Summary & Favorite Quotes from Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections

Download my summary notes of the book here.

“That religion which God requires, and will accept, does not consist in weak, dull, and lifeless wishes, raising us but a little above a state of indifference. … In nothing is vigour in the actings of our inclinations so requisite, as in religion; and in nothing is lukewarmness so odious.” (I.II.1)

“If the great things of religion are rightly understood, they will affect the heart. The reason why men are not affected by such infinitely great, important, glorious, and wonderful things, as they often hear and read of in the word of God, is, undoubtedly, because they are blind; if they were not so, it would be impossible, and utterly inconsistent with human nature, that their hearts should be otherwise than strongly impressed, and greatly moved by such things.” (I.III.1)

“God has given to mankind affections, for the same purpose as that for which he has given all the faculties and principles of the human soul, viz. that they might be subservient to man’s chief end, and the great business for which God has created him, that is, the business of religion. … Where are the exercises of our affections proper, if not here? what is it that more requires them? and what can be a fit occasion of their lively and vigorous exercise, if not such as this? Can any thing be set in our view, greater and more important? any thing more wonderful and surprising? or that more nearly concerns our interest? Can we suppose that the wise Creator implanted such principles in our nature as the affections, to lie still on such an occasion as this?” (I.III.3)

“The devil does not assault the hope of the hypocrite, as he does the hope of a true saint. The devil is a great enemy to a true Christian’s hope, not only because it tends greatly to his comfort, but also because it is of a holy, heavenly nature, greatly tending to promote and cherish grace in the heart, and a great incentive to strictness and diligence in the Christian life. But he is no enemy to the hope of a hypocrite, which above all things establishes his interest in him. A hypocrite may retain his hope without opposition, as long as he lives, the devil never attempting to disturb it. But there is perhaps no true Christian but what has his hope assaulted by him.” (II.XI)

“Men not only cannot exercise faith without some spiritual light, but they can exercise faith only just in such proportion as they have spiritual light. Men will trust in God no further than they know him: and they cannot be in the exercise of faith in him, further than they have a sight of his fulness and faithfulness in exercise.” (II.XI)

“It is not God’s design that men should obtain assurance in any other way, than by mortifying corruption, increasing in grace, and obtaining the lively exercises of it.” (III.2)

“The only certain foundation which any person has to believe that he is invited to partake of the blessings of the gospel, is, that the word of God declares that persons so qualified as he is, are invited, and God who declares it, is true and cannot lie. If a sinner be once convinced of the veracity of God, and that the Scriptures are his word, he will need no more to convince and satisfy him that he is invited; for the Scriptures are full of invitations to sinners, to the chief of sinners, to come and partake of the benefits of the gospel. He will not want of God any thing new; what he hath spoken already will be enough with him.” (III.I)

“They whose affection to God is founded first on his profitableness to them, begin at the wrong end; they regard God only for the utmost limit of the stream of divine good, where it touches them, and reaches their interest. They have no respect to that infinite glory of God’s nature, which is the original good, and the true fountain of all good, and of loveliness of every kind.” (III.II)

“Having formed in their minds such a God as suits them, and thinking him to be such an one as themselves, who favours and agrees with them, they may like him very well, and feel a sort of love to him, when they are far from loving the true God.” (III.II)

“Spiritual understanding primarily consists in this sense or taste of the moral beauty of divine things. … And by this is seen the true evil of sin: for he who sees the beauty of holiness, must necessarily see the hatefulness of sin, its contrary. … He that sees the beauty of holiness, or true moral good, sees the greatest and most important thing in the world, which is the fulness of all things, without which all the world is empty, yea, worse than nothing. Unless this is seen, nothing is seen that is worth the seeing; for there is no other true excellency or beauty. … He therefore in effect knows nothing, that knows not this; his knowledge is but the shadow of knowledge, or the form of knowledge, as the apostle calls it. Well therefore may the Scripture represent those who are destitute of that spiritual sense, by which is perceived the beauty of holiness, as totally blind, deaf, and senseless, yea, dead. And well may regeneration, in which this divine sense is given to the soul by its Creator, be represented as opening the blind eyes, raising the dead, and bringing a person into a new world.” (III.IV)

“Unless men may come to a reasonable solid persuasion and conviction of the truth of the gospel, by internal evidences, … viz. by a sight of its glory; it is impossible that those [without this] … should have any thorough and effectual conviction of it at all. They may without this see a great deal of probability of it; it may be reasonable for them to give much credit, … that it may look very probable and rational to them, that the Christian religion is true; and so much that they would be very unreasonable not to entertain this opinion. But to have a conviction, so clear, and evident, and assuring, as to be sufficient to induce them, with boldness to sell all, confidently and fearlessly to run the venture of the loss of all things, and of enduring the most exquisite and long continued torments, and to trample the world under foot, and count all things but dung for Christ; the evidence they can have from history [and other evidential-type proofs], cannot be sufficient. It is impossible that men … should come at the force of arguments for the truth of Christianity, drawn from history [etc.], to that degree, as effectually to induce them to venture their all upon it. … There will remain innumerable doubts on their minds; they will be ready, when pinched with some great trial of their faith, to say, ‘How do I know this, or that?’” (III.V)

“Such is the nature of grace, and of true spiritual light, that they naturally dispose the saints in the present state, to look upon their grace and goodness little, and their deformity great. And they that have the most grace and spiritual light, of any in this world, have most of this disposition.” (III.VI)

“No man that is truly under great convictions, thinks his conviction great in proportion to his sin.” (III.VI)

“The design of the gospel is to cut off all glorying, not only before God, but also before men.” (III.VI)

“For a person to be poor in spirit, is to be in his own sense and apprehension poor, as to what is in him, and to be of an answerable disposition. … Therefore [he] naturally behaves himself in many respects as a poor man. The poor useth entreaties, but the rich answereth roughly. A poor man is not disposed to quick and high resentment when he is among the rich. He is apt to yield to others, for he knows others are above him; nor is he stiff and self-willed. He is patient with hard fare, expects no other than to be despised, and takes it patiently. He does not take it heinously that he is overlooked, and but little regarded; but is prepared to be in a low place; readily honours his superiors, and takes reproofs quietly. He easily yields to be taught, and does not claim much to his understanding and judgment; he is not over nice or humoursome, and has his spirit subdued to hard things; he is not assuming, nor apt to take much upon him, but it is natural for him to be subject to others. Thus it is with the humble Christian.” (III.VI)

“All gracious affections, which are a sweet odour to Christ, filling the soul of a Christian with a heavenly sweetness and fragrancy, are broken-hearted affections.” (III.VI)

“Such persons as these [i.e., those deluded and hardened by a false sense of salvation], instead of embracing Christ as their Saviour from sin, trust in him as the saviour of their sins … so that they may sin against him with good courage, and without any fear, being effectually secured from restraints by his most solemn warnings and most awful threatenings. … Gracious affections are of a quite contrary tendency. … [They are] efficacious upon the heart, to make it tender, and to fill it with a dread of sin, or whatever might displease and offend God; and to engage it to watchfulness, and care, and strictness, than a slavish fear of hell. … Godly sorrow has much greater influence to make the heart tender, than mere legal sorrow from selfish principles.” (III.IX)

“Not only godly sorrow, but even a gracious joy does this…. The higher a holy hope is raised, the more there is of this christian tenderness. The banishing of servile fear by a holy assurance, is attended with a proportionable increase of a reverential fear. The diminishing of the fear of God’s displeasure in future punishment, is attended with a proportionable increase of fear of his displeasure itself; a diminished fear of hell, with an increase of the fear of sin. … As he has more holy boldness, so he has less of self-confidence, or a forward assuming boldness, and more modesty. As he is more sure than others of deliverance from hell, so he has a greater sense of its desert. He is less apt than others to be shaken in faith; but more apt to be moved with solemn warnings….” (III.IX)

“A true Christian … is not so apt to be affected with the badness of any body’s heart, as his own; this is most in his view; this he is most quick-sighted to discern; to see its aggravations, and to condemn. A lesser degree of virtue will bring him to pity himself, and be concerned at his own calamities, than is needful rightly to be affected with those of others; and if men have not attained to the less, we may determine they never attained to the greater.” (III.XI)

“[Some men] pretend a great love to men’s souls, but are not compassionate and charitable towards their bodies. To make a great show of love, pity, and distress for souls, costs them nothing; but in order to show mercy to men’s bodies, they must part with money. … [They] pretend that they are not afraid to venture their souls upon Christ, and commit their all to God, trusting to his bare word, and the faithfulness of his promises, for their eternal welfare; but at the same time, have not confidence enough in God, to dare to trust him with a little of their estates, bestowed to pious and charitable uses.” (III.X)

“False zeal is against the sins of others; while he that has true zeal, exercises it chiefly against his own sins.” (III.X)

“The more a true saint loves God with a gracious love, the more he desires to love him, and the more uneasy is he at his want of love to him: the more he hates sin, the more he desires to hate it, and laments that he has so much remaining love to it. The more he mourns for sin, the more he longs to mourn; the more his heart is broken, the more he desires it should be broken. The more he thirsts and longs after God and holiness, the more he longs to long, and breathe out his very soul in longings after God.” (III.XI)

“What makes men partial [i.e., pursuing it only part way or half-hearted] in religion [i.e., devotion to Christ and the service of God] is, that they seek themselves, and not God, in their religion, and close with religion, not for its own excellent nature, but only to serve a turn. He that closes with religion only to serve a turn, will close with no more of it than he imagines serves that turn: but he that closes with religion for its own excellent and lovely nature, closes with all that has that nature: he that embraces religion for its own sake, embraces the whole of religion. This also shows why gracious affections will cause men to practise religion perseveringly, and at all times. Religion may alter greatly in process of time, as to its consistence with men’s private interest, in many respects; and therefore he that complies with it only from selfish views, is liable, in the changes of time, to forsake it: but the excellent nature of religion, as it is in itself, is invariable; it is always the same, at all times, and through all changes; it never alters in any respect.” (III.XII)

“Without a change of nature, men’s practice will not be thoroughly changed. … The swine may be washed, and appear clean for a little while, but yet, without a change of nature, he will still wallow in the mire.” (III.XII)

“Every thing in a true Christian is calculated to reach this end [i.e., holy practice]. This fruit of holy practice is that to which every grace, every discovery, and every individual thing which belongs to christian experience has a direct tendency.” (III.XII)

“Sincerity in religion … consists in setting God highest in the heart, in choosing him before other things, in having a heart to sell all for Christ…. The proper trial whether a man has a heart to forsake all for Christ, is his being actually put to it, Christ and other things coming in competition, that he must practically cleave to one and forsake the other. To forsake all for Christ in heart, is the same thing as to have a heart to forsake all for Christ when called to it. … The main and most proper proof of a man having a heartto any thing, concerning which he is at liberty to follow his own inclinations, is his doingit.” (III.XIV)

“If we have a mind to know whether a building stands strong or no, we must look upon it when the wind blows. If we would know whether that which appears in the form of wheat, has the real substance of wheat, or be only chaff, we must observe it when it is winnowed. If we would know whether a staff be strong, or a rotten broken reed, we must observe it when it is leaned on, when weight is borne upon it. If we would weigh ourselves justly, it must be in God’s appointed scales. These trials in the course of our practice, are as it were the balances in which our hearts are weighed.” (III.XIV)

More posts and quotes from Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections.