Edwards Quote Success!

John Piper’s foundational sermon for his philosophy of Christian Hedonism is entitled “Let Your Passion Be Single.” In it he quotes Jonathan Edwards as saying this (I’ll include Piper’s two interpolations):

I should think myself in the way of my duty, to raise the affections [emotions] of my hearers as high as I possibly can, provided"—then he gave two qualifications—"provided they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with."

Piper cites an old book of Edwards excerpts, but I wanted to track the quote down in the Yale series lest it prove to be abridged or even apocryphal. If Jonathan Edwards really said this, I wanted to know exactly what he said.

Piper was right. Edwards did say this, and a good deal more (as was his wont…). It’s in volume 4 of the Yale edition of his works, entitled “The Great Awakening.”

File:Jonathan Edwards.jpgAn appearance of affection and earnestness in the manner of delivery, if it be very great indeed, yet if it be agreeable to the nature of the subject, and ben’t beyond a proportion to its importance and worthiness of affection, and there be no appearance of its being feigned or forced, has so much the greater tendency to beget true ideas or apprehensions in the minds of the hearers, of the subject spoken of, and so to enlighten the understanding: and that for this reason, that such a way or manner of speaking of these things does in fact more truly represent them, than a more cold and indifferent way of speaking of them…. I don’t think ministers are to be blamed for raising the affections of their hearers too high, if that which they are affected with be only that which is worthy of affection, and their affections are not raised beyond a proportion to their importance, or worthiness of affection. I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable  to the nature of what they are affected with.

In other and fewer words, the whole truth of God includes the feelings that should go along with that truth. I’m reminded of a quote from Edwards’ friend and contemporary, George Whitefield:

Would ministers preach for eternity . . . They would endeavor to move the affections and warm the heart, and not constrain their hearers to suspect that they dealt in the false commerce of unfelt truth.

By no means would I call for heat without light. Edwards of all people, whose head was bursting with light, is a good model here—we need all the light and all the heat God will give us. We need by His grace not just to obey but to obey with zeal (Rom. 12:11), to give with cheerfulness (12:8), to love and forgive from the heart (Matt. 18:35).

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.

2 thoughts on “Edwards Quote Success!”

  1. I found a statement along these lines by Piper during a Q and A to be so helpful I transcribed it to hang onto. Here it is and here is the link: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/resources/the-pastor-the-people-and-the-pursuit-of-joy-q-a

    “There is a paradox about a genuine experience of an objective object subjectively. In other words, what you want more than anything is an intense subjective experience rooted in an objective reality. You don’t want to see objective reality and feel nothing. That’s hellish. And you don’t want to feel intensely and think later ‘that was just buzz in my brain. It was nothing.’ What you want-what we crave is ‘I have a heart and I have a brain. Brainy work is totally dissatisfying. Heart work feels like it hangs in the air with no connection with reality. I’ve got to get this together. I’ve got to have objective truth grounding my subjective intensity and then I will feel like it will be the case that I have arrived.’ That would be heaven. Heaven will be where the clearest objectivity happens and the most intense subjective intensity happens unsullied by any sinfulness.”-John Piper

    I love this last line.

  2. I whole heartily agree. Which is what I believe the Song of Songs does. The Song communicates the Love of God to the mind and the heart to higher and higher “subjective intensities” but since it is the Word of God doing the raising of the affections for Christ holiness will ensue. Increased holiness in life is the objective reality of religious emotions. Meaning the test as to how you know wether or not this experience of what you think is the Love of God, because it is “better felt than defined” as Jonathan Edwards says. is wether or not it increases your love for God. Holiness consists in love to God. The Song of Songs is an illustration of how a husband ought to love his wife. Emotions are communicated to our mind and heart through God’s objective truth. You will get a subjective feeling but that feeling is grounded in the truth of Scripture. You ought to have intense feelings when loving God or in his presence. The problem is that you will not be able to put it in words. “it is inexpressible and full of glory” also it “surpasses knowledge” so you can’t get your head completely around it. So the Song of Song is a very emotional book that communicates the Love of God to both the mind and the emotions. Your emotions will match the woman’s emotions in the Song, herein is your heightened emotions rooted in the objective truth of God in the Song. The Song is intended to raise your emotions to the highest degree possible. To grow your Love for God. The book is about sanctification. Growing in Love. Solomon helps her grow in love. This is the job of the husband and the job of Christ. To grow us. Love can only grow unless communicated to mind and felt or delighted in in the heart. The higher the delight the greater the love. Are we not to grow in love and delight in the Lord and not the world?

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