Of the twelve signs Edwards characterized as “uncertain,” great time, energy, and praise to God in religious works and worship would seem to provide good evidence of a true work of God in the hearts of people. Yet, many viewed the displays as emotional excess, sanctimonious theatre, or worse. Others ignored alternative explanations and concluded that people so inclined must be believers under the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit. Edwards, however, rejected both views. He humbly accepted his inability to perfectly know the hearts of others and was careful to acknowledge a variety of possible explanations—natural, satanic, or divine. After all, several of the most devoted “worshippers” and zealous supporters of the Awakening abandoned their profession of faith when the sound, fury, and favorable reputation of the Awakening died down. 
On the one hand, the true saint loves God and His Word, delights in God’s people, and enthusiastically pursues service, prayer, and worship. The greater one’s love for God, the greater will be the affections producing works of love and service to Him, as characterized by the church immediately following Christ’s resurrection and ascension: “And they continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God” (Acts 2:46-47). So also with the heart of the man after God’s own heart: “Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice” (Psalm 55:17). Indeed, God views our love and worship of Him as appropriate and attractive: “Praise ye the LORD: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant; and praise is comely [becoming]” (Psalm 147:1). “Praise the LORD; for the LORD is good: sing praises unto his name; for it is pleasant” (Psalm 135:3). Indeed, who could possibly love our God of infinite excellence too much?
On the other hand, hypocrisy and idolatry often involve great displays of outward religious activity. For instance, God often condemned ancient Israel for the sin of hypocritical religious activity.
When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood (Isaiah 1:12-15).
Our all-knowing God sees through false religious zeal and activity to the perverse and ungodly motivation behind it.
They sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not (Ezekiel 33:31-32).
Some folks love a well-crafted and well-spoken sermon, like a pleasant song on the radio or a well-written fairy tale, but would cringe at the thought of it applying to their life. Or consider Herod, who “was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him” (Mark 6:20). Yet, seeking to please the crowd rather than do justice, protect John, and honor God, he caved to the request of Herodias for John’s head on a platter, revealing the ultimate affections of his heart.
In fact, outward displays of great religious zeal and activity may be as much an evidence of misplaced faith in good works for salvation as an evidence of God’s work in the heart of a believer. Religious ascetics and recluses over the centuries have happily lived in deserts and caves, in the harshest of conditions to earn God’s favor. Millions, if not billions, trust their self-sacrifice and good words as the entrance fee to heaven, the fee paid by Christ, alone. A pastor friend once said that if people believed they could gain heaven by pushing a peanut across the Golden Gate bridge with their nose, they would do so with gusto.
Lastly, consider the crowds that witnessed Christ’s miracles as they chased Him about the countryside, such as those who observed Christ’s healing of a paralytic: “And he rose and immediately took up the pallet and went out in the sight of all; so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this’” (Mark 2:12 NAS). Or, as they viewed His many other miracles: “Insomuch that the multitude wondered when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of Israel” (Matthew 15:31). They even adored Christ when He spoke: “And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all” (Luke 6:15). Yet, a mere week after He entered Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna!” they shouted for his murder as he bled before them, humiliated by the nation they thought He would destroy. What happened to their affections? Where was the true object of their love?
As we have seen with other “uncertain” signs, looks can be deceiving. Great praise to God may issue from a love of His benefits, devoid of a love for His attributes. Time and energy in worship may flow from a desire for the respect and adulation of people viewing religious zeal as a badge of great spirituality, or as the means to earn one’s way to heaven. Many rejoiced in a false sense of privilege, as a special object of God’s favor, trusting in emotional experience to the neglect of a true saving faith in Christ. The heart is indeed deceitful, and more so when viewed at a distance by others. We need to be careful.
We will examine two more “uncertain” signs before we delve into what Edwards called “distinguishing signs of truly gracious and holy affections,” or evidence of a true work of God in the heart of a genuine believer in Christ. Next week we will examine why “great confidence” or great assurance of God’s favor is “no certain sign.”
 See BT, 91-5; Yale, 163-7 for Edwards arguments.
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