Jonathan Edwards on God’s Affecting Design of Corporate Worship

Jonathan Edwards on “the nature and design of the ordinances and duties, which God hath appointed, as means and expressions of true religion.

To instance in the duty of prayer: it is manifest, we are not appointed, in this duty, to declare God’s perfections, his majesty, holiness, goodness, and all-sufficiency; our own meanness, emptiness, dependence, and unworthiness, our wants and desires, in order to inform God of these things, or to incline his heart, and prevail with him to be willing to show us mercy; but rather suitably to affect our own hearts with the things we express, and so to prepare us to receive the blessings we ask. And such gestures and manner of external behaviour in the worship of God, which custom has made to be significations of humility and reverence, can be of no further use, than as they have some tendency to affect our own hearts, or the hearts of others.

And the duty of singing praises to God, seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned, why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only, that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections.

The same thing appears in the nature and design of the sacraments, which God hath appointed. God, considering our frame, hath not only appointed that we should be told of the great things of the gospel and the redemption of Christ, and be instructed in them by his word; but also that they should be, as it were, exhibited to our view in sensible representations, the more to affect us with them.

And the impressing of divine things on the hearts and affections of men, is evidently one great end for which God has ordained, that his word delivered in the Holy Scriptures, should be opened, applied, and set home upon men, in preaching. And therefore it does not answer the aim which God had in this institution, merely for men to have good commentaries and expositions on the Scripture, and other good books of divinity; because, although these may tend, as well as preaching, to give a good doctrinal or speculative understanding of the word of God, yet they have not an equal tendency to impress them on men’s hearts and affections. God hath appointed a particular and lively application of his word, in the preaching of it, as a fit means to affect sinners with the importance of religion, their own misery, the necessity of a remedy, and the glory and sufficiency of a remedy provided; to stir up the pure minds of the saints, quicken their affections by often bringing the great things of religion to their remembrance, and setting them in their proper colours…. God has appointed preaching as a means to promote in the saints joy.” (Religious Affections, I.II.9)

And if this be the case then…

“If true religion lies much in the affections, we may infer, that such means are to be desired, as have much tendency to move the affections. Such books, and such a way of preaching the word and the administration of ordinances, and such a way of worshipping God in prayer and praises, as has a tendency deeply to affect the hearts of those who attend these means, is much to be desired. … Indeed there may be such means, as have a great tendency to stir up the passions of weak and ignorant persons, and yet have none to benefit their souls: for though they may have a tendency to excite affections, they have little or none to excite gracious affections. But, undoubtedly, if the things of religion in the means used, are treated according to their nature, and exhibited truly, so as tends to convey just apprehensions and a right judgment of them; the more they have a tendency to move the affections, the better.” (I.III.2)

 

Jonathan Edwards’ Definition of Saving Faith

“Practice is the most proper evidence of trusting in Christ for salvation. The proper signification of the word trust, according to the more ordinary use of it, both in common speech and in the Holy Scriptures, is the emboldening and encouragement of a person’s mind, to run some venture in practice, or in something that he does, on the credit of another’s sufficiency and faithfulness. And therefore the proper evidence of his trusting, is the venture he runs in what he does. He is not properly said to run any venture in a dependence on any thing, who does nothing on that dependence, or whose practice is no otherwise than if he had no dependence. For a man to run a venture in dependence on another, is for him to do something from that dependence, by which he seems to expose himself, and which he would not do were it not for that dependence. And therefore it is in complying with the difficulties and seeming dangers of christian practice, in a dependence on Christ’s sufficiency and faithfulness to bestow eternal life, that persons are said to venture themselves upon Christ, and trust in him for happiness and life. They depend on such promises as that, Matt. 10:39. ‘He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.’ And so they part with all, and venture their all, in a dependence on Christ’s sufficiency and truth. And this is the scripture notion of trusting in Christ, in the exercise of a saving faith in him. Thus Abraham, the father of believers, trusted in Christ, and by faith forsook his own country, in a reliance on the covenant of grace which God established with him, Heb. 11:8, 9.”

~ Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, III.XIV.

Jonathan Edwards on Remaining True to the Emphases of Scripture

“Surely those things which Christ and his apostles chiefly insisted on in the rules they gave, ministers ought chiefly to insist on in the rules they give. To insist much on those things on which the Scripture insists little, and to insist very little on those things on which the Scripture insists much, is a dangerous thing; because it is going out of God’s way, and is to judge ourselves, and guide others, in an unscriptural manner. God knew which way of leading and guiding souls was safest and best for them; he insisted so much on some things, because he knew it to be needful that they should be insisted on; and let other things more alone, as a wise God, because he knew it was not best for us, so much to lay the weight of the trial there. As the Sabbath was made for man, so the Scriptures were made for man; and they are by infinite wisdom fitted for our use and benefit. We should therefore make them our guide in all things, in our thoughts of religion, and of ourselves. And for us to make that great which the Scripture makes little, and that little which the Scripture makes great, tends to give us a monstrous idea of religion; and (at least indirectly and gradually) to lead us wholly away from the right rule….” (Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, III.XIV)

This is a good reminder, especially as we think about preaching.

Our aim in expository preaching is not to use the text to preach our own thoughts, ideas, applications, hobby horses, opinions, or to trampoline off the text into some topic or application we want to emphasize, but to dig into the text and let our emphasis and focus proportionally reflect that of the text (while of course contextualizing for pastoral concerns of our particular church and setting). Let’s be honest; we are not that wise (Prov 3:5-6). Our ideas are utter foolishness compared to what God has to say. Moreover, to insert our agenda or displace the emphasis of scripture is actually somewhat quite audacious — to hijack the very purpose that God had in given that passage.

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.

Jonathan Edwards on Scripture’s Self-Authentication

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