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II. Jonathan Edwards

Our topic, therefore, essentially involves the affections. In trying to understand the religious affections, we can obviously do no better than to consult Jonathan Edwards, one of the great masters of the interior life and a peerless student of the religious affections. Edwards, of course, concurs with Calvin that true religion is more than just right belief. Indeed, according to him, true religion is first a matter of having the right affections: “True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.”380380   A Treatise concerning Religious Affections, ed. John E. Smith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959 [first published 1746]), p. 95. Page references to Religious Affections are to this edition. “The Holy Scriptures do everywhere place religion very much in the affections; such as fear, hope, love, hatred, desire, joy, sorrow, gratitude, compassion and zeal” (p. 102). Mere knowledge isn’t enough for true religion:

There is a distinction to be made between a mere notional understanding, wherein the mind only beholds things in the exercise of a speculative faculty; and the sense of the heart, wherein the mind don’t only speculate and behold, but relishes and feels. That sort of knowledge, by which a man has a sensible perception of amiableness and loathsomeness, or of sweetness and nauseousness, is not just the same sort of knowledge with that, by which he knows what a triangle is, and what a square is. The one is mere speculative knowledge; the other sensible knowledge, in which more than the mere 295intellect is concerned; the heart is the proper subject of it, or the soul as a being that not only beholds, but has inclination, and is pleased or displeased. (p. 272)

Of course he doesn’t think true religion is just a matter of affections, of loves and hates, as if belief and understanding had no role to play: “Holy affections are not heat without light; but evermore arise from some information of the understanding, some spiritual instruction that the mind receives, some light or actual knowledge” (p. 266). Still, true religion primarily involves (so he seems to say) the affections, in particular love: “all true religion summarily consists in the love of divine things” (p. 271). And love brings other affections in its train: “love to God,” he says, “causes a man to delight in the thoughts of God, and to delight in the presence of God and to desire conformity to God, and the enjoyment of God” (p. 208); elsewhere, he adds that one who loves God will also delight in contemplating the great things of the gospel, taking pleasure in them, finding them attractive, marvelous, winsome (p. 250). Further, one who thus delights in the great truths of the gospel may find himself disgusted by various attempts (see chapter 2) to trade that splendidly rich and powerful gospel for cheap and trivial substitutes. Still further, acquiring the right affections enables one to see the true heinousness of sin: “he who sees the beauty of holiness, must necessarily see the hatefulness of sin, its contrary” (p. 274); and he who sees the hatefulness of sin (in himself and others) will also (given proper function) hate it.

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