Print, trim, and paste this into your copy of Religious Affections

I named my blog and my firstborn after Jonathan Edwards, the brilliant theologian. Yet, I think it would be wise to print and paste the following quote on the inside cover of his classic book Religious Affections (if you own it—and you should!).

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (London, 1873), 3:107:

Many sincere believers are too introspective. They look too exclusively within, so that their hope is graduated by the degree of evidence of regeneration which they find in their own experience. This, except in rare cases, can never lead to the assurance of hope. We may examine our hearts with all the microscopic care prescribed by President Edwards in his work on The Religious Affections, and never be satisfied that we have eliminated every ground of misgiving and doubt. The grounds of assurance are not so much within, as without us.

12 thoughts on “Print, trim, and paste this into your copy of Religious Affections

  1. great quote, but … hope is graduated… NOT: hope in is graduated

    You need to cut and not paste that extra word – –

    “Many sincere believers are too introspective. They look too exclusively within, so that their hope is graduated by the degree of evidence of regeneration which they find in their own experience. This, except in rare cases, can never lead to the assurance of hope. We may examine our hearts with all the microscopic care prescribed by President Edwards in his work on “The Religious Affections,” and never be satisfied that we have eliminated every ground of misgiving and doubt. The grounds of assurance are not so much within, as without us.” (Hodge, Systematic Theology, Volume 3)

  2. Dear Tony,

    Thank your for Hodge’s sage counsel. But I think Edward’s provides his own corrective to an unhelpful reading of his Religious Affections:

    “I know there is a great aptness in men who suppose they have had some experience of the power of religion, to think themselves sufficient to discern and determine the state of others by a little conversation with them; and experience has taught me that this is an error. I once did not imagine that the heart of man had been so unsearchable as it is. I am less charitable, and less uncharitable than once I was. I find more things in wicked men that may counterfeit, and make a fair show of piety; and more ways that the remaining corruption of the godly may make them appear like carnal men, formalists, and dead hypocrites, than once I knew of. The longer I live, the less I wonder that God challenges it as his prerogative to try the hearts of the children of men, and directs that this business should be let alone till harvest. I desire to adore the wisdom of God, and his goodness to me and my fellow creatures that he has not committed this great business into the hands of such a poor, weak, and dim-sighted creature; one of so much blindness, pride, partiality, prejudice, and deceitfulness of heart; but has committed it into the hands of one infinitely fitter for it, and has made it his prerogative.”

    Jonathan Edwards, *The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God*

  3. And I think it’s very arguable that Edwards, in his wisdom here, is supping at the table of Thomas Goodwin:

    “Thy salvation, and the assurance of it, that is God’s work, leave it to him, try his faithfulness; it is self-love makes us too much to be troubled about it. Go thou on to believe, repent, mourn for sin, hate, forsake it; to use the means, &c.; that is thy work…”

    Thomas Goodwin, *A Child of Light Walking in Darkness*

  4. FYI, Edwards is just saying in that quote above that you can’t ever determine whether OTHER people are saved by examining THEIR fruit. He’s quite clear that introspection is the only way to personal assurance. And Goodwin is advising us to go ahead and live a Christian life WITHOUT assurance.

  5. Dear Nathan,

    Thank you for your comment. But I think it would be wiser for you to follow Edwards logic with more attention.

    While you’re correct that the immediate context pertains to judging the spiritual state of others, it is also clear that, in all cases, God is the final arbiter of the state of the human heart.

    Yes, Edwards has much to say about the introspective evaluation of the soul, but his point here is that, ultimately, God has made it HIS prerogative to try the hearts of the children of men–including our own.

    The grand fact remains: God alone tries the heart. Navel gaze all you want. God alone is the perfect judge of the spiritual estate of the heart. Why? Because, from a human standpoint, the human heart is unsearchable (including Edwards’)

    I am afraid that you are misreading Goodwin’s statements on assurance. The assurance which he allots to very few is very unlike the firm knowledge that “I am His,” an assurance which every believer ought to have. I think I ought to be an authority on Goodwin.

    Grace and peace,
    TB

  6. Tom, I’m glad to be corrected on either Edwards or Goodwin. But I take it as incontrovertible that Edwards, and the vast majority of post-Westminster Puritans, make the reflex act of faith (an inference from introspectively observed graces) the only safe way to a belief that “Christ is mine.” Does Goodwin have an alternative route?

  7. Dear Nathan,

    Thank you for your comments. I appreciate your interest in the C17 Puritans.

    To be brief, no, I don’t think such a thing is incontrovertible. History is rarely so tidy as that.

    At least in the case of Goodwin, faith’s certainty is in no way dependent upon a reflex act. It’s also clear to me that here Goodwin is by no means an exception to the general rule. I believe that many of the Puritans were better readers of Calvin than you allow for. Because the Puritans were so prolix, sometimes these subtleties are hard to catch.

    With respect to Edwards, I believe that you need to, in light of his observation in the DM (which came before the RA), ask yourself this question: If, as Edwards concludes, the human heart is so incapable of safely judging the true status of the human heart–necessarily our own as well as others on the basis of both its blindness and its imponderable depths–how does Edwards at the same time conclude that introspection is, ultimately, the safest path to an assurance of our union with Christ?

    In this statement of Edwards from the DM, he agrees with other prominent Puritans Divines that, at the end of the day, in light of the enduring presence of carnal reason and, as an area of the top branch of practical reason, the evil conscience (think of the slough of despond), our own introspection cannot ultimately have the final say regarding our spiritual estate. Faith’s certainty has to lie elsewhere. As Edwards says, God alone has made it his prerogative to try the heart.

    Now, what I think some of the Puritans do well, is to bring together these two elements of Christian experience: on the one hand, to test ourselves to see whether we be in the faith, as the Apostle commands, and, on the other hand, to resist the temptation to take from God to ourselves that prerogative which he has made his own.

    In any event, Goodwin does not fall into the category which you assume.

    I should also note that I am unhappy with the division you make between pre and post Westminster Puritans. I think this is very unhelpful, especially with respect to a theologian like Goodwin.

    Nathan, I wish you every blessing.

    Grace and peace,
    TB

  8. Thanks for the gracious exchange Tom! I won’t belabor my reasons for thinking as I do about pre/post Westminster Reformed thinking, or about Edwards, since Tony has already posted a very long paper I wrote in support of this thesis. But I am very interested in Goodwin, who I haven’t read; and I’m wondering if he may be a source for DM Lloyd-Jones’ approach to assurance. If I were to look for Goodwin’s definitive statements on this topic, is Volume 8 the place to go? Acts and Objects of Justifying Faith?

  9. Dear Nathan,

    My thanks in return. Yes, I am aware of your paper and have read it. I would encourage you to publish it in an academic journal. I would like the opportunity to respond to it in that kind of arena (no gladiatorial images intended).

    As for Goodwin, on the one hand, some of this pertains to material that I am hoping to put forward in a research article, and I am always cagey about these sorts of things, so I make a plea for your understanding and patience. On the other hand, having read literally every word Goodwin wrote, again and again, over some long years, I have come to the conclusion that he is nearly impossible to understand in a way you or I would find satisfactory without reading him comprehensively. Mind you, while Goodwin is especially challenging to read among the Puritans, I am sure that selective reading is an unfailing disease to historical scholarship.

    All that to say, I hope that some forthcoming publications on Goodwin from my pen will be of service
    to you.

    I hope that I have not given you the impression that I am rabidly supportive of Edwards at every turn. I was merely taken with his discerning comment from the DM. If, in the end, Edwards believes that we are too woefully blind to judge the spiritual estate of others, but are more than capable, in our perversity, to try and judge the spiritual estate of our own bottomless hearts, then he is conflicted at last.

    Nathan, I am glad that you are doing the work you are doing. Much grace to you as you battle along this pilgrim road.

    Pax tecum,
    TB

  10. You’re extremely gracious as well as encouraging. I look forward to reading your work on goodwin

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