So Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections is temporarily available as a free download. This is of course completely cool. Plus, it is unabridged, and it is read by Simon Vance, who also read The Reformed Pastor.
Vance is a good reader and should be a pretty smart guy, given all the excellent books he's recorded. (An aside: wouldn't that be cool? To be paid to read excellent books, word for word? Where do you sign up?) It's surprising to hear Vance give Edwards' references to an individual psalm as "Psalms XX," and even more to hear him refer to "Revelations X:X." But that's a small thing.
I'm on about the fourth of twelve, and profiting from it — but only because I don't take Edwards too seriously.
To elaborate: Edwards has made a very good (and personally humbling and convicting) case for the importance of Godward affections. That's a plus.
But on the other hand, he just goes on and on and on about how this and that doesn't necessarily mean you're saved. Turns out (I'm gathering) that nothing really means you're saved, so far. Nothing!
Now I'm a person who's always had trouble with assurance. Thirty-four years and counting, by God's grace, and I still struggle from time to time.
In that struggle, Charles Spurgeon is always a great encouragement to me. Spurgeon takes the slightest flicker of faith, and points it to Christ. He's always, always pointing to the grace of God and the love of Christ.
But unless Edwards ends up somewhere gracious pretty soon, all I am getting from him is that everything means nothing. Faith, orthodox faith, fruitful faith, works, feelings, grace shown in life... all absolutely essential, and all meaningless. Might mean you're saved, might not. You must have them, but if you do, it doesn't mean you're saved.
All I am getting from Edwards is dour condemnation, gloom, despair — not the sort that (if I took him too seriously) would drive me to the Cross, but the sort that would drive me towards permanent residence the Slough of Despond.
Let me be clear: Edwards doesn't even point me to repentance and hope. I'm sure his defenders will want to say that this is how Edwards undoes our faith in ourselves or carnal states or means. Perhaps that is his intention; that is the most charitable reading I can put upon it. But if that's his intent, in my case he's failing miserably, so far. The one and only upshot would be, not to despair of myself and my works and my flesh, but to despair — period! Not even to bother to look to Christ nor to God's promise nor grace, for (he somberly intones) others have made great shows of doing the very same thing, and gone off howling to Hell nonetheless.
So why bother?
I intend to listen to all twelve long mp3's before I form a final opinion. I know some of the best people love Edwards. I know he was a towering figure.
But in spite of my best efforts, I am still finding him a distant, frosty, bloodless, glowering specter.
Thank God that the word and promises and invitations and assurances of the Lord Jesus Christ speak more appealingly, graciously, tenderly, and hopefully than does Jonathan Edwards.