The Religious Affections: An Update


Perhaps it is time to update you on my slow, slow progress through Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections. Progress has been slow because I only read it for an hour or so each Monday, and I have lost several Mondays to time off and the press of other things.

However, I am into the meat of the book, that portion where Edwards aims to lay forth and defend the eleven signs by which the presence of a true work of the Holy Spirit can be judged. I have worked my way through the first two of these eleven.

The first sign he identifies is this: that true grace is a spiritual work.

This is his foundational observation which I perceive underlies many of his other signs. His point is that a true work of grace is one which is clearly and thoroughly accomplished by the Spirit of God coming to dwell in us and to effect change that could be accomplished through no natural means. Grace is a thoroughly spiritual and internal, not natural and external, reality. The Spirit acts WITHIN us and not merely UPON us. We are changed from the inside out.

A natural man may experience many things which seem to be religious, but they do not arise from the Spirit and are only imitations of the work of the Spirit. True grace produces change that only the Spirit working within us could produce. True grace will manifest itself by inward change, change that natural man could not effect.

I was struck with the importance of knowing this, even if measuring it is a dicey proposition. We live in a day in which the biggest Christian best-seller is a book about a man who supposedly died, went to heaven, and came back to life with the ability to report what he had seen. I’ve had people build their spiritual confidence upon such things as voices and wonders, taking those things to be certain evidences of the gracious work of God. And yet Balaam saw wonders and Saul saw Samuel raised and these things were no signs of true grace in the men themselves.

Under true grace, the Spirit will work within us and not merely upon us.

We’ll consider the second sign of grace tomorrow….