Monday, March 7, 2011

The Life and Soul of True Religion

Lately much of my personal study time has consisted of studying the Great Awakening of the 1700’s. During this time many souls were awakened to the glory, majesty and beauty of God as well as the horrible, wretched and completely vile state of their sinful souls. Now, if the combination of these two compounds did not create an explosion large enough to shake the souls of men; the addition of the good news that such a holy, perfect, beautiful, and yet inexplicably offended God had sent His Son, Jesus, to forgive, and redeem such miserable creatures, deserving of wrath was the catalyst that resulted in a blast of emotions and change as had not been seen since the time of the Apostles.

Men of all ranks, genders, class and age began to sing themes of “Amazing Grace” before the song was even written, and such was their joy that many of the clergy of the time began to criticize the move of God’s Spirit as being the product of animal passions and mere enthusiasm. Though it is quite true that there was an ungodly, counterfeit faction at the time that delighted in fever-pitched, manufactured emotions rather than the legitimate affections and sorrow that are the natural fallout of such an explosion of God’s majesty, man’s sin and God’s grace; this was but a small faction.

Nevertheless the whole movement was often held in disrepute by many of the ministers of the time. In response to such criticism of the raw affection and sorrow that was bubbling up both in America and across the pond in much of the UK, Jonathan Edwards wrote a work entitled “Thoughts on the Revival, &c.” In it he logically, scripturally and passionately (as such was his style) defends such affections in the following manner:

“There are many exercises of the affections that are very flashy, and little to be depended on; and oftentimes a great deal appertains to them, or rather is the effect of them, that has its seat in animal nature, and is very much owing to the constitution and frame of the body; and that which sometimes more especially obtains the name of passion, is nothing solid or substantial. But it is false philosophy to suppose this to be the case with all exercises of affection in the soul, or with all great and high affections; and false divinity to suppose that religious affections do not appertain to the substance and essence of Christianity. On the contrary, it seems to me that the very life and soul of all true religion consists in them.”

Simply put, Edwards is agreeing that not all affections or passions are the product of holy things, but all things that are holy are founded and grounded in great affections--love. Edwards continues with thorough and thunderous argumentation:

“Charity, or divine love, is in Scripture represented as the sum of all of all religion of the heart; but this is only a holy affection. And therefore, in proportion as this is firmly fixed in the soul, and raised to a great height, the more eminent a person is in holiness. Divine love or charity is represented as the sum of all the religion of heaven, and that wherein mainly the religion of the church in its most perfect state on earth shall consist, when knowledge, and tongues, and prophesying shall cease; and therefore the higher this holy affection is raised in the church of God, or in a gracious soul, the more excellent and perfect is the state of the church, or in a particular soul.

If we take the Scriptures for our rule, then the greater and higher our exercise of love to God, delight and complacency in him, desires and longings after him, delight in his children, love to mankind, brokenness of heart, abhorrence of sin, self-abhorrence for it; the more we have of the peace of God which passeth all understanding; and joy in the Holy Ghost, unspeakable and full of glory: the higher our admiring thoughts of God, exulting and glorifying him; so much the higher is Christ’s religion, or that virtue which he and his apostles taught, raised in the soul.

The absence of such great affections and violent movings of love for God, the church and those who do not know him is the cause of much stagnancy in the church. As a result, many seek to stoke the flames of revival with increased theology on one side and so called “miracles” on the other. Both of these are attempting to accomplish something similar--a revelation of God. Unfortunately, however, what ends up happening is that the affections of many are fixated on theology and “miracles” and not God himself.

A true revelation of God must excite the affections of the soul towards God, producing satisfaction in him and him alone. When the gospel is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, with a mind for revealing the beauty, majesty and holiness of God (displayed especially in Christ’s work of bringing man back into relationship with such ineffable splendor through the forgiveness and pardon of sin) then it is most certainly aimed at and will produce great affection as God works through us to reveal that glory. Words such as “beauty,” and “majesty” are words particularly aimed at invoking awe-filled affection.

If the church desires to see an awakening again in our time, it must understand that the souls of sleeping, dead men and women will only rise so far as our own affections for God rise. The life and soul of our entire faith, and the proclamation of it consists of an unfathomable love for and satisfaction in God through Jesus Christ and the indwelling Spirit.