Jonathan Edwards was born 303 years ago today. In order to help celebrate this day we are reproducing a sparkling essay from John Piper on the pastor as theologian.
The Pastor as Theologian
Reflections on the Ministry of Jonathan Edwards
1988 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors
By John Piper April 15, 1988
My topic is "The Pastor as Theologian, Reflections on the Life and Ministry of Jonathan Edwards." One of Edwards' books, written back in 1742, was recently reissued with an Introduction by Charles Colson. Colson wrote,
The western church – much of it drifting, enculturated, and infected with cheap grace – desperately needs to hear Edwards' challenge. . . . It is my belief that the prayers and work of those who love and obey Christ in our world may yet prevail as they keep the message of such a man as Jonathan Edwards.
I assume that you are among that number who love and obey Christ and who long for your prayers and your work to prevail over unbelief and evil in your churches and your communities and eventually in the world. And I believe that Colson is right that Edwards has a challenge for us that can help us very much, not only in his message, but also in his life as a pastor-theologian.
The Real Jonathan Edwards
Most of us don't know the real Jonathan Edwards. We all remember the high school English classes or American History classes. The text books had a little section on "The Puritans" or on "The Great Awakening." And what did we read? Well, my oldest son is in the 9th grade now and his American History text book has one paragraph on the Great Awakening, which begins with the sentence that goes something like this: "The Great Awakening was a brief period of intense religious feeling in the 1730's and '40's which caused many churches to split."
And for many text books, Edwards is no more than a gloomy troubler of the churches in those days of Awakening fervor. So what we get as a sample of latter-day Puritanism is an excerpt from his sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." Perhaps one like this,
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousands times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.
And so the kids are given the impression that Edwards was a gloomy, sullen, morose, perhaps pathological misanthrope who fell into grotesque religious speech the way some people fall into obscenity.
But no high school kid is ever asked to wrestle with what Edwards was wrestling with as a pastor. When you read "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" (which you can do in the Banner of Truth two-volume collection of his works), you see quickly that Edwards was not falling into this kind of language by accident. He was laboring as a pastor to communicate a reality that he saw in Scripture and that he believed was infinitely important to his people.
And before any of us, especially us pastors, sniffs at Edwards' imagery, we had better think long and hard what our own method is for helping our people feel the weight of the reality of Revelation 19:15. Edwards stands before this text with awe. He virtually gapes at what he sees here. John writes in this verse, "He [Christ] will tread the wine press of the fierceness of the wrath of God the Almighty."
Listen to Edwards' comment in this sermon,
The words are exceeding terrible. If it had only been said, "the wrath of God," the words would have implied that which is infinitely dreadful: but it is "the fierceness and wrath of God! The fierceness of Jehovah! O how dreadful must that be! Who can utter or conceive what such expressions carry in them?
What high school student is ever asked to come to grips with what really is at issue here? If the Bible is true, and if it says that someday Christ will tread his enemies like a winepress with anger that is fierce and almighty, and if you are a pastor charged with applying Biblical truth to your people so that they will flee the wrath to come, then what would your language be? What would you say to make people feel the reality of texts like these?
Edwards labored over language and over images and metaphors because he was so stunned and awed at the realities he saw in the Bible. Did you hear that one line in the quote I just read: "Who can utter or conceive what such expressions carry in them?" Edwards believed that it was impossible to exaggerate the horror of the reality of hell.
High school teachers would do well to ask their students the really probing question, "Why is it that Jonathan Edwards struggled to find images for wrath and hell that shock and frighten, while contemporary preachers try to find abstractions and circumlocutions that move away from concrete, touchable Biblical pictures of unquenchable fire and undying worms and gnashing of teeth?" If our students were posed with this simple, historical question, my guess is that some of the brighter ones would answer: "Because Jonathan Edwards really believed in hell, but most preachers today don't."
But no one has asked us to take Edwards seriously, and so most of us don't know him.
Most of us don't know that he knew his heaven even better than his hell, and that his vision of glory was just as appealing as his vision of judgment was repulsive.
Most of us don't know that he is considered now by secular and evangelical historians alike to be the greatest Protestant thinker America has ever produced. Scarcely has anything more insightful been written on the problem of God's sovereignty and man's accountability than his book, The Freedom of the Will.
Most of us don't know that he was not only God's kindling for the Great Awakening, but also its most penetrating analyst and critic. His book called the Religious Affections lays bare the soul with such relentless care and Biblical honesty that, two hundred years later, it still breaks the heart of the sensitive reader.
Most of us don't know that Edwards was driven by a great longing to see the missionary task of the church completed. Who knows whether Edwards has been more influential in his theological efforts on the freedom of the will and the nature of true virtue and original sin and the history of redemption, or whether he has been more influential because of his great missionary zeal and his writing the Life of David Brainerd.
Does any of us know what an incredible thing it is that this man, who was a small-town pastor for 23 years in a church of 600 people, a missionary to Indians for 7 years, who reared 11 faithful children, who worked without the help of electric light, or word-processors or quick correspondence, or even sufficient paper to write on, who lived only until he was 54, and who died with a library of 300 books – that this man led one of the greatest awakenings of modern times, wrote theological books that have ministered for 200 years and did more for the modern missionary movement than anyone of his generation?
His biography of the young missionary David Brainerd has been incalculable in its effect on the modern missionary enterprise. Almost immediately it challenged the spirit of God's great adventurers. Gideon Hawley, one of Edwards' missionary protégés carried it in his saddle bags and wrote in 1753 (even before Edwards' death) when the strain was almost beyond endurance, "I need, greatly need, something more than human to support me. I read my Bible and Mr. Brainerd's Life, the only books I brought with me, and from them have a little support."
John Wesley put out a shortened version of Edwards' Life of Brainerd in 1768, ten years after Edwards' death. He disapproved of Edwards' and Brainerd's Calvinism, but he said, "Find preachers of David Brainerd's spirit, and nothing can stand before them."
The list of missionaries who testify to the inspiration of Brainerd's Life through the work of Jonathan Edwards is longer than any of us knows: Francis Asbury, Thomas Coke, William Carey, Henry Martyn, Robert Morrison, Samuel Mills, Fredrick Schwartz, Robert M'Cheyne, David Livingstone, Andrew Murray. And a few days before he died, Jim Elliot, who was martyred by the Aucas, entered in his diary, "Confession of pride – suggested by David Brainerd's Diary yesterday – must become an hourly thing with me."
So for 250 years Edwards has been fueling the missionary movement with his biography of David Brainerd. And David Bryant today makes no secret out of the fact that Edwards' book on concerts of prayer (The Humble Attempt) is the inspiration for his own effort in the prayer movement for awakening and world evangelization today. So Brainerd has been read and known for two centuries. And Edwards' vision of united prayer is coming to life again in the person of David Bryant. But who knows the man who wrote these books?
Mark Noll, who teaches history at Wheaton and has thought much about the work of Edwards, describes the tragedy like this:
Since Edwards, American evangelicals have not thought about life from the ground up as Christians because their entire culture has ceased to do so. Edwards's piety continued on in the revivalist tradition, his theology continued on in academic Calvinism, but there were no successors to his God-entranced world-view or his profoundly theological philosophy. The disappearance of Edwards's perspective in American Christian history has been a tragedy. (Quoted in "Jonathan Edwards, Moral Philosophy, and the Secularization of American Christian Thought," Reformed Journal (February 1983):26. Emphasis mine.
The Compass of my own Theological Studies
And frankly I wish I could recreate for everyone of you what it has meant for me to find my way, little by little, into that God-entranced worldview. It began when I was in seminary, as I read Edwards' Essay on the Trinity and then Freedom of the Will and then Dissertation concerning the End for which God created the World, and then Nature of True Virtue, and then Religious Affections.
Alongside the Bible, Edwards became the compass of my theological studies. Not that he has anything like the authority of Scripture, but that he is a master of that Scripture, and a precious friend and teacher.
One of my seminary professors suggested to us back in 1970 that we find one great and godly teacher in the history of the church and make him a lifelong companion. That's what Edwards has become for me. It's hard to overestimate what he has meant to me theologically and personally in my vision of God and my love for Christ.
This was true when I was a teacher at Bethel, because Edwards posed and wrestled with so many questions that were utterly essential to me in those days. But now I have worked as a pastor for almost eight years and I can say that Edwards has made all the difference in the world.
I am so deeply convinced that what our people need is God. I preached on the reign of Christ two weeks ago on Easter Sunday from 1 Corinthians 15:20-28. It says at the end that someday the Son himself will be subjected to the Father, that God might be all in all. I argued that the necessity of the reign of Christ (expressed in the words, "He must reign, until he has put all his enemies under his feet") is rooted in the very demands of God the Father's well-spring of deity – that to be God in all the fullness of his glory, the image and reflection of his glory, the Son, must turn and bow and draw all attention through himself to the Father.
Six verses later, Paul cries out to the Corinthians, who were questioning the resurrection of Christ, "Come to your right mind, and sin no more. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame." What they needed, and what our people need is a true vision of the greatness of God. They need to see the whole panorama of his excellencies.
They need to see a God-entranced man on Sunday morning and at the deacon's meeting. Robert Murray M'Cheyne said, "What my people need most is my personal holiness. That's right. But human holiness is nothing other than a God-besotted life."
And our people need to hear God-entranced preaching. God himself needs to be the subject matter of our preaching, in his majesty and holiness and righteousness and faithfulness and sovereignty and grace. And by that I don't mean we shouldn't preach about nitty-gritty practical things like parenthood, and divorce and AIDS and gluttony and television and sex. We should indeed! What I mean is that everyone of those things should be swept right up into the holy presence of God and laid bare to the roots of its Godwardness or godlessness.
What our people need is not nice little moral, or psychological pep talks about how to get along in the world. They need to see that everything, absolutely everything – from garage sales and garbage recycling to death and demons have to do with God in all his infinite greatness. Most of our people have no one, no one in the world to placard the majesty of God for them. Therefore most of them are starved for the infinite God-entranced vision of Jonathan Edwards and they don't even know it.
They are like people who have grown up in a room with an 8-foot flat white plaster ceiling and no windows. They have never seen the broad blue sky, or the sun blazing in midday glory, or the million stars of a clear country night or some trillion-ton mountain. And so they can't explain the sense of littleness and triviality and pettiness and insignificance in their souls. But it's because there is no grandeur. What our people need is the God-entranced vision of reality that Jonathan Edwards saw.
About five years ago during our January prayer week, I decided to preach on the holiness of God from Isaiah 6. And I resolved on the first Sunday of the year to take the first four verses of that chapter and unfold the vision of God's holiness,
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high an lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another said: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory. And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.
So I preached on the holiness of God and did my best to display the majesty and glory of such an unapproachably holy God. I gave not one word of application to the lives of our people (not a good practice regularly).
Little did I know that in the week prior to this message one of the young families of our church discovered that their child was being sexually abused for over a year by a close relative. It was incredibly devastating. There was police involvement. Social workers. Psychiatrists. Doctors. They were there that Sunday morning and sat under that message.
I wonder how many advisers to us pastors today would have said, Piper, can't you see your people are hurting? Can't you come down out of your ivory tower of theology and get practical? Don't you realize what kind of people sit in front of you on Sunday?
Several months later the sad details began to come out. And the husband came to me one Sunday after a service and took me aside, and said, "John, these have been the hardest months of our lives. You know what has gotten me through? The vision of the greatness of God's holiness that you gave me the first week of January. It has been the rock we could stand on."
Just a week or so ago I spoke with a woman who has been coming to this church for over seven years. She's not a member. She was getting a divorce in those early days and she knew I was against it. She said last week, "For all my turmoil, and mixed feelings and loneliness I have needed your stand and your vision over these years. They have been crucial in my spiritual survival."
And, O, how I wish we had time to talk about what the vision of this God has meant for the missions movement here at Bethlehem. Let me put it in a word. Young people today at Bethlehem don't get fired up about denominations and agencies. They get fired up about the greatness of a global God and about the unstoppable purpose of a sovereign King.
I believed it before I was a pastor. I believe it even more strongly now after eight years of pastoral ministry. The majesty and sovereignty and beauty of God is the linchpin in the life of the church, both in pastoral care and missionary outreach. In other words, the God-entranced worldview that Jonathan Edwards had was not the product and prerogative of an academic theologian. It was the heartbeat of his pastoral labors.
And so I want to let Edwards admonish us and encourage us with his example. I hope that you will all purchase the new biography by Iain Murray. And I hope many of you will get his Works or at least the paperback of Religious Affections. But don't misunderstand me. Not a one of us in this room will be a Jonathan Edwards. He is in a class almost by himself. To think any thought like that would result in nothing but discouragement. We must be ourselves. Write 1 Corinthians 15:10 over every book and conference and seminar – "By the grace of God I am what I am." I could wish to have the strategic genius of a Ralph Winter or the theological precision and insight of a J.I. Packer, but I will not be them nor Jonathan Edwards. But we can learn and we can be inspired to press on, perhaps far beyond our present attainments, in understanding and holiness and faithfulness. We can be good for each other as long as we don't try to mimic. The eye of the body is not the ear and the foot is not the hand.
Sustaining Our Vision of God
So let me tell you some of the things about Edwards' work that sustained his vision of God. Some of them will fit your life and some won't. My prayer is that you will see something here that will give you a new sense of zeal and commitment to the greatest calling in the world. Let me put this in the form of four exhortations from the life of this pastor.
Edwards exhorts us to radical singlemindedness in our occupation with spiritual things.
Listen to two of his resolutions that he made in 1723, when he was almost 20 years old.
# 44, Resolved, That no other end but religion shall have any influence at all in any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it.
# 61, Resolved, That I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it . . .
I think this is an application of Paul's principle in 2 Timothy 2:4-6, "No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops."
I think that what happens for many pastors is that the ministry does not flourish with as much power and joy as they had hoped and just to survive emotionally they start to give way to amusements and diversions and hobbies. The ministry becomes a 40-hour-a-week job that you do like any other, and then the evenings and days off are filled up with harmless, enjoyable diversions. And the whole feel changes. The radical urgency fades. The wartime mentality shifts to a peacetime mentality. The lifestyle starts to get cushy. The all-consuming singleness of vision evaporates.
Let me say it again. Our people need a God-besotted man. Even if they criticize the fact that you are not available at the dinner on Saturday night because you must be with God, they need at least one man in their life who is radically and totally focused on God and the pursuit of the knowledge of God, and the ministry of the word of God.
How many people in your churches do you know that are laboring to know God, who are striving earnestly in study and prayer to enlarge their vision of God. Precious few. Well then, what will become of our churches if we the pastors, who are charged with knowing and unfolding the whole counsel of God, shift into neutral, quit reading and studying and writing, and take on more hobbies and watch more television?
Edwards exhorts us to a single-minded occupation with God in season and out of season. Edwards calls this effort to know God "divinity" rather than theology. It is a science far above all other sciences. Listen to what he says we should occupy ourselves with:
God himself, the eternal Three in one, is the chief object of this science; and next Jesus Christ, as God-man and Mediator, and the glorious work of redemption, the most glorious work that ever was wrought: then the great things of the heavenly world, the glorious and eternal inheritance purchased by Christ, and promised in the gospel; the work of the Holy Spirit of God on the hearts of men; our duty to God, and the way in which we ourselves may become . . . like God himself in our measure. All these are objects of this science. (Works, II, 159)
If the single-minded occupation with these things is left to a few academic theologians in the colleges and seminaries, while pastors all become technicians and managers and organizers, there may be superficial success for a while, as Americans get excited about one program or the other, but in the long run the gains will prove shallow and weak, especially in the day of trial.
So the first exhortation from Edwards is be radically single-minded in your commitment to know God.
Labor earnestly to know the Scriptures.
Don't get your vision of God secondhand. Don't even let Edwards or Packer be your primary source of divinity. This was the example Edwards himself sets for us. His early biographer Sereno Dwight said that when he came to his pastorate in Northampton, "he had studied theology, not chiefly in systems or commentaries, but in the Bible, and in the character and mutual relations of God and his creatures, from which all its principles are derived" (Works, I, xxxvii).
Edwards once preached a sermon entitled "The Importance and Advantage of a thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth." In it he said, "Be assiduous [!] in reading the Holy Scriptures. This is the fountain whence all knowledge in divinity must be derived. Therefore let not this treasure lie by you neglected" (Works, II, 162).
And he set an amazing example in his own diligence in studying the Bible itself. I was out at Yale's Beinecke library last October where Edwards' unpublished works are stored. They took me down to the lower level and into a little room where two or three men were working on old manuscripts with microscopes and special lighting. I was allowed to see some of Edwards' sermon manuscripts (including "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God") and his catalogue of reading, and his interleaved Bible.
He had taken a big Bible apart page by page and inserted a blank sheet of paper between each page and resewn the book together. Then he drew a line down the center of each blank page in order to make two columns for notes. On page after page in the remotest parts of Scripture there were extensive notes and reflections in his tiny almost illegible handwriting.
I think there is reason to believe that Edwards really did follow through on his 28th resolution while he was at Yale.
Resolved: To study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive, myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.
I find this resolution to be a rebuke, and a great incentive to take stock in my pastoral priorities and my reading priorities. 2 Peter 3:18 says, "Grow in the . . . knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." So Edwards resolved to study the Bible so "steadily and constantly and frequently" that he could see growth.
How many of us have a plan for growing in our grasp of the whole terrain of Scripture? Don't most of us use the Bible as a source for getting sermons and devotionals and personal devotional help? But do we labor over the Scripture in such a way that we can plainly see that today we understand something in it that we did not understand yesterday?
I fear that many of us work at reading books on theology and church life with a view to growing, but have no plan and no sustained effort to move steadily and constantly forward in our understanding of the Bible. Edwards' second exhortation is, this ought not to be so. Study the Bible so steadily and constantly and frequently that you can clearly perceive yourself to grow in them.
Edwards exhorts us to redeem the time and to do what our hand finds to do with all our might.
His 6th resolution was simple and powerful: "Resolved: to live with all my might while I do live." Resolution #5 was similar: "Resolved: Never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can."
He was a great believer in doing what you could in the time you have, rather than putting things off till a more convenient time. Resolution #11 is one of the reasons he made such amazing progress in his theological understanding. It says, "Resolved: When I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances do not hinder."
Edwards was not a passive reader. He read with a view to solving problems. Most of us are cursed with a penchant toward passive reading. We read the way people watch TV. We don't ask questions as we read. We don't ask, Why does this sentence follow that sentence? How does this paragraph relate to that one three pages earlier? We don't ferret out the order of thought or ponder the meaning of terms. And if we see a problem, we are habituated to leave that for the experts and seldom do we tackle a solution then and there the way Edwards said he was committed to do if time allowed.
But Edwards calls us to be active in our minds when we read. A pastor will not be able to feed his flock rich and challenging insight into God's word unless he becomes a disciplined thinker. But almost none of us does this by nature. We must train ourselves to do it. And one of the best ways to train ourselves to think about what we read is to read with pen in hand and to write down a train of thought that comes to mind. Without this, we simply cannot sustain a sequence of questions and answers long enough to come to penetrating conclusions. This was the simple method that caused Edwards' native genius to produce immense and lasting results. Listen to Sereno Dwight's description of his discipline in this regard.
Even while a boy he began to study with his pen in his hand; not for the purpose of copying off the thoughts of others, but for the purpose of writing down, and preserving, the thought suggested to his own mind. . . . This most useful practice . . . he steadily pursued in all his studies through life. His pen appears to have been always in his hand. From this practice . . . he derived the very great advantages of thinking continually during each period of study; of thinking accurately; of thinking connectedly; of thinking habitually at all times . . . of pursuing each given subject of thought as far as he was able . . . of preserving his best thoughts, associations, and images, and then arranging them under their proper heads, ready for subsequent use; of regularly strengthening the faculty of thinking and reasoning, by constant and powerful exercise; and above all of gradually molding himself into a thinking being. . . ("Works, I, xviii)
Dwight tells us how he used the days it took on horseback to get from one town to another. He would think a thing through to some conclusion and then pin a piece of paper on his coat and charge his mind to remember the sequence of thought when he took the paper off at home (Works, I, xxxviii).
Edwards could spend up to 13 hours a day in his study, Dwight tells us, because of his decision not to visit his people except when called for. He welcomed people to his study for conversation, and he frequently taught private meetings in various neighborhoods as well as catechizing the young people in his home. In this pattern of pastoral labor we probably should not follow him. He may even have been wrong in this choice. But we who love what he wrote will not fault him too much.
He rose early, even for those nonelectrical days. In fact he probably was entirely serious when he wrote in his diary in 1728, "I think Christ has recommended rising early in the morning, by his rising from the grave very early."
It's not easy to know what his family life looked like under this kind of rigorous schedule. Dwight says in one place, "In the evening, he usually allowed himself a season of relaxation, in the midst of his family." (Works, I, xxxviii) But in another place Edwards himself says (in 1734 when he was 31 years old), "I judge that it is best, when I am in a good frame for divine contemplation, or engaged in reading the Scriptures, or any study of divine subjects, that, ordinarily, I will not be interrupted by going to dinner, but will forego my dinner, rather than be broke off" (Works, I, xxxvi). I think it would be fair to say that the indispensable key to raising 11 believing children under these circumstances was an uncommon union with Sarah, who was an uncommon woman.
With regard to his eating habits, not only was he willing to skip dinner for the sake of his study if things were really flowing, he also, Dwight tells us, "carefully observed the effects of the different sorts of food, and selected those which best suited his constitution, and rendered him most fit for mental labour." (Works, I, xxxviii) Edwards had set this pattern when he was 21 years old when he wrote in his diary,
By a sparingness in diet, and eating as much as may be what is light and easy of digestion, I shall doubtless be able to think more clearly, and shall gain time; 1. By lengthening out my life; 2. Shall need less time for digestion, after meals; 3. Shall be able to study more closely, without injury to my health; 4. Shall need less time for sleep; 5. Shall more seldom be troubled with the head-ache. (Works, I, xxxv)
I commend for your consideration whether such care to maximize time and effectiveness in devotion to the ministry of the word is what Paul meant when he said redeem the time and when the Preacher said, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might."
The theological labor of Edwards exhorts us to study for the sake of heartfelt worship and for practical obedience.
You recall what Mark Noll said: "Edwards's piety continued on in the revivalist tradition, his theology continued on in academic Calvinism, but there were no successors to his God-entranced world-view. . ." The sweet marriage of reason and affection, of thought and feeling, of head and heart, study and worship that took place in the life of Jonathan Edwards has been rare since his day and still is rare.
So the final exhortation is to recover that "logic on fire" as the Puritans called it – on fire with joy and obedience.
Edwards did not pursue a passion for God because it was icing on the cake of faith. For him faith was grounded in a sense of God which was more than what reason alone could deliver. He said,
A true sense of the glory of God is that which can never be obtained by speculative [reasoning]; and if men convince themselves by argument that God is holy, that never will give a sense of his amiable and glorious holiness. If they argue that he is very merciful, that will not give a sense of his glorious grace and mercy. It must be a more immediate, sensible discovery that must give the mind a real sense of the excellency and beauty of God. (Works, II, 906)
In other words, it is to no avail merely to believe that God is holy and merciful. For that belief to be of any saving value, we must "sense" God's holiness and mercy. That is, we must have a true delight in it for what it is in itself. Otherwise the knowledge is no different than what the devils have.
Does this mean that all his study and thinking was in vain? No indeed. Why? Because he says, "The more you have of a rational knowledge of divine things, the more opportunity will there be, when the Spirit shall be breathed into your heart, to see the excellency of these things, and to taste the sweetness of them." (Works, II, 162, see p.16)
But the goal of all is this spiritual taste, not just knowing God but delighting in him, savoring him, relishing him. And so for all his intellectual might, Edwards was the farthest thing from a cool, detached, neutral, disinterested academician.
He said in his 64th resolution,
Resolved, When I find those "groanings which cannot be uttered," of which the apostle speaks, and those "breathings of soul for the longing it hath," of which the psalmist speaks . . . I will not be weary of earnestly endeavouring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness.
In other words, he was as intent on cultivating his passion for God as he was of cultivating his knowledge of God. He strained forward in the harness of his flesh not only for truth, but also for more grace. The 30th resolution says,
Resolved, To strive every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.
And that advancement was for Edwards intensely practical. He said to his people what he sought for himself,
Seek not to grow in knowledge chiefly for the sake of applause, and to enable you to dispute with others; but seek it for the benefit of your souls, and in order to practice . . . Practice according to what knowledge you have. This will be the way to know more. . . . [According to Psalm 119:100] "I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts." (Works, II, 162f)
The great end of all study – all theology – is a heart for God and a life of holiness. The great goal of all Edwards' work was the glory of God. And the greatest thing I have ever learned from Edwards, I think, is that God is glorified not most by being known, nor by being dutifully obeyed. He is glorified most by being enjoyed.
So God glorifies Himself toward the creatures in two ways: 1. By appearing to . . . their understanding. 2. In communicating Himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying, the manifestations which He makes of Himself. . . . God is glorified not only by His glory's being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. His glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart.
God made the world that He might communicate, and the creature receive, His glory; and that it might [be] received both by the mind and heart. He that testifies his idea of God's glory [doesn't] glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation of it and his delight in it. (The Philosophy of Jonathan Edwards, Harvey G. Townsend, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press Publishers, 1955, Miscellanies, #448, p. 133; see also #87, p. 128, and #332, p. 130 and #679, p. 138)
And so the final and most important exhortation to us from the life and work of Jonathan Edwards is this: in all your study and all your pastoral ministry seek to glorify God by enjoying him for ever.
The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams. But God is the ocean (Works, II, 244).
© Desiring God
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