During the peak of the Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards had seen plenty of abuses by both the awakened and the so-called “Old Lights.” Particularly bad were those friends of the awakening who had brought disrepute on (what Edwards believed to be) the genuine work of God through their bad behavior, such as declaring persons unconverted, book burnings, and whatnot.
So when Edwards introduces his eighth sign of truly gracious affections (that such affections “differ from those affections that are false and delusive, in that they tend to, and are attended with the lamblike, dovelike spirit and temper of Jesus Christ; or in other words, they naturally beget and promote such a spirit of love, meekness, quietness, forgiveness and mercy, as appeared in Christ”*), it is most likely such “friends” of the awakening that he is addressing, though we know he had seen similar bad behavior by the Old Lights in directing criticisms towards those sympathetic to the awakening.
Still, Edwards states the importance of this meekness in temper in no uncertain terms, whereupon all of us should pay close heed to see the Spirit of God so graciously work in our own “affections,” especially those of us who are concerned to defend truth and the fundamentals of Christianity in the present age:
“Thus we see how full, clear and abundant, the evidence from Scripture is, that those who are truly gracious, are under the government of that lamblike, dovelike spirit of Jesus Christ. And that this is essentially and eminently the nature of the saving grace of the gospel, and the proper spirit of true Christianity.
We may therefore undoubtedly determine that all truly Christian affections are attended with such a spirit; and that this is the natural tendency of the fear and hope, the sorrow and the joy, the confidence and the zeal of true Christians.
¶“None will understand me that true Christians have no remains of a contrary spirit, and can never, in any instances, be guilty of a behavior disagreeable to such a spirit.
But this I affirm, and shall affirm till I deny the Bible to be anything worth, that everything in Christians that belongs to true Christianity, is of this tendency, and works this way; and that there is no true Christian upon earth, but is so under the prevailing power of such a spirit, that he is properly denominated from it, and it is truly and justly his character:
and that therefore ministers, and others have no warrant from Christ to encourage persons, that are of a contrary character and behavior, to think they are converted, because they tell a fair story of illuminations and discoveries.
In so doing they would set up their own wisdom against Christ’s, and judge without, and against that rule by which Christ has declared all men should know his disciples.
Some persons place religion so much in certain transient illuminations and impressions (especially if they are in such a particular method and order) and so little in the spirit and temper persons are of, that they greatly deform religion, and form notions of Christianity quite different from what it is, as delineated in the Scriptures.
The Scripture knows of no such true Christians, as of a sordid, selfish, cross and contentious spirit.
Nothing can be invented that is a greater absurdity, than a morose, hard, close, high-spirited, spiteful true Christian.
We must learn the way of bringing men to rules, and not rules to men, and so strain and stretch the rules of God’s Word, to take in ourselves, and some of our neighbors, till we make them wholly of none effect.”**
*Religious Affections, in Yale-Works 2:344-5.