Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
Who will deny that true religion consists in a great measure in vigorous and lively actings of the inclination and will of the soul, or the fervent exercises of the heart?
That religion which God requires, and will accept, DOES NOT consist in a weak, dull, and lifeless wishes, raising us but a little ABOVE A STATE OF INDIFFERENCE. God, in His word, greatly insists upon it, that we be in good earnest, “fervent in spirit.”
He spoke of old to Israel,”What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in ALL His ways, and to love Him with ALL THY HEART, AND WITH ALL THY SOUL?” This is the fruit of true regeneration.
If we be not in good earnest in religion, and our wills and inclinations be not strongly exercised, we are nothing. The things of religion are so great, that there can be no suitableness in the exercises of our hearts to their nature and importance, unless they be lively and powerful. In nothing is vigour in the actings of our inclinations so required as in religion; and in nothing is lukewarmness so odious (hateful). True religion is evermore a powerful thing; and the power of it appears, in the first place in the inward exercises of it in the heart, where is the principal and original seat of it. Hence true religion is called the power of godliness, in distinction from the external appearances of it, that are only the form of it. II Tim. 3:5
The world continues from age to age in a pursuit of THINGS; but take away affections, and the spring of all this motion would be gone, and the motion itself would cease. And as in worldly things, worldly affections are very much the spring of men’s action; so in religious matters the spring of their actions is very much religious affections: he that has doctrinal knowledge and speculation only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of true religion.
Nothing is more manifest in fact, than that the things of religion take hold of men’s souls no further than they affect them. There are multitudes that often hear the word of God, and therein hear of those things that are infinitely great and important, and that most concern them, and all that is heard seems to be wholly ineffectual upon them, and to make no alteration in their disposition or behaviour, and the reason is, they are NOT AFFECTED WITH WHAT THEY HEAR. I am bold to assert that there never was any considerable change wrought in the mind or conduct of any person, by anything of a religious nature that ever he read, heard, or saw, that HAD NOT HIS AFFECTIONS MOVED. Never was a natural man engaged earnestly to seek his salvation; never were any such brought to cry after wisdom, and lift up his voice for understanding, and to wrestle with God in prayer for mercy; nor was one ever induced to fly for refuge to Christ, while his heartREMAINED UNAFFECTED. Nor was there ever a saint awakened out of a cold, lifeless frame, or recovered from a declining state of religion, and brought back from a lamentable departure from God, WITHOUT HAVING HIS HEART AFFECTED.
And the impressing divine things on the hearts and the affections of men is evidently one great and main end for which God has ordained that His Word delivered in the holy Scriptures should be opened, applied, and set home upon men, in preaching. And there-fore it does not answer the aim which God had in this institution, merely for men to have good commentaries and books of divinity; because these may tend as well as preaching to give men a good doctrinal or speculative understanding of the things of the Word of God; yet they have not and equal tendency to impress them on men’s hearts and affections. GOD HATH APPOINTED A PARTICULAR AND LIVELY APPLICATION OF HIS WORD TO MEN IN THE PREACHING OF IT, as a fit means to affect sinners with their own misery and the necessity of a remedy, and the glory and sufficiency of a remedy provided; and to stir up the pure minds of the saints, and quicken their affections, by often bringing the great things of religion to their remembrance.
Remember, God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel about “taking out of the stony heart, and putting in a heart of flesh.” Now by a hard heart is plainly meant an UNAFFECTED heart, or a heart not easy to be moved with virtuous affections, like a stone, insensible, stupid, unmoved, and hard to be impressed. Hence the hard heart is called a STONY HEART, as opposed to a HEART OF FLESH,
that has feeling, and is sensibly touched and moved. We read in Scripture of a HARD HEART and a TENDER HEART; and these doubtless are contrary to one another. But what is a TENDER HEART BUT A HEART WHICH IS EASILY IMPRESSED WITH WHAT OUGHT TO AFFECT IT.?
He who has no religious affection is in a state of spiritual death, and is wholly destitute of the powerful, quickening, saving influences of the Spirit of God upon his heart. There can be a kind of light without heat, a head stored with notions and speculations, with a COLD AND UNAFFECTED HEART, there can be nothing divine in that light; that knowledge is no true spiritual knowledge of Divine things. If the great things of religion are rightly understood, they will AFFECT THE HEART. The reason why men are not affected by such infinitely great, important, glorious, and wonderful things, as they often hear and read of in the Word of God, is undoubtedly because they are blind; if they were not so, it would be impossible, and utterly inconsistent with human nature, that their hearts should be otherwise than strongly impressed, and greatly moved by such things.
The prevailing prejudice against religious affections has the effect of hardening the hearts of sinners, and dampen the graces of the saints, and to stun the life and power of religion, and to hold us down in a state of dulness and apathy. There are false affections, and there are true. A man’s having much affection, does not prove that he has any true religion: but if he has no affection, it proves that he has no true religion. If true religion lies much in the affections, hence we may learn what great cause we have to be ashamed and confounded before God, that we are no more affected with the great things of religion. It appears from what has been said that this arises from our having so little true religion.
(These words from a message on “trials” from I Peter 1:8
‘…these trials are of further benefit of true religion, they not only manifest the truth of it, but make its beauty to appear…”)