Section one discusses the nature of the affections and their importance in religion. Edwards defines his terms early in the work. He describes the affections as the exercises of the “inclination and the will of the soul.” He notes that one may have doctrinal knowledge and speculate in matters of theology, but without affections one is never engaged in the business of religion. Similarly, a man having much affection, does not prove that he has true religion: but if he has no affection, it proves that he has no true religion.
The Scriptures represent true religion, as being summarily comprehended in love, the chief of the affections, and the fountain of all others. “From a vigorous, affectionate, and fervent love to God, will necessarily arise other religious affections, hence will arise an intense hatred and fear of sin; a dread of God’s displeasure; gratitude to God for His goodness; joy in God; grief when He is absent.”
Part two demonstrates that one cannot rely on signs to test the validity of religious affections. The author details twelve different supposed manifestations of religious affections that in reality turn out to be shams.
Part three is the heart of the book. In contrast to the previous section, Edwards shows the distinguishing signs of truly gracious affections. The fourteen different signs are worth noting. 1) Gracious affections are from divine influence. 2) Their object is the excellency of divine things. 3) They are founded on the moral excellency of objects. 4) They arise from divine illumination. 5) They are attended with a conviction of certainty. 6) They are attended with evangelical humiliation. 7) They are attended with a change of nature. 8) They beget and promote the temper of Jesus. 9) Gracious affections soften the heart. 10) They have beautiful symmetry and proportion. 11) False affections rest satisfied in themselves. 12) Their fruit is Christian practice. 13) Christian practice is the chief sign to others. 14) Christian practice is the chief sign to ourselves.
Edwards clearly describes the deceptive nature of the heart and makes the reader aware of counterfeit religious experiences as well as authentic ones. The strengths in Religious Affections are numerous. First, the author is logical. His points are well-organized and cohesive. Moreover, the author is biblical. In classic Edwardsean style, the writer regularly supports his assertions with Scriptural truth, inviting the reader to deeper communion with God. Finally, the author writes with conviction. He pulls no punches and forces the reader to contemplate serious questions pertaining to Christian living.
Religious Affections has been and will continue to be an ongoing source of encouragement and an invaluable aid in pastoral ministry. This work challenges me to measure what I believe about Christ in a practical way. It forces me to ask difficult questions and probe motives in any given area. In short, this work can be used as a gauge to measure my affections and devotion to Christ. Additionally, this work will be a helpful tool in determining where others are coming from. Finally, Religious Affections may be used to challenge the flock of God. It encourages me to raise the bar higher for those I have an opportunity to shepherd and disciple.