Over the past ten years, I have attempted to read Jonathan Edwards’ Treatise on the Religious Affections because it is widely regarded as one of the most profound and influential works on true Biblical spirituality. Yet, as other have experienced, I found it very difficult to muddle through as it takes hours to read just a few small paragraphs. The beauty of his arguments was lost in the cumbersome nature of his writing.
Sam Storms, a pastor and theologian who I greatly admire, wrote his interpretation of the Religious Affections called “Signs of the Spirit”. I am indebted to him for clearly showing me just how profound Edwards’ work truly is.
Over the next few weeks, I will be posting my thoughts and meditations upon this work.
Edwards wrote this treatise in response to those who questioned the validity of revival during the First Great Awakening in New England in the 1740’s. Opponents protested that this so called “revival” ushered in spurious activities, false conversions, and other unusual manifestations, which often make it difficult to tell if a person has been genuinely converted. Edwards does a masterful job in showing just exactly what true conversion is.
He proposes TWELVE evidences or proofs of authentic regeneration and genuine conversion in the heart of a sinner through the power of the Gospel. In other words, how do we know that a sinner has truly been saved? What differentiates a true conversion from a false conversion?
His foundational passage is 1 Peter 1:3-9:
1 Peter 1:3–9 (ESV) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
From this passage, we see that authentic Christian spirituality is evidenced in two things: a love for Jesus and joy in Jesus.
In today’s blog post, I am going to address his first mark of genuine conversion.
1. God alone must sovereignly regenerate the sinner. Conversion does not come about by human nature, emotionalism, or even an understanding of Biblical knowledge, but by the monergistic work of God.
In other words, as those who are dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-3), we cannot in and of ourselves cause ourselves to be born again. As enslaved sinners, we cannot produce the new birth through our will or some decision we make to repent and believe. God’s work in our conversion is what we call “monergistic”. This word comes from two words “mono” (one or alone) and “ergon” (Greek for “working”). Monergistic regeneration means that God alone does the work in causing us to be born again. We do not cooperate with His grace or produce the new birth through our free will choice.
The Bible is very clear that our regeneration is the sovereign working of God alone.
Ezekiel 36:25-27 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
In this passage, notice who is doing all of the work–God! We do not cleanse ourselves. We do not take our stoney hearts out and replace them with hearts of flesh. We do not cause the Holy Spirit to indwell us. God alone does this wonderful work in our lives.
John 1:12-13 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
How does John say we are born of God? Not by natural birth or by our own free will choice, but by the sovereign grace of God.
Ephesians 2:4-5 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved
As spiritually dead sinners, do we make ourselves alive with Christ? Or does God make us alive in the new birth? God alone is the ONE who causes us to be born again.
Titus 3:4-6 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.
God saved us by His sheer grace alone through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. We don’t add one iota to our salvation.
This first principle from Edwards is crucial in understanding true Biblical spirituality because we must have a clear understanding of God’s sovereign work in causing spiritually dead sinners to come to life in Christ. All other arguments or principles flow from this first assertion that true conversion is supernatural in nature and that God alone does the work in His grace.