Thursday, July 14, 2011

Baring Our Souls - John Piper & Christian Hedonism

Recently on Helm’s Deep there has been a number of posts on affection and emotion, mostly in connection with Jonathan Edwards. The other day I received from the publishers a complimentary copy of the new Piper & Carson book, The Pastor as Scholar, the Scholar as Pastor, at the request of ‘the author’. (I wondered, Which one? Is this a well-intentioned nudge, or sheer disinterested kindness?) Whatever the reason, I thank publisher and authors alike.

On beginning the book I was immediately struck by the way that John Piper distances himself from the late F.F. Bruce’s remarks in his autobiography about self-disclosure. Bruce says:

While some readers have observed that in these chapters I have said little about my domestic life, others have wondered why I have been so reticent about my religious experience. The reason is probably the same in both instances: I do not care to speak much – especially in public – about the things that mean most to me. Others do not share this inhibition, and have enriched their fellows by relating the inner story of the Lord’s dealings with them – one thinks of Augustine’s Confessions and Bunyan’s Grace Abounding. But it calls for quite exceptional qualities to be able to do this kind of thing without self-consciousness or self-deception. (In Retrospect: Remembrance of Things Past, (Eerdmans 1980), 306)

And Piper comments

My second reaction was to say (this was in 1980, the year I left academia and entered the pastorate), ‘Good grief! You say, I do not care to speak much – especially in public - about the things that mean most to me.’ I say ‘The only thing I care to speak about - especially in public – are the things that mean most to me!’

He proceeds to register ‘zero empathy’ with the FFB outlook and adds

I am regularly bursting to say something about the most precious things in the universe – and not in any disinterested, dispassionate, composed, detached, unemotional, so-called scholarly way, but rather with total interest, warm passion, discomposure, utter attachment, and fully emotional, and I hope always, true. At least true is my goal. (23)

Dr Piper’s Christian Hedonism (‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him’) shares a good deal of the outlook of Jonathan Edwards’s view of the place of ‘raised’ affection in true religion which Helm’s Deep has recently posted on. There is an emphasis upon visibly expressed emotion, and upon truth as its basis. But more, I mean not only the emphasis on affection per se, and on exuberant emotions, but also the one-size-fits-all approach to understanding and characterising the Christian life. While for Edwards true religion consists much in holy affections, for Piper ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him’. He seems starkly to reveal the onesidedness of his outlook in those remarks about FFB.

Piper’s mantra that ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him’ is either tautologically true or it is open to empirical test. If it is tautologically true then we may safely ignore it. If it is testable then (I say) it fails that test and is false. There are lives lived in which God is glorified, lives of self-forgetful service to God, in which the question of whether or not the person is ‘satisfied in God’ never arises.

Behind Piper’s banner headline lies the same sort of misunderstanding about affection (or passion or motion) that we have found in Edwards. In brief, there are, I believe, two misunderstandings, one about passion, the other about experience.

The misunderstanding about passion is to equate it with what Piper calls ‘discomposure’ and being ‘fully emotional’ and the aim he shares with Edwards ‘to raise the affections of our hearers.….in synch with what is true and in proportion to the nature of the truth.’ Time and again Piper privileges the affections over the will. For example he says, truly enough, that ‘the Devil, on some doctrines, is more orthodox than us – more correct than we are. But none of these doctrines, in the mind of the Devil, gives rise to any love for God, any worship of God, any delight in God…..So knowing right things about Jesus doesn’t automatically produce right affections’. (50) True. (Notice, like Edwards, the tendency to understand Christian virtues as emotions or affections.) But there is no mention of the fact that the Devil does not serve or obey God either. So distorting is this that Piper fails to appreciate than an academic who seeks ‘objectivity’ and whose attitude he excoriates may nonetheless be consumed with a passion for the exclusion of factors that distort his enquiries. The dispassionate is not to be equated with the passionless. To be dispassionate may be to be impassioned with the aim of not letting ‘raised’ or ‘full’ passions, or passions of any other kind, sway the judgment.

Second, experience. Always, for Dr Piper, ‘experience’ is some awareness of what is happening in a person. In this sense of experience, what such a person experiences is always worth talking about, and can be talked about. FFB is inhibited from this practice, caring not to talk about himself in this way, in the way of Augustine or Bunyan, though he is not laying down the law about this. He takes the view, evidently, that for him some things are too deep for words, and other things are simply not for public consumption. As Augustine memorably said, there are actions that are fitting in the bathroom that are not fitting in the lounge.

Note the emphasis and the gaping hole in these typical statements

The heart of magnifying God’s worth is feeling God’s worth. (47)

The word hypocrisy was created precisely for the effort to say with deeds what we do not feel in our hearts. (47)

Right thinking about God exists to serve right feelings for God (50)

Thinking exists to serve admiring. (50)

Thinking is meant to serve worship and delight and satisfaction in God. (50)

Thinking rightly and deeply about the Word and the world with a view to seeing the greatness of God and his works (especially the work of Christ) so that the affections of our hearts might rest on a true foundation and God might be honored by how we feel toward him and by the behaviours that flow from this heart. (52)

[Gaping hole? Think for a moment about what Dr Piper says above about hypocrisy and then about what Paul and Jesus say. Paul: while you preach against stealing, do you steal? And Jesus: Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self indulgence’. Always, hypocrisy denotes a failure of the will, and ne’r a word about feelings in our hearts.]

It is this almost exclusive stress on felt feelings, on self-awareness, the need to register and to check our emotional level, that enables Piper’s hedonistic calculus to operate. Checking themselves out with the calculus enables his followers to estimate whether what they feel shows whether they have some satisfaction with Christ, are more satisfied, or are most satisfied in Christ. But Jesus places his emphasis elsewhere, on self-forgetfulness: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?’ (Matt. 25.40)

In support of his autobiographical approach to the Christian gospel Dr Piper quotes Paul. But in the cases he cites, except perhaps one, Paul is focusing his attention on what happened to him, to public events, - ‘affliction’…’struggle’…’what happened to me’…and in one case, to his personal reaction. Elsewhere Paul also refers to the unspeakable, the ineffable, the unlawful. There are some matters that are not simply too deep for words, but too great for words. And Paul regularly urges on his readers not the cultivation of emotion, but the growth of virtue.

The alternative to adopting Piper’s hedonism is not to become Stoics. Augustine said: I refute Stoicism with two words: ‘Jesus wept’. We ought not to confine the shape of Christian character by a definition that focusses exclusive attention on passion, but to recognise the part to be played by every mode of the full human personality – not the understanding and the felt affections alone, but also the will and the virtues.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Romans 2 and 3: One Step At A Time, Dear Jesus

Simon Gathercole, Where is Boasting? (Erdmans)

The view that the argument of Romans 2 1-16, and then 2 25-9 concerns Gentile Christians is not a novel one. But it is becoming a fairly dominant interpretation. One can find it, for example in Simon Gathercole's Where is Boasting? (Eerdmans, 2001) as well as in N.T. Wright's book on justification, and in other places. For example, Gathercole says that there is a considerable body of opinion that accepts that 2.25-9 talks of real Gentile Christians. (127)

The traditional view is that the argument is part of the overall Pauline argument that all people, Jew and Gentile, have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and so face divine judgment. They face this judgment equitably, since all have the knowledge of the law. To show this Paul claims that as the Jews have the Torah, so the Gentiles have a law; indeed, they have the law written on their hearts. And as Jews have the experience of keeping and transgressing the law, so the Gentiles have the experience of the law accusing them and excusing them. They do not escape judgment because they have no Torah, for they do have the law God in foro interno. (This harks back to 1.20.) So God’s judgment will be fair with respect to these two groups. He is no respecter of persons. The argument goes something like this:

The Judgment of God is based upon the law of God

The Law of God is equitably administered in the case of both Jew and Gentile

All are therefore bound by the terms of the law; obedience brings reward, disobedience delivers punishment.

So Paul’s argument in these verses has to do with the standard of divine judgment and its fairness as between Jew and Gentile, and with nothing more. It states terms, it does not make predictions. It is a major error to suppose that Paul is here dealing with the method of justification by faith, or even hinting at it, or with the destiny with the justified at the final judgment. Sometimes upholders of the Gentile Christians view register their dissent from the idea that Paul’s language is hypothetical, that Paul is hypothesising the case of those who are vindicated at the judgment, even though no one ever will be aside from pardon and righteousness procured by Christ.

But why, on the traditional view, is Paul said to be hypothesising? Certainly holders of the traditional view must also hold that it was Paul’s position that ‘If any Gentile were to keep the law of God, then he would be justified’. But that’s not a hypothesis, in the sense of a possible or likely outcome, but a straight inference from the argument just given. Paul is simply stating the terms of justification or judgment by personal fulfillment of the law. Anyone, by those terms, if they keep the law will be justified. So it needs to be noted that

The keepers of the law will be rewarded

Is consistent with each of

There are none who are keepers of the law

Therefore, none will be rewarded


If A were to be a keeper of the law, then A would be rewarded

For these are the terms of the law viewed as the way to procure deliverance from judgment.

On the ‘Gentile Christian’ view, this short section and 2.25-9 is the beginning of Paul’s argument regarding the method of justification by faith through Christ, of course developed in extenso in the central chapters of Romans, the theme announced at the beginning of the letter, that the Cross is the power of salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. The difference between the views may be expressed as offering different answers to the question, When in Romans does Paul begin a positive argument for this? The traditional view is that the argument begins at Romans 3.21 ‘But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith to all who believe’. The ‘Gentile Christian’ view is that the argument begins earlier, in the introduction of a theme which has ‘forward echoes’ as N.T. Wright puts it (166) to 2.26 and thus to the central argument of Romans. Referring to those who are considered in 1.16f. Dr Wright says ‘These people are Christians, on whose hearts the spirit has written the law, and whose secrets, when revealed (see .2.29 again) will display the previously hidden work of God.’ (166-7) Simon Gathercole, says that 'the gentiles who have the Law written on their hearts will be justified on the final day' (126), (though it has to be said that the place that this view of Romans 2 plays in his overall understanding of Romans 1-5 is rather different from that of Dr Wright).

So on the Gentile Christians view, while Paul argues that all are under the just judgment of God, the section 2.1-16 is not a direct contribution to that argument, but it is a section within it which takes us forward to the last judgment, and anticipates what Paul has to say later about those who face the judgment and are vindicated at it by their works. (158) (Or, in Gathercole’s case, since justification by works is impossible, this reference must therefore be to people who are under grace and not under the law – Gentile Christians).

But such a claim might simply be a begging of the question at issue. Whether or not Paul is anticipating matters later in the chapter (we shall look at this lower down) or anticipating his account of justification dealt with at length in the body of Romans, cannot simply be assumed. It is only a reasonable assumption if Paul has in mind Gentile Christians, which is precisely the issue we are considering.

To try to resolve that question, the question of whether or not Paul has Gentile Christians in view, more attention should be paid than has perhaps been paid to what Paul actually says about the context of his remarks, and then what he says about these alleged Gentile Christians referred to in Chapter 2.

What does Paul say?


He says that not the hearers of the law, but the doers of it, will be justified, and that the Gentiles on occasion do by nature the things contained in the law. Obviously this is a claim that is based upon empirical evidence. And there is plenty of evidence that they do. They respect property, honour contracts, marry, recognize the obligations that children have to parents, and so on. And on those occasions when they do such things, Paul says, it is in view of the fact that ‘the work of the law’ (the ‘matters’ of the law) are written in their hearts, in their consciences. In such situations, a person’s conscience either vindicates his practice, or accuses him of falling short, in anticipation of the day of judgment when the secrets of men and women are revealed by Judge Jesus. Incidentally, when Paul says that the secrets of men by Christ Jesus is ‘according to my gospel’, this does not mean that justification by works is a part of that gospel, but that the last judgment is. (As for example, in Acts 17.31).

That’s it. These are the data. So how do those who take the Gentile Christian view get from these statements to that view? I think, by two pieces of interpretation.

First they seem to take the expression ‘the work of the law written on their hearts’ to be a reference to an aspect of the regenerating work of the Spirit who according to Jeremiah's prophecy, for example, will write his law on the hearts of men and women. As we have noted, N.T. Wright says ‘on whose hearts the spirit has written the law’ and Simon Gathercole ‘the gentiles who have the Law written on their hearts will be justified on the final day’. (126) Clearly there is an equivalence being claimed here between the law being written on the heart and regeneration. And perhaps such a view also has in mind Paul’s language in Romans 7 about the regenerate person delighting in the law of God in the inner man, though of course this view cannot be taken if the language of Romans 7 is judged to that of the unregenerate person, as these days it frequently is. (Another issue!)

But in terms of Paul’s argument at this point this equivalence seems rather gratuitous. Regeneration, the work of the Spirit, and so forth – these factors are not in view. Paul is referring to the matter of the law, ‘not isolated parts but the Torah in its entirety’, including its writing on the Gentiles’ inner selves as a witness to the law expressed in Torah, in a parallel way to the Jews who have Torah as part of special revelation. The replacing of the heart of stone with the heart of flesh and all such associated matters do not arise here. Paul is quite simply maintaining the symmetry between the situation of the Gentile and the Jew, blocking the possible inference that since the Gentiles do not have the law they will escape the judgment of God.

And the phrase ‘their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them’ does not refer to the procedures on the day of judgment but provides a phenomenological description of how (for the Gentile) having the law written on the hearts operates here and now. The Gentiles’ consciences bear witness to the 'matters' of that law, t its various commands and prohibitions, and sometimes they observe that law and are excused, they experience an internal relief; and sometimes they disobey it and are rightfully self-accused.

What Paul is arguing is that the Gentiles are acquainted with the content of the law by possessing it ‘internally’, not through the divine revelation through Torah, but innately, or connaturally. He is not discussing inner motivation, but the equity of an arrangement according to which both Jew and Gentile are judged by the law - the Jew by written Torah, the Gentile by an inner representation of that law in the conscience. God can only be impartial in judgment of Jew and Gentile alike if to the Jewish Torah there corresponds another representation of the law made evident to Gentiles. At that judgment whether or not Jew and Gentile have obeyed that law from the heart will be made clear when God judges the secrets of men. And such judgment will reveal hypocrisy in the lives of all men, including those of the Jews, as Paul has already stated (2.2-5), and will state again (3.9f.)

Second, the Gentile Christians view takes the words ‘glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek (2. 10) …..God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ’ (2.16) to imply the moral and spiritual vindication of a class of Gentiles. And those who interpret the words thus also believe that Paul asserts that the vindication of these Gentiles, of some Gentiles, is established when their lives are judged at the last by the measure of his gospel. For in an overall argument designed to establish that there is no one that does good, and that both Jews and Gentile are ‘under it’ we find Paul writing (in anticipation) of those who go good and are vindicated at the last. Surely (as Paul is going to argue) these are Gentile Christians. Otherwise the language does not fit.

But in fact Paul is saying nothing about actual outcomes, but stating how law operates, what its demands are and how these are satisfied. (To use the language of Deuteronomy 30, he is setting out the alternatives of ‘life and good, death and evil’ (Deut.30.15) This passage also contains its share of conditional sentences.)

That’s one step.


Further, it is claimed that what just might have been hypothetical language in 2. 6-11 or 2.25-6 simply cannot be in 2.27-9. (Gathercole 129) The hyothetical interpretation is not an essential part of the traditional view. Nevertheless, let us turn to 2.25-9.

Does what Paul goes on to say in 2.25-29 overthrow this older view, showing us that when the chapter is taken as a whole he has a class of Gentile Christians in view throughout? In my view, to go in this direction is to misunderstand the force of 2.27-9, which (as with the earlier passage about the Gentiles having the law) is not observational but definitional, answering the question, who is a true Jew? How is true Jewishness to be defined? Answer: in terms of the circumcision of the heart. (Deut 30.6) Such circumcision is sufficient for true Jewishness. If it is present, then physical circumcision can only be part of the bene esse of true Jewishness, but not essential to it, for he is a Jew who is one inwardly, whether physically circumcised or not.

From this definition some conditional sentences are implied. Paul mentions two.

(1) If a person who is uncircumcised and keeps the law he is in effect circumcised


(2) If a person is physically circumcised but breaks the law that physical circumcision is cancelled, made null and void.

And from the passage we are surely warranted in adding a third:

(3) If a person is uncircumcised but keeps the law (and so is circumcised in the heart) then such a person condemns anyone who is physically circumcised but a lawbreaker.

We might also add: Such circumcision of the heart is a fruit of the Spirit in who ever it occurs, and it is inward, known to God alone, who alone knows the secrets of the hearts of men, whose praise it receives.

N.T. Wright says that Paul may be teasing his readers at this point, ‘wooing a reader on from the challenge in 2.1 to a different way of approaching the whole moral task’. (166) There is a course a different method of justification about to be set forth than the method of works-righteousness. But Paul is not yet ready to make that move. One step at a time. At this point he sets out the scheme of salvation by works. He follows this by setting out what true circumcision is. These are definitions, reminders, stage settings: divine justice and equity, divine judgment, circumcision, true Jewishness. The implication of these definitions is that the Jews, because of their hypocrisy (2.17-24) are condemned, as were the Gentiles earlier. (1.18-2.11, 2.1-5)

Is this section all definitions, no observations? By no means, for Paul claims that the Gentiles by their hypocrisy (like the Jews later (2.17f.) are storing up ‘wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed’. (2.5)

That’s a second step.

Finally Paul reproduces the scriptural verdict on the moral state of all mankind, both Jew and Gentile. (3.9-20) ‘All, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin’. All are under the law, and all are therefore to be held accountable to God. (2.19)

That’s a third step. And then, having taken these steps, he takes the final step. (‘One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind’)

There is an explosion: ‘But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe’! (3.21-2)

Religious Affection and Enthusiasm

Sarah Pierpoint Edwrds

Locke’s Essay, first published in 1671, went through five editions in Locke’s lifetime. Edwards is reckoned to have read the book around 1717 (Marsden 62). The fourth edition of the Essay (1700) contained, amongst other new material, the chapter ‘Of Enthusiasm’ which was retained in the fifth (1706) and subsequent editions. Locke died in 1704. A question is, was the version of the Essay that Edwards read the one that lacked the chapter ‘Of Enthusiasm’, or did he read the fourth or the fifth edition? In what follows I am going to try to show from internal evidence from the Affections that he read Locke’s new chapter, but this would count for nothing if in fact he did not.

Happily, the following seems to be true. Edwards had access at Yale to the 1690 London ed. of Locke's Essay, for it was included in the collection of books provided by Jeremiah Dummer. (See Louise May Bryant and Mary Patterson, "The List of Books Sent by Jeremiah Dummer," in Papers in Honor of Andrew Keogh, Librarian of Yale University, by the Staff of the Library, 30 June 1938 (New Haven: privately printed, 1938), 435). More importantly, however, Edwards purchased and used the two-volume seventh edition of the Essay (London, 1716). It is listed in his "Account Book" (a register of books that he owned and lent to others). See the Yale edition of Edwards’s works, vol. 26, 337-38. (I am grateful to Doug Sweeney for this information.) The Affections was published in 1746. So it appears that while Edwards first read the edition of the Essaywithout the chapter ‘Of Enthusiasm’ he later bought, (and no doubt read) an edition with it.

Locke on Enthusiasm

The chapter on enthusiasm is situated towards the end of Book IV of the Essay, entitled ‘Of Knowledge and Opinion’, coming immediately after ‘Of faith and reason, and their distinct provinces’, and can be thought of as supplementing Locke’s views on faith and reason.

Here are some of the claims that Locke makes (the page references are to the Dent edition of Locke’s Essay, ed. John Yolton, volume II)

Enthusiasm puts reason and revelation to one side, and ‘substitutes in the room of them the ungrounded fancies of a man’s own brain, and assumes them for a foundation both of opinion and conduct’ (289). By contrast reason is natural revelation, and ‘revelation is natural reason enlarged by a new set of discoveries communicated tby GOD immediately, which reason vouches for the truth of, buy the testimony and proofs it gives that they come from God. So that he that takes away reason, to make way for revelation, puts out the light of both’. (289)

The enthusiast: ‘whatsoever odd action they find in themselves a strong inclination to do, that impulse is concluded to be a call or direction from heaven and must be obeyed’ (290)

So enthusiasm has to be distinguished from true religion which is grounded upon special revelation, validated by God’s natural revelation, the use of human reason. Locke proceeds to set up tests for the presence of enthusiasm. It is interesting to note some of these:

The question then here is: How do I know that GOD is the revealer of this to me, that this impression is made upon my mind by the Holy Spirit, and therefore I ought to obey it? (292)

If they say that they know it to be true because it is a revelation from God, the reason is good; but then it will be demanded how they know it to be a revelation from God. If they say by the light it brings with it, which shines bright in their minds and they cannot resist, I beseech them to consider whether this be any more than what we have taken notice of already, viz. That it is a revelation because they strongly believe it to be true. (293)

The strength of our persuasions are no evidence at all of their own rectitude: crooked things may be as still and inflexible as straight, and men may be as positive and peremptory in error as in truth. (293)

Light, true light, in the mind is, or can be, nothing else but the evidence of the truth of any proposition; and if it be not a self-evident proposition, all the light it has or can have is from the clearness and validity of those proofs upon which it is received……For if strength of persuasion be the light which must guide us, I ask how shall anyone distinguish between the delusions of Satan and the inspirations of the Holy Ghost? He can transform himself into an angel of light. (294)

God when he makes the prophet does not unmake the man. He leaves all his faculties in their natural state, to enable him to judge of his inspiration, whether they be of divine original or not. When he illuminates the mind with supernatural light, he does not extinguish that which is natural. (295)

If this internal light, or any proposition which under that title we take for inspired, be conformable to the principles of reason or to the word of God, which is attested revelation, reason warrants it and we may safely receive for true and be guided by it in our belief and actions.(295)

Thus we see that holy men of old, who have revelations from GOD, had something else besides that internal light of assurance in their own minds to testify to them that it was form GOD. They were not left to their own persuasions alone that those persuasions were form GOD, but had outward signs to convince them of the author of those revelations. (295)

In what I have said I am far from denying that GOD can or doth sometimes enlighten men’s minds in the apprehending of certain truths, or excite them to good actions by the immediate influence and assistance of the Holy Spirit, without any extraordinary signs accompanying it. But in such cases too we have reason and Scripture, unerring rules to know whether it be form GOD or not. (296)

These extracts will be sufficient, I hope, to get Locke’s drift in his own words. Note the framework of reason and revelation; the approval of the terminology of ‘internal light’ and ‘supernatural light’, familiar to readers of the Religious Affections; and above all the method of testing claims to be imbued with the Spirit of God in the light of certain criteria, those provided by reason and revelation.

Edwards the Lockean

Edwards agrees with Locke’s religious epistemology on reason and revelation, but he makes the most of Locke’s concessions. His references to a new inward perception etc. (205 f.) are in accord with Locke’s recognition that God ‘doth sometimes enlighten men’s minds in the apprehending of certain truths…by the immediate influence and assistance of the Holy Spirit, without any extraordinary signs accompanying it’. (Essay 296) and he broadens Locke’s tests to include moral and spiritual fruit. No doubt theologically-speaking he ‘puritanised’ Locke by his more developed appreciation of the Word and Spirit.

Nevertheless Edwards’s doctrine of the ‘new sense’ deliberately meets the Lockean arguments – it is an immediate, supernatural intuition from God, not from man, which Locke allows, provided that this is subordinated to and informed by revelation. Edwards provides the tests, appealing to reason (eg 132) and revelation to do so, in (as we have seen), a broadly Lockean fashion. For Edwards, Lockean ‘enthusiasm’ is not ‘spiritual’ 210f. He dismisses the idea of new revelations, and the provision of new faculties (210f.) No doubt Locke would have regarded the various agitations of the body that Edwards condoned or encouraged as rather unbecoming and even somewhat embarrassing, but he could hardly have argued that in and of themselves they had great epistemological significance. In any case, as we know, Edwards thought that such agitations were neither here nor there.

Jonathan and Sarah

As is well known Edwards’s wife Sarah experienced at least one period of heightened religious affection, in which she was so conscious of God’s love in Christ, and a willingness to resign herself to the will of God, that this brought on various bodily agitations: swooning, fainting, bodily weakness, coldness in the body, weeping, waving and leaping, the onset of bodily exhaustion requiring her to lie down for several hours, and so on. Edwards was impressed, so much so that he asked her to write an account of what happened, which she did. He edited out the personal references and then published it. The edited version concludes with the following editorial comment:

Now if such things are enthusiasm, and the fruits of a distempered brain, let my brain be evermore possessed of that happy distemper! If this be distraction, I pray God that the world of mankind may be all seized with this benign, meek, beneficent, beatifical, glorious distraction! If agitations of body were found in the French Prophets, and ten thousand prophets more, 'tis little to their purpose, who bring it as an objection against such a work as this, unless their purpose be to disprove the whole of the Christian religion. The great affections and high transports that others have lately been under, are in general of the same kind with those in the instance that has been given, though not to so high a degree, and many of them, not so pure and unmixed, and so well regulated.

Sarah receives the husbandly seal of approval - her great affections and high transports were pure, unmixed and well regulated.

‘Enthusiasm’ was one of the charges that opponents of the revivals leveled against them. But it was not a charge, Edwards believed, that his hero John Locke could have endorsed about all the effects of the revivals, though perhaps of some of them. Edwards concurred with this outlook and framed the argument of the long, repetitive Parts II and III of the Affections accordingly