08 November, 2006

Sidebar: Religious Affections

I was reading Jonathon Edwards, and I laughed out loud. Frankly, that doesn't happen very often reading Mr. Edwards, so I figured I'd share it.

Does anyone attempt to nourish and strengthen a little child by repeated blows on the head with a hammer?

Alright, I'm a guy. I'll admit that. I cannot type that without laughing the whole time. I don't know why, but mousy little super-genius Christian philosophers saying things like that is just beyond funny.

But then he followed it with one of the most profound things I've read in a long time. This is going to be kind of long, but it's really unusual.

He is making the point that it is non-sensical to criticize a doubting believer for not believing in his belief. You might criticize him for not believing in God, but he is already criticizing himself for that. So, many people will want him to trust in the fact that he trusted God a long time ago. I pick his argument up in the middle of the paragraph. (This is all one paragraph in the original. For the sake of the reader, I will break it up into a few. The emphases are all his.)

Distant experiences, when darkened by present prevailing lust and corruption, will never keep alive a gracious confidence and assurance. If the one prevail, the other sickens and decays upon it. Does anyone attempt to nourish and strengthen a little child by repeated blows on the head with a hammer? Nor is it at all to be lamented that persons doubt of their state in such circumstances; but on the contrary, it is desirable and every way best that they should. It is agreeable to that wise and merciful constitution of things which God hath established. For so hath God constituted things, in His dispensation towards His own people, that when their love decays, and their exercises of it become weak, fear should arise.

They need fear then to restrain them from sin, to excite them to care for the good of their souls, and so to stir them up to watchfulness and diligence in religion.

But God hath so ordered, that when love rises, and is in vigorous exercise, then fear should vanish, and be driven away; for then they need it not, having a higher and more excellent principle in exercise, to restrain them from sin, and stir them up to duty. No other principles will ever make men conscientious, but one of these two, fear or love: and therefore, if one of these should not prevail as the other decayed, God's people when fallen into dead and carnal frames, when love is asleep, would be lamentably exposed indeed.

Hence, God has wisely ordained, that these two opposite principles of love and fear, should rise and fall, like the two opposite scales of a balance; when one rises the other sinks. Light and darkness unavoidably succeed each other; if light prevail so much does darkness cease, and no more; and if light decay, so much does darkness prevail. So it is in the heart of a child of God; if divine love decay, and fall asleep, and lust prevail, the light and joy of hope goes out, and dark fear arises; and if, on the contrary, divine love prevail, and come into lively exercise, this brings in the brightness of hope, and drives away black lust and fear with it. Love is the spirit of adoption, or the childlike principle; if that slumbers, men fall under fear, which is the spirit of bondage, or the servile principle: and so on the contrary.

And if love, or the spirit of adoption, be carried to a great height, it quite drives away all fear, and gives full assurance; 1 John iv. 18. "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear." These two opposite principles of lust and holy love, bring fear or hope into the hearts of God's children, just in proportion as they prevail; that is, when left to their own natural influence, without something adventitious or accidental intervening; as the distemper of melancholy, doctrinal ignorance , prejudices of education, wrong instruction, false principles, peculiar temptations, &c.

I don't know whether that does as much for anyone else as it did for me, but it is fabulous.

Permission from such an esteemed man as Mr. Edwards, to feel fear and to feel oppression when lust prevails is a great comfort. To always be play-acting courage toward God is a life-destroying occupation. To let fear arise, when it must, and to allow it to drive us back to Christ is nothing but the greatest relief.

And to hope that God has ordered it just this way, is a beautiful thing.

Did lust and fear never play a part in my life, I could stand with all my brothers and sisters who remind me that "perfect love casts out fear."

I am not that man, so I will allow fear to drive me to my Love.


Milly said...

I made time to read this. ;-} Very good.

Did lust and fear never play a part in my life?
It still does, so God sent His Son to save me.

japhy said...

My fiancée mentioned Edwards just last night (specifically "Sinners in the Hand of Angry God"). She's going to be discussing it next week with the history class she teaches. I admit I'd never read it, though I'd heard of it and heard fragments of it. I thought it was a book of sorts, not just a sermon discourse.

(I know the excerpt you've quoted is not from that sermon, I'm just announcing my ignorance.)

As for the excerpt, I take note of the end, on the comparison and contrast between "fear" and "love". The fear Edwards refers to is obviously not the same as the "fear of God", which means "awe or respect". It's the fear of the wrath of God (unless I'm mistaken). It is true that that fear can prevent us from sinning and return us to our love of God.

The English translation of the Latin Act of Contrition (part of the Catholic Sacrament of Penance) goes like so:

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all-good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life. Amen.

That's all I have for now. My stomach rumbles. Time for a birthday lunch.

codepoke said...

Thanks, Milly. Amen on the Son sent to save us.

A lot of people live like once we are saved, we quit needing to be saved. "I need Thee every hour."

codepoke said...

Happy Birthday, Japhy!

Thanks for visiting on such an important day. :-)

Your fiancee (I need to learn to add the ') ought to enjoy discussing the sermon. It's effect was like a shot heard round the world. She should remember that he did not deliver it eloquently, and that he even hushed all the people who were emotionally affected by it, so that he could finish it in peace. Hilarious.

Edwards believes in true and eternal assurance of salvation. So, when he refers to fear, he would be refering to the possibility that maybe he had been deceiving himself all along about ever having been saved. He would not fear that he should remediate his life for fear of losing his salvation, but that maybe he had never truly submitted to saving grace, and had only experienced outward improvements.

That's the subject of the book I'm reading, "Religious Affections." He's trying to sort out how a mere human can tell the difference between saving versus illusory faith.