Jonathan Edwards on Christian Warfare and Boldness Against the Enemies of Christ

But here some may be ready to say, Is there no such thing as christian fortitude, and boldness for Christ, being good soldiers in the christian warfare, and coming out bold against the enemies of Christ and his people?

To which I answer, there doubtless is such a thing. The whole christian life is fitly compared to a warfare. The most eminent Christians are the best soldiers, endued with the greatest degrees of christian fortitude. And it is the duty of God’s people to be stedfast, and vigorous in their opposition to the designs and ways of such as are endeavouring to overthrow the kingdom of Christ, and the interest of religion. But yet many persons seem to be quite mistaken concerning the nature of christian fortitude. It is an exceeding diverse thing from a brutal fierceness, or the boldness of beasts of prey. True christian fortitude consists in strength of mind, through grace, exerted in two things; in ruling and suppressing the evil passions and affections of the mind; and in stedfastly and freely exerting and following good affections and dispositions, without being hindered by sinful fear, or the opposition of enemies. But the passions restrained, and kept under in the exercise of this christian strength and fortitude, are those very passions that are vigorously and violently exerted in a false boldness for Christ. And those affections which are vigorously exerted in true fortitude, are those christian holy affections, that are directly contrary to the others. Though christian fortitude appears in withstanding and counteracting enemies without us; yet it much more appears in resisting and suppressing the enemies that are within us; because they are our worst and strongest enemies, and have greatest advantage against us. The strength of the good soldier of Jesus Christ appears in nothing more, than in stedfastly maintaining the holy, calm meekness, sweetness, and benevolence of his mind, amidst all the storms, injuries, strange behaviour, and surprising acts and events, of this evil and unreasonable world. …

The surest way to make a right judgment of what is a holy fortitude in fighting with God’s enemies, is to look to the Captain of all God’s hosts, our great leader and example, and see wherein his fortitude and valour appeared, in his chief conflict. View him in the greatest battle that ever was or ever will be fought with these enemies, when he fought with them all alone, and of the people there was none with him. See how he exercised his fortitude in the highest degree, and got that glorious victory which will be celebrated in the praises and triumphs of all the hosts of heaven, through all eternity. Behold Jesus Christ in his last sufferings, when his enemies in earth and hell made their most violent attack upon him, compassing him round on every side, like roaring lions. Doubtless here we shall see the fortitude of a holy warrior and champion in the cause of God, in its highest perfection and greatest lustre, and an example fit for the soldiers to follow, that fight under this Captain. But how did he show his holy boldness and valour at that time? Not in the exercise of any fiery passions; not in fierce and violent speeches, vehemently declaiming against the intolerable wickedness of opposers, giving them their own in plain terms; but in not opening his mouth when afflicted and oppressed, in going as a lamb to the slaughter, and, as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, not opening his mouth; praying that the Father would forgive his cruel enemies, because they knew not what they did; nor shedding others’ blood, but with all-conquering patience and love shedding his own. Indeed one of his disciples, who made a forward pretence to boldness for Christ, and confidently declared he would sooner die with Christ than deny him, began to lay about him with a sword: but Christ meekly rebukes him, and heals the wound he gives. And never was the patience, meekness, love, and forgiveness of Christ, in so glorious a manifestation, as at that time. Never did he appear so much a Lamb, and never did he show so much of the dove-like spirit, as at that time. If therefore we see any of the followers of Christ, in the midst of the most violent, unreasonable, and wicked opposition, maintaining the humility, quietness, and gentleness of a lamb, and the harmlessness, love, and sweetness of a dove, we may well judge that here is a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

When persons are fierce and violent, and exert their sharp and bitter passions, it shows weakness, instead of strength and fortitude. …

There is a pretended boldness for Christ that arises from no better principle than pride. A man may be forward to expose himself to the dislike of the world, and even to provoke their displeasure, out of pride. For it is the nature of spiritual pride to cause men to seek distinction and singularity; and so oftentimes to set themselves at war with those whom they call carnal, that they may be more highly exalted among their party. True boldness for Christ is universal, and carries men above the displeasure of friends and foes; so that they will forsake all rather than Christ; and will rather offend all parties, and be thought meanly of by all, than offend Christ. And that duty which tries whether a man is willing to be despised by those of his own party, and thought the least worthy to be regarded by them, is a more proper trial of his boldness for Christ, than his being forward to expose himself to the reproach of opposers. … He is bold for Christ, who has christian fortitude enough to confess his fault openly, when he has committed one that requires it, and as it were to come down upon his knees before opposers. Such things as these are much greater evidence of holy boldness, than resolutely and fiercely confronting opposers. …

There is indeed opposition, vigorous opposition, that is an attendant of it; but it is against things, and not persons. Bitterness against the persons of men is no part of, but is contrary to it…. It is no other, in its very nature and essence, than the fervour of christian love. And as to what opposition there is in it to things, it is firstly and chiefly against the evil things in the person himself who has this zeal; against the enemies of God and holiness in his own heart; (as these are most in his view, and what he has most to do with;) and but secondarily against the sins of others. And therefore there is nothing in a true christian zeal contrary to the spirit of meekness, gentleness, and love; the spirit of a little child, a lamb and dove … but is entirely agreeable to, and tends to promote it.

Edwards, Jonathan, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections: In Three Parts, Part III, Section VIII in The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Vol. 1, Banner of Truth Trust, 1974.

What’s going on in Acts 21:4? Is the Spirit giving conflicting revelation?

The Issue

There seems to be a contradiction between what these individuals are telling Paul “through the Spirit” and what Paul felt constrained to do by the Spirit (20:22-23).

4 Views

1. Paul is disobedient to the Spirit.

The Spirit is telling Paul not to go, and he is simply being stubborn, disobedient, and determined to go to Jerusalem regardless.

  • However, the language in ch.20 is that the Spirit is constraining him to go (vv.22-23).
  • Paul’s attitude is not one of rebellion, but utter submission (v.24).
  • Furthermore, the rest of the book (chs. 21-28) outlines Paul’s path from Jerusalem to Rome as something positive and fitting the very programmatic design of 1:8.

2. “Soft prophecy.”

We have a case here of what might be called “soft prophecy,” i.e., it comes from the Spirit’s influence generally speaking, but is open to error and misconstrual. Therefore, what the disciples here are telling Paul to do in 21:4, as well as 21:10ff, is generally but not perfectly accurate (Wayne Grudem’s view, popular among many continuationists and charismatics).

  • It is troubling to surmise that prophetic revelation is not reliable or entirely accurate, or that God would fail to convey this information without it being intercepted by human fallibility. If it is true that prophecy can error, what does this mean for our ability to trust other prophecy / the Bible as a whole?
  • It is odd to expect a qualitative difference between OT prophecy (proper) and NT “soft” prophecy, especially in terms of it moving from infallible (better) to fallible (worse), especially when everything else about the New Covenant is better. Unless given really good reason, we should assume both forms of prophecy to be the same. And if there is a reasonable way to understand this passage along those lines (i.e., prophecy remains the same) that is to be preferred.
  • Many appeal to Agabus’ prophecy in 2:10ff as an example of such “soft” potentially somewhat erroneous prophecy, since Agabus predicts that the Jews will bind Paul when in fact it ends of being the Romans. However, this is surely to press the details too far. This is not how prophecy works elsewhere (consider Acts 2:36 where Peter accuses his Jewish hearers of killing Jesus, although it was in fact the Romans who in fact carried out the execution).  So here, although the Romans in fact arrest Paul, the Jewish crowds certainly play a role in his arrest (ch. 21).

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Can We Connect to God Through Nature?

A friend of mine recently contacted me asking for help with the following the question:

Hey Kirk! I’m in the beginning phase of researching if nature can connect people to God. Do you have any thoughts or good references?

This is a pretty common sentiment today — i.e., that we can connect to God through nature — especially as “spirituality” (but not religion) grows increasingly popular.

My response is to my friend is below. I thought I would share it here as well in case it can be of help to anyone else.


Hey [friend]!

The short summary version of the historic orthodox Christian view on this is this:

God is incomprehensible, and is only knowable to us because he himself has chosen to make himself known (what is called “divine revelation,” i.e., him revealing himself). Revelation in other words is an act of God’s grace. He does this self-revealing through special or supernatural revelation (like scripture) and general or natural revelation (like nature).

God is made known through his creation, yet distinct from his creation (so not pantheism or panentheism — most claims that we can “connect” with God though nature hold to these ideas). Creation itself is not God. It merely gives witness to God. And so we don’t “connect to God through nature” in the sense of nature itself being an experience of God himself. It only mediates knowledge of God.

Furthermore, scripture teaches that general revelation (like nature) proves insufficient for us to come to know God as he truly is and enable us to respond properly (worship). Why? Not because God hasn’t sufficiently made himself known through nature. He has, even enough to make us culpable for our disobedience to him. It proves insufficient because our sin blinds us, and we refuse to believe nature’s testimony to God. We are willfully blind, and hence responsible, not excused. Our hearts bend us to turn to idols, and instead we take the truth in nature and distort it.

Natural revelation, in short, is enough knowledge about God to make us condemnable and responsible for our rebellion—we know there’s a God who deserves our worshipful obedience, but we don’t give it to him as we ought—but not enough knowledge to save us (there’s no gospel message in nature) and “(re)connect us to God” as we properly should.

So the answer is yes and no.

If I were to direct you to some subjects of study on this, I’d suggest finding some good systematic theology books and looking up the sections on “general revelation.” The other subjects I’d look up are maybe God’s immanence (God’s transcendence refers to the fact that God is so far above us; his immanence refers to the fact that he is still yet near to us), and his providence — that he oversees all of history and creation, such as nature, and can be known through this oversight.

Key biblical passages are Psalm 19 and Romans 1.

Against Pop Culture (Brad East)

See Brad East’s recent piece, Against Pop Culture.

The author’s language is a bit strong, and he probably extends his argument too far at times. For example, I’m not against engaging or doing analysis of pop culture. But notwithstanding those things, I think this is a thoughtful, challenging, and relevant piece. His argument reminds me a bit of James K.A. Smith’s anthropology and work on the “cultural liturgies” that shape our loves.

The below quote captures the gist of his case:

My argument here is not against the liceity of ever streaming a show or otherwise engaging pop culture; it is against the ostensibly positive reasons [emphasis mine] in favor of its being a good thing Christians ought to do, indeed, ought to care about doing, with eagerness and energy. …

Any and all libertarian (in the sense of a philosophy of the will’s freedom) Christian accounts of pop culture, Netflix, social media, etc., fail at just this point, because they view individuals as choosers who operate neutrally with options arrayed before them, one of which in our day happens to be flipping Netflix on (or not) and “deciding” to watch a meaty, substantive Film instead of binging bite-size candy-bar TV. But that is not an accurate depiction of the situation. Netflix—and here again I’m using Netflix as a stand-in for all digital and social media today—is a principality and a power, as is the enormous flat-screen television set, situated like a beloved household god in every living room in every home across the country. It calls for attention. It demands your love. It wants you. And its desire for you elicits desire in you for it.

It is, therefore, a power to be resisted, at least for Christians. Such resistance requires ascesis. And ascesis means discipline, denial, and sometimes extreme measures. It might mean you suffer boredom and lethargy on a given evening. It might mean you have to read a book, or use your hands. It might even mean you won’t catch the quippy allusions in a shallow conversation at work. So be it.


Portions of this piece reflect a decent bit of my own sentiments towards pop-culture.

If you know me, you know I’m not exactly “up to date” and “in the know” on most things pop culture.[1] People often express shock or will give you slight grief if you show your lack of awareness of these things. They will also predictably try to convince you that should really be giving more of your attention to them (as if they somehow matter). In other words, there’s a good deal of social pressure in our society to care and know about these things. No one wants to be weird. But pop culture is so, well, popular, that not knowing about it inevitably makes one weird.

And so, my lack of pop-cultural awareness sometimes becomes something of a joke among my friends. But my friends also know I’m not bothered by this at all. I’m fine being weird on this front. I don’t feel the pressure. I guess I’m immune to it, because I just I don’t care to conform at this point.

But, to be clear, my lack of attention to much of pop culture isn’t just coincidental (i.e., I just don’t care about it or like it — although that’s true); it’s also a bit principled, which hopefully is also why I don’t care (i.e., I don’t want to care about it; I find it a bit unvirtuous [ducks head], unprioritzed, disproportioned, and hence a bit intemperate to care so much about it). So good luck trying pressure me to care about something I kind of feel like is a waste of time at best, and an existential opiate at worst. 😉


[1] At this point, I want to make sure we draw a distinction between being knowledgeable about pop culture and being knowledge of, discerning about, and able to analyze culture. For instance, Andy Crouch doesn’t have a TV in his living room, and John Piper doesn’t own a TV at all, although many hold them up as some of the most astute and observant theological, cultural analysts.

So to be clear, I think cultural engagement is good, and the ability to do cultural analysis is important and valuable. I also acknowledge that pop culture provides a good portion of the subject matter, trends, and (at times) “cultural artifacts” for such engagement and reflection — no denials there. I’m just not convinced I need to know about all the latest songs, movies, TV shows, or celebrity gossip (what happens on the “surface level,” if you will) in order to do that sort of discerning analytical work on the more foundational “deep level.”