If all you know of Jonathan Edwards is his classic sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, you don’t know the man who may be America’s most important and original theologian. That’s why if you listen to Ken Boa this month as he discusses Jonathan Edward’s best-known book, A Treatise ConcerningReligious Affections—one of my all-time favorites—you’re in for a treat.
As Ken Boa explains, Edwards was something of a prodigy. Born in 1703 in Connecticut, by age 5 he was studying Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. He entered Yale at age 13, graduated at 17, and stayed on to continue his masters and teach. At 26, he became pastor of the most influential church outside of Boston.
But Jonathan Edwards was not only a pastor who played a crucial role in America’s first Great Awakening, he was also a missionary to Native Americans, an early president of Princeton, and a prolific writer.
In addition, Edwards and his wife, Sarah, were also loving parents of 11 children. Of their 929 descendents, history shows there have been 13 college presidents, 86 college professors, 430 ministers, 314 war veterans, 75 authors, 100 lawyers, 30 judges, 66 physicians, and 80 holders of public office. That includes three U.S. senators, seven congressman, three mayors, three governors, a vice president of the United States, and a controller of the United States Treasury. Don’t tell me teaching biblical worldview to your children isn’t important!
Edwards’ most well-known book, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, was written after The Great Awakening. As Ken Boa describes, not only was Edwards a catalyst for this great revival, he was also one of its primary analysts and critics.
Along with great renewal, the Great Awakening also brought its abuses. And many mistook certain outward religious behaviors—fainting in a service, for example—as signs of true religion.
So it is that in Religious Affections, Edwards explained how affections are at the heart of true religion. By affections, he meant both the understanding and the will of the heart. Edwards looked at both negative and positive signs of true religion. And he strongly emphasized that gracious and holy affections, as he called them, have their exercise and fruit in Christian practice.
Historian Mark Noll says generations have learned of his piety and his theology, “but there were no successors to his God-entranced world-view.”
This is what we must recover today—that God-entranced worldview, what John Piper calls Edwards’ “sweet marriage of reason and affection, of thought and feeling, of head and heart, study and worship.”
As Edwards writes in Religious Affections, “Is there anything which Christians can find in heaven or earth, so worthy to be the objects of their admiration and love, their earnest and longing desires, their hope, and their rejoicing, and their fervent zeal, as those things that are held forth to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ?...How great a cause have we therefore to be humbled to the dust!”
No wonder this man had such a God-entranced worldview! We would all do well to study his greatest work—especially with a teacher as gifted as Ken Boa.