Jonathan Edward’s book Charity and its Fruits is punching me in the gut.
Jonathan normally does this to me. His book the Religious Affections is one that I think every Christian should read because it exposes the folly of clinging to doctrine without experience as well as the peril of exalting experience over doctrine. No one, whether Presbyterian or Charismatic, can read that book and walk away unscathed–and of course I mean unscathed in the best possible sense. I’m finding Charity and Its Fruits to contain a similar convicting power.
Christian faith loves. Faith, to use Edwards’ language, embraces.
In this work, Edwards reveals the impossibility of loveless Christianity by walking through 1 Corinthians 13. By loveless Christianity, I do not in the first place mean being a Christian that doesn’t love people, but being a Christian that does not love Christ.
To say you have faith in Jesus but do not love him is oxymoronic. The reason why theologians talk of saving faith as a qualifier to faith is that there is a kind of faith that doesn’t save. After all, even Satan believes in Jesus but does not love him. Don’t get me wrong, God loves faith and saves sinful humanity by faith alone in Jesus alone, but it is the kind of faith that carries within it the love of heart, soul, and mind that the Greatest Commandment (Luke 10:27) speaks of.
Edwards elaborates on the crucial difference between saving and speculative faith in a paragraph that one could spend a lifetime unpacking:
…that true love is an ingredient in true and living faith, and is what is most essential and distinguishing in it. Love is no ingredient in a merely speculative faith, but it is the life and soul of a practical faith. A truly practical or saving faith is light and heat together, or rather light and love, while that which is only a speculative faith is only light without heat, and in that it wants spiritual heat or divine love is in vain and good for nothing. A speculative faith consists only in the assent of the understanding, but in a saving faith there is also the consent of the heart. That faith, which is only of the former kind, is no better than the faith of devils, for they have faith so far as it can exist without love, believing while they tremble. Now, the true spiritual consent of the heart cannot be distinguished from the love of the heart. He whose heart consents to Christ as a Savior, has true love to him as such. For the heart sincerely to consent to the way of salvation by Christ, cannot be distinguished from loving that way of salvation, and resting in it. There is an act of choice or election in true saving faith, whereby the soul chooses Christ for its Savior and portion, and accepts of and embraces him as such. But, as was observed before, an election or choice whereby it so chooses God and Christ, is an act of love — the love of a soul embracing him as its dearest friend and portion. [Kindle Edition, Location 189].
At this point, an illustration may be helpful. When you get in your car and stop at the first stoplight on your way to the store you have faith that your brake will stop your car and you act upon it by stepping on the brake pedal, but you do not love your brake pedal.
Is the faith you have in Jesus like this? Is it just an understanding faith (my brake pedal sends a signal to my brakes) and a working faith (I actually step on the brake pedal)? Is it only a mental belief that Jesus is alive and well and gets me out of hell? Is it only a practical belief that issues in doing good works to the poor?
No. It is those things, but it is also more. Christian faith loves. Faith, to use Edwards’ language, embraces. Therefore one of the things you should picture when you think of faith is embracing and hugging, and this is something that you do with people that you love. May the Holy Spirit do such a work in my heart and in yours that faith isn’t reduced to facts but to a loving relationship with Jesus our Savior and Friend.