other hand, the fact that comfort follows awakenings does not necessarily show they are from God. The convictions of conscience may include terror but do not comprise only of it. At the end of the experience, there must be evidence of the Holy Spirit convicting the person of one’s sin and the dreadfulness of sin that is committed against an infinitely holy God.
There are some persons that have frightful apprehensions of hell, a dreadful pit ready to swallow them up, and flames just ready to lay hold of them, and devils around them ready to seize them who at the same time seem to have very little proper enlightenings of conscience really convincing them of their sinfulness of heart and life.
Like false labour pain, many cases of travail and terror are not the real experience. We know this because:
- Firstly, If Satan can counterfeit salvation itself, how much more can he counterfeit those experiences that happen while the subjects are still his children. We have an example of this in the remorse of Saul when he tells David, “Thou art more righteous than I . . .”
Secondly, If Satan can imitate the experiences individually, he can also imitate the order in which they are supposed to occur.
Thirdly, We have no certain rule to determine how far God’s own Spirit may go in those operations and convictions which in themselves are not spiritual and saving, and yet the person that is the subject of them never be converted, but fall short of salvation at last. This is a frightening thought.
Fourthly, a certain sequence and set of steps is observed in conversions generally. This sequence is then expected to occur in all other conversions. Those aspects of the conversions that conform to the standard sequence are focussed upon and the rest glossed over. Hurrah for Stoddard’s Guide to Christ that is quoted in the footnote: “If the man do not know the time of his conversion . . . the minister may not draw any peremptory conclusion from thence that he is not godlly.”
- The fact that one’s religious affections cause one to spend a lot of time on Christian activities does not tell us whether the affections are from God.
True religious affections does have that effect as we can see from the following:
- Anna the prophetess who “departed not from the temple . . .”
- Early Christians in Jerusalem who “continued daily with one accord in the temple . . .”
- Daniel who delighted in the duty of prayer
- The saints who sang praises to God as the Psalms instruct
- The saints who delighted in sound preaching who thought that the feet of preachers who brought the word of God were beautiful upon the mountains
- The saints who loved God’s public worship
But yet, on the other hand, that persons are disposed to abound and to be zealously engaged in the external exercises of religion, and to spend much time in them, is no sure evidence of grace; because such a disposition is found in many that have no grace. Because:
- God found the activities of the Israelites an abomination, when they attended to the “new moons, and Sabbaths, and calling of assemblies, and spread forth their hands, and made many prayers . . .”
- Jesus found the Pharisees wanting who “made long prayers and fasted twice a week”
- Ezekiel’s hearers are described as ones who “sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: from their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.”
- Herod heard John the Baptist gladly but nothing came out of it
- So the stony ground hearers heard the word with joy.
- Church history mentions recluses and hermits who left he world to devote their time to meditation on God. But this is not what God wants His people to do.
- The fact that one’s religious affections cause one praise and glorify God with one’s mouth does not tell us whether the affections are from God.
We have accounts of those who praised and extolled God, who were truly godly and those who were not.
- The fact that one’s religious affections cause one praise and glorify God with one’s mouth does not tell us whether the affections are from God. (This point blew my mind)
- We see that true children of God have been assured of their salvation as we see in the lives of the patriarchs, David, and Hezekiah.
- The Lord Jesus spoke to the disciples declaring His special and everlasting love to them . . . He concluded that last discourse of His with a prayer in their presence, wherein He speaks positively to His Father of those eleven disciples, as having all them savingly known Him, and believed in Him and received and kept His word.
- The Apostle Paul . . . speaks in an assured strain, ever speaking positively of his special relation to Christ, his Lord and Master and Redeemer . . .
- If it were not possible to be assured of one’s salvation, would we be exhorted to make our calling and assurance sure?
On the other hand, having an assurance of salvation does not prove that one is saved. Did not the pharisees believe that they were right with God? When a hypocrite gets a false hope, he is in a precarious situation indeed:
- Firstly, the hypocrite does not have a cautious spirit about how important it is to have a sure foundation, and how dreadful it is to be deceived
- Secondly, the hypocrite does not know that he is blind and that his heart is deceitful
- Thirdly, the devil does not assault the hope of the hypocrite as he does the hope of a true saint. And so he is not stirred up to working out his salvation as the true saint is.
- Fourthly, he who is not of God’s chosen does not see his own faults as the true saint does. But a false hope hides corruption, covers it all over, and the hypocrite looks clean and bright in his own eyes.
Edwards then goes on to introduce to us two kinds of hypocrites, the Arminian one (legal hypocrite) and the Calvinist one (evangelical hypocrite). The latter is in greater danger because he often has the ‘once saved always saved’ idea. Almost with a touch of humour, Edwards says that the evangelical hypocrite is more assured that one with true hope. And in one sense it is much more immovable than a truly gracious assurance. Edwards then gives us this excellent truth:A true assurance is not upheld but by the soul’s being kept in a holy frame, and grace maintained in lively exercise.
Edwards thinks that there are some doctrines that are dangerous in the hands of some people unless explained with more care.
- Example 1, We walk by faith and not by sight (where it is wrongly believed that it is wrong to doubt one’s spiritual safety even when there is nothing to show for it)
- Example 2, Living on Christ and not on experience
On the other hand it is also possible for a true child of God to doubt his salvation for the following reasons:
- He may be so conscious of his unworthiness and at the same time unable to fathom that God can save the chief of sinners
- He may not appreciate or depend on how infinitely above his is God’s power, knowledge, and wisdom.
- He may have fallen into sin and so naturally doubt his salvation
Edwards then puts forward a very interesting observation in the life of true children of God about two opposite principles of love and fear should rise and fall, like the two opposite scales of a balance; when one rises the other sinks.
– that when their love decays, and the exercises of it fail or become weak, fear should arise; for then they need it to restrain them from sin, and to excite them to care for the good of their souls, and so to stir them up to watchfulness and diligence in religion
– that when love rises and is in vigorous exercise, then fear should vanish and e driven away; for then they need it not, having a higher and more excellent principle in exercise, to restrain them from sin and stir them up to their duty.
Fear is cast out by the Spirit of God no other way than by the prevailing of love; nor is fear ever maintained but when love is asleep. This, according to Edwards is the internal check that keeps God’s people safe. This balance keeps working automatically unless something like the following interrupts it: distemper of melancholy, doctrinal ignorance, prejudices of education, wrong instruction, false principles, peculiar temptations, etc. (I can understand how some of this list can hinder a normal Christian life. And for many reasons I am glad that he included distemper of melancholy.)
- The fact that one’s religious affections cause the truly godly to feel one in spirit with them does not tell us whether the affections are from God. (This point blew my mind)
The true saints have not such a spirit of discerning that they can certainly determine who are godly and who are not. Some people boast that they have extraordinary powers of discerning. In reality, wise and experienced men will proceed with great caution in such an affair.
Edwards then alludes to the writing of Shepard who says: “Be not offended if you see great cedars fall, stars fall from heaven . . . do not think they be all such (that they are actually great cedars or stars): do not think that the elect shall fall. Truly, some are such that when they fall, one would think a man truly sanctified might fall away, as the Arminians think: 1 John 2:19 They were not of us. “
Edwards provides a long list of good characteristics that are becoming of any child of God and then says: there may be all these things and yet there be nothing more than the common influences of the Spirit of God, joined with the delusions of Satan and a wicked and deceitful heart. To the description of these people, he adds . . . a sweet natural temper . . . a good doctrinal knowledge . . . possessing the saint’s way of talking . . . and decency of expression and behavior formed by a good education . . . It would be indeed so difficult to distinguish between such a man and a truly godly man. Doubtless it is the glorious prerogative of the omniscient God . . . to separate between sheep and goats. And what an indecent self exaltation and arrogance it is, in poor fallible dark mortals, to pretend that they can determine and know who are really sincere and upright before God and who are not!
Those who boast about being able to discern such persons think that they would know, by the Holy Spirit in them, if someone was not a true child of God. But such persons might be convinced of the falseness of their reasoning, if they would consider whether or no it be not their duty, and what God requires of them, to love those as the children of God who they think are the children of God, and whom they have no reason to think otherwise of, from all that they can see in them, though God who searches the hearts, knows them not to be His children.
The notion of certainly discerning another’s state by love flowing out, is not only not founded on reason or Scripture, but it is antiscriptural, against the rules of Scripture; which say not a word of any such way of judging the state of others as this, but direct us to judge chiefly by the fruits that are seen in them.
This week’s reading comprises the remaining 5 points:
[Tim Challies has a blog feature called Reading Classics, where he and many other online friends read a selected Christian classic in a synchronized way and share their views. The classic being studied currently is The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards.]
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