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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