Edwards Is Not the Answer

Paul Helm has posted his assessment of Religious Affections. Here is a longish excerpt:

In order to get where he wants to go, to establish that true religion, in great part, consists in holy affections, I think it is fair to say that Edwards is forced to considerably widen the scope of what ‘affection’ means. An affection is, after all, nothing more or less than an affect. In the text, there is a contrast between faith and sight, and references to love, and faith (or belief) and joy. Belief is obviously the key. Christians believe in one whom they do not see, and they love him, rejoicing in him with great joy. Their belief affects them in certain ways, for they feel intense love and joy, and perhaps publicly express these feelings. The joy that they feel is the expression of, perhaps a public expression of, being affected by what and who is believed and loved.

Faith and love are virtues, theological virtues, as they used to be called, the fruit of the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Gal. 5 22-3) An overlapping list is also provided by Paul in Colossians. ‘Put on, then, as God’s chosen people, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another…forgiving each other….above all these put on love…’ (Col. 3. 12-4) Here we must remember that such virtues may lead to expressions of affection, in the sense of passions of emotions, but they may also be present, strongly present, in the absence of ‘sensible’ affection. The emotions or affections that express patience, or kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control may be very varied, as varied as the circumstances in which they are called forth. One can easily conceive of situations in which , for example, kindness, is expressed in dogged determination. Think of a daughter whose life is consumed with the care of an invalid mother, or the behaviour of caring parents with an autistic child.

In fact, some of these virtues listed by Paul – kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, patience or self-control, seem to be the exact opposite of affections as Edwards would have us understand them, in which ‘the blood and animal spirits are sensibly altered’. They are, or similar to, what Edwards’s contemporary David Hume referred to as the ‘calm passions’. It may even seem that the Apostle is contrasting these virtues, the calm ones, with those that are often publicly expressed in an agitated way, for the lists we have noted have a distinctly ‘calm’ feel to them. A person may be affected by the work of the Holy Spirit, possessing his fruit, in ways that are focused and undemonstrative, which lead to restraint and constraint, which lead to the development of an undeviating routine. They need not be ‘raised’ as Edwards puts it. In his definition and his defence of affection and its place in true religion Edwards fails to remind us of this, but appropriates the term for his own political purposes. Putting the matter bluntly, his definition is an attempt to press the hysteria button.

So when he writes of ‘the religious affections of love and joy’ (95) he is, I suggest, taking liberties with these central Christian virtues in order to advance his thesis. In telling us that ‘the affections are no other, than the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclinations and will of the soul’, he is equating vigour and sensibility with self-consciousness and exhibitionism. That is a mistake. Paul tells us that true virtue may consist in self-forgetfulness. It is impossibly hard to derive Edwards’s claims about true religion, that it in great part consists in holy affections, from Galatians 5 or Colossians 3 without requiring that every effect of the work of the Holy Spirit in the promotion of virtue is ‘vigorous and sensible’. Had he taken these other passages of Paul as his text Edwards would have been forced to write a different book.

Vigor and sensibility are essential to Edwards’s basic idea of an affection. Having established, in a way that will be familiar to readers of his work The Freedom of the Will, that the inclination or will is moved by either pleasedness or aversion, he goes on to claim that there are degrees of such aversion or pleasedness, rising to such a height ‘till the soul comes to act vigorously and sensibly, and the actings of the soul are with that strength that (through the laws of the union which the Creator has fixed between soul and body) the motion of the blood and animal spirits begins to be sensibly altered; whence often time arises some bodily sensation, especially about the heart and vitals, that are the fountain of the fluids of the body…..and it is to be noted, that they are these more vigorous and sensible exercises of this faculty, that are called the affections’. (95-6) But Edwards cannot have it both ways. A holy affection cannot both be a vigorous and sensible affect in this sense and it also be the case that true religion consists in them, not at least according to Paul, or James.


The Religious Affections is an important book, but in my view it would be unwise to take its teaching on what true religion consists in very seriously. It is a book about the importance of emotion, expressed in a public, visible way, being the measure of true religion. Its significance lies in its influence upon the evolving character of Protestant evangelicalism, as a phenomenon that identified itself (as David Bebbington has pointed out) partly by activism and conversionism: revivalism, massed choirs, large gatherings of people, the penitent bench, the centrality of the public testimony, and so on. Edwards’s Protestantism was of an older kind, but it nevertheless contained elements which, in other hands, contributed to developing the distinctive features of modern evangelicalism.

Does this make Helm a high-church Calvinist? Or is it simply the case of someone spotting the difference between the quest for visible and outward piety and the inward and less showy sort that attends faith?

Another possibility — the date. Do the Brits observe April 1?

(Thanks to our southern correspondent.)

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  1. danborvan
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Sean Lucas responds at Ref21:

  2. Lily
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Re: Link to Sean Lucas response

    Quote: “…only as the individual loves–the chief of all affections–will the individual obey. And the only way someone can love–which is an affection–is for the Spirit of God to dwell in his or her heart and shed abroad his love. We must have a “new sense of the heart,” a new sensation or disposition that motivates and moves to holy obedience. As Thomas Chalmers put it, it is the power of a new affection that drives out sin and motivates obedience.”

    Umm… if it is acceptable for Christians to place their trust in the power of affection and a new sense of the heart (subjective feelings – feelings that fickly ebb and flow in daily life) to sanctify them rather than trust in the objective promise of our faithful Saviour to sanctify us… I see no reason to not become a Buddhist.

  3. Posted April 1, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Re placing trust in subjective feelings for sanctification — that is totally not what Lucas is saying. He is giving a description of what happens in the soul, not saying where the believer is meant to look for sanctification.

    Or was that the April Fools?

  4. Lily
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Hi Cath,

    No, I wasn’t joking and I read the post several times before commenting and again after your comment. The post still reminds me of Christian pop psychology where the human is confused with the divine. It is God who sanctifies not my “new affection” or “‘new sense of the heart” or “a new sensation or disposition.” The new sense of heart and new affection does not have the power to drive out sin and motivate obedience. Plus, to trust in a new sense of heart and new affection is not where trust belongs – feelings are fickle. Pax.

  5. Posted April 1, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    I am confused by the distinction between a new sense, which is fundamentally love, and obedience. If love is the fulfilling of the law, why is it (and the new sense) not also the same as obedience? IOW, how can we speak of love as motivation to obey, when it is obedience itself?

  6. Lily
    Posted April 1, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Hi Cath,

    If I may, I would like to try to clarify things a little better.

    Work like Edward’s Affections can be very detrimental to people’s faith. It is not good to point someone to their affections as confirmation of faith or to use them as a gauge for faith. Our faith is in Christ alone not our affections. The sensation of a new heart or affection can evaporate during a chronic illness, death of a child, and other such trials. Trials can leave people feeling devoid of any sense of well-being and feeling abandoned by God – especially if they have conflated their feelings and faith. It is heart-breaking to see someone’s faith shattered because of lousy instruction.

    If you would, please consider this scenario: an Alzheimer patient. This child of God, who is slowly losing their faculties, needs their faith firmly grounded in the objective truth of knowing that their Savior alone is sufficient for them in this dark abyss. They need to be firmly rooted and grounded in the objective so they can trust Christ when they are bombarded by their subjective feelings, fears, and helplessness. Other scenarios abound and I am convinced that muddying faith with subjective feelings and confusing the objective work of Christ with feelings does not prepare the child of God for trials and temptations. We cannot depend on our feelings, but we can always depend upon Christ. I hope this makes sense.

  7. Tony
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 4:09 am | Permalink

    Good words, Lily! The objectivity of Christ’s work for us is our only confidence. Though Edwards did speak of the primacy of the mind, and its apprehension of Christ, clearly the accent for him is on the interior workings of these fuzzy, slippery, fickle things he calls “affections.” I find it interesting that in the Book of Concord, the only “feeling” that is prominently noted is Spirit-wrought contrition / sorrow over sin (i.e., repentance). This is the “interior” work of the Law (see Romans 7:13-25) – which drives us to the objectivity of the Gospel: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).

  8. Eliza
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    Did Paul Helm actually read the whole of “On Religious Affections”? For example when Helm says, “Here we must remember that such virtues may lead to expressions of affection, in the sense of passions of (sic?) emotions, but they may also be present, strongly present, in the absence of ‘sensible’ affection,” he is only echoing Edwards who says “It is no sign, one way or other, that religious affections are very great, or raised very high.”

    If I had time, I could go on and on countering what Helm has said.
    I’d urge people to read “On Religious Affections” for themselves before jumping on the anti-Edwards bandwagon!

  9. Posted April 2, 2011 at 5:47 am | Permalink


    I really don’t see that Edwards or Lucas are confusing the human with the divine.

    I entirely agree with you that it is God who sanctifies, and we must not trust in our senses or feelings. Your clarification again I completely agree with. We walk by faith, not by sight or by sense.

    Nevertheless, there is a subjective element to faith in Christ.

    The Larger Catechism speaks about the duty of highly esteeming, adoring, and loving God, and delighting and rejoicing in him. The Shorter Catechism expects believers to experience assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, and joy in the Holy Ghost. And the Confession says that one of the components of assurance of salvation is “the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises [of salvation] are made.”

    It simply is not enough to assume that I’m saved because I believe true doctrine and go through all the right routines. We MUST believe true doctrine and we MUST use the right routines. But regeneration is something internal, inside my soul – effectual calling is subjective – the evidences of regeneration and faith include the internal and the subjective.

    It is therefore entirely appropriate for pastors like Edwards to recount and describe what happens internally when souls are saved. Not a single one of the “experientialist” Calvinists that I’m aware of said that dramatic experiences were necessary. They described, not prescribed. They always qualified their statements by saying that everyone’s individual experience differs. But they were quite right to address the question: what does salvation feel like? how can I know that I’m regenerate? I worship God according to the way he has ordained: do I worship him in my heart? How can I ever tell?

    Dismissing the subjective in Christian experience leaves us wide open to formalism and legalism. The answer to formalism and legalism is not to abandon the ordained means of grace or orthodox doctrine. It is rather to use the means of grace AS MEANS and not as ends in themselves.

    A perpetual dizzy excitement is hardly to be recommended, but if my emotions are never stirred in consideration of the Word read or preached, there is something wrong with my spiritual health.

  10. Posted April 2, 2011 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    Re love and obedience – faith works by love. Love is (or should be) the driver of all that a believer does. It’s not obedience if it doesn’t come from love.

    But this love doesn’t exist in an unregenerate soul. It is new to the soul at the same time and in the same way as faith and repentance are new to the soul, existing only once the Holy Spirit makes the soul a new creature in Christ Jesus.

    This is hardly unique to Edwards.

  11. Posted April 2, 2011 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    It’s actually perfectly obvious that Paul Helm has read the whole of Religious Affections. This is the end of a long and thoughtful series on Edwards and the Affections. Consult Helm’s Deep. If it wasn’t okay to snark at Ligon Duncan and Mike Horton on the other thread, it’s also not okay to snark at Paul Helm. What’s with the contempt of all our best contemporary scholars and theologians?

  12. Posted April 2, 2011 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    Eliza, it’s hardly a bandwagon, more like a Radio Flyer. But there’s always room for your perky self.

  13. Posted April 2, 2011 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    Cath, how do you know that you’ve been regenerated or effectually called? How do you know that you really, really believe? The turn subjective cannot lead anywhere but where Luther found himself, wondering if he had trusted enough, if he had done enough, if he had prayed or denied himself enough.

    I don’t think you have really considered where these thoughts lead. And no offense but I also this reflects a fairly naive view of the subjective, as if we don’t deceive ourselves all the time, or suffer from a host of mixed motives. That is why something outside of us is crucial — both God’s promises and the ordinances and officers he has ordained to protect us from ourselves and the devil.

  14. Posted April 2, 2011 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    The subjective turn is right there in the Confession though. How can we be infallibly assured? it’s founded on (1) the divine truth of the promises of salvation [objective], (2) the inward evidence of those graces to which these promises are made [subjective], and (3) the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God.

    What does the Confession mean by the inward evidence of these graces?

    This is absolutely not to undermine the objective: justification is extrinsic, we have to be united to Christ – totally and wholeheartedly follow you in saying what’s outside of us is crucial, God’s Saviour, God’s promises, God’s ordinances and officers. Yes, sir.

    But as we use the means of grace – in the process of hearing the Word preached, in the process of receiving the sacraments rightly administered – these things have to be mixed with faith in our hearts, otherwise they simply won’t profit us.

  15. Alan D. Strange
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 6:28 am | Permalink


    The answer to the questions that you pose, as you know, are found particularly in WCF 18. The whole of that chapter is worthy of considerable meditation. And it is quite right to argue that we do not attain assurance by becoming mired in introspection. On the other hand, assurance is not gained without inward evidence and the witness of the Spirit, as WCF 18.2 teaches:

    “This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God, which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.”

    WCF 18.1 agrees that we might deceive ourselves, while 18.3 addresses how that assurance is not of the essence of faith and how believers may attain it. The last section, WCF 18.4, speaks of how believers may lose assurance, but not utterly, even citing an abiding “sincerity of heart.”

    I do not by any means wish to eliminate the objective. Why seek to eliminate the subjective? Ought we not rather to seek properly to understand the relative place and importance of each? WCF 18 certainly does in answer to your questions about how can one know that he believes.

  16. Lily
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Hi Cath!

    Thanks for your kind reply. I’m glad we have so much agreement. I’m apologize if I seem confusing. Lutherans do not eschew the inward work of God, but we are careful to relegate it where it belongs. Our differences in how we handle these things may be part of the difference between our traditions? We tend to be about as impressed with affections as we are pentecostal liver shivers when it comes to informing the Christian life. It’s subjective and of no value to the solas (eg: it is never a sola + anything). Our definition of sin is incurvatus in se (to be turned/curved inward upon oneself rather than outward for God and others).

    I read Edward’s Affections a number of years ago, and for better or worse, my opinion of this book is that it is an exercise of incurvatus in se and trying to pull back the curtain to try to see the hidden work of what God is doing in us. Unlike your position, I trust that God does what he says without any concern about subjective evidence to prove my spiritual health. The truth that Christ was crucified for me and the means of grace is all I need and the only sure rock when rubber hits the road in trials. I can take the objective truth of ‘Christ for me’ to the bank and bet the farm on it. I can’t say the same for the subjective evidence of my faith.

    Confessional Lutherans are extremely wary of the experiential and there are good reasons for it. We have the black honor of being the ones who created pietism and passed it on to the rest of the body of Christ. Granted, there can be a danger in formalism (I prefer the term liturgical worship) breeding legalism. But the dangers of breeding legalism are far greater when the subjective is emphasized over the objective. Where liturgical worship protects the worshipper and keeps our focus on extra nos (salvation comes from outside ourselves), the experiential emphasis opens the door to adding things that do not belong in a Divine Service and deleting things that do belong in Divine Service. I see far more danger in the experiential emphasis than the liturgical emphasis of adding to the law and becoming legalistic (eg: devotions).

    It is hard for me to clearly explain the twin dangers of the experiential and legalism that lead to pietism. This may be too simplistic, but I think it helps gives some markers:

    When pietism is at work, it seems to create blind spots. It doesn’t seem to dawn on people that what they are moving towards is not unlike Mormonism’s burning in the bosom (subjective experience) and Mormonism’s theology of glory that presents a lifestyle of integrity, model family, and traditional values (moralism) as central to Christianity. What Mormonism and Pietism have in common is that they are both man-made religions that appeal to the Old Adam.

    The Reformational understanding that the heart is the problem is forgotten and the heart is increasingly seen as the answer (able to will, able to be pure in motives, able to perform the law perfectly, able to love God and others without sin, etc.). The Old Adam is strengthened rather than killed. Subjective experience of God unencumbered by the means of grace, liturgy, and theologically dense hymns/psalms in corporate worship begins to take preeminence. IMO, It looks like an unmediated spirituality. The inner spiritual life (experiential) is stressed over objective growth in faith through the means of grace (Word and Sacrament).

  17. Mark Van Der Molen
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Consistent with what Rev. Strange has pointed out regarding the WCF, the Heidelberg Catechism repeatedly speaks of the inward assurance of faith wrought in “our hearts” by the Holy Spirit. LD 7. We do good works “so that we may assured of our faith by its fruits”. LD32. The Lord’s Supper is given so as to “nourish and refresh my soul for eternal life..” LD. 28. Eternal salvation comforts us such that “..I already now experience in my heart the beginning of eternal joy”. LD 22.

    Edwards likewise grounded our subjective experience upon the objective reality of the work of Christ and the visible means of grace.

  18. Lily
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Hi Tony!

    I’m glad we have harmony on the experiential. I would point out that Edwards’ primacy of the mind in apprehending Christ is problematic too. What do we do with those with Down’s syndrome and other such conditions? It seems to me that is should be enough that it is God who gives faith. It is all gift and we don’t need to dissect it to death like Edwards does.

    As for the Book of Concord, you may find this of interest. We do not depend upon our feelings in repentance for our repentance is always imperfect too! We depend upon what Christ did when he was baptized by John the Baptism. There he repented perfectly for us. I won’t say more on it for I am afraid I will somehow mangle the indescribable width, depth, and breadth of what Christ did for us when he submitted to be baptized to fulfill all righteousness for us. What a wonderful Savior we have!

  19. Posted April 2, 2011 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    But Mark, Edwards wasn’t Dutch.

    Plus, Heidelberg says assurance is of the essence of faith.

  20. Posted April 2, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink


    This is true what you say about WCF 18. But, the Westminster Divines, under the influence of practical divinity, also went more internal than the Three Forms of Unity — for instance, it’s hard to find anything in the Belgic that leads to the kind of internal criteria that the Puritans conceived. And contra Mr. Van der Molen, everyone talked about the heart. But there is talk about the heart and there is talk about affections.

    Bottom line, the WCF speaks in a different cadence from Edwards on affections.

    And you have not acknowledged the subjective turn in Reformed Protestantism for the last 300 years. The direction of our history is not toward formalism. So why beat up on Nevin?

  21. Lily
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Here is a quote from Sinclair Ferguson that may be of help in looking at the Christian life. Compare this with Edwards book:

    This first thing to remember, of course, is that we must never separate the benefits (regeneration, justification, sanctification) from the Benefactor (Jesus Christ). The Christians who are most focused on their own spirituality may give the impression of being the most spiritual … but from the New Testament’s point of view, those who have almost forgotten about their own spirtuality because their focus is so exclusively on their union with Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished are those who are growing and exhibiting fruitfulness. Historically speaking, whenever the piety of a particular group is focused on OUR spirituality that piety will eventually exhaust itself on its own resources. Only where our piety forgets about ourself and focuses on Jesus Christ will our piety nourished by the ongoing resources the Spirit brings to us from the source of all true piety, our Lord Jesus Christ.

  22. Lily
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Dr. Hart,

    Can you see why I adore Sinclair? Sigh… if you and Sinclair weren’t convinced that being Reformed was the best expression of Christianity in doctrine and practice, ya’ll would make wonderful confessional Lutherans! 😉

    Yeah… the pollen’s still high here, silliness abounds, and I’m resigned that my deliverance from a warped sense of humor has been relegated to that great resurrection day.

  23. Mark Van Der Molen
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    ya’ll would make wonderful confessional Lutherans

    Bingo, Lily.

    But Mark, Edwards wasn’t Dutch.

    But Darryl, Alan Strange isn’t Dutch either.

  24. Posted April 2, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    It is therefore entirely appropriate for pastors like Edwards to recount and describe what happens internally when souls are saved. Not a single one of the “experientialist” Calvinists that I’m aware of said that dramatic experiences were necessary. They described, not prescribed. They always qualified their statements by saying that everyone’s individual experience differs. But they were quite right to address the question: what does salvation feel like? how can I know that I’m regenerate? I worship God according to the way he has ordained: do I worship him in my heart? How can I ever tell?

    Cath, when do such descriptions tip into harmful speculation? When the dramatic surfaces? When is it dramatic? Could it be that instead of indulging and flirting with speculation that such questions should be corrected as such? And maybe the soul that is so concerned shows by merely having that concern that all is well? I mean, what ill soul wonders any of these things? But it seems to me that the orthodox answer to these questions is to point to Christ, not to further inward descriptions. You affirm the objective, but I wonder when and how you think the objective should be employed, and it seems to me one place is when these sorts of questions are raised.

  25. Posted April 2, 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    From about that time, I began to have a new kind of apprehensions and ideas of Christ. and the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him. An inward, sweet sense of these things, at times, came into my heart; and my soul was led away in pleasant views and contemplations of them. And my mind was greatly engaged to spend my time in reading and meditating on Christ, on the beauty and excellency of his person, and the lovely way of salvation by free grace in him. I found no books so delightful to me, as those that treated of these subjects. Those words Cant. 2:1, used to be abundantly with me, I am the Rose of Sharon, and the Lilly of the valleys. The words seemed to me, sweetly to represent the loveliness and beauty of Jesus Christ. The whole book of Canticles used to be pleasant to me, and I used to be much in reading it, about that time; and found, from time to time, an inward sweetness, that would carry me away, in my contemplations. This I know not how to express otherwise, than by a calm, sweet abstraction of soul from all the concerns of this world; and sometimes a kind of vision, or fixed ideas and imaginations, of being alone in the mountains, or some solitary wilderness, far from all mankind, sweetly conversing with Christ, and wrapt and swallowed up in God. The sense I had of divine things, would often of a sudden kindle up, as it were, a sweet burning in my heart; an ardor of soul, that I know not how to express.

    Not long after I first began to experience these things, I gave an account to my father of some things that had passed in my mind. I was pretty much affected by the discourse we had together; and when the discourse was ended, I walked abroad alone, in a solitary place in my father’s pasture, for contemplation. And as I was walking there, and looking up on the sky and clouds, there came into my mind so sweet a sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God, that I know not how to express. I seemed to see them both in a sweet conjunction; majesty and meekness joined together; it was a sweet, and gentle, and holy majesty; and also a majestic meekness; an awful sweetness; a high, and great, and holy gentleness.

    After this my sense of divine things gradually increased, and became more and more lively, and had more of that inward sweetness. The appearance of every thing was altered; there seemed to be, as it were, a calm sweet cast, or appearance of divine glory, in almost every thing. God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in every thing; in the sun, moon, and stars; in the clouds, and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature; which used greatly to fix my mind. I often used to sit and view the moon for continuance; and in the day, spent much time in viewing the clouds and sky, to behold the sweet glory of God in these things; in the mean time, singing forth, with a low voice my contemplations of the Creator and Redeemer. And scarce any thing, among all the works of nature, was so sweet to me as thunder and lightning; formerly, nothing had been so terrible to me. Before, I used to be uncommonly terrified with thunder, and to be struck with terror when I saw a thunder storm rising; but now, on the contrary, it rejoiced me. I felt God, so to speak, at the first appearance of a thunder storm; and used to take the opportunity, at such times, to fix myself in order to view the clouds, and see the lightnings play, and hear the majestic and awful voice of God’s thunder, which oftentimes was exceedingly entertaining, leading me to sweet contemplations of my great and glorious God. While thus engaged, it always seemed natural to me to sing, or chant for my mediations; or, to speak my thoughts in soliloquies with a singing voice.

    I felt then great satisfaction, as to my good state; but that did not content me. I had vehement longings of soul after God and Christ, and after more holiness, wherewith my heart seemed to be full, and ready to break; which often brought to my mind the words of the Psalmist, Psal. 119:28. My soul breaketh for the longing it hath. I often felt a mourning and lamenting in my heart, that I had not turned to God sooner, that I might have had more time to grow in grace. My mind was greatly fixed on divine things; almost perpetually in the contemplation of them. I spent most of my time in thinking of divine things, year after year; often walking alone in the woods, and solitary places, for meditation, soliloquy, and prayer, and converse with God; and it was always my manner, at such times, to sing forth my contemplations. I was almost constantly in ejaculatory prayer, wherever I was. Prayer seemed to be natural to me, as the breath by which the inward burnings of my heart had vent. The delights which I now felt in the things of religion, were of an exceeding different kind from those before mentioned, that I had when a boy; and what I then had no more notion of, than one born blind has of pleasant and beautiful colors. They were of a more inward, pure, soul animating and refreshing nature. Those former delights never reached the heart; and did not arise from any sight of the divine excellency of the things of God; or any taste of the soul satisfying and life; giving good there is in them.

    –Jonathon Edwards

    I drove over to Aunt Flo’s to look for them and got caught in Sunday morning rush hour. It was Confirmation Sunday at Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church. Thirteen young people had their faith confirmed and were admitted to the circle of believers, thirteen dressed-up boys and girls at the altar rail in front of a crowd of every available relative. Pastor Ingqvist asked them all the deepest questions about the faith (questions that have troubled theologians for years), which these young people answered readily from memory before partaking of their first Communion. Later they lounged around on the front steps and asked each other, “Were you scared?” and said, “No, I really wasn’t, not as much as I thought I’d be,” and went home to eat chuck roast, and some of them had their first real cup of coffee. They found it to be a bitter, oily drink that makes you dizzy and sick to your stomach, but they were Lutherans now and that’s what Lutherans drink.

    –Garrison Keillor, “Life among the Lutherans”

    If to identify with Edwards’s affirmation is to be Reformed mark me Lutheran.

  26. Alan D. Strange
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink


    Why beat up on Nevin? Because I agree with Lig Duncan that Nevin is not the cure to whatever ails us in the church.

    Did Nevin have some insights into the problems of the Second Great Awakening? Absolutely. But his Hegelianism and near-trek to Rome are not the answer.

    As you know, his German romantic idealism led him into some suspect views of the Incarnation and the Church and he was weak on matters soteriological. Are there problems in Edwards? Yes, but, on the whole, I would take him any day over Nevin. I suspect we will not come to agreement on this any time soon.

    As for Paul Helm, I think that Sean Lucas is right in his analysis. I have great respect for Prof. Helm, but he can tend, imo, evidenced in other areas of his writing, to a kind of intellectualism with which I would at points demur. Others of us have also studied Edwards (Sean said for twenty years and I began studying him thirty years ago, my first trip to the Beinecke being on a fellowship in 1983) and read him differently. I have not published a book on Edwards but have written several articles (one rather lengthy) on him and am delighted to anticipate Sean’s book on him.

    I do not pretend to know Nevin as well as you. Perhaps I am being unfair with him. I don’t want to be unfair so am open to correction. I have been reading and studying Edwards and Edwards’s scholarship for some time, though, and find many quicker less contextual readings of him to be a bit off. Again, though, these are things about which we debate, right?

  27. Lily
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Sorry, Mark, it’s a tongue-in-cheek joke. Where the Reformed and Lutherans intersect is in an orthodoxy that is acknowledged as unquestionably true in doctrine and practice by both traditions. It’s Reformational orthodoxy and not specific to either tradition. That’s why we are fellow soldiers in the battle against pietism.

  28. Posted April 2, 2011 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Alan, but what about New Life? It seems to me you take issue with Nevin to protect awakenings like those of the First “pretty good” awakening. I am not recommending Nevin as a package. But his critique of the emotionalism that characterized revivalism, and that even more pronounced with Edwards and Tennent, is an argument that all Reformed Protestants need to hear.

    So while you take issue with Nevin, Jack Miller gets a pass. Are you making the world safe for Piper and Keller?

  29. Posted April 2, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Mark, Ursinus would also make a good confessional Lutheran.

    I know Alan isn’t Dutch. So why do you give him a pass?

  30. Alan D. Strange
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink


    That’s funny that you should ask about Jack Miller. In one of my long lost-in-the-ether posts of last night, I had mentioned New Life as an example of anti-formalism that has troubled us in our narrower circles. I think that New Life had some key problems, not the least among them being a downgrade of liturgy and doctrine.

    Nice try, though, for “reject Nevin and you must embrace Miller.” Does that mean that Hodge, who took sharp issue with Nevin, paved the way for Miller? Hardly. Even there, though, I am not in complete agreement with Hodge over against Nevin. I think that the Princetonians (and Edwards as well) tended to a lower view of the means of grace than their Reformed forefathers.

    Has there been an overly-subjectivistic turn in the Reformed faith in the last three hundred years? I think that there has been at points. But the remedy, dear brother, imo, is not to paint with the broad brush that you have been using in dismissing anything to do with the inward or the subjective. I think that it is not helpful doctrinally or pastorally, because imbalanced.

    Our Standards take a balanced approach. BTW, assurance does not mean precisely the same thing and play precisely the same role in the TFU as in the Westminster Standards and I think that the positions can, and have been, harmonized. I assume that you think so too, since you have, at one time or another, taken vows to both.

    I do hang around a lot with the Dutch!

  31. Bryan
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    It is kind of creepy how some of the ‘regulars’ in these comments have absolutely no sense of reading literacy or ability to learn from and empathize with the valid statements of others. yes, indeed truly creepy.

  32. Bryan
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Excellent points, Mr. A. Strange. Thank you from an OPCer.

  33. Posted April 2, 2011 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Hi Lily,

    Nice to talk to you!

    This is probably the only place in the world where I’m in danger of sounding like I downplay the importance of the objective.

    Agreed: the objective truth is what we depend on entirely for salvation
    Agreed: it’s a mistake to emphasise the subjective over the objective
    Agreed: it’s a mistake to seek subjective experience of God apart from the means of grace

    Still and all, the life of faith is something more than true doctrine and the right use of the means of grace. If a soul is objectively united with Christ, this manifests itself partly in inner graces. True doctrine unloved, unbelieved, unmeditated on won’t do anyone much good. Sacraments received without love for the thing signified, without a sense of the honour bestowed on the recipient, without gratitude for the grace held out – ditto.

    Relegating the subjective to its proper place is done much more effectively and Scripture-consistently by identifying clearly and accurately what the subjective in the life of faith actually looks like, than by airbrushing it out of the picture altogether.

  34. Posted April 2, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink


    the unfailingly appropriate pastoral advice for troubled souls is to look to Christ. For every look within, a thousand looks to Christ. The gospel is, “Christ for us,” and not “the Spirit in us”.

    Still, something needs to happen inside. If Christ is for us, the Spirit will be working in us.

    Sometimes that means dragging a dull and senseless heart through the means of grace and going away feeling no different than before. Sometimes it means tasting and seeing that God is good, seeing beauty and comeliness in the man of sorrows, rejoicing over the Word as one that findeth great spoil, thirsting after God, and so on.

    These inner subjective experiences don’t always, but must sometimes, be consciously felt by a living soul, ie anyone and everyone who the Holy Spirit regenerates. That’s what Scripture teaches: there needs be no embarrassment about confessing it.

    What I appreciate about your view is it recognises the extraordinariness of the ordinary, if you don’t mind me saying so. You (or you plural) regularly attend the Lord’s Day services, to hear the Word plainly read and preached, and to have the sacraments routinely dispensed — I hope I’m not putting words in your mouth to say you see the standing wonder of these ordinances in the world. Every routine encounter is non-routine because it is an encounter with God himself, in his ordained means. Excellent, excellent, and shout it from the rooftops. But then follow through on that – if you’re using the means, they’re means of grace: means of sustaining and strengthening the inner life of the soul. Love, joy, peace, hungering and thirsting after righteousness. If it’s true doctrine that Christ is lovely, will I not love him, and if I find no love for him in my heart, can I really claim to believe that truth about him.

    If you’ve got the objective right, the subjective is both its inseparable companion and essential corroboration.

  35. Mark Van Der Molen
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Darryl, that’s easy. Alan doesn’t evade the substance by making irrelevant references to ethnicity.

  36. Mike K.
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    “As you know, his German romantic idealism led him into some suspect views of the Incarnation and the Church and he was weak on matters soteriological.”

    Could anyone elaborate? I’ve read DGH’s Nevin bio and Bonomo’s “Incarnation and Sacrament” but not Nevin himself. The latter presented Nevin’s view of incarnation in a compelling way.

    “But his Hegelianism and near-trek to Rome are not the answer. ”

    As a former catholic that was soon confused by evangelicalism, then evangelical influences in Reformed communions, Nevin’s course has been an inspiration to me to remain Presbyterian even when it’s more of a Wesleyan or Edwardsean, or just American, experience than a Reformed one.

  37. Posted April 2, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    So Alan, then why are you not as hard on the Princetonians and Edwards as you apparently are? It seems that it’s okay for you to use a broad brush against Nevin when he was making the same point that you just did about Princeton and Edwards on the means of grace. Why is it so hard for you to concede a point that he made very effectively (and dare I say well before he took the full plunge into Hegelianism — he was writing Anxious Bench in 1843).

    And you know the point that I am making about Miller. Where are the warnings about New Life, and why the unwillingness to see any connection between the subjective turn and today’s phenomena? Again, it seems to me that you think there’s a danger of a Nevin resurgence. Where? Among the Dutch?

  38. Posted April 2, 2011 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    But Mark, when have your bumper sticker responses here ever engaged substance? Is English your second language?

  39. Posted April 2, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Mike K., I’d be glad to answer if I understood anything about German idealism. There is plenty in Nevin to give pause. For instance, his liturgy which calls the table the altar, and the way he likely made the Supper more central than the sermon. But the idea that he is tainted simply for his philosophical dabbling is akin to discrediting all of the Old Princeton Theology because they used Scottish Common Sense Realism. The point remains, at least for me, that Nevin was almost single-handedly (though some confessional Lutherans fresh to the U.S. were also doing so), raising a Burkean stop sign to the onward march of evangelical Protestant subjectivity. I don’t think you need to master Hegel to see that. Just turn on the Trinity Broadcasting Network or Christian radio.

  40. Lily
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Hi Cath,

    Nice to talk to you, too! I’m glad and thankful for the harmony we have in what is true and central! Please do not misunderstand and think Lutherans are “airbrushing it out of the picture altogether.” We have a place for our emotions. The difference between our traditions appears to be in that Lutherans do not depend upon our feelings to confirm, corroborate, or gauge our faith. We’re much more likely to approach God as beggars (the poor, miserable sinners that we are) at the Lord’s table and see the emotions you prize as not required. The Lord’s Supper is never received lightly (hence our close communion). What we receive in the Lord’s Supper is true and real and it is not dependent upon us. In a similar way, our approach to God in ordinary daily life is not dependent upon our emotions. It is Christ alone who sustains and strengthens us and apart from him we are nothing. Our feelings do not make our salvation in Christ any less true or more true, and we depend upon the solas (not faith + emotions, or Christ + emotions, or grace + emotions). I hope that helps clarify some things? Aw shucks… just listen to Bach or a Paul Gerhardt hymn – you’ll quickly find that we are no less emotional than anyone else! 😉

    If God Himself be for me
    hymn by Paul Gerhardt

    If God Himself be for me, I may a host defy,
    For when I pray, before me my foes confounded fly.
    If Christ, my Head and Master, befriend me from above,
    What foe or what disaster can drive me from his love?

    I build on this foundation, that Jesus and His blood
    Alone are my salvation, the true eternal good;
    Without Him, all that pleases is valueless on earth:
    The gifts I owe to Jesus alone my love are worth.

    My Jesus is my Splendor, my Sun, my Light, alone;
    Were he not my Defender, before God’s awful throne,
    I never should find favor and mercy in His sight,
    But be destroyed forever as darkness by the light.

    He canceled my offenses, delivered me from death;
    He is the Lord who cleanses my soul from sin through faith.
    In him I can be cheerful, bold, and undaunted aye;
    In Him I am not fearful of God’s great Judgment Day.

    Naught, naught, can now condemn me nor set my hope aside;
    Now hell no more can claim me its fury I deride.
    No sentence e’er reproves me, no ill destroys my peace;
    For Christ, my Saviour, loves me and shields me with His grace.

    His Spirit in me dwelleth, and o’er my mind He reigns.
    All sorrow He dispelleth, and soothes away all pains.
    He crowns His work with blessing, and helpeth me to cry
    “My Father!” without ceasing to Him Who dwells on high.

    To mine His Spirit speaketh sweet words of soothing power,
    How God to Him that seeketh for rest is always near;
    And how He hath erected a city fair and new,
    Where all that faith expected we evermore shall view.

  41. Alan D. Strange
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink


    I see no particular reason to warn against Jack Miller in the OPC any longer. Do you?

    FV is one place in which Nevin finds resonance. And there are others, like yourself, in the OPC, who wish to bring Nevin to the table to address what you perceive as the inward/subjective problem.

    But I think that we have the resources needed in our confessional tradition without recourse to Nevin (who brings too many problems in my estimation). Whatever imbalance Edwards and our Old School Presbyterian forefathers may have had with respect to the means of grace can be remedied by an appeal to the older Reformed tradition. At the same time, I think that Edwards and the Princetonians constituted a proper development and advance of the tradition. In other words, there were regressive and progressive tendencies in 18th and 19th c. Calvinism and Presbyterianism.

    Nevin, Schaff, and co. largely stand outside of that and bring a host of problems not endemic to that tradition. I do not argue that Mercersburg brings nothing to the table, but what they bring that is good is already in the tradition, imo, and they are not needed to bring it.

    And I am one of those who has been convinced that Princeton was not as much in the thrall of the problems inherent in the SCSR as I myself previously thought. I will continue to ponder what you said about broad-brushing Nevin unfairly. I do not wish to be unfair to him and so will re-examine matters as I have occasion. Are you willing to concede that you might need to do the same with respect to JE? And the inward/subjective?

  42. Posted April 2, 2011 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Alan, I’d cop to the broad-brush plea if I had not read Edwards — as well as plenty of accounts of the colonial revivals that should give anyone pause about the merits of those awakenings. Trouble is, I have studied those phenomena and I don’t think the Pretty Good Awakening deserves to get a pass. When it comes to worship, office, and subscription, the New Side was weak, the forerunners of New Life. But almost everyone in the thrall of some kind of experimental Calvinism, whether of the British Banner of Truth variety or the nadere reformatie kind, continue to think of those revivals as a wholesome development.

    Why do you think that I paint with a broad brush since my arguments are based on more than preference (sorry Terry Gray)? And why do you think the First Pretty Good Awakening was progress?

    I agree that there is plenty within our tradition to which we can turn. And believe it or not, it was Nevin who alerted me to the discontinuity between the 16th and 18th centuries. I do believe he got many things wrong. But on the difference between Calvin and Edwards I think he hit it out of the park. (Play ball!)

  43. Alan D. Strange
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Permalink


    I had another post lost to the ether (I keep getting interrupted with other necessary matters) in which I commended Nevin for his bringing Finney and the new measures up short. I welcome his assessment of the “anxious bench.”

    Hodge was a bit harsh on Nevin but feared ritualism and saw Nevin as tending to identify the Holy Spirit and the means in a kind of ex opere operato. I think, given Nevin’s attraction to Rome, that these were some valid concerns. I also prefer Nevin to Hodge on slavery, the latter being incapable of realizing what we had here was not what was described by that name in the Bible (but that’s another matter, arguable either way as far as natural law is concerned, proved by J.C. Calhoun).

    You and I (who agree with Hodge) disagree on the New Side. It had problems but valid concerns as well, and I regard the 1758 reunion, as did the Princetonians, as a happy one. John Muether knows that I go back a long way in these convictions. I think that your view that the New Side was a uniform disaster is the minority report and has quite a lot to surmount, including George Marsden’s judicious criticisms.

    My contention is that there room in our confessional churches for Old Side and New Side. What say? BTW, what Peter Wallace has written on John Thomson’s better experience with more balanced New-Siders is a good contribution to this discussion. Nobody likes Davenport, but what about Davies? A good man.

    At any rate, we have a few disagreements but will both be worshipping our covenant God tomorrow in the sacred gathering.

  44. Eliza
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    DGH (at 6:04 a.m.) regarding the subjective: Edwards concludes with the thought that ” the fruit of these affections is Christian practice,” and the latter is the chief sign to ourselves and others that we are in the faith. This is no different than what the WCF calls “fruits and evidences” in 16.2.

    Edwards personally was a good example of “the frozen chosen”. He preached in a monotone, spent lots of time in his study, and eschewed charismatic revelation. He was no New Life Presbyterian (or even Congregationalist).

    And, Zrim, if you never delighted in Christ, I feel sorry for you and I am not being sarcastic or snarky either. So I guess you are Lutheran.

    P.S. The OPC asks people to make vows of belief and practice, and I think it’s telling that the questions they put to prospective members never once ask if the person loves Christ. What an omission!

  45. Mike K.
    Posted April 2, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    The practice of the last … well, longer than any of us have been alive … proves that the Old Side and New Side can coexist, but when the Old Side says, “I have some serious doubts about that,” the New Side tends toward a, “Unless you adopt my piety and practice, you might not be a Christian,” reply. That gets stifling, especially when it’s from the pulpit.

  46. Posted April 2, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Eliza, thanks for your pious pity. But I don’t know, being “in almost constant ejaculatory prayer wherever I am” seems different from delighting in Christ in life and death. I feel quite at ease admitting to but not gloating in the latter. But admitting to and gloating in the former seems kind of icky.

  47. Posted April 2, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Eliza, you’re such a critic and literalist. With you pietists there’s never enough. Someone can affirm that he acknowledges Jesus Christ as his sovereign Lord, and promises that, in reliance on the grace of God, he will serve Jesus with all that is in him, forsake the world, resist the devil, put to death his sinful deeds and desires, and lead a godly life and you still want to hear him affirm his love for Christ. Are you so demanding of your husband after he mows the grace, takes out the garbage and brings you flowers?

    And please do tell, where did Paul ever write, “I love you, Jesus”?

  48. Posted April 2, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Alan, you’re going to trust a historian who started his career by writing about the New School? I don’t presume to question Marsden’s ability as a historian, but please do keep in mind that George was part of that second generation of OP’s who tired of the first generation’s militancy. That may explain why he found the New School so attractive for his dissertation.

  49. Posted April 2, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Plus, Alan, you’re avoiding the 600 pound gorilla in the room — his last name being Tennent. I’m sure there were good New Siders. And there were good New Schoolers. But the question was whether they were going to tolerate and even defend the antics of Barnes and Tennent respectively. What is it that would allow someone to defend Tennent? And what is it that would allow a revivalist like Tennent to take the near-death experience of his brother and run with it as an example of a miraculous resurrection? As I say, the New Side is not nearly as pretty or pristine as the Banner of Truth has led us to believe. Whitewashing it won’t help.

  50. Posted April 2, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Dear Lily,

    It would be a horrible mistake to approach God on the basis of our emotions. Words cannot express how much I agree with this: “It is Christ alone who sustains and strengthens us and apart from him we are nothing. Our feelings do not make our salvation in Christ any less true or more true, and we depend upon the solas.”

    The subjective must be eliminated in entirety from the grounds of a sinner’s approach to Christ, and the grounds of a sinner’s acceptance with God. Justification and sanctification both are of God’s free grace, only for the sake of Christ external to us.

    But the sinner who is justified and sanctified has emotions which are harnessed or channelled according to what God has revealed in the Scripture. Before regeneration, the sinner loved sin. From regeneration onwards, the sinner loves holiness. Whatever the sinner feared prior to regeneration, the faith which the Spirit gives them at regeneration now makes them tremble at the threatenings of God’s Word, WCF 14.2. Whatever emotions the soul is capable of, these don’t become irrelevant subsequent to regeneration – they are rather exercised properly, rejoicing in what they ought to rejoice in, loathing what they ought to loathe, and so on.

    So, if someone finds themselves with some degree of stirrings of affection towards the Lord’s Christ, or somehow grieving over their unbelief, or perhaps longing to have a clean heart and a right spirit – these are evidences that they have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit – evidences that there is spiritual life when previously they were dead in trespasses and sins – evidences that they are in a right relationship with God.

    Such things are not *grounds* of their relationship with God but different kinds of *testimonies* of their relationship with God.

    (They are not even the *sole* piece of evidence of regeneration. Other evidences would after all include the willingness to repeatedly go and sit under the plain expository preaching of the Word, and a seeking to use all the means of grace (word, sacraments, and prayer) for the ends they were instituted for, namely to receive Christ and the benefits of his mediation.)

    But it’s embedded in the Confession that internal graces *are* part of the foundation on which assurance of salvation can be had. We confess that our feelings have a role to lay in corroborating the reality of our faith. That’s just what Alan Strange said earlier in his comments on WCF 18.1.

    The airbrushing comment was maybe more for the ears of our host, which was hardly helpful of me!

    That’s me over and out till Monday now.

    (Except, PS, to apologise to Eliza for snapping earlier. Had been mulling over Helm’s previous article here http://paulhelmsdeep.blogspot.com/2011/03/religious-affection-jonathan-edwardss.html which I think is essential context for the more recent article linked in the original post here. Don’t think it’s possible to delight in Christ too much. Now truly over and out.)

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