Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Edwardsian Anthropology

"The affections," writes Jonathan Edwards, "are no other than the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul.”

Edwards taught that God has endued the soul with two faculties; the first is that by which the soul perceives, discerns, and views things (the understanding), and the second is that by which the soul does not merely perceive things, but is in some way inclined with respect to the things it perceives, either to them, or disinclined from them (the will / heart).

This second exercise of the soul happens in varying degrees:
"It is to be noted that they are these more vigorous and sensible exercises of this faculty that are called affections."
Furthermore, these affections, though they take place in the soul, inevitably effect the body:
"Such seems to be our nature, and such are the laws of the union of soul and body, that there never is in any case whatsoever, any lively and vigorous exercise of the will or inclination of the soul without some effect on the body."
What is interesting to me about Edwards's formulations is that they arose in the context of a two-fold battle that he was fighting against the Awakening's enemies on the one hand, and against its friends on the other (and the case could be made that he was harder on the latter).

To those "enthusiasts" who understood any vigorous display of emotion as evidence of the Spirit's work, Edwards countered that while most emotion is merely common and not spiritual, true and genuine emotion must be the result of some fact, outside of us, that is grasped by the mind. In other words, gaining a fresh understanding of the sufferings of Christ or the eternal hope of the saint not only must precede genuine affection, but must produce it as a matter of course.

It sounds similar to the argument I was making some weeks back that the eschatological always precedes the existential, the historia salutis grounds the ordo salutis, and that "psalms of rememberance" lead to "psalms of trust."

Sure, Edwards gets kooky later in the book, but you have to admit that he does seem to be on to something here....