To Feel or Not to Feel


Whenever I’m in New England, I naturally think of Jonathan Edwards. On one hand, Edwards (1703 – 1758) was the champion of the Great Awakening. When he preached the sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” congregants literally cried out, “What shall I do to be saved?” This sermon on the sinfulness of sin and the justice of God left the church members of the Enfield, Massachusetts, congregation feeling the weight of their rebellion against a good and holy God and longing for Christ’s tender mercy. According to Edwards, who tackled the subject of the role of emotions in Religious Affections, this is just how it should be:

He who has no religious affection, is in a state of spiritual death, and is wholly destitute of the powerful, quickening, saving influences of the Spirit of God upon his heart. As there is no true religion, where there is nothing else but affection; so there is no true religion where there is no religious affection. As on the one hand, there must be light in the understanding, as well as an affected heart, where there is heat without light, there can be nothing divine or heavenly in that heart; so on the other hand, where there is a kind of light without heat, a head stored with notions and speculations, with a cold and unaffected heart, there can be nothing divine in that light, that knowledge is no true spiritual knowledge of divine things. If the great things of religion are rightly understood, they will affect the heart. The reason why men are not affected by such infinitely great, important, glorious, and wonderful things, as they often hear and read of, in the Word of God, is undoubtedly because they are blind; if they were not so, it would be impossible, and utterly inconsistent with human nature, that their hearts should be otherwise, than strongly impressed, and greatly moved by such things.1


1 Jonathan Edwards, “A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections,” in A Jonathan Edwards Reader, eds. John E. Smith, Harry S. Stout, and Kenneth P. Minkema (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), 148.

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