The Cloud of Witnesses - Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

I was recently asked to write a reflection on a passage of writing by Jonathan Edwards. I was excited by this for a few reasons. The first of which was to get to know more about Jonathan Edwards. It was exciting to read about The Great Awakening of which he was intimately involved. He preached a message of repentance and the response was overwhelming, literally. People would respond with such overwhelming conviction of their sin that they would cry out to God in both repentance and thanksgiving. 

At one point Edwards was asked what he began to do differently to see the reaction he was getting. He humbly and gracefully responded with "nothing." He believed that the only reason the awakening was happening was because God decided to move. It was no new message being preached, no special words or worship set that brought the Spirit of God to the people, it was simply God's will. Edwards said that the Spirit of God came and touched the heart of the people and that touch of the Spirit was the only thing that could cause the 'spring of action' needed to change and effect the affections of the human heart. 

Below is my reflection on this piece from Jonathan Edwards. Before you read it though let me just say this; I can't imagine living without a love for the whole church any longer. There is a history to God's story of redemption that spans the length of time. That history is worth learning. It's worth learning from the saints of history, whether they be Catholic, Protestant or Pentecostal. God has been giving good gifts to His church through the centuries and I love getting to unpack them with the Cloud of Witnesses around me. I hope you enjoy my reflection.

According to Jonathan Edwards those that have received the Holy Spirit as a free gift receive the affections that the Spirit brings with it. The Spirit is the one that causes mankind to act in line with the will of God and according to Edwards those actions only come about through the affections of the heart.

Edwards believes that this happens for all humanity, whether Christian or not. For those who have not received the Spirit, they are driven by covetousness, ambition or lust, which are the affections of the world. Christians, having received the Spirit have been born into a new life, with new affection. These new affections are to ‘be’ and ‘do’ as God would desire. This is what Edwards calls the ‘spring of action’. Deuteronomy 10:12-22 speaks explicitly of some affections, namely love and fear. We see in this passage that out of love for God and a fear of God, we are to keep his commandments, serving him and to be holy. Later on in the text we see that God also calls us to love strangers, which is an act of compassion. He also calls us to worship and praise him, which flow from gratitude for what God has done for us. 

Gratitude and love have been the two most significant affections that have driven me forward in my relationship with the Lord. I was consumed by a love for God at a young age. It caused my heart to search for him through worship and the word. When I found him, and was able to see him exalted and glorified I was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude. Gratitude for all that he had done for me and all that he was. I had a deep thankfulness for his salvation that came out primarily in worship and praise. I knew deep inside, long before I had the theology to help me explain it, that I did not deserve what I had received. I saw my own depravity and when God showed himself to me the contrast and the beauty of his grace was so striking that it left an impression on me for life. These affections worked as a rudder for my heart.

Until recently I had known very little of sorrow. Of course, there had been moments of sorrow throughout life but in terms of my relationship with God this was never an affection I had known. Recently though he has introduced me to sorrow in a way I never would have expected and has best been described by St. John of the Cross as “a dark night of the soul.” There is no circumstance that drives this sorrow but is instead a state of the heart. It has caused me to draw in closer to Jesus, to be acquainted with the sorrow of the cross. It has also been of great importance in my role as a Pastor. I understand how Jesus Christ truly is the answer to our pain; both in healing and in showing us we are not alone even in the darkest of times. Pastorally this has been the greatest gift God has given me to help shepherd others in their walk with Jesus. 

So, whether it is an affection of love or fear, of sorrow or gratitude the affections of the heart have led the way in my journey of faith. They bring me from one season to the next, they have catapulted me forward from infancy to maturity and continue to sanctify me daily. They have truly been my ‘spring of action.’

canon robert steele

Rob Steele