Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections by Sam Storms (Book Review)

Saturday night I finished Sam Storms' book, Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections. After realizing that (despite his oft and repeated recommendations that people read Edwards for themselves) most people simply would not persevere through Edwards' cumbersome and hefty treatise, Storms decided to give a distilled version (my words, not his) of Edwards for modern readers. He has retained Edwards' basic outline and much of Edwards' actual wording. But he has trimmed away what seemed to him superfluous to Edwards' main argument.

I am currently reading Religious Affections for the second time and actually purchased Storms' book because I was hoping for a more sermonic distillation of Edwards. That is not what Storms has written. But I still finished his book with profit and expect to use it in the future. The great strength of Storms' "interpretation" of Edwards is its brevity - 152 pages vs. over 350 in the Yale edition! The first time I read Religious Affections it took me four or five months to get all the way through. Storms' book can easily be read in several sittings.

The downside is that the cumulative weight of Edwards' argument is somewhat lost with the editing. For example, Storms summarizes much of Edwards' actual exposition of biblical passages and just includes the verses in brackets, whereas Edwards actually quotes the verses. I find these parts some of the richest portions of Edwards' original. I plan to finish actually reading Edwards himself, partly because I value the effect his more lengthy explanation and argumentation has on my heart.

But there is a second benefit to Storms' book - and this is really the reason I want to commend it. The second half of Storms' book (p. 153-213) contains Edwards' Personal Narrative, with Storms' commentary interspersed throughout. The Personal Narrative is Edwards' own recounting of his conversion experience and early spiritual growth. It is simply breathtaking! And Storms' commentary on it is exceptionally edifying. I read all of this on Saturday evening and it really helped sensitize my soul to the Lord and prepare my heart for worship.

So, if are stirred up by those occasional quotes from Edwards that you hear from your pastor, and you want to read him for yourself but don't think you can tackle 350+ pages of unedited Puritan prose, get Storms! Even if you don't read all of the Religious Affections section (though I hope you will!), you will benefit so much from reading the Personal Narrative section. (You can also read the Personal Narrative here. But you will miss out on Storms' comments - which is quite a loss.)

One more thing: check out Storms' website Enjoying God Ministries. There is a wealth of information there and you can also read his blog and purchase his books.

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