I have been reading Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections for two years now. It has taken this long because (1) I think a book like this requires slow, patient, thoughtful reading; and (2) I am only able to read it occasionally because I have a stack of other reading to complete for school. It is no exaggeration to say that I am confronted, challenged, rebuked, laid low, encouraged and strengthened by this book at every turn of the page. Edwards’ insight into the human heart and the secret working of the Holy Spirit is both frightening and refining as he shows us, from Scripture, common sense, and experience, what a true work of God’s grace looks like and how genuine Christians can cultivate and promote true affections for Christ. I find myself stocking quote after quote in my notes and in my journals as I am constantly reminded of the enduring helpfulness of well-written and Scripture-saturated books.
One quote that I have found particularly convicting and instructive regards what I would call “false maturity.” It is easy for us to think we have attained “great heights in religion” (Edwards’ phrase) when we really have not, and to think of ourselves more highly than we should (Romans 12:3). Edwards reminds us that we must understand great attainments in spiritual growth can only occur by first achieving lesser attainments.
And here, by the way, I would observe, that it may be laid down as a general rule, that if persons pretend that they come to high attainments in religion, but have never yet arrived to the lesser attainments, it is a sign of a vain pretense. If persons pretend that they have got beyond mere morality, to live in a spiritual and divine life, but really have not come to be so much as moral persons: or pretend to be greatly affected with the wickedness of their hearts, and are not affected with the palpable violations of God’s commands in their practice, which is a lesser attainment: or if they pretend to be brought to be even willing to be damned for the glory of God, but have no forwardness to suffer a little in their estates and names and worldly convenience, for the sake of their duty: or if 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 trust Him with a little of their estates, bestowed to pious and charitable uses; I say, when it is thus with persons, their pretenses are manifestly vain. He that is in a journey, and imagines he has got far beyond such a place in his road, and never yet came to it, must be mistaken; and he is not yet arrived to the top of the hill that never yet got half way thither (296-297)
If we think we are more mature than we truly are, we will unwittingly neglect the “lesser” areas of our lives, having been deceived that we have progressed beyond these to the more profound and important areas of Christianity, and our hypocrisy will be apparent to all. There is perhaps nothing more deadly to spiritual growth than thinking we no longer need to grow. May God have mercy on us to open our eyes so we can see where we are really at.