From Your Pastor: The Spirituality of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

Our godly forefather, Jonathan Edwards, wrote his classic The Religious Affections[1] to both define and defend genuine revival and the true, Holy-Spiritual wrought spirituality that should flow from it. What are the characteristics of a true and genuine spirituality that Edwards listed that must be present in true conversion, and that believers can expect in the Christian life? I have listed them below, adding scripture references, and my own pastoral comments.[2]

Edwards’ 12 points on genuine spirituality can be helpful in urging us on to high aspirations in our spirituality, as well as to also help us to exam ourselves to reach assurance in our faith (cf. 2 Peter 1:3-11; 2 Cor. 13:5). Let me encourage you to take each of these before the Throne of Grace, and be honest with Christ from your heart. God desires and delights in “truth in the inward being. Whatever need we have, He provides a Mediator for us full of grace (Psa. 51:6; cf. John 1:14b; Heb. 4:16).


  1. The Indwelling of the Spirit: “Be filled with the Spirit”. All genuine spirituality or revival (personally or corporately in a congregation) begins with God; He alone is sovereign and grants the Spirit according to His good pleasure (Luke 11:13; John 6:37, 44; Acts 16:14b). The faith that the Spirit gives the elect in regeneration is “an ardent (enthusiastic!) thing,” says Edwards (Eph. 2:8-10). The greatest gift Jesus gives to believers is His Holy Spirit. Edwards wrote that “the sum of the blessings that Christ bought by what He did and suffered in the work of redemption” are found in the gift of the Spirit. Father, grant that I truly know you through Jesus Christ, and give me your Holy Spirit as you have promised (John 14:21, 23; 16:13-14; Acts 2:33-36).


  1. True Love for God: “Do you love me?” Genuine spirituality loves God more for who He is (His character), and not merely for what He has done for us in Christ (His redemption). Both are important, but we love God ultimately because He is love and beautiful in Himself, lest He merely become a “means to an end” (cf. John 6:26-29). We shouldn’t love Him merely for saving us, but because He is great and greatly to be praised! We should grow in our love for His holiness, His steadfast, covenant love, His perfections, His Aseity (or glorious self-existence!)—all of the glorious attributes that reveal our glorious God! (Rom. 11:33-36). Father, grant me a holy vision of your beauty and holiness through the Spirit as Isaiah experienced (cf. Isa. 6:1-9).


  1. A Spiritual Sight: “Open my eyes…” Genuine spirituality brings a new way of perceiving reality. A love for holiness, for the things of God. We sense the glory and beauty of God more deeply, and His love for us in Christ (cf. Eph. 1:17-18; 3:17-19). We can “taste and see” that the LORD is good (Psa. 34:8). Father, illuminate my eyes and give me the sight to see your beauty and the beauty of holiness and righteousness.


  1. An Enlightened Mind: “Whatever things are true…” Genuine spirituality bring a love for the truth as God reveals Himself in creation, conscience, and especially in Holy Scripture (John 17:17-19; Rom. 1:19ff; 2:14-16; Phil. 4:8). Father, my God, and king, grant me a deeper love for your truth—especially Biblical-Theological truth.


  1. Deep-Seated Conviction: “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness…” Genuine spiritual brings not merely a love for truth, but a deep conviction, zeal, and boldness to confess it, to obey it, to teach it (Acts 4:29, 31; 5:29; 28:31; 1 Thess. 1:5; Heb. 11:1; Matt. 16:17; John 6:68-69).


  1. Evangelical Humility: “Humble yourselves before God…” Genuine spirituality produces a deep humility. Our greatest issue, Edwards wrote, is that we struggle with pride. Spiritual pride is the major reason for serious blockage of the Spirit’s working in the Christian life (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:6; Rom. 12:3). Edwards wrote, “Remember that pride is the worst viper that is in the heart, the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ.” A truly spiritual person is aware of deep self-righteousness within them, and sees its own poverty and need for the grace of God (Rom. 7:19-21; Rev. 3:17). Father, grant me the humility of the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:21; 2:6-8). Father, grant me humility as I walk before you; like the Lord Jesus, grant me a willingness to die to self, and contentedness to be overlooked and forgotten.


  1. Roots in True Conversion: But God, rich in mercy…made us alive in Christ…” Genuine spirituality doesn’t necessarily know the exact date of one’s conversion, but knows that it has taken place, and can determine at least the time period in which they were born again and made alive in Christ (Eph. 2:1-5; John 3:3-8). We should ask: “Has true conversion taken place in my life?” Sin’s dominion has been broken in conversion, and there are roots of this in the past, and present fruits to some degree (Rom. 6:11-18; 8:9-11). Father, let me have assurance that my present state before you is rooted in true conversion.


  1. Christ-like Gentleness: “…For I am gentle and lowly in heart…” Genuine spirituality possesses increasingly the “lamblike, dovelike spirit and temper of Jesus Christ” (cf. Isa. 40:11; 42:3; Matt. 11:29; 2 Tim. 2:19-25; James 3:17). Edwards wrote, “Christian boldness and zeal are indeed a flame, but a sweet one.” Father, grant me the gentleness of Jesus, while being bold and zealous for the truth.


  1. A Tender Heart: “How can do this…and sin against God?!” Genuine spirituality has a tender heart towards God. Edwards describes this tenderness before God “like a burnt child that dreads the fire.” Increasingly, we fear hell less, and fear sin more. Increasingly, we fear with a deep dread offending God our Father who has shown such kindness to us. We fear less the consequences of sin (though we hate these, too!), and more the offense sin brings to God (Gen. 39:9b; Matt. 26:41; 1 Pet. 3:8). Sin is a destroyer—and the Evil One seeks to use it to kill and destroy our lives, and our communion with God (John 10:10; 1 Pet. 5:8). Father, grant me a tender heart like you have. Let me hate sin as you hate sin. Let me never offend you.


  1. Balance and Harmony: “…Walking in the fear of the LORD and the comfort of the Holy Spirit…” Genuine spirituality brings a balance and harmony to Christian lives. There will be holy fear and joy that will be realized at the same time (Acts 9:31); there will be suffering and persecution and a fearless thrill to be honored with Christ (John 16:33; Matt. 5:10-12); there will be sacrifice and self-control with complete contentment and satisfaction (Phil. 4:13; Titus 2:11-14); there will be a zeal for the truth, but a humility about the truth (2 Tim. 2:22-25; Acts 18:25-26); there will be withdrawal for prayer and communion with an availability when needed (Mark 1:35-38; 3:7-10; 6:46ff). Father, grant me a balanced heart.


  1. Holy Breathing and Panting After God: “As the deer pants after the waters…” Genuine spirituality possesses a desire to know Christ better. There is a hunger and thirsting after righteousness found in Christ (Psa. 42:1; 119: 131; Matt. 5:6; 2 Pet. 1:5-9). The more one knows Christ, the more one wants more of Him—less of oneself—a deeper breathing and panting for a holier life. There is a deeper satisfaction that fills the believer as they seek Him (Psa. 131; cf. John 6:34-44). Father, grant me a holy hunger!


  1. Fruitful in Christ: “Whoever abides in me…bears much fruit.” Genuine spirituality is fruitful; it possesses the Fruit of the Spirit (John 15:1-15; Gal. 5:22-23). This fruitfulness is manifested in three ways: 1) It seeks to live according to God’s commandments; 2) It seeks to be zealous for good works in the church and the culture; 3) It perseveres by faith in dependence upon the Spirit of God. Works do not save us, but we cannot be saved without them (John 15:13-17; Matt. 5:17-19; Eph. 2:10; Titus 2:11-14; 3:8). Father, let me glorify you in my good works; let me adorn the gospel truths that I know through by working, fruitful, obedient, and persevering faith!


After prayerfully meditating upon these, do you need to be born again? Do you need revival in your present condition? Christ stands full of the Spirit at God’s right hand ready to give the Spirit to all those for whom He gave His life. Need an outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Does KCPC need an outpouring of this powerful Spirit? Let us ask the Father for this great gift in Christ our Mediator. Amen and amen.


In Christ’s love,

Pastor Biggs


[1] Religious Affections, ed. John E. Smith (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959).

[2] The Scripture references I have used are not necessarily those used by Edwards, but texts that seemed to support the truths he wrote about.