Friday, 1 February 2013




It has been said that the heart is not so much the center of emotions as it is the control center of one’s personal­ity, where you make your decisions and decide on the direction of your life. No one expounded this in greater detail than Jonathan Edwards, and one of his most enduring contributions is his Religious Affections. Instead of accepting the typical Western division of will versus emotions, Edwards gave a more central place to the heart and spoke of the heart’s “affections,” by which he meant “the inclination of the soul” to like or dislike, to love or reject.

The affections are, of course, related to emotions, but they are not the same thing. For example, we feel the emotion of anger when we are insulted, because we have set our affections too fully on our own reputation, human acclaim, or approval. The affections are what Edwards called the most ”vigorous and sensible exercises” of the heart; and in the Bible true religious affections are called the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-26).

Edwards’s contribution is especially important regarding the unity of the faculties. He refused to pit one’s understanding and one’s affections against each other. Gracious affections are raised up only when a person has a spiritual understanding of the true nature of God. In other words, if a person says, “I know God cares for me, but I am still paralyzed by fear,” Edwards would reply that you don’t really know that God cares for you, or the affection of confidence and hope would be rising within you.6


Now we can see how important this is for preachers. If Edwards is right, there is no ultimate opposition between “head” and “heart.” We must not assume, for example, if our listeners are materialistic that they only need to be exhorted to give more. Though guilt may help with the day’s offering, it will not alter one’s life patterns. If people are materialistic and ungenerous, it means they have not truly understood how Jesus, though rich, became poor for them. They have not truly understood what it means to have all riches and treasures in Jesus Christ. It means their affections are causing them to cling to material riches as a source of security, hope, and beauty. Thus in preaching we must present Christ in the particular way that he replaces the hold of competing affections. This takes not just intellectual argument but the presentation of the beauty of Christ.7 Edwards defined a nominal Christian as one who finds Christ useful, while a true Christian is one who finds Christ beautiful for who he is in himself.

This understanding profoundly affected Edwards’ own preaching. In one of his sermons, he insisted that “the reason why men no more regard warnings of future punishment is because it doesn’t seem real to them.”8 This was, for Edwards, the main spiritual problem and the main purpose of preaching. The goal of our preaching is not just to make the truth clear but to make the truth real. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in an article on how Edwards affected him, wrote:

6. Two great places to get a short, readable explanation of Edwards on the Affections are: the “Editor’s Introduction” in J.Smith, H.Stout, K.Minkema, A Jonathan Edwards Reader (Yale, 1995). and Sam Logan’s article on preaching and the affections in Samuel T. Logan,ed., The Preacher and Preaching: Reviving the Art in the Twentieth Century (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1986). The summary in this section follows closely the Edwards Reader, pp. xix-xx.

7. See “A Divine and Supernatural Light” , pp.111-114 and “The Mind”, pp. 22-28 in Reader.

8. Wilson H. Kimnach, “Jonathan Edwards’s Pursuit of Reality” in Jonathan Edwards and the American Experience ed. Nathan O. Hatch, Harry S. Stout (Oxford, 1988). p.105. | 8


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