This is the final sign Edwards brings forward as a way to discern if we are holy or not. In essence he is echoing the New Testament, “By your fruits ye shall know them.” It reminds me of a famous article that S. Y. Agnon wrote, “Halakah and Aggadah,” in which he insists that both halakah, law, and aggadah, narrative, are essential, for to flower is never the goal; one must bear fruit in one’s life.
Here are some excerpts from the wise Edwards on why it is important to look at one’s actions when one is reflecting on one’s holiness (all emphases in original):
“What makes men partial in religion is, is that they seek themselves, and not God, in their religion, and close with religion, not for its own excellent nature, but only to serve a turn. He that closes with a religion only to serve a turn, will close with no more of it than he imagines serves that turn: but he that closes with religion for its own excellent and lovely nature, closes with all that has that natures: he that embraces religion for its own sake, embraces the whole of religion.”
“True grace is not an inactive thing; there is nothing in heaven or earth of a more active nature; for it is life itself, the most active kind, even spiritual and divine life. It si no barren thing; there is nothing in the universe that in its nature has a greater tendency to fruit. Godliness in the heart has as direct a relation to practice as a fountain has to a stream, or as the luminous nature of the sun has to beams sent forth, or as life has to breathing, or the beating of the pulse, or any other vital act; or as a habit or principle of action has to action : for it is the very nature and notion of grace, that it is a principle of holy action or practice: for it is the very end of it, th a viewi to which the whole work is wrought.“
“Passing affections easily produce words; and words are cheap; and godliness is more easily feigned in words than in actions. Christian practice is a costly, laborious thing. The self-denial that is required of Christians, the narrowness of the way that leads to life, does not consist in words, but in practice. Hypocrites may much more easily be brought to talk like saints than to act like saints.
“Thus it is plain, that Christian practice is the best sign or manifestation of the true godliness of a professing Christian, to the eye of his neighbors.”
After insisting that even this sign is a sign that we show to or see in others, he goes on to say that we must take care in using this sign to discern because there are many varieties of practice and things that are external are limited and cannot be known with certainty; hence they cannot be judged or condemned.
”[N}o external appearances whatsoever , that are visible to the world, are infallible evidenes of grace. The manifestations that have nee mentioned are the best that mankind can have; and they are such as oblige Christians entirely to embrace professors [of Christian religious experiences]as saints, to love and rejoice in them a s the children of God... But nothing that appears to them in their neighbor, can be sufficient to beget an absolute certainty governing the state of his soul. They see not his heart nor can they see all his external behavior for much of it is in secret and hid from the eye of the world: and it I s impossible certainly to determine, how far a man may go in many external appearances and imitations of grace, from other principles.“So what does Edwards conclude? Since you can’t know about your neighbors actions and what they say about the state of his or her holiness or relationship with God, don’t worry about your neighbor; worry about your self. What is your heart? What is your practice? What are your fruits?
His reason for tending to your own actions and not those of your neighbor is instructive: the goal is for all to let their light shine in their practice “before men, that others seeing their good works, would glorify their Father which is in heaven!” This is the last sentence of Treatise on Religious Affections.
So what can we learn from these three signs in Edwards’s response to the religious awakening in his day?
Instead of condemning others verbally or attacking them violently, physically and otherwise, for not feeling, thinking, or acting as we believe they should, we should look at our own lives and ask these questions with Edwards:
1. Does my life reflect genuine humility?
2. Is my heart a heart hardened by judgment into stone or a heart softened by the love of God into tenderness, a heart of flesh?
3. Do my actions blot out or desecrate the name of God or shine a light in the world that illumines the glory of the One?
If we would just take a moment to ask ourselves these questions before we leap to righteous indignation, judgment, and condemnation of others, the world would be a far, far different place.
Thank you, Jonathon Edwards.