When John Piper was once asked about books that he would recommend, his first response was “Read Religious Affections, at all costs read Religious Affections! And anything else you can get your hands on by this great saint.”
In his book Seeing God: Jonathan Edwards and Spiritual Discernment, Gerald R. McDermott uses the outline Jonathan Edwards’s Religious Affections to provide spiritual counsel and discernment for today. The following is a cursory overview of the affections, seen through McDermott who in turn is relying upon Edwards.
According to McDermott, Edwards insisted that “religious experience is centered in what he called the ‘affections.’ These lie at a deeper level of the human person than either thoughts or feelings, and in fact are the source and motivating power of thoughts and feelings. Indeed, they are at the root of all spiritual experience, both true and false. Holy affections are the source of true spirituality, while other kinds of affections lie at the root of false spiritualities.”
What are affections? For Edwards, “the affections are the strongest motivations of the human self, ultimately determining everything the person is and does. ” They are “strong inclinations of the soul that are manifested in thinking, feeling, and acting.”
The difference between affections and emotions are that affections are (1) long-lasting, (2) deep, (3) consistent with beliefs, (4) always result in action, and (5) involve mind, will, and feelings. Emotions, on the other hand, are (1) fleeting, (2) superficial, (3) sometimes overpowering, (4) often unable to produce action, and (5) often disconnected from the mind and will.
The difference between affections and beliefs are that affections (1) always influence behavior, (2) influence feelings, and (3) are strong. Beliefs, on the other hand, (1) do not always influence behavior, (2) are often disconnected from feelings, and (3) are often weak.
Holy affections always inspire feeling, thinking, and doing. Unholy affections are either (1) all feeling with no thinking, or (2) all thinking with no feeling, or (3) mere doing with no thinking or feeling.
Examples of holy affections are: (1) love for God and others, (2) hatred of sin, (3) hunger for God and divine things, (4) joy, and (5) gratitude to God. Examples of unholy affections are (1) hatred for God and others, (2) love of sin, (3) disgust for, or indifference to, God and divine things; (4) cynicism; (5) bitterness toward God.
Finally, McDermott lists both “the unreliable signs of grace” and the “reliable signs of grace.” The presence of the former does not indicate one way or the other whether there is genuine, authentic spiritual life within a person. The presence of the latter does.
Unreliable Signs of Grace
- Intense religious affections
- Many religous affections at the same time
- A certain sequence in the affections
- Affections not produced by the self
- Scriptures coming miraculously to mind
- Physical manifestations of the affections
- Much or eloquent talk about God and religion
- Frequent and passionate praise for God
- The appearance of love
- Zealous or time-consuming devotion to religious activities
- Being convinced that one is saved
- Others being convinced that one is saved
Reliable Signs of Grace
- A divine and supernatural source
- Attraction to God and his ways for their own sake
- Seeing the beauty of holiness
- A new knowing
- Deept-seated conviction
- A change of nature
- A Christlike spirit
- Fear of God
- Hunger for God
- Christian practice