Edwards begins his argument supporting the centrality and importance of affections to the Christian life with a look at 1 Peter 1:8: “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” Written to believers suffering under intense persecution, Edwards explains that suffering and persecution strip away the dross and expose the heart of true Christianity—the affections of love to Christ and joy in Christ. From this he contends that “true religion, in great part, consists in the affections.”
Edwards identifies two faculties of the soul: the understanding and inclination. Think of the understanding as the “head” or the intellect, and the inclination as the “heart” or the “will.” The understanding “discerns, and views, and judges of things,” while the inclination is positively or negatively inclined toward things. For instance, our understanding may view an ice cream cone, know its color, calorie content, and tendency to make us fat, while the inclination may like, dislike, love, or hate it. The understanding may perceive steamed okra, but a proper inclination will fertilize the garden with it (of course, fried okra can be eaten with great delight). And while we may distinguish between the understanding and inclination, both operate in the mind and are inseparable.
The inclination is also called the “heart” or “will.” Concerning the actions “determined and governed” by it, we often call the inclination the will. The inclination or will determines our actions—we do what we will or are inclined to do. With respect to the mind, we often call the inclination the heart.” For example, those with minds inclined toward evil are said to have an evil heart. When we are saved, we are given a “new heart” and are progressively transformed “by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2).
We sometimes speak of “head” versus “heart” knowledge, that something can be known intellectually without a more intimate spiritual knowledge. For instance, to know about God and to know and love Him are two different types of knowledge. For Edwards, we can have a kind of intellectual knowledge without “heart” knowledge, but heart knowledge always includes intellectual knowledge.
An affection, then, is a “more vigorous” exercise of the inclination (heart or will) toward or away from something. For instance, like and love are both inclinations, but only love is an affection. Dislike and hate are inclinations, but only hate is an affection. Thus, Edwards distinguishes the heart and the affections in terms of degree, only. Again, all acts are governed, prompted, and initiated by the inclination or will as we choose what we want to choose. Yet, not every act or inclination of the will is an affection. The preference of a paper versus plastic bag and a husband’s love for his wife are both exercises of the inclination, but only the husband’s love is an “affection.”
Moreover, not all affections are “religious.” The love of ice cream is an affection, but not a religious affection (unless, of course, you worship ice cream). Also, not all religious affections are produced by the Holy Spirit’s work in the heart. Some religious affections are generated by satanic delusion, depravity, weakness of disposition, or foolishness. Thus, religious affections can be true or false. True religious affections, what Edwards calls “gracious” or “spiritual” affections, flow from God’s work in a person’s heart.
The Great Awakening brimmed with religious affections and the effects they produced, yet not all were the fruit of the Holy Spirit within the heart. In observing some of the problems of the revival (see The Glories, Evils, and Confusion of the Great Awakening), some over-reacted and dismissed all affections as central and important to life in Christ, rather than discerning and accepting the good and rejecting the bad.
In Part 4 we will see how Edwards refutes the rejection of all religious affections as central and important to the Christian life by showing their necessity, importance, and biblical support.
 BT, 27; Yale, 99.
 BT, 24; Yale, 96.
 BT, 26; Yale, 98.
 BT, 24; Yale, 96.
 BT, 24; Yale, 96.
 BT, 26; Yale, 97.
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