Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sam Storms on Religious Affections

Sam Storms, author of Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards's "Religious Affections," will be on the Converse with Scholars program tonight, January 24, discussing Edwards's famous work. The program begins at 10pm EST.

UPDATE: The program is now available for download. Click here to stream, or "right-click, save as" to download.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Thorny Issue: Excursus

I have really enjoyed reading Michael’s posts on this “thorny issue” in Edwards’s thought regarding the new spiritual sense he speaks of in A Divine and Supernatural Light. In the last post, Michael called our attention to Fiering’s line that this new spiritual sense is “an infused habit that is identical to holy love and holiness” (Norman S. Fiering, Jonathan Edwards's Moral Thought and Its British Context, 126).

As Michael said, this is an important line to understand. I want to focus on the latter half of the statement, that this infused habit “is identical to love and holiness.” I’ve been reading through Edwards’s Letters and Personal Writings, volume 16 in the Yale series, and there is a particular letter that I think can help further illumine the question at hand.

In letter 66, “To an Unknown Correspondent” (Works, 16, 199-203), Edwards responds to several questions raised by his recent publication of Religious Affections. One of these questions deals with Edwards’s view of the Christian’s partaking of the divine nature as stated in 2 Peter 1:4. In this particular instance, Edwards is responding to a misunderstanding by this unknown correspondent who had taken Edwards’s saying that the Spirit communicates himself to the human’s soul in the Spirit’s “own proper nature” (201; this phraseology is also included in the quotation in Michael’s third post) as equaling the Spirit’s communicating or transferring his very essence to the human soul.

Edwards responds by drawing a distinction between the ideas of nature and essence, concluding that, “That property which is natural to anyone and is eminently his character, I think, is, without abuse of language or going cross to the common use of it, called his proper nature, though [it] is not just the same with his essence” (202). He moves on to put forth that holiness is the attribute which gets closest to the idea of the very nature of the Holy Spirit, and this for two reasons:

“(1) As ‘tis his peculiar beauty and glory and so may in a special manner be called his nature, as brightness may in a peculiar manner be said to be the nature of the sun, and [as] that which is in a peculiar manner the nature of honey is its sweetness. (2) ‘Tis the proper character of the Spirit above all other things, in that office and work of his wherein we are concerned with him. This is that in his nature which he especially manifests and exercises in his office, acts, and operations towards us; and therefore this in his nature is singled out from all other things to denote him by, as he is revealed [to] us; so his name by which he is called in Scripture is the Holy Ghost. And this is that in his nature which he communicates something of to the saints.” (202-203).

So Edwards sees this new spiritual sense as a communication of the very nature of the Holy Spirit to the human. This communication of nature is not to be confused with a communication of the divine essence anymore than rays of light and heat from the sun are a communication of the essence, or being, of the sun to that upon which they fall. Rather, when this “divine and supernatural light” is “immediately imparted to the soul,” it is the communication of the holiness of the Holy Spirit through which the person becomes a partaker of the divine nature, though “immensely less in degree” (303).

This look at the communication of the nature of the Holy Spirit doesn’t answer the question of the nature of the communication of the same, but I think it could be a good jumping off point, particularly in light of Fiering’s comment above. That the infused habit is identical to holy love or holiness becomes more profound and clear when it is understood that it is the very holiness of the Holy Spirit, not some other thing which is merely akin to his holiness, that is communicated or infused to the person. How this holiness is actually communicated to the soul and how the immediate nature of this communication occurs I will leave to Michael.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Thorny Issue 4

'The first step in gaining a clear understanding of Edwards' "spiritual sense" must be the realization that in this instance the term "sense" is something of a misnomer. Edwards meant by spiritual sense not only a new capacity for being affected by the things of God, but also a new inclination or a new will directed toward those things. The new sense of the heart brought about by the workings of grace is also a new disposition or an infused habit that is identical to holy love or holiness.' Norman S Fiering, Jonathan Edwards's Moral Thought and Its British Context, 126.

The point of this quotation is to highlight something that I haven't proved yet in this argument. That is, the new principle of grace that Edwards describes in the long quotation in A Divine and Supernatural Light. Edwards includes this line: 'but he acts in the mind of a saint as an indwelling vital principle.' I'll come back to this at a later point, but for now want to underline Fiering's interpretation - the indwelling vital principle is an infused habit of grace.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Thorny Issue: 3

The doctrine of A Divine and Supernatural Light reads:

There is a such a thing, as a spiritual and divine light, immediately imparted to the soul by God, of a different nature from any that is obtained by natural means. Works, 17, 410.

Edwards tells us exactly what this divine and supernatural light is (after telling us four things that it is not): '... it may be thus described: a true sense of the divine excellency of the things revealed in the word of God, and a conviction of the truth and reality of them, thence arising.'

For Edwards the divine and supernatural light is a 'true sense of the divine and superlative excellency of the things of religion.' He distinguishes this 'true sense' from 'merely speculative or notional' (413) knowledge. That is, knowledge available to the 'agreement of mankind' in the unregenerate state. This speculative faculty (414) or the 'understanding strictly so-called' is the knowledge of the head and is 'rational judging.' The true sense that arises from the spiritual and divine light finds its seat in the 'will, or inclination, or heart' and is essentially an aesthetic judgement (414). JE doesn't use the word aesthetic - but he does use the vocabulary of aesthetics: loveliness, beauty and sweetness. The new sense is a matter of the heart, it is the apprehension of genuine spiritual enlightenment (413).

This new aesthetic sense is not the conviction of sin that natural (that is unenlightened, unregenerate) men have (410), it is not any impression made upon the imagination (412), it is not the suggesting of new truths 'not contained in the Word of God (412), and it is not every 'affecting view that men have of the things of religion (412). Of course, these negations are of great significance for Edwards' thought, and he expounds their theoretical and practical importance at some length in his later spiritual treatises - in particular in Religious Affections.

The new aesthetic sense arises from the indwelling of the Spirit of God. Edwards doesn't overwork the term 'indwelling', concentrating instead on his own vocabulary. Here is the central discussion:

The Spirit of God acts in a very different manner in the one case, from what he doth in the other. He may indeed act upon the mind of a natural man, but he acts in the mind of a saint as an indwelling vital principle. He acts upon the mind of an unregenerate person as an extrinsic, occasional agent; for in acting upon them, he doth not unite himself to them; for notwithstanding all his influences that they may be the subjects of, they are still sensual, having not the Spirit, Jude 19. But he unites himself with the mind of a saint, takes him for his temple, actuates and influences him as a new supernatural principle of life and action. There is this difference, that the Spirit of God, in acting in the soul of a godly man, exerts and communicates himself there in his own proper nature. Holiness is the proper nature of the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit operates in the minds of the godly, by uniting himself to them, and living in them, and exerting his own nature in the exercise of their faculties. The Spirit of God may act upon a creature, and yet not in acting communicate himself. The Spirit of God may act upon inanimate creatures; as, the Spirit moved upon the face of the waters, in the beginning of the creation; so the Spirit of God may act upon the minds of men many ways, and communicate himself no more than when he acts upon an inanimate creature. For instance, he may excite thoughts in them, may assist their natural reason and understanding, or may assist other natural principles, and this without any union with the soul, but may act, as it were, as upon an external object. But as he acts in his holy influences and spiritual operations, he acts in a way of peculiar communication of himself; so that the subject is thence denominated spiritual. (Works, 17, 411).

This remarkable single paragraph reflects a mainstream concern in Edwards' applied soteriology. The question I want to return to in a later post is the nature of the communication of the Holy Spirit, and the immediate nature of this influence in the soul.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Thorny Issue 2

Marsden writes (157):

'This sermon, A Divine and Supernatural Light, encapsulates better than any other single source the essence of his spiritual insight.'

What Marsden does in the rest of his discussion DSL is describe the content of the argument of the sermon. He writes that that 'God communicates to humans, he explained, in an immediate way ...' The result of this immediate divine communication is 'a new spiritual sense.' This gets us to the heart of the theological logic at the heart of the sermon - Marsden then develops his discussion with the practical outworkings of the doctrine. This application is important, but need not detain us at this point. It is important to underline the two ideas that Edwards pushes in the sermon. First, divine grace is immediately communicated. This is the primary point in the sermon, indeed it controls the doctrinal proposition in the discourse. Very little has been written about the immediate nature of divine grace in JE and I hope to show in this series of posts that it is a vital aspect of his understanding of soteriology. In order to do this I will need to look at a couple of secondary texts that do look at immediacy and demonstrate the inadequacy of the treatment they offer.

The second idea in the sermon is the 'new spiritual sense.' If little has been written about immediacy vast tracts of literature exist on the new sense. Much of the latter material is helpful, but would gain vital definition if placed in the historical context of immediate divine grace, and the various other polemical issues with which Edwards was engaging.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

The 'rather thorny problem': Divine Grace and Human Integrity

In his discussion of Edwards' famous sermon A Divine and Supernatural Light Conrad Cherry highlights one of the most interesting areas in the early writings of Jonathan Edwards:

One is still left with the rather thorny problem, however, of how the Divine Light is related to the human seeing. This is the core of the question we raised at the outset. How is man involved in the affair of redemption when the Holy Spirit is communicated to him? When God's Spirit abides as Light in the human mind, how does it abide there and what is its relation to the human faculties? (p.27 of The Theology of Jonathan Edwards: A Reappraisal)

This fascinating question, ably introduced and partially addressed in Cherry's second chapter entitled 'The Internal Possibility of the Act', is the key to understanding several of JEs' most important texts - including A Divine and Supernatural Light, A Treatise on Grace, God Glorified in Man's Dependence, and Religious Affections.

More soon.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Breaking the Ice

I thought it might be fun to begin my contributions to this blog with a little bit of humor. So I present to you the politically correct Jonathan Edwards:

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Welcoming Brandon Cozart

Today we welcome Brandon Cozart to the JEC blog as a guest blogger. We look forward to his musings over the next few months, and please comment copiously.

> Who are you? Where are you from?

My name is Brandon Cozart and I'm 27 years old. I'm the husband of one wife and the owner of one dog. We live in Charlotte, North Carolina, but I grew up in Dallas, Texas. I was a history major, religious studies minor, at Texas A&M University and graduated in 2003. I am currently finishing up an M.Div (graduating this May!) at Reformed Theological Seminary here in Charlotte.

> When did you start reading Edwards?

Like many people, my first exposure to Edwards was in high school literature class where the only picture presented of Edwards comes from "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," a terrible tragedy in my opinion. However, I did not have the reaction that most people have with "Sinners," which is to say that I didn't come away scorning the Puritans and early colonial Americans, but rather developed a fond appreciation of the beauty and eloquence of the language and imagery that they, particularly Edwards, used. It wasn't until some years later that I would run into Edwards again, and I don't really remember how it happened. I do remember, however, asking for, and getting, the two volume Hendriksen set of his works one Christmas, early in my undergrad years, and reading a great deal of them. The rest, as they say, is history!

> Favourite JE text?

That's a tough question to answer and I suppose the answer actually depends on what I'm reading at the time! Of the larger works, I'm fascinated by Religious Affections, The Nature of True Virtue, and History of the Work of Redemption. How I wish that Edwards had lived long enough to complete his larger History of Redemption. Of the sermons, "The Excellencies of Christ" and "Heaven, a World of Love" are among my favorites. But I would say that my absolute favorite is "A Divine and Supernatural Light." Again, I love the imagery that Edwards creates in describing the difference between a speculative knowledge and a true sense of the heart of the beauty and loveliness of God, likening the difference to merely having a rational notion that honey is sweet versus actually having a true sense of its sweetness in tasting it and experiencing it. It's beautiful writing.

> Any that really puzzle you?

Any in which Edwards attempts to explain how man, predisposed to love and holiness in the Garden of Eden, came to fall into sin. Edwards would have done well in this realm to follow Calvin's advice in only speaking where Scripture speaks and being silent where Scripture is silent. I could say more, but for brevity's sake I'll refrain!

> What did you think of the Marsden biography?

I absolutely loved Marsden's biography. I think it's a marvel of scholarship, and it was a greatly needed contribution to Edwards studies. Before Marsden's came out I had read Ola Winslow's biography of Edwards and Iain Murray's, and I didn't think either of them gave us a true picture of what Edwards was really like, Winslow's being too negative and Murray's being too appreciative. I think that what Marsden does well is give us as complete a picture of Edwards as we might possibly be able to get, warts and all, detailing every phase of his personal, academic, and theological development, and showing how much Edwards was "a man of his time" in interacting with pretty much every aspect of his contemporary culture, both at home and abroad. I don't know that Marsden's biography is for everyone (I would probably recommend Murray's as an Edwards introduction for more casual readers), but for those who really want an idea of who Edwards was and what life and society were like as America started moving more and more towards revolution, Marsden's work is the one to go to.

>Thanks Brandon.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Paul Helm etc

There is an interesting online interview with Paul Helm here. In the interests of full disclosure I should say that Prof Helm was the external examiner for my doctoral studies (and actually gave me the degree!) so I have myriad reasons for praising him. He is - much more importantly - a fine scholar and reader of Edwards. Which makes these comments all the more amusing:

GD: This year marks the 250th anniversary of the death of Jonathan Edwards. What, in your assessment are the some of the key strengths and weaknesses of the great man's theology?

PH: The strength is also the weakness: a confidence in human reason which is in some respects breathtaking (the relentlessness of his argumentation in Freedom of the Will), in other respects ridiculous (his view of the continuity of things and people through time, as expressed in his Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin). In many ways he is an archetypal 18thcentury figure. Interesting that the influence of the Enlightenment should reach so powerfully into the recesses of New England; there is irony here, an arch-conservative using the ‘latest thought’ (in Edwards’ case Newton and Locke), to assist ole’ time religion. Perhaps there’s a lesson for us.While one cannot but recognise his greatness Edwards has always seemed to me to have been a tiresome person, aristocratic, tactless and remote, and something of a know-all (justifiably perhaps!), but not someone I’d like to have had as a pastor. Sorry, I’m straying from your question.

Prof Helm blogs eruditely at Helm's Deep. When that article on Edwards on the Trinity appears it will feature here!

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