My thoughts (and quotes) from the twelfth point of Part III
This is the last of 12 points Edwards offers from the scriptures to differentiate between true and false religious affections. Tim Challies, who is coordinating this reading, has split this point into two parts, because it is very lengthy. This is the second.
[xii] Gracious and holy affections have their exercise and fruit in Christian practice.
[In other words, religious affections in a genuine Christian result in holiness and right Christian practice.]
Edwards feels that Christian practice or a holy life is . . . the chief of all the signs of grace. But we need to know in what ways this is so.
I Unbelievers and believers around us will know that we are sincere by our Christian practice and holy lives.
Jesus said “Ye shall know them by their fruits”
- the good strory they tell of their experiences
- pathos of expression
- speaking feelingly
- abundance of talk
- many tears
- affectionate expressions
- affections ye feel in your hearts towards them
Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they seeing your good works, may glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Christ does not say, that others hearing your good works, your good story, or your pathetical expressions; but “that others seeing your good works, may glorify your Father . . .“
Edwards then gives the examples of the Christian Hebrews (Heb6) and Gaius, where the commendation is for those leading a life of good works. Also, James writes “Yea, a man may say, thou hast faith, and I have works; show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.”
There are thus two ways of manifesting to our neighbour what is in our hearts
- showing our faith by our words
- showing our faith by our works
But the apostle abundantly prefers the latter as the best evidence.
Reason shows that men’s deeds are better and more faithful interpreters of their minds than their words.
Passing affections easily produce words; and words are cheap;
and godliness is more easily feigned in words than in actions
Christian practices is a costly, laborious thing.
The self denial that is required of Christians, and the narrowness of the way that leads to life, does not consist in words, but in practice. Hypocrites may much more easily be brought to talk like saints, than to act like saints.
Christian practice is the best sign . . . of the true godliness of a professing Christian
In this connection, it is important to understand that:
a. Christian practice is the best evidence to others of sincerity and truth of grace not of anyone and everyone but only of professing Christians.
Being a professing Christian is a basic requirement but not a distinguishing one, just as having a biological body does not distinguish a human being . . . and is not the main thing in the evidence of human nature, yet it is a thing requisite and necessary in the evidence.
because these rules were given us to judge of professing Christians only. Fruits must be joined with open flowers; bells and pomegranates go together
When may a man be said to profess Christianity?
1. When he professes of all that is necessary to his being a Christian and of all that belongs to the essence of Christianity.
What are these things that he must profess?
He must profess orthodox beliefs such as:
- Jesus is the Messiah
- Jesus satisfied for our sins
- Other essential doctrines of Christianity
And repent of our sins
- Convinced of our own sinfulness
- Knowing that we have justly exposed ourselves to God’s wrath
- Renouncing all sin in our hearts
- Embracing Christ as our only Saviour
- Professing that we love Him above all
- Declaring that we are willing for His sake to forsake all
- Declaring that we give up ourselves to be entirely and forever His
- Be willing to embrace religion with all its difficulties, and to walk in a way of obedience with perseverance
Our profession of sin should be visible by our humility, joy, and baptism.
2. When he can be numbered with persons that appear to have been so far instructed in the principles of religion, as to be in an ordinary capacity to understand the proper import of what is expressed in their profession.
For the church to accept a person into the fellowship, it is not necessary that they should give an account of the particular steps and methods by which the Holy Spirit acted in their lives. There is no scriptural prescription as to what particular steps ought to have occurred for receiving brethren into fellowship. When Edwards speaks of steps, he is alluding to the elaborate testimonies including emotions that they felt and so on that people were offering as evidence of their salvation.
Edwards goes on to explain what true believers profess. It goes without saying that those who make such a profession have experienced the workings of the Holy Spirit in their lives and do not have to detail the workings, as these workings can differ between individuals.
The profession that Edwards describes in such great detail is:
. . . in a full conviction of their own sinfulness, misery, and impotence, and totally undone state as in themselves, and their just desert of God’s utter rejection and eternal wrath, and the utter insufficiency of their own righteousness, nor anything in them, to satisfy divine justice, or recommend them to God’s favour, they do entirely depend on the Lord Jesus Christ, and His satisfaction and righteousness; that they do with all their hearts believe the truth of the gospel of Christ; and that in a full conviction of His sufficeincy and perfect excellency as a Saviour, as exhibited in the gospel, they do with their whole souls cleave to Him, and acquiesce in Him, as the refuge and rest of their souls, and fountain of their comfort; that they repent of their sins, and utterly renounce all sin, and give up themselves wholly to Christ, willingly subjecting themselves to Him as their King; that they give Him their hearts and their whole man; and are willing and resolved to have God for their whole and everlasting portion; and in a dependence on His promises of a future eternal enjoyment of Him in heaven, to renounce all the enjoyment of theis vain world, selling all for this great treasure and future inheritance, and to comply with every command of God, even the most difficult and self-denying, and devote their whole lives to God’s service; and that in forgiveness of those that have injured them, and a general benevolence to mankind, their hearts are united to the people of Jesus Christ as their people, to cleave to them and love them as their brethren, and worship and serve God, and follow Christ in union and fellowship with them, being willing and resolved to perform all those duties that belong to them, as members of the same family of God and mystical body of Christ.
Not that a more detailed explanation with dates and experiences is completely useless in especially cases of great importance, where all possible satisfaction concerning person’s piety is especially to be desired and sought after, as in the case of ordination or approbation of a minister.
But the profession must be from the heart not a mere customary compliance with a prescribed form
A profession that is a mere formality, Edwards says, is sound of things without life. This reminds me of how my father preached and warned that words like ‘repentance’ and ‘faith’ are just sounds to many people, and that it takes effort and study to break through the mere sound of these terms and mean them from the heart.
The life of a person is surer evidence than whether his conversion experience follows a certain expected norm.
b. Christian practice is the greatest evidence that others can have of the sincerity of a professing Christian.
Merely being an honest and moral man is no great evidence. This is not making his light shine before men. There needs to be positive appearance of holiness in one’s life. His universal obedience must be obvious, his love to saints and enemies, his humility and forgiving nature, his disposition to forsake anything rather than to forsake Christ, and so on. Such a visible godly life is far better than a lot of talk about one’s experiences.
c. No external manifestations and outward appearances whatsoever, that are visible to the world, are infallible evidences of grace.
Christian practice is a distinguishing and sure evidence of grace to persons’ own consciences.
‘Let every man prove his own work, so shall he have rejoicing in himself alone . . . ‘
‘by their fruits ye shall know them’
When the scripture speaks of good works, good fruit, and keeping Christ’s commandments, it does not refer merely to what is external, or the motion and action of the body . . . but the obedience of the soul, consisting in the acts and practice of the soul . . .
that in these expressions are included all inward piety and holiness of heart, both principle and exercise, both spirit and practice.
To understand this better let us look at the two kinds of exercise this includes: 1. Within-the-soul exercises of grace. These are exercises of grace that saints often have in contemplation. 2.practical or effective exercises which are the exertions of grace in the commanding acts of the will, directing the outward actions.
An outward benevolent action is a “good work” so far as it is the soul’s good work. As a precautionary measure, I would add here to Edward’s thought that it is considered a “good work” only as long as this is in response to our obedience to Christ and Him alone; otherwise they are no acts of denial of ourselves, or obedience to God, or service done to Him, but something else. . . As God looks at the obedience and practice of the man, He looks at the practice of the soul; for the soul is the man in God’s sight, “for the Lord seeth not as man seeth, for He looketh on the heart.”
The parable of the wise man and foolish man, where outward obedience to God’s word is stressed, comes after Jesus mentions ‘heart’ things in the beatitudes.
Jer 17:10 “I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to His ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” But if by his ways, and fruit of his doings, is meant only the actions of his body, what is the need of searching the heart and reins in order to know them?
Isa 38:3 “Remember now, O Lord, I beseech Thee, how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart.”
Edwards then mentions the idea of the commanding act of the will. The inward exercise and practice of the soul that have been spoken of consist in acts of the will, commanding outward acts in the body. As long as body and soul are united, these two go together.
Take the case of a man who meets a beggar. It cannot be that the commanding act of his will was to give such a piece of money he had in his hand to a poor beggar, while in his hand at the same instant kept it back and held it fast.
II Not just to others, but our Christian practice and holy lives is the best evidence of a saving sincerity in religion to our own consciences.
What do men do when left to follow their own choice and inclinations?
The proper trial whether a man has a heart to forsake all for Christ is when he is actually put in a situation where other things in his life compete with the place Christ has in his heart and he can no more merely say with his lips “I will forsake all for Christ” but where he must actually or practically cleave to one and forsake the other.
Godliness consists not in a heart which intends to do the will of God, but in a heart which does it.
A man who intends and says but does not actually and practically set Christ highest in his life thinks that he can bamboozle God on the day of judgment into thinking he is a genuine believer. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
Two possible objections
[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.]