Faith Embraces Both Thought and Passion

Edwards.jpgSeveral years ago, I was introduced to some of the writings of Jonathan Edwards.  Edwards was such an important figure in American life.  He lived from 1703 to 1758.  He ministered for twenty-three years to a church in Northampton, Massachusetts.  Later, he became president of Princeton University but died only a few weeks after beginning that work.

One important theme of his writings was the idea of "religious affections," which he saw as the passions that move the will to action. 

The following is an excerpt from Religious Affections:

The nature of human beings is to be inactive unless influenced by some affection: love or hatred, desire, hope, fear, etc.  These affections are the "spring of action," the things that set us moving in our lives, that move us to engage in activities.

When we look at the world, we see that people are exceedingly busy.  It is their affections that keep them busy.  If we were to take away their affections, the world would be motionless and dead; there would be no such thing as activity.  It is the affection we call covetousness that moves a person to seek worldly profits; it is the affection we call ambition that moves a person to pursue worldly glory; it is the affection we call lust that moves a person to pursue sensual delights.  Just as worldly affections are the spring of worldly action, so the religious affections are the spring of religious actions.

A person who has a knowledge of doctrine and theology only — without religious affection — has never engaged in true religion.  Nothing is more apparent than this: our religion takes root within us only as deep as our affections attract it.  There are thousands who hear the Word of God, who hear great and exceedingly important truths about themselves and their lives, and yet all they hear has not effect upon them, makes no change in the way they live.

(cited in Devotional Classics, edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith, pp. 20-21)

Later, Richard Foster says regarding Edwards: "Jonathan Edwards teaches us that the intellectual life and the passionate life should be friends, not enemies…. We today desperately need this lesson because a modern myth abounds that true objectivity must be passionless.  As a result, we analyze and dissect the spiritual life without the slightest personal involvement or commitment and think we understand it.  But the spiritual life cannot be understood in this detached way.  We understand by commitment.  And we enter into commitment and sustain commitment by what Edwards rightly calls "holy affections."

(Devotional Classics, p. 25)

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3 thoughts on “Faith Embraces Both Thought and Passion

  1. Thanks for this post, Jim.    Yes, head and heart.  By the way, I’ve lost the article, but it seems that I read where Yale University now has all of the writings of Edwards (including letters, sermons, etc.) on-line and searchable.  Shouldn’t be too hard to find for folks who want to explore.

  2. Jim I have come to appreciate Jonathan Edwards a great deal only in the last three years.  I was in a graduate seminar in theology and Edwards was the only figure that I knew zilch about … the prof assigned him to me for my project.  I was amazed at what I learned. He is certainly far more than what the media makes him out to be.  I was astounded by the literature about this guy.  It is enormous.  Thanks for calling attention to him.  I recently did on my blog as well. Shalom,Bobby Valentine