Edwards’ Religious Affections

What do I mean by Christian “affections” in the heart-based theology of this website? A big influence has been Jonathan Edwards (1703-58). His writings on Religious Affections were collected as a single volume (v. 2) in The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Yale, 1959). In the weeks to come I plan to survey some of his thoughts as he listed and elaborated twelve signs, with a separate post for each one.

As very brief context, Edwards was a pastor when a dramatic spiritual revival swept through New England. It stirred his own church, and after the revival passed many of the deeply moved members of his congregation fell back into their former less-than-spiritual ways of life. This passing quality, along with some odd and seemingly excessive behaviors that came with the revival, caused other regional pastors to dismiss the whole business as an emotive charade. In response Edwards provided a thoughtful set of distinctions between a real work of the Spirit in a soul, and false displays. His reflections are still fruitful for us today.

So here, as a starting point, are Edwards’ twelve “Distinguishing Signs of Truly Gracious and Holy Affections.”

1. “Affections that are truly spiritual and gracious, do arise from those influences and operations on the heart, which are spiritual, supernatural and divine. [original ital.] – p. 197

2. “The first objective ground of gracious affections, is the transcendently excellent and amiable nature of divine things, as they are in themselves; and not any conceived relation they bear to self or self-interest.” – p. 240

3. “Those affections that are truly holy, are primarily founded on the loveliness of the moral excellency of divine things. Or (to express it otherwise), a love to divine things for the beauty and sweetness of their moral excellency, is the first beginning and spring of all holy affections.” – pp. 254-254

4. “Gracious affections do arise from the mind’s being enlightened, rightly and spiritually to understand or apprehend divine things.” – p. 266

5. “Truly gracious affections are attended with a reasonable and spiritual conviction of the judgment, of the reality and certainty of divine things.” – p. 291

6. “Gracious affections are attended with evangelical humiliation.” – p. 311

7. “Another thing, wherein gracious affections are distinguished from others, is that they are attended with a change of nature.” – p. 340

8. “Truly gracious affections differ from those affections that are false and delusive, in that they tend to, and are attended with the lamblike, dovelike spirit and temper of Jesus Christ; or in other words, they naturally beget and promote such a spirit of love, meekness, quietness, forgiveness and mercy, as appeared in Christ.” – p. 344

9. “Gracious affections soften the heart, and are attended and followed with a Christian tenderness of spirit.” – p. 357

10. “Another thing wherein those affections that are truly gracious and holy, differ from those that are false, is beautiful symmetry and proportion.” – p. 365

11. “Another great and very distinguishing difference between gracious affections and others is, that gracious affections and others is, that gracious affections, the higher they are raised, the more is a spiritual appetite and longing of soul after spiritual attainments, increased. On the contrary, false affections rest satisfied in themselves. – p. 376

12. “Gracious and holy affections have their exercise and fruit in Christian practice.” – p. 383



  1. Jonathan Gale

    Thanks so much Ron. Really blessed by your previous entry of the Proverbs 3:5-6 sermon you recently preached. So challenged by the temptation to talk big but live small quote you mentioned in the how this looks practically section at the end. I am looking forward to your future entries on Edwards, Signs of Truly Gracious and Holy Affections. I’m sure this will be a great remedy for talking big but living small!

  2. R N Frost

    I always find it a pleasure to “hang out” with Edwards. His writing style may be 18th century but his heart is Christ-centered and ageless.

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