Friday, March 31, 2006

Beatific Vision

Does anyone know of a good treatment of JE and the Beatific Vision?

His views are strongly reminiscent of Augustine (Cf. De Civ. XXII, 29) - the internal knowledge of the Trinity is intellectual - the external vision of God is in Christ. Muller writes that the 'scholastics note that the visio is not a visio oculi, a vision of the eye, except with reference to the perception of the glorified Christ. With reference to the saints' new perception of God, the visio is cognitio Dei clara et intuitiva, a clear and intuitive knowledge of God, an inward actus intellectus et voluntatis, or act of intellect and will.' (A Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms s.v. visio Dei).

You can find very striking statements regarding the Beatific Vision in JE - See Excellency of Christ, or Heaven is a World of Love. Here is a really interesting formulation from his funeral sermon for David Brainerd:

'Their beatific vision of God is in Christ, who is that brightness or effulgence of God’s glory, by which his glory shines forth in heaven, to the view of saints and angels there, as well as here on earth. This is the Sun of righteousness that is not only the light of this world, but is also the sun that enlightens the heavenly Jerusalem, by whose bright beams it is that the glory of God shines forth there, to the enlightening and making happy all the glorious inhabitants. “The Lamb is the light thereof; and so the glory of God doth lighten it,” Rev. 21:23. None sees God the Father immediately, who is the King eternal, immortal, invisible. Christ is the image of that invisible God, by which he is seen by all elect creatures. The only-begotten Son that is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him, and manifested him. None has ever immediately seen the Father, but the Son; and none else sees the Father any other way, than by the Son’s revealing him. And in heaven, the spirits of just men made perfect behold his glory. They see the glory of his divine nature, consisting in all the glory of the Godhead, the beauty of all his perfections: his great majesty, almighty power, his infinite wisdom, holiness, and grace. They see the beauty of his glorified human nature, and the glory which the Father has given him, as God-man and Mediator. For this end, Christ desired that his saints might “be with him, that they might behold his glory,” John 17:24.'

The sermon is in Volume Two of the 19th C two volume edition (Banner, Hendrickson reprints), is available online, and will be in Volume 25 of the Yale Edition. If you have acccess you can get the first edition (Boston, 1747) from Evans Online: Early American Imprints, 1st series, no. 5939.

Muller's Dictionary is a must-have for students of JE.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

From Encyclopædia Britannica Article

'Edwards' influence on the intellectual character of American Protestantism for a century after his death was very pronounced, and he was widely read in the British Isles. In a general revolt against Puritanism and Calvinism after the U.S. Civil War (1861–65), Edwards' prestige declined, and he was remembered mainly as a hell-fire preacher or as an abstruse, absent-minded metaphysician. In the 1930s and after, he was rediscovered by theologians reacting against liberalism and by secular scholars seeking to delineate the “American mind.” Edwards' ability to combine religious intensity with intellectual rigour and moral earnestness, the cosmic sweep of his theological vision, his emphasis on faith as an “existential” response to reality, his insistence that love is the heart of religion, and his uncompromising stand against all forms of idolatry are some of the reasons his life and writings are again being seriously studied.'

Thomas A. Schafer

The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica Article on Edwards, which is in the public domain, can be accessed here

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Edwards' exegesis

The publication of Edwards' "Blank Bible", along with the availability of the entire sermon collection via the online edition of the works, opens up the possibility of sustained study of Edwards' exegetical work. Doug Sweeney has a brilliant introductory article on this topic in the recent JE at 300 volume. It is a great first stop for those interested in this subject. The next stops must be Stephen Stein's introductions and Robert Brown's Jonathan Edwards and the Bible (2002).

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Review of Josh Moody's new book on Edwards and the Enlightenment

JONATHAN EDWARDS AND THE ENLIGHTENMENT Knowing the Presence of God By Josh Moody University Press of America, 2005 vii + 203 pages. £20.00/$29.95 ISBN 0 761830 55 3

In four short chapters Dr. Josh Moody, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in New Haven (USA), offers an interesting and informed introduction to four important themes in the thought of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758): True Salvation; True Experience; True Reality; and, True Light. Dr. Moody’s gift for communication, a lamentably rare commodity in the academy, makes this volume an enjoyable read.

The book is slightly oddly arranged with only 96 pages of text and 750 endnotes. The advantage of this arrangement is that the uninitiated reader need not follow the myriad debates in the secondary literature but can enjoy instead a relatively unbroken exposition of what Edwards taught. The strength of the book is the author’s ability to use both the published works of Edwards and the many unpublished manuscripts available at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. Readers of this volume may ponder the fact that much of this material was last conveyed to Edwards’s own congregation in the first half of the 18th century.

Salvation applied

The first chapter concentrates on the application of salvation. Dr. Moody underlines the importance of revival to Edwards — both in his broader concept of history and in the response of faith in the individual. Various issues of real importance for the Christian church are developed, in particular, preaching, prayer, faith, and practice. In the discussion of prayer, for example, the old myth about ‘Calvinism’ and the importance of prayer is helpfully dispelled. The author puts it succinctly when he writes that ‘Edwards, and other Puritans before him, prayed not in spite of but because they believed in a sovereign God’ (p.27). The author’s own sympathy for Edwards’s particular brand of revival thought comes across clearly.

Salvation experienced

In the examination of ‘True Salvation’, attention turns to Edwards’s foundational treatise The Religious Affections (1746). Many enigmatic ideas in Edwards — such as ‘the sense of the heart’ — are clearly outlined and illustrated. This chapter provides a very useful introduction to what is arguably Edwards’s most significant work and highlights the profundity of Edwards’s lifelong reflection on the nature of grace in the soul and the outworking of that grace in Christian practice. The point that Dr. Moody seems to be making throughout this chapter is that evangelicals of many theological schools need to read deeply in Edwards to equip them to clarify the things that they say about Christian experience. It would be a welcome development.

Philosophical ideas

The third chapter is the most difficult because (to use the jargon) the issues under the microscope are ontology and epistemology. In other words, what it means to exist, and what it means to have knowledge. Edwards’s philosophical thought is set against a number of alternate theories of existence and knowledge that were prevalent in the 18th century. For those with an interest in the philosophical issues, this should prove a helpful introduction.


The final chapter, on true light, is the best in the book. Dr. Moody outlines three themes: the relationship between ‘Reason and Revelation’, the place of natural theology, and the role of special revelation. The argument is based on extensive labours in the manuscript collection at Yale and the results make for fascinating reading. The author contends that traditional descriptions of Edwards have failed to comprehend the purpose of Edwards’s preaching and writing, which was to engage his culture for the Lord Christ. In particular, Edwards sought to re-enlighten the ‘Enlightenment’ by underscoring the necessity and rationality of the biblical revelation. Dr. Moody is at his best where Edwards was at his most brilliant — playing the part of the philosopher-evangelist, rigorously applying biblical truth in the language and context of his own time.

This book is not for everyone. It is an accessible doctoral dissertation that deals with some very technical philosophy and some issues of more immediate importance for the Christian life. That Edwards responded to the Enlightenment on such a broad front is indicative of the seriousness of the threat he perceived and his own brilliance. Dr. Moody conveys each of these aspects in his book and leaves the reader with an appreciation of the abiding importance of Edwards for the contemporary church. For those readers of this journal who are not attracted to this sort of book, but who wish to grasp more of Edwards’s significance, a good place to begin reading in Edwards is his famous sermon A Divine and Supernatural Light (1734). The sermon is still widely published and available on the internet. A careful reading of it will provide an introduction to the important issues raised in this book.

originally published here
Like all the other posts on this blog the opinions expressed in this review are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the JEC.

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Major Works - Justification by Faith Alone

The publication in 1738 of Justification by Faith Alone, as a part of Discourses on Various Important Subjects (Boston, 1738) (Works, 19, 147-242) marked a significant moment in Jonathan Edwards’ public protest against the encroachment of Anglican Arminian theology within New England. In this moderately long and complex discourse he sought to incorporate over a decade of thought and teaching into a detailed argument refuting the specific claims of Arminian thought. The discourse should not be considered a complete statement on the subject. For example, Edwards does not develop at any length his ideas on the nature of saving faith. Indeed, it is evident that he later viewed the discourse as a stepping-stone to a full treatment of the doctrine (Works, 21, 340).

Several key themes emerge in the discourse, each carefully aligned to the specific polemical context. First, the impossibility of justification on the basis of works performed by a sinner. Second, the centrality of Jesus Christ and his obedience in the divine plan of salvation. Finally, the absolute necessity of evangelical obedience on the part of those justified by faith.

This discourse has divided interpreters of Edwards’ Reformed understanding of salvation: the issue being the level of continuity or discontinuity between Edwards and his Puritan fathers. The publication of the “Miscellanies” and sermons from the period holds out the possibility that an interpretive consensus regarding this controversial pre-Awakening text may yet develop.

original post here

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The "Blank Bible"

With regard to the last post a reader emailed and asked 'what is the blank bible?'

'JE's "Blank Bible" is constructed of leaves of foolscap interleaved between the pages of an Old and New Testament. In this rebound volume JE wrote biblical commentary on all books of the Bible.' (Editor's comment Works, 15, 3 n.9)

And as you can tell from the page count (1376) it wasn't very blank after a lifetime of scribbling. It is a companion to Notes on Scripture (see picture above), which is volume 15 in the Works - published in 1998. The "Blank Bible" is two substantial volumes in the Yale Edition (24a & 24b). The editorial introduction is by Stephen Stein editor of volumes 5 & 15.

A cornucopia of exegetical treasures.

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250 years on

Start saving up your pennies,

Only 1376 pages,

Click here for advanced notice of a long awaited JE publication.

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'Getting Yale excited about its own'

Yale named a residential college after Jonathan Edwards several decades before it grasped the importance of republishing a scholarly edition of his works. Stephen Crocco has written an excellent history of the edition itself. Click here to download the PDF.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Images of the Jonathan Edwards Manuscript Collection

Click HERE and enter Jonathan Edwards in the search box to view six pages of images of Edwards' manuscripts courtesy of the Beinecke Library.

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Imagine if he had a blog ....

Tryon Edwards, a nineteenth century theologian and descendant of JE, wrote that:

'Perhaps no person ever lived who so habitually and carefully committed his thoughts, on almost every subject, to writing, as the elder President Edwards. His ordinary studies were pursued pen in hand, and with his notebooks before him; and he not only often stopped in his daily rides by the wayside, but frequently rose even at midnight to commit to paper any important thought that had occurred to him.

As the result of this habit, his manuscripts are probably more thoroughly the record of the intellectual life of their author than those of any other individual who has a name in either the theological or literary world. The manuscripts are also very numerous. The seventeenth century was an age of voluminous authorship. The works of Bishop Hall amount to ten volumes octavo; Lightfoot's, to thirteen; Jeremy Taylor's, to fifteen; Dr. Goodwin's, to twenty; Owen's to twenty-eight; while Baxter's would extend to some sixty volumes, or from thirty to forty thousand closely printed octavo pages. The manuscripts of Edwards, if all published, would be more voluminous than the works of any of these writers, if possibly the last be excepted. And these manuscripts have been carefully preserved and kept together.'

quoted in Works, 8, 125.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

On happiness

I wil grant the point - the last entry was a touch involved. For something completely different - consider Edwards' first sermon (at least the earliest manuscript) which was on the subject of Christian Happiness. I'm not sure if there is a recent study of Edwards on Happiness (I guess someone will have covered it on Joy etc and the Religious Affections) but it is interesting that this was his topic in an early sermon. JE was 17 or 18 when he wrote this:

'To talk of raptures and ecstasies, joy and singing, is but to set forth by very low shadows of the reality, and all we can say by our best rhetoric is really and truly vastly below what is but the bare and naked truth, and if St. Paul, who had seen them, thought it but in vain to endeavour to utter it, much less shall we pretend to it, and the Scriptures have gone as high in the descriptions of it as we are able to keep pace with in our imagination and conception. We shall only say this, that the good man has the assurance and certainty: that he shall at last surely enjoy such a happiness as the Scripture describes to us.' (Works, 10, 300-301)

Of course, Edwards famously went on to say a lot about these things - see for example his famous sermon Heaven is a World of Love.

You can read Heaven is a World of Love in our introductory volume of JE sermons:

The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader edited by Wilson H. Kimnach, Kenneth P. Minkema, & Douglas A. Sweeney.

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"Miscellanies" No. 1352 & No. 1360

I am grateful to Dr. Garry Williams, Oak Hill Theological College, London, for opening up a discussion concerning the meaning of a passage in Edwards’ final entry in the “Miscellanies.” In this note I am just setting out my own thoughts on how to read the passage - Dr Williams is cordially invited to offer his own views or response if he has time.

The passage (which is the seventeenth stage in a twenty point argument) reads like this:

Then the union of the patron has its measure and proportion according to the rule now mentioned, and so is sufficient to answer his whole interest, when the degree of his regard to the client’s interest stands in the same proportion to his regard to his own personal interest, as the degree of the capacity of the client stands in to the degree of his own capacities. For the degrees of capacity are as the greatness or the degrees of existence of the persons.’ (The “Miscellanies” No. 1360, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, The “Miscellanies” 1153-1360 edited by Douglas A. Sweeney (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004). 715. Hereafter Works, 23, page number.)

This marks a turning point in Edwards’ argument and is important for understanding his general case for the transfer of merit – or imputation. Like many parts of JE it is sufficiently complicated to turn off many of his readers. What did you make of the extract?

So let me take a step back – actually a number of steps back. I want to offer a reading of this paragraph that explains it in the context of the essay in which it is located (two “Miscellanies” entries, Nos. 1352 and 1360. I refer to these two entries as one essay by JE).


The background to this entry is Edwards’ engagement with Socinian objections to substitutionary interpretations of the atonement. He cites Socinus at 23, 485 and begins the discussion with a number of biblical examples of the transfer of demerit and a note to himself to ‘search the Concordance for other places’ (23, 484).

The entry develops with this statement (23, 482):

‘By this it appears that a mediator’s putting himself in the stead of the offender, so that the offended party should impute it to him, and look on the mediator as having taken it upon him, looking on him as the debtor of what satisfaction should be required and expected, was in those days no strange notion, as a thing in itself absurd and inconsistent with men’s natural notions of things.’

His point is that the exchange of merit/demerit was in line with ‘men’s natural notions of things.’ Again he says ‘[t]he translation of guilt or obligation to punishment was not a thing alien from men’s conceptions and notions of old in Scripture times, neither the times of the old testament or new (23, 484).’

The bulk of the essay develops as an exposition of the ‘reasonableness’ of the ‘doctrine of the imputation of merit’ (23,486). There are twenty steps in the argument.

He begins by defining three of his key terms: merit, patron, and client. Merit here being the ‘recommendation’ of one to another’s regard (23, 486). Then he defines patron and client: the former is one ‘of superior dignity or merit that stands for and espouses the interest of another, interposes between him and a third person or party in that capacity, to secure, maintain, or promote the interest of that other by his influence with him, improving his merit with him, or interest in his esteem and regard for that end (23,486).

The client is that other person ‘whose interest the patron thus espouses’ (23,487).

Throughout the argument Christ is the patron (theological term = mediator) and the client is the Christian for whom Christ merits righteousness. Edwards never states this – because this is merely an argument for the general reasonableness of imputation – but that is the background.

1. First, patronage per se is not unreasonable, nor contrary to nature (23,487).

2. Next, patronage reasonably involves imputation (23,487). This is also reasonable – as in the case of child that is esteemed for the sake of the parents.

3. This imputation is based on relation or union. This is what he is focusing on in the essay – the nature of an appropriate or fitting union. In particular, when the Patron is of far greater dignity that the Client (23,488).

4. If the P. and C. may be taken as ‘completely one and as it were the same’ then the P. may be substituted for the C. - his (P’s) merit can be substituted for the needs of the C. This union is based on the love that the P has for the C. ‘His love puts him thoroughly in the client’s stead’ (23, 488) See ref to No. 398 which is about union. When the love of the P is such that he is willing to be put in the place of C- and suffer calamity and destruction for the C. – then there is a sufficient relation for a complete union (23, 488).

5. Appropriateness of allowing one to desire the good of another – ‘For that good which anyone desires, sets his heart upon and seeks, thereby becomes his own good.’ By making the desired end his own he can substitute himself in the room of the other. [note also 20. below on the necessity of a mutual act from the C. accepting the substitution.]

6. This substitution is particularly appropriate when the P is willing to suffer at the expense of his own personal and private welfare (23, 489)

7. Works best when the P appeals directly to another (his ‘friend’ ie God the Father) ‘particularly and directly’ to ‘the person who has so high an esteem and affection for him.’ (the person is God, who looks on the merit of him ie Christ the patron) (23, 490).

8. Best when the P’s merit originates in a desire to merit good for the C. In other words the P performs acts ‘in seeking the good of the client.’ The merit only exists for the sake of the client (23, 490).

9. A moral good is added to the natural good when the ‘worthiness of the patron and the value expended are offered, both together in one, as the price of the welfare of the client’ (23, 490).

10. This acceptance of the P’s merit will be more natural still to the extent that the P takes the (exact?) place of the C. – ‘takes his place in the universe’ (23, 490-491).

11. If the C has ill treated the person to whom the P will represent the C – then (God’s) ‘abating and dismissing resentment’ – ‘for the sake of the merit of the P’ – is the same ‘reward’ as the patron would have received for his personal merit in the case of no offence (23,491).

12. Nature of Union between P and C. IT MUST NOT VIOLATE THE WORTHINESS of the Patron nor affect the union between the P and the ‘friend’ whom he wishes to influence. That is to say, P’s union with C must not taint P’s personal virtue / merit or the relationship between P and friend (23, 491).

How can this union between P and C exist and the P not violate these rules? Ans: he must disapprove of the acts of C that brought the need for P’s merit. P must honor the rule of virtue.

13. When we ask – can the merit of P suffice for C ? – the DIGNITY of P’s person is one element that must be placed in the scales – (move to 23, 713) along with the DEGREE OF FAVOR SOUGHT.

At this point we plunge into the more complex discussion –

In 13. JE states that it is possible for the merit of P to be a ‘perfect sufficiency’ for ‘all the favor that the client needs.’ This will happen when the dignity of P’s person and the ‘degree of the patron’s union with his client’ is ‘sufficient to countervail all the favor that the client needs.’ Actually, what he is arguing for is a situation where P has infinite dignity, and the union between the two is sufficient that this merit can be transferred to the C.

From this point on he is trying to explain this – particularly how these distinct ideas relate together.

14. If the P and C are equals (as to greatness of being or degree of existence) and the degree of union is such that P treats C’s needs as his own then the result is a strict union in which the interests of the client become the interest of the P.

This is just a principle that he wants to set out but it does not apply to the argument he is making. He is simply saying that a strict union is necessary between to equals. He now moves on to discuss how such a union could exist between unequals.

(in the last para of 14 JE raises an issue – ‘the impropriety or unfitness of the union’ – but he doesn’t come back to it.)

15. If the patron and client are not equal (14 was only illustrative), but P is vastly greater, then this gives greater weight to the union – in terms of influence with P’s friend. So that a lesser degree of union of the patron with his client may be equivalent to a greater union in case of equality.

16. In order to judge the sufficiency of the union : two aspects: 1. degree of union and 2. degree of greatness (of P over C as in 15.) So that ‘the patron’s union with the client shall be such that, considering jointly both the degree of greatness and the degree of union the patron’s union with his client shall be as considerable and weighty, and have as much influence, as if in a case of equality of the patron with his client the union between them was so great that the patron’s regard to the welfare of the client were equal with his regard to his own’ (23, 714-715).

What does he mean? In order for the union to be sufficient (between a greater P and a lesser C) there must be a union the same as (‘as if’) the P and C were equals – a perfect/ strict union. And this means a calculus based on the degree of difference between P and C and the degree of union.

So what sort of union is sufficient?

17. There will be a sufficiency in the union when:

P’s regard to the C’s interest

stands in the same proportion to his own regard for his personal interest


‘the degree of the capacity of the client stands in to the degree of his own capacities.’

What is the client’s capacity? Capacity equals the need which the C. has - in other words, the ‘favor that the client needs’ or his missing merit / demerit. (see the very first line of No. 1360 where he writes of ‘the degree of favor sought.’ This is, I think, what he means by capacity.)

So the ‘the degree of the capacity of the client stands in to the degree of his own (ie P’s) capacities’ means the merit needed by the CLIENT (ie his need of favor) compared with the favor (or merit) of P.

So there will be ‘sufficiency in the patron’s union’ when the P regards (ie loves) C’s welfare (need of favor / merit ) in the same proportion as he regards his own welfare --- and this proportion EQUALS the capacity of the client in relation to the capacity of the P.

18. JE then explains this in the following way – the correct proportion exists when ‘P regards the client’s interest as his own, according to the C’s capacity.’

This a way round the problem that might be raised because P is so much greater than C. How can he assume the C’s interest as his own when it appears so insignificant to P’s greatness? The P’s capacity far outstretches the C.

The answer is that it may represent a total need on the part of the Client (in his own terms, his own capacity, degree of existence) and so a union requires this proportional interest from P – he must be totally concerned for the needs of P even as he would normally be totally concerned for his own needs.

And as JE goes on to say in 18: this may mean that the P loves the C as a lesser member – but he is loving himself (ie his own interest) even if it appears (strictly considered) a much lesser concern. This total proportionate loving regard for C’s interest from P results in C becoming a part of P’s body.

This allows JE to establish a union between a greater and a lesser. If love equates with regarding another’s interests as your own it is hard to see how the greater can love the lesser – and without love there is no union. The answer is that the P loves the C in a proportionately appropriate way. So when he said in 4. (above) :

4. If the P. and C. may be taken as ‘completely one and as it were the same’ then the P. may be substituted for the C. and his (P’s) merit can be substituted for the needs of the C. This union is based on the love that the P has for the C. ‘His love puts him thoroughly in the client’s stead’ (23, 488)

This is what he is seeking to establish – the love that P has for C – P really does love C as he loves his own interests. There is a sufficient union and therefore there is a reasonable transfer of merit.

19. This love of P for C’s interest is properly tested by suffering

20. According to the nature of things the union must be mutual - C must embrace P. C must express an ‘entire approbation of the benefits which the patron seeks of his friend for the client’ (23, 716).

Back then to the gobbet that I began with:

‘Then the union of the patron has its measure and proportion according to the rule now mentioned, and so is sufficient to answer his whole interest, when the degree of his regard to the client’s interest stands in the same proportion to his regard to his own personal interest, as the degree of the capacity of the client stands in to the degree of his own capacities. For the degrees of capacity are as the greatness or the degrees of existence of the persons’ (23, 715).

JE is seeking to explain the nature of act of the patron that is necessary to create a sufficient union between the (greater) Patron and the (lesser) Client. What is the necessary ‘measure and proportion’ of a sufficient union? Will the union be sufficient to result in a transfer of merit that will provide for the Client’s ‘whole interest’?

Answer: A sufficient union will exist when the P regards / loves the Client in the same proportion as his own interest – according to the degree of capacity or greatness of the person.

In other words, the Patron has a regard for his own personal interest appropriate to his own dignity – he has a total regard for his own vastly greater dignity (15.) In order for a union to exist he must regard the (lesser) personal interest of the client in the same way that he regards his own personal interest. He must do this proportionately according to the capacity or degree of person of the client. Although the regard will be lesser in absolute terms (18. he is loving a ‘finger’ not an ‘head’) yet in proportionate terms he will love the (lesser) client as he does himself.

The result of this is a strict union between the P and the C that results in a transfer of the P’s merit to the C.

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Friday, March 24, 2006

The Jonathan Edwards Classic Studies Series

The Jonathan Edwards Center in association with Wipf and Stock Publishers of Eugene, Oregon, has published a second edition of William Sparkes Morris' The Young Jonathan Edwards, a brilliant study of Jonathan Edwards' early years as a student and a philosophical theologian.

Morris thoroughly examines the theological and philosophical influences on Edwards' developing metaphysics. In particular, Morris treats the roots of Edwards' notions of excellency, being, matter, and Spirit. Drawing heavily on Edwards' "Miscellanies" and personal notebooks, Morris also shows the way that these intellectual developments converged with Edwards' young life as a ministerial student in the early days of Yale College.

In his essay in The Princeton Companion to Jonathan Edwards, Peter Thuesen writes that "the ongoing debate about the primary intellectual influence on Edwards, or who served as his "master-spirit," must be settled by the conclusion of William Sparkes Morris that Edwards' affinities as a thinker were fundamentally eclectic." Twenty years ago, in his classic study of Edwards' moral thought, Norman Fiering applauded The Young Jonathan Edwards as "the most comprehensive investigation of the intellectual influences upon Edwards in his youth." It remains the foremost study of these influences today. The renewed availability of this important study will be a great asset to all who are interested in Edwards' early intellectual life and in his formation as a theologian.

For a discounted copy email

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Edwards as Luther? The Great Awakening as a new Reformation?

In his published works Edwards gives us significant indicators of the sources of his theology - insights that we can now develop in the context of our knowledge of his private notebooks. Some of the most interesting indicators of this source material may be located in the Religious Affections where the footnotes themselves (and other pointers in the text) are evidently polemical and part of the argument of the book. Edwards cites from various luminaries in the Reformed tradition to further establish his own credibility as a faithful son of New England. And, perhaps even more significantly, to underline his own personal historical significance - and to mark out, for those with eyes to see, the world changing potential of New England's revival.

Consider, for example, this section in the Religious Affections:

"In such things consisted the pretended high experiences, and great spirituality of many sects of enthusiasts, that swarmed in the world after the Reformation; such as the Anabaptists, Antinomians, and Familists, the followers of N. Stork, Th. Muncer, Jo. Becold, Henry Pfeifer, David George, Casper Schwenckfeld, Henry Nicolas, Johannes Agricola Eislebius; and the many other wild enthusiasts that were in England in the days of Oliver Cromwell; and the followers of Mrs. Hutchinson, in New England; as appears by the particular and large accounts given of all these sects, by that eminently holy man, Mr. Samuel Rutherford in his Display of the Spiritual Antichrist." (Works, 2, 287 See also Sermon 24 in The History of the Work of Redemption Works, 9, 430-441)

It is fascinating that JE thought it necessary to engage in rhetorical acts such as this in the midst of the Fourth Positive Sign of True Affections - Spiritual Enlightenment. It indicates, I think, the strength of the enthusiasts amidst the religious awakening and the various arguments that JE thought necessary to combat the threat. It is an interesting tactic: I wonder how many people in New England had heard of Schwenckfeld and Pfeifer?

Why does JE openly concede his dependence on a book by Rutherford if not to establish his orthodox credentials? Is there more to the citation?

Smith (Works, 2, 71-72) notes the significance of Rutherford and says:

"... Rutherford's A Survey of the Spiritual Antichrist, first published in 1648, [is] a heavily weighted and compendious attack upon antinomianism, enthusiasm, and visionary religion. The quotation of this work by Edwards with approval gives further evidence that although he strongly defended the importance of affections and "heart religion," he did not countenance the enthusiasm and sectarianism frequently accompanying this type of piety.

The Survey contains large extracts from Luther's writings, and the passage used by Edwards is from a section called by Rutherford "Luther against the Antinomians." It consists of many passages from Luther's Latin writings, brought together to show that Luther was an opponent of antinomianism and not, as the Jesuits claimed, the chief source of its views."

It seems plausible then to read this section of Religious Affections (indeed the whole work?) as an attempt at personal vindication in the midst of accusations of departure from the true gospel. Edwards sees himself as Luther - defender of the pure evangel - vindicating himself against enthusiasts who manifest a false and destructive enlightenment. Does this also indicate that he hoped that events in New England marked the beginning of a new Reformation? Is Northampton the new Wittenberg/Geneva?

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Introducing Jonathan Edwards

JONATHAN EDWARDS was born into a Puritan evangelical household on October 5, 1703, in East Windsor, Connecticut. He was the fifth of eleven children born to the Rev. Timothy and Esther Edwards. His childhood education immersed him not only in the study of the Bible and Christian theology but also in classics and ancient languages.

Undergraduate Years

During his undergraduate years (1716-1720) and graduate studies (1721-1722) at Yale College, Edwards engaged all manner of contemporary issues in theology and philosophy. He studied the debates between the orthodox Calvinism of his Puritan forebears and the more "liberal" movements that challenged it, such as Deism, Socinianism, Arianism, and Anglican Arminianism, as well as the most current thought coming out of Europe, such as British empiricism and continental rationalism.

From early in his life, Edwards committed himself to vindicating his beliefs before the foreign luminaries of the Enlightenment by recasting Calvinism in a new and vital way that synthesized Protestant theology with Newton's physics, Locke's psychology, the third earl of Shaftesbury's aesthetics, and Malebranche's moral philosophy.

At Yale, Edwards wrote almost exclusively on natural philosophy and metaphysics. Simultaneous with and yet distinct from the great English idealist George Berkeley, Edwards formulated a metaphysical system that was idealistic, designed to challenge Aristotelianism. Edwards refuted both the speculations of Hobbes and Descartes concerning the nature of reality and substance in ways that anticipated theoretical physics. His metaphysics also had a singularly aesthetic component to it; for Edwards, beauty was an essential aspect of an entity, which subsisted in the harmony or agreement of its parts. This approach continues to inform modern ethics.

Becoming a Pastor

In 1726, Edwards succeeded his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, as the pastor of the church in Northampton, Massachusetts, the largest and most influential church outside of Boston. Turning his attention from the theoretical pursuits of his Yale years to more practical matters, he married Sarah Pierpont in 1727. Jonathan and Sarah had met in New Haven eight years earlier, when she was just thirteen years old, but they were not married until eight years later. The two of them would go on to raise ten children in Northampton.

First Great Awakening

In 1734-1735, Edwards oversaw some of the initial stirrings of the First Great Awakening. He gained international fame as a revivalist and "theologian of the heart" after publishing A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God (1738), which described the awakening in his church and served as an empirical model for American and British revivalists alike.

The widespread revivals of the 1730’s and 1740’s stimulated one of the two most fruitful periods for Edwards' writings. In this period, Edwards became very well known as a revivalist preacher who subscribed to an experiential interpretation of Reformed theology that emphasized the sovereignty of God, the depravity of humankind, the reality of hell, and the necessity of a "New Birth" conversion. While critics assailed the convictions of many supposed converts as illusory and even the work of the devil, Edwards became a brilliant apologist for the revivals. In The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741), Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival (1742), A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1746), and The Life of David Brainerd (1749), he sought to isolate the signs of true sainthood from false belief. The intellectual framework for revivalism he constructed in these works pioneered a new psychology and philosophy of affections, later invoked by William James in his classic Varieties of Religious Experience (1902).

"The first and greatest homegrown American philosopher"

Perry Miller, the grand expositor of the New England mind and founder of the Yale edition of the Works of Jonathan Edwards, described Edwards as the first and greatest homegrown American philosopher. If the student penetrates behind the technical language of theology, Miller argued, "he discovers an intelligence which, as much as Emerson's, Melville's, or Mark Twain's, is both an index of American society and a comment upon it." Although nineteenth-century editors of Edwards "improved" his style out of embarrassment for his unadorned, earthy, and earnest language, today Edwards is recognized as a consummate and sophisticated rhetorician and as a master preacher.

Literary scholars connect Edwards' psychological principles with his emphasis on rhetoric as a means of eliciting emotional responses, most readily seen in the most famous sermon in American history, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" (1741). They also point to Edwards' "Images or Shadows of Divine Things" (published by Miller in 1948) as an innovative application of typology that anticipated Transcendentalism by including nature as a source of revelation.

Edwards’ published writings at Northampton also reflect strong millenarian and prophetic interests. In A History of the Work of Redemption, originally preached as a sermon series in 1739 but not published until after his death, Edwards cast theology into "a method entirely new" by showing God's work as a history structured around God's scriptural promises and periods of the outpouring of the Spirit. An Humble Attempt to Promote . . .Extraordinary Prayer (1747) was part of a larger movement towards Anglo-American "concerts of prayer" and was an important contribution to millennial thought. Scholars such as Alan Heimert have recognized the signal importance of these works in American history, particularly their contribution to revolutionary ideology.

In 1750, Edwards’ church dismissed him from Northampton after he attempted to impose stricter qualifications for admission to the sacraments upon his congregation. Concerned that the "open admission" policies instituted by Stoddard allowed too many hypocrites and unbelievers into church membership, he became embroiled in a bitter controversy with his congregation, area ministers, and political leaders. His dismissal is often seen as a turning point in colonial American history because it marked the clear and final rejection of the old "New England Way" constructed by the Puritan settlers of New England.

In her study of Northampton during Edwards' pastorate, Patricia Tracy described the social and political forces at work in the town as a reflection of larger economic, social and ideological forces then reshaping American culture. Ironically, then, the colonial theologian who best anticipated the intellectual shape of modern America also was its first victim. Edwards' struggle with these forces is recorded in the many manuscript sermons that will be made available on the website by the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale.

A Mission Post

From Northampton, Edwards went to the mission post of Stockbridge, on the western border of Massachusetts, where he served from 1751 to 1757. Here he pastored a small English congregation, was a missionary to 150 Mahican and Mohawk families, and wrote many of his major works, including those that addressed the "Arminian controversy."

Foremost among these was A Careful and Strict Inquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of that Freedom of Will..." (1754), in which he attempted to prove that the will was determined by the inclination of either sin or grace in the soul. This book, one of the most important works in modern western thought, set the parameters for philosophical debate on freedom and determinism for the next century and a half. Also written during this period were The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended (1758), in which Edwards asserted that all humankind has a natural propensity to sin due to its "constitutional unity" in Adam; and two major statements on ethics, The Nature of True Virtue and The End for Which God Created the World (published posthumously in 1765).
Though Stockbridge provided something of a haven for Edwards, he could not avoid the limelight.

In late 1757, he accepted the presidency of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University). While at Princeton, Edwards hoped to complete at least two more major treatises, one that would show "The Harmony of the Old and New Testaments" and the other that would be an experiment in narrative theology, a much expanded treatise on "The History of the Work of Redemption." However, he did not live to complete these works. After only a few months in Princeton, he died on March 22, 1758, following complications from a smallpox inoculation. He is buried in the Princeton Cemetery.


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Edwards and his pipe ...

Dodds doesn't offer a source for this charming story about JE and the long pipe - does anyone have a reliable footnote for this? I don't think Marsden mentions this incident.

'This was his hour to unbend completely. He enjoyed a long pipe, and twice within one three months' period, ordered a dozen of them. (This is a lapse in the usual Edwards rectitude, for the General Court had ordered that no one should smoke tobacco even in his own house "with a relative or friend.") The children knew they could save their questions and have their father's full attention at that precious hour when, without his wig and smoking his pipe, he was a different man from the one the parish usually saw.'

From Elizabeth Dodds, Marriage to a Difficult Man: The Uncommon Union of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards (reissued Audubon Press, 2004), 50.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Jonathan Edwards Center Mission

The mission of the Jonathan Edwards Center and The Works of Jonathan Edwards Online is to produce a comprehensive online archive of Edwards’s writings and publications that will serve the needs of researchers and readers of Edwards, to support inquiry into his life, writings, and legacy by providing resources and assistance, and to encourage critical appraisal of the historical importance and contemporary relevance of America’s premier theologian.

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), pastor, revivalist, Christian philosopher, missionary, and college president, is widely regarded as North America’s greatest theologian. He is the subject of intense scholarly interest because of his significance as an historical figure and the profound legacy he left on America’s religious and intellectual landscapes. His writings are being consulted at a burgeoning rate by religious leaders, pastors, and churches worldwide because of the fervency of Edwards’s message and the acumen with which he appraised religious experience. Yet for centuries, scholars and readers of Edwards have had to rely on inaccurate and partial versions of his writings. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, the critical edition of Edwards’s writings, was created at Yale University in 1954 to overcome these obstacles. But even as the Edwards Works is completing a 26-volume letterpress series, less than half of Edwards’s total writings will be available.

To provide the entirety of Edwards’s corpus on a global basis, we are creating The Jonathan Edwards Center and Online Archive, which will support and assist research and use of Edwards’s writings, primarily through a comprehensive, searchable online database that will contain the series published by Yale Press but also tens of thousands of pages of unpublished computerized transcripts--sermons, notebooks, essays, letters, and personalia--that the Edwards Edition has on file. Complementing these primary texts will be reference works, secondary works, chronologies, and audio, video, and visual sources. Simply put, no comparable online archive for an American religious figure will exist.

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