In part III, section V. of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections, Edward’s helpfully explains the Holy Spirit’s inward testimony to scripture’s divine origin. In short, Edwards argues that the gospel itself is directly “self-evidencing.” Namely, that the Spirit enables individuals to apprehend and taste the excellencies of God in the Gospel, which, when perceived, are direct evidence of its divine origin and thereby grants sure conviction of its truthfulness.
He goes on to say that (what we might call) more “evidentialist”-type arguments are helpful inasmuch as they are serviceable to “awaken unbelievers” or “confirm the faith of true saints.” Yet “there is no spiritual conviction of the judgment, but what arises from an apprehension of the spiritual beauty and glory of divine things.”
Below is a compilation of select quotations from this section of his book as they address this subject:
It is evident that there is a spiritual conviction of the truth, or a belief peculiar to those who are spiritual, who are regenerated, and who have the Spirit of God, in his holy communications, dwelling in them as a vital principle. … [This] spiritual conviction of the truth of the great things of the gospel is such a conviction as arises from having a spiritual apprehension. … [And this spiritual apprehension] consists in a sense and taste of the divine, supreme, and holy excellency and beauty of those things. So that then is the mind spiritually convinced of the divinity and truth of the great things of the gospel, when that conviction arises … from such a sense or view of their divine excellency and glory as is there exhibited. …
A view of this divine glory directly convinces the mind of the divinity of these things, as this glory is in itself a direct, clear, and all-conquering evidence of it. … He that truly sees the divine, transcendent, supreme glory of those things which are divine, does as it were know their divinity intuitively. … The manifestations of the moral and spiritual glory of the Divine Being (which is the proper beauty of the divinity) bring their own evidence, and tend to assure the heart. … Continue reading
Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction by Jonathan T. Pennington
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Fantastic book. Pennington not only serves up good, thoughtful, precise, and insightful scholarship and guidance on reading the Gospels well, but he does so in an incredibly engaging, enjoyable, and understandable manner. I highly recommend this book for any serious student and/or teacher of the Bible wanting to increase his or her reading of, not only the gospels, but all Biblical narrative.
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The following quotes and excerpts are taken from chapters 7 and 8 of Pennington, Jonathan T. Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012 (emphasis mine).
[T]he most important and determinative aspect of reading Holy Scripture well is not our method or theory but our posture and our goal.
… [T]he most important avenue for reading Holy Scripture involves practicing a posture, or habitus, of reception to the divine Word. Our goal in reading Scripture is not merely to understand what God is saying (via helpful exegetical tools) but to stand under his Word.
… Unfortunately the scientific methods that we have developed in recent centuries tend to ‘objectify the text—that is, they turn the biblical materials into an object to be examined.’ [Joel Green] Rather than emphasizing a separation and distance between us and the texts of Scripture—a distance that can be transcended only by an elaborate set of exegetical tools—we must come to see that the biggest difference is our lack of knowing and loving God; the real divide is between us and God in the text.
… I am not suggesting, however, an either/or choice (rarely is this helpful) between a humble, faithful, open reading and a skilled, rigorous, exegetical reading. Both are to be sought in full. But the priority is the posture. A person who is deficient in skills—and who is not?—but seeks to read with an openness to learn from the otherness of the text (and the God behind it) can be a better reader than a methodologically skilled exegete who reads without a posture and disposition of humble teachability, the greatest of the intellectual virtues. … Our disposition and our willingness to learn from the otherness of the text are the necessary starting point to progress in understanding.
… We as trained exegetes and theologians can and should also have this posture, but honest self-reflection reveals that for most of us, our learning often creates layers of distance between us and hearing the Bible as God’s Word to us. Although it was obtained for the supposed goal of bridging the gap between us and the biblical text, our training in fact often creates in our hearts and minds an elaborate structure of paper walls and divisions that create a maze of distance between us and Scripture. … to read Scripture is to seek to hear and obey God now in very practical ways. Anything less is not reading Holy Scripture according to its purpose.
… And herein lies a beautiful balance worth pursuing: developing skills as readers (whether professional or lay) while also keeping the true goal always in sight—hearing, reading, and applying the Holy Scriptures to our lives. This is understanding. This is wisdom. … Good exegetical skills, reading for the authorial/Authorial intent, are important guidelines for our reading now and in the future, and thus they should be learned and taught to others. But we must never mistake these means for the real end—developing a posture and practice of love for God and neighbor. … [T]he skills that we should develop in our reading must all be subsumed under the greater issue of our posture and goal in reading Scripture.
… [T]he single most determinative and essential element of reading Holy Scripture well is having a proper posture toward God. To read Scripture as God’s Word requires that we approach the Triune God with humility and with a willingness to be read by the text, to stand under it, not simply to seek to understand it.
… [Timothy] Ward rightly states that “the most appropriate question to ask ourselves when we open Scripture to read it is: What is God wanting to do to me, and in me, through the words I am reading?” He notes that this does not mean that the text means simply whatever it means to me, because Scripture is God’s speech acts. Therefore, the semantic content is important. However, interpretation of this content is not an end in itself. “Reading the Bible is not fundamentally a comprehension exercise. Interpretation should serve only to lead us to an encounter with God as he actually presents himself to us in Scripture.” If our reading of Scripture stops at the comprehension stage, we have “made the mistake of exalting Scripture’s content over its purpose. It has ripped apart in Scripture two things that ought not to be ripped apart. Therefore we must also ask: And what, in this part of Scripture, is the Lord wanting to do with that teaching, to me and in me?”