Description of author: Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was arguably the greatest theologian in American history. He pastored the church at Northampton, Mass. from 1724-1750. He was one of the primary preachers in the Great Awakening in the 1740s.
Comments: As a preacher in the Great Awakening of the early 1740s, Jonathan Edwards was very concerned about the nature of true conversion. He, along with others, observed that while many were truly saved during these seasons of revival, many also who showed favorable signs of conversion, in the end proved to be unconverted. His great concern in this work is to answer the question What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favor with God, and entitled to His eternal rewards? Or . . .What is the nature of true religion? And wherein do lie the distinguishing notes of that virtue and holiness that is acceptable in the sight of God? (p. 15). The importance of this question is explained in the Preface: It is by the mixture of counterfeit religion with true, not discerned and distinguished, that the devil has had this greatest advantage against the cause and kingdom of Christ all along hitherto. It is by this means, principally, that he has prevailed against all revivings of religion that ever have been since the first founding of the Christian church (p. 17). The main body of this book is divided into three sections: Part 1: Concerning the nature of the affections and their importance in religion; Part 2: Showing what are no certain signs that religious affections are truly gracious, or that they are not; and Part 3: Showing what are distinguishing signs of truly gracious and holy affections. This book is a little more readable than the relentless, detailed, logical case of Freedom of the Will, but still it is not for the faint of heart. Drawing on Scripture and using much observation as a pastor, Edwards details what true conversion looks like. Following are some insightful quotes from the book: It is not God’s design that men should obtain assurance in any other way than by mortifying corruption, and increasing in grace, and obtaining the lively exercises of it. And although self-examination be a duty of great use and importance, and by no means to be neglected, yet it is not the principal means by which the saints do get satisfaction of their good estate. Assurance is not to be obtained so much by self-examination as by action (p. 123); It is an exceedingly difficult thing for a wicked man, destitute of Christian principles in his heart to guide him, to know how to demean himself like a Christian, with the life and beauty and heavenly sweetness of a truly holy, humble, Christ-like behavior. He knows not how to put on these garments, neither do they fit him (p. 210). Everyone that has been conversant with souls under convictions of sin knows that those who are greatly convinced of sin, are not apt to think themselves greatly convinced (p. 260). An eminent saint is not apt to think himself eminent in anything (p. 261). Christ nowhere says, Ye shall know the tree by its leaves or flowers, or ye shall know men by their talk, or ye shall know them by the good story they tell of their experiences, or ye shall know them by the manner and air of their speaking, and emphasis and pathos of expression, or by their speaking feelingly, or by making a very great show by abundance of talk, or by many tears and affectionate expressions or by the affections ye feel in your hearts towards them; but by their fruits shall ye know them (p. 328). Passing affections easily produce words; and words are cheap; and godliness is more easily feigned in words than in actions. Christian practice is a costly, laboring thing. The self-denial that is required of Christians, and the narrowness of the way that leads to life, does not consist in words, but in practice. Hypocrites may much more easily be brought to talk like saints, than to act like saints (p. 332). The most important part of this book is the last section of Part 3: Religious affections have their fruit in Christian practice.