The “Sense Of The Heart”: Edwards’s Public Expression Of His Pietistic Understanding Of Religious Experience -- By: Karin Spiecker Stetina

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 02:1 (Jan 2010)
Article: The “Sense Of The Heart”: Edwards’s Public Expression Of His Pietistic Understanding Of Religious Experience
Author: Karin Spiecker Stetina


The “Sense Of The Heart”:
Edwards’s Public Expression Of His Pietistic Understanding Of Religious Experience

Karin Spiecker Stetina

What is the single greatest challenge facing North American evangelicals today? When this question was posed to the Wheaton Bible Theology Department, Dr. Daniel Block, Knoedler Professor of Old Testament, responded: “demonstrating the mind of Christ by living according to the ethics of the Kingdom of God.” He suggests that “the test of true faith is found in neither creedal orthodoxy nor passionate worship”; rather, it is “verified by living according to the supreme command of Christ, loving God with all of our being and loving our fellow human beings as ourselves.”1 Block’s answer echoes Jonathan Edwards’s concern nearly three hundred years before him.2 Though Edwards is often recognized for his philosophical and scientific mind as well as his fiery Puritan sermons, promoting a biblical understanding of true faith was his primary goal throughout his life.

Edwards desired more than anything to make known the biblical truth that he had personally experienced—that true religion is rooted in an understanding of God’s glory, love, and grace revealed in Jesus Christ and supernaturally imparted to the soul of mankind.3 The new nature of the soul, which is established by the Holy Spirit and the

Word, transforms the heart, mind, and actions of the Christian after the righteousness of Christ. Edwards recognized, as Block, that following Christ’s supreme commandment is evidence of true faith and transformation of the soul to the image of God. The core idea of the new nature of the soul, which emerged in Edwards’s early sermons in New York as a product of his own religious experience, evolved in his later public writings into the concept of the “sense of the heart.”4 In chronologically examining his early writings and three of his public works that deal with the topic of religious experience—A Divine and Supernatural Light, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, and Nature of True Virtue—it is evident that Edwards’s biblical interpretation of his spiritual encounters was foundational to his theology throughout his career.

Edwards’s Early Theology

In his personal writings, Edwards described having experienced redemption from sin and felt that his whole life was being transformed by the Holy Spirit to this new spiritual nature.

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