Edwards, Religious Affections


Author: Jonathan Edwards
Title: Religious Affections
Series: Works of Jonathan Edwards (Online)
Volume: 2
Publisher: Yale University Press

Note: Religious Affections is also available for free through the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.


Problems Attempted to Solve:

How to tell the difference between true and false religion. Or, as Edwards himself puts it:

THERE is no question whatsoever, that is of greater importance to mankind, and that it more concerns every individual person to be well resolved in, than this, What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favor with God, and entitled to his eternal rewards? Or, which comes to the same thing, What is the nature of true religion? and wherein do lie the distinguishing notes of that virtue and holiness, that is acceptable in the sight of God. (WJE 2:84, emphasis added).

Summary (What is the book about as a whole?):

Edwards (1) describes and defends the importance of “affections” when it comes to “true religion.”

“True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.” (WJE 2:95).

He then (2) gives 12 “no signs” that do not reveal whether religion and religious affections are true/false.

Finally, he (3) provides 12 trustworthy signs of genuine/true religion.

*Note: See the summary of Edwards’s argument provided in the “Editor’s Introduction” to WJE 2. Also, see Justin Taylor’s helpful brief summary of Edwards’s argument at The Gospel Coalition blog.

Outline of Source:

  • PART ONE: Concerning the Nature of the Affections, and Their Importance in Religion
  • PART TWO: Showing What Are No Certain Signs that Religious Affections Are Truly Gracious, or that They Are Not
    • The religious affections are very great, or raised very high. (WJE 2:127-31)
    • They have great effects on the body. (131-35)
    • They cause those who have them, to be fluent, fervent and abundant, in talking of the things of religion. (135-37)
    • Persons did make ’em themselves, or excite ’em of their own contrivance, and by their own strength. (138-42)
    • They come with texts of Scripture, remarkably brought to the mind. (142-45)
    • There is an appearance of love in them. (146-47)
    • Persons having religious affections of many kinds, accompanying one another, is not sufficient to determine whether they have any gracious affections or no. (147-51)
    • Comforts and joys seem to follow awakenings and convictions of conscience, in a certain order. (151-63)
    • They dispose persons to spend much time in religion, and to be zealously engaged in the external duties of worship. (163-65)
    • They much dispose persons with their mouths to praise and glorify God. (165-67)
    • They make persons that have them, exceedingly confident that what they experience is divine, and that they are in a good estate. (167-81)
    • The outward manifestations of them, and the relation persons give of them, are very affecting and pleasing to the truly godly, and such as greatly gain their charity, and win their hearts. (181-90)
  • PART THREE: Showing What Are Distinguishing Signs of Truly Gracious and Holy affections
    • Arise from those influences and operations on the heart, which are spiritual, supernatural, and divine. (197-239)
    • Objectively grounded in the transcendently excellent and amiable nature of divine things, as they are in themselves (and not in any conceived relation they bear to self or self-interest). (240-52)
    • Primarily founded on the loveliness of the moral excellency of divine thing; a love to divine things for the beauty and sweetness of their moral excellency is the first beginning and spring of all holy affections. (253-65)
    • Arise from the mind’s being enlightened, rightly and spiritually to understand or apprehend divine things. (266-90)
    • Attended with a reasonable and spiritual conviction of the judgment, of the reality and certainty of divine things. (291-310)
    • Attended with evangelical humiliation (= a sense that a Christian has or his own utter insufficiency, despicableness, and odiousness, with an answerable frame of heart). (311-39)
    • Attended with a change of nature. (340-43)
    • Tend to, and are attended with, the lamblike, dovelike spirit and temper of Jesus Christ; they naturally beget and promote such a spirit of love, meekness, quietness, forgiveness, and mercy, as appeared in Christ. (344-356)
    • Soften the heart and are attended to and followed with a Christian tenderness of spirit. (357-64)
    • Have beautiful symmetry and proportion. (365-75)
    • The higher gracious affections are raised, the more is a spiritual appetite and longing of soul after spiritual attainments increased. (376-82)
    • Have their exercise and fruit in Christian practice. (383-462)

Key Terms:

  • Affections: “the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul” (WJE 2:96)

Key Propositions/Arguments (What is being said in detail, and how?):

  • “True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.” (WJE 2:95).
  • Affections are a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for true religion.
  • True religion will always involve vigorous/intense affections.
  • Affections lead to actions. It’s impossible to have a changed life without changed affections.
  • God alone is the final and certain judge of true religion. The “distinguishing signs” aren’t intended to give 100% certainty.
  • Self-examination without repentant action is worthless.
  • True affections “arise from those influences and operations on the heart that are spiritual, supernatural, and divine.
  • Christian practice, a holy life, is by far the most important distinguishing sign of true religion.
    • A tree is known by its fruits.
    • Talk is cheap!
    • Christian practice is not the only sign, but it is by far the best sign of true religion, both for oneself and for others.


Is the book true, in whole or part?:

Problems Solved:

Problems Not Solved:

Author is uninformed:

Author is misinformed:

Author is illogical:

Author is incomplete:

What of it? (Why) is it important to know these things?: