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Stoking spiritual fires
on October 3, 2016
Is there any question that Jonathan Edwards is one of the United States's greatest religious thinkers and writers? No. Don't argue with me; it's true. Now, why don't people read his books all the time, instead of Joel Osteen or Rick Warren or some other popular, megachurch pastor? Probably because it's a lot harder to read Edwards. Edwards wrote A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections in 1746, and the verbosity and vocabulary reflect that of a learned 18th century clergyman. His style doesn't resound with most 21st century readers.
Archaic style and language aside, The Religious Affections is worth the time it takes to wade through (especially for readers who tire of the breezy, superficial books churned out by popular pastors today). Edwards wants to make the point, still valid 270 years later, that religious "affections," or outward expressions of religion, do not make one a Christian, but should be present in Christians. In fact, "they who have but little religious affection, have certainly but little religion."
What are the affections or signs that someone is a Christian? By their fruits you know them. humility, a changed life, Christ-like attitude, tenderness, an interest in spiritual growth, etc. Edwards encouraged a spiritual striving and a life devoted to the pursuit of holiness. He writes: "The more a true saint loves God with a gracious love, the more he desires to love him, and the more uneasy is he at his want of love to him; the more he hates sin, the more he desires to hate it. . . . The more he mourns for sin, the more he longs to mourn for sin. . . . The more he thirsts and longs for God and holiness, the more he longs to love, and breathe out his very should in longings after God." Archaic or not, passages like this in The Religious Affections ought to stoke Christians' fire and encourage them to pursue the religious affections.
Read The Religious Affections in small chunks. Like a gourmet meal, it takes longer to eat, and some may be unfamiliar, but it's delicious and worth the price.