Signs of Grace

Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
~ John 20:29

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
~ 1 John 4:20

Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?
~ Song of Solomon 1:7

Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
~ Habakkuk 3:17-18

And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.
~ Acts 16:34

And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.
~ John 16:22

And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
~ 1 Peter 5:4

Showing What Are Distinguishing Signs of Truly Gracious and Holy Affections, by Jonathan Edwards. The following contains an excerpt from Part Three of his work, “A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections in Three Parts”. 1746.

Whom having not seen, you love; in whom, though now you do not see him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
— 1 Peter 1:8



I come now to the second thing pertaining to the trial of religious affections which was proposed: to notice some things in which those affections that are spiritual and gracious differ from those that are not.

But before I proceed directly to the distinguishing characteristics, I would mention beforehand some things which I desire to be observed concerning the marks I lay down.

1. I am far from undertaking to give those signs of gracious affections which are sufficient to enable anyone to certainly distinguish true affection from false affection in others, or to positively determine which of their neighbors are true professors and which are hypocrites. If I were to do so, I would be guilty of that arrogance which I have been condemning. It is plain that Christ has given rules to all Christians to enable them to judge professors of religion with whom they are concerned so far as is necessary for their own safety, and to prevent them from being led into a snare by false teachers and false pretenders to religion. It is also beyond doubt that the Scriptures abound with rules which may be very serviceable to ministers in counseling and conducting souls committed to their care, in things pertaining to their spiritual and eternal state. Yet it is also evident that it was never God’s design to give us any rules by which we may certainly know which of our fellow professors are his, and to make a full and clear separation between sheep and goats. On the contrary, it was God’s design to reserve this to himself as his prerogative. And therefore no such distinguishing signs that would enable Christians or ministers to do this, are ever to be expected to the world’s end. For no more is ever to be expected from any signs that are found in the word of God, or gathered from it, than Christ designed them for.

2. No such signs should be expected that are sufficient to enable saints to certainly discern their own good estate if they are very low in grace, or have greatly departed from God, and have fallen into a dead, carnal, and unchristian frame. It does not agree with God’s design (as already observed), that such persons should know their good estate, nor is it desirable. On the contrary, it is best in every way that they should not. We have reason to bless God that he has made no provision that such persons should certainly know the state they are in by any way other than first coming out from their ill frame and the way they are in. Indeed, properly speaking, it is not because of any defect in the signs that are given in the word of God, that any living saint cannot certainly know his good estate by them, whether that saint is strong or weak, or in a bad frame or otherwise. For the rules in themselves are certain and infallible. Every saint has, or had in the past, those things in himself which are sure evidences of grace; for every act of grace, even the least act of grace, is an evidence. But it is because of his defect that the signs are given to him. There is a twofold defect in that saint who is very low in grace, or in an ill frame, which makes it impossible for him to certainly know that he has true grace, even by the best signs and rules which can be given to him. First, there is a defect in the object or the qualification that is to be viewed and examined. I do not mean an essential defect, because I assume the person is a real saint – but a defect in degree. Grace, if it is very small, cannot be clearly and certainly discerned and distinguished from the absence of grace.

Things that are very small cannot be clearly discerned in their form, nor distinguished one from another. Though, as they are in themselves, their form may be very different. There is doubtless a great difference between the body of a man, and the bodies of other animals, as they are first conceived in the womb. Yet if we were to view the different embryos, it might not be possible for us to discern the difference, because of the imperfect state of the object. But as it comes to greater perfection, the difference becomes very plain. The difference between creatures of very contrary qualities is not so plainly seen while they are very young. They may not be plainly seen even after they are actually brought forth, in their more perfect state. The difference between doves and ravens, or doves and vultures, when they first come out of the egg, is not so evident. But as they grow towards their perfection, the difference becomes great and obvious. Another defect attending the grace of those of whom I am speaking, is that is mingled with so much corruption which clouds and hides it; that makes it impossible to be certainly known. Although different things that are before us may have many marks in themselves which thoroughly distinguish them one from another, yet if we see them only in a thick smoke, it may nevertheless be impossible to distinguish them. A fixed star is easily distinguishable from a comet in a clear sky. But if we view them through a cloud, it may be impossible to see the difference. When true Christians are in an ill frame, guilt lies on the conscience which will bring fear; and so it prevents the peace and joy of an assured hope that would otherwise be seen.

Secondly. There is, in such a case, a defect in the eye. Just as the feebleness of grace and the prevalence of corruption obscure the object, so it enfeebles the sight. It darkens the sight as to all spiritual objects, of which grace is one. Sin is like some diseases of the eye that make things appear to differ in color from those which properly belong to them. It is like many other diseases which disable the tongue from properly tasting, and from distinguishing good and wholesome food from bad, and thus everything tastes bitter.

Men in a corrupt and carnal frame have their spiritual senses put in a poor plight for judging and distinguishing spiritual things.

For these reasons, no signs that can be given will actually satisfy persons in such a case. No matter how good and infallible the signs are that are given, and how clearly they are laid down, they will not serve them. It is like giving a man rules to distinguish visible objects in the dark. The things themselves may be very different, and their differences may be very well and distinctly described to him – yet it is all insufficient to enable him to distinguish them, because he is in the dark. Therefore many persons in such a case spend time in a fruitless labor, in poring over past experiences, and examining themselves by signs they hear laid down from the pulpit, or that they read in books. If there is other preparatory work for them to do, then as long as they neglect that work, all their self-examinations are likely to be in vain, no matter how much time they spend in them. The accursed thing is to be destroyed from their camp, and Achan is to be slain; until this is done, they will continue to be in trouble. It is not God’s design that men should obtain assurance in any other way than by mortifying their corruption, and increasing in grace, and obtaining its lively exercises. Although self-examination is a duty of great use and importance, and by no means is it to be neglected, yet it is not the principal means by which the saints are satisfied as to their good estate.

Assurance is not to be obtained so much by self-examination, as by action. The Apostle Paul sought assurance chiefly in this way, even by “forgetting the things that were behind, and reaching forth to those things that were before, pressing towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus; if by any means he might attain to the resurrection of the dead.” It was by this means that he chiefly obtained assurance. 1Cor. 9:26, “I therefore run, not as uncertainly.” He obtained assurance of winning the prize more by running than by considering. The swiftness of his pace did more towards his assurance of a conquest, than the strictness of his examination. Giving all diligence to grow in grace by adding to faith, virtue, etc. (2Pet. 1:5-11), is the direction that the Apostle Peter gives us for “making our calling and election sure, and having an entrance into Christ’s everlasting kingdom provided to us abundantly.” 1
1 The way to know your godliness is to renew the visible exercises of grace. The more the visible exercises of grace are renewed, the more certain you will be. The more frequently these actings are renewed, the more abiding and confirmed your assurance will be. The more men’s grace is multiplied, the more their peace is multiplied; 2Pet. 1:2,

This signifies to us that, without this, our eyes will be dim and we will be like men in the dark who cannot plainly see things past, or things to come – we cannot see either the forgiveness of our past sins, or the promise of our heavenly inheritance that is future, and far off.

Therefore, though good rules to distinguish true grace from counterfeit may tend to convince hypocrites, and they may be of great use to the saints in many respects, and may be among other benefits that are very useful to remove many needless doubts, and to establish their hope – yet I am far from pretending to lay down any such rules that would be sufficient of themselves, without other means, to enable all true saints to see their good estate. Nor do I assume they would be the principal means of their satisfaction.