I’m at the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale Divinity School for a week taking a course on Edwards’ Religious Affections. It’s been fun and informative, especially our time viewing Edwards’ manuscripts and our class discussions—which I had the honor of starting the other day by asking a question about the following snippet from a 1729 sermon Edwards preached on 1 Peter 1:8, the passage which ultimately formed the launching pad for his 1746 book, Religious Affections:
There is no love like the love of Christ, in these following respects: 1. There is no love so free and disinterested as the love of Christ. That is one qualification of love from whence we denominate true love, that it be not mercenary. Now there is no love so remote from it, as the love of Christ; he loves his people freely; he has no interest in the cause; he don’t set his heart upon them because he seeks anything from them, whereby he can be any way advantaged.
I pointed out that I don’t think John Piper, certainly Edwards’ foremost interpreter and popularizer among evangelicals today, would say something like this. The word “disinterested” wouldn’t sit well with him. If I’m right, did Piper get Edwards wrong or is Edwards inconsistent?
A fellow class member, a pastor who has long loved Edwards, pointed to page 241 of the Religious Affections for at least some of the answer:
If after a man loves God, and has his heart so united to him, as to look upon God as his chief good, and on God’s good as his own, it will be a consequence and fruit of this, that even self-love, or love to his own happiness, will cause him to desire the glorifying and enjoying of God; it will not thence follow, that this very exercise of self-love, went before his love to God, and that his love to God was a consequence and fruit of that. Something else, entirely distinct from self-love might be the cause of this, viz. a change made in the views of his mind, and relish of his heart; whereby he apprehends a beauty, glory, and supreme good, in God’s nature, as it is in itself. This may be the thing that first draws his heart to him, and causes his heart to be united to him, prior to all considerations of his own interest or happiness, although after this, and as a fruit of this, he necessarily seeks his interest and happiness in God.
That, of course, does sound like Piper, and I’d like to reflect more on this, but the class discussion on Edwards’ 12 signs of truly gracious affections is about to start. So let me just point you here for more of your own study and thinking and eternal profit.