This past week I was challenged over at www.challies.com to participate in “Reading the Classics” with others around the blogosphere, and the current book sitting on our lap is Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. Now, Jonathan Edwards is not necessarily an easy read, so reading it along with others, discussing the arguments and conclusions that Edwards presents with others, for me, will be extremely rewarding.
Now, you might want to click the link above and get on board with us. Also, I will be posting some comments that Edwards makes with some of my thoughts mingled in and we can have some of our own discussions around those thoughts.
So, to begin, I want to post a paragraph from the preface… (online link the whole preface here)
“It is no new thing, that much false religion should prevail, at a time of great reviving of true religion, and that at such a time multitudes of hypocrites should spring up among true saints. It was so in that great reformation, and revival of religion, that was in Josiah’s time; as appears by Jer. 3:10, and 4:3, 4, and also by the great apostasy that there was in the land, so soon after his reign. So it was in that great outpouring of the Spirit upon the Jews, that was in the days of John the Baptist; as appears by the great apostasy of that people so soon after so general an awakening, and the temporary religious comforts and joys of many: John 5:35, “Ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.” So it was in those great commotions that were among the multitude, occasioned by the preaching of Jesus Christ; of the many that were then called, but few were chosen; of the multitude that were roused and affected by his preaching, and at one time or other appeared mightily engaged, full of admiration of Christ, and elevated with joy, but few were true disciples, that stood the shock of the great trials that came afterwards, and endured to the end. Many were like the stony ground, or thorny ground; and but few, comparatively, like the good ground. Of the whole heap that was gathered, great part was chaff; that the wind afterwards drove away; and the heap of wheat that was left, was comparatively small; as appears abundantly, by the history of the New Testament. So it was in that great outpouring of the Spirit that was in the apostles’ days as appears by Matt. 24:10-13. Gal. 3:1, and 4:11, 15. Phil. 2:21, and 3:18, 19, and the two epistles to the Corinthians, and many other parts of the New Testament. And so it was in the great reformation from Popery. It appears plainly to have been in the visible church of God, in times of great reviving of religion, from time to time, as it is with the fruit trees in the spring; there are a multitude of blossoms, all of which appear fair and beautiful, and there is a promising appearance of young fruits; but many of them are but of short continuance; they soon fall off, and never come to maturity.”
So, Edwards stresses that with the true outpouring of revival among God’s faithful there typically seems to be a counterfeit that competes with and often overshadows that which is true revival. Simply the evidence of immediate fruit is not a sure-sign of genuine revival or conversion.
Now this might be difficult for us because we have become so accustomed to the “sales pitch” evangelism which simply wants to get someone over the line and make a decision. Understanding this, are we satisfied and then lazy at this point of our Gospel presentations, or are we persevering, aware that many who profess an allegiance to Christ are not truly His children, but are in stead having some kind of “religious experience?” Certainly that is what Edwards is identifying. During each revival there were many, if not most, who had all the appearance of conversion, but that was all it was, an appearance.
This drives me to my knees. It causes me to ask the hard questions. As I look at my heart do I find myself being one of those “followers of Christ” who were simply enamored with His miracles, astonished at His teaching, and aware that something extremely profound and religious was taking place before my eyes? Or am I part of the remnant who, when Jesus said, “deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me” left all to embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior.
It is so easy to be religious, and to be religious with all of our emotions in full gear, and yet be far or even alienated from God. For my own soul’s sake I want to press on and preach the Gospel to my heart again and again. Not that I believe I need to be saved again, but to anchor my heart in who Christ is, my desperation without Him and the joy that comes in knowing that, in spite of my sinfulness, I have been drawn by a holy God to be His child forever…