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.”
An 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).