Please Comment

Serious comments only, please.

I want to ask you to think and think hard about what Jonathan Edwards is saying in the following excerpt. If my experience (and, I recently found out, that of Tim Keller) is any guide, you’re going to have a hard time understanding him because he’s using a psychological paradigm you’ve never considered. You may have never even thought that you had a psychological paradigm. But I have been thinking increasingly that Edwards is shaped by the Bible in this area—and we by the Enlightenment. What do you think? I’m especially interested in anyone who can give me a good bibliographic pointer to someone discussing this Edwardsean assertion, coming from his classic work, Religious Affections (pp. 96-97):

I. It may be inquired, what the affections of the mind are?

I answer, the affections are no other, than the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul.

God has indued the soul with two faculties: one is that by which it is capable of perception and speculation, or by which it discerns and views and judges of things; which is called the understanding. The other faculty is that by which the soul does not merely perceive and view things, but is some way inclined with respect to the things it views or considers; either is inclined to ’em, or is discinclined, and averse from ’em; or is the faculty by which the soul does not behold things, as an indifferent unaffected spectator, but either as liking or disliking, pleased or displeased, approving or rejecting. This faculty is called by various names: it is sometimes called the inclination: and, as it has respect to the actions that are determined and governed by it, is called the will: and the mind, with regard to the exercises of this faculty, is often called the heart.

The exercises of this faculty are of two sorts; either those by which the soul is carried out towards the things that are in view, in approving of them, being pleased with them, and inclined to them; or those in which the soul opposes the things that are in view, in disapproving them, and in being displeased with them, averse from them, and rejecting them.

And as the exercises of the inclination and will of the soul are various in their kinds, so they are much more various in their degrees. There are some exercises of pleasedness or displeasedness, inclination or disinclination, wherein the soul is carried but a little beyond a state of perfect indifference. And there are other degrees above this, wherein the approbation or dislike, pleasedness or aversion, are stronger; wherein we may rise higher and higher, 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 oftentimes arises some bodily sensation, especially about the heart and vitals, that are the fountain of the fluids of the body: from whence it comes to pass, that the mind, with regard to the exercises of this faculty, perhaps in all nations and ages, is called the heart. And it is to be noted, that they are these more vigorous and sensible exercises of this faculty, that are called the affections.

The will, and the affections of the soul, are not two faculties; the affections are not essentially distinct from the will, nor do they differ from the mere actings of the will and inclination of the soul, but only in the liveliness and sensibleness of exercise.

A little tip: the paradigm Edwards is casting off is that which divides the human person into separate faculties called mind, will, and emotion.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

6 thoughts on “Please Comment”

  1. For some brief discussion, see Michael McClymond, “Basic Concepts: Understanding, Inclination, Affection, Passion and Love” in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Emotion, particularly pp. 406-407. For what appears to be deeper analysis see William J. Danaher, The Trinitarian ethics of Jonathan Edwards, p. 120ff.

    I think I concur with you on the influence of the Enlightenment on modern thinking here, but await your dissertation for more help. I also hope that when I get to ch. 4 “The Legacy of the Enlightenment” in Bebbington’s The Dominance of Evangelicalism I’ll get a better idea of the general picture.

    Now my turn for a question: How much of Edward’s view should be attributed to Locke and/or other pre-Enlightenment philosophers? Danaher suggests some influence by Locke on p. 122. Noll notes Edwards’ general usage of Locke in The Rise of Evangelicalism (pp. 256-257):

    Jonathan Edwards, in his intense labors as a philosophical theologian, subjected the best thought of his era to extraordinary painstaking analysis. Thus he borrowed notions of epistemology from John Locke, but also repudiated Locke’s preference for self-verified knowledge over divinely revealed knowledge. Edwards recognized, and even celebrated, the achievements of Sir Isaac Newton’s science but also reconceptualized the entire nature of the cosmos in order to make God, rather than self-standing matter, the basis for all scientific progress.

  2. Thanks, Duncan. I hadn’t looked at Bebbington’s chapter, and I confess I’d never run across that Oxford handbook! It’s amazing what even diligent bibliographic searches will miss in this day of huge literary output.

  3. I’m glad that helps! I don’t know how much Bebbington will address your question, but he does refer to Edwards several times in that chapter (judging by his index).

  4. One clue that should not be missed is that he calls them “affections of the mind.” I am actually beginning to think that RA is not the best place to go to understand this idea, that some of Edwards’s other works more explicitly set this out. To be sure, he does not mean what we mean by “emotions.” Also, Edwards is not the only one to go to, or Locke for that matter. Many theologians and philosophers were weighing on “passions” and “affections” during this time (and before it). Edwards is, I think, standing amidst a vast river of Christian tradition on this point, and is echoing it quite fairly.

  5. I just yesterday finished Bebbington’s chapter “The Legacy of the Enlightenment,” and today began his ch. 5 “The Permeation of Romanticism.”

    This quote from ch. 5 (p. 148) raises a question for you:

    The new way of looking at the world is usually called Romanticism. It was a diverse and evolving phenomenon, but its essential temper can be identified by contrast with the Enlightenment. Instead of exalting reason, those touched by the new spirit of the times placed their emphasis on the will, spirit, and emotion. They wanted to escape the tight framework of thinking imposed by the older rational approach in order to breathe a freeer [sic] air.

    Bold my emphasis.

    So is the tripartite division really a development of the Enlightenment, or is Edwards’ view perhaps a better representation of Enlightenment thinking and the tripartite division rather a development of Romanticism? I’m not sure Bebbington will return to this particular distinction later in ch. 5, but will keep looking for other references.

  6. I don’t think that “will, spirit, and emotion” was meant by Bebbington as a description of some Romantic tripartite anthropolgy.

    Thank you for the reference, however. I will need to take a look at that.

    mlwj

Leave a Reply