Great Allowances Are to be Made

Jonathan Edwards is a model of charity in theological disputes:

How far a wonderful and mysterious agency of God’s Spirit may so influence some men’s hearts, that their practice in this regard may be contrary to their own principles, so that they shall not trust in their own righteousness, though they profess that men are justified by their own righteousness — or how far they may believe the doctrine of justification by men’s own righteousness in general, and yet not believe it in a particular application of it to themselves — or how far that error which they may have been led into by education, or cunning sophistry of others, may yet be indeed contrary to the prevailing disposition of their hearts, and contrary to their practice — or how far some may seem to maintain a doctrine contrary to this gospel doctrine of justification, that really do not, but only express themselves differently from others, or seem to oppose it through their misunderstanding of our expressions, or we of theirs, when indeed our real sentiments are the same in the main — or may seem to differ more than they do, by using terms that are without a precisely fixed and determinate meaning — or to be wide in their sentiments from this doctrine, for want of a distinct understanding of it: whose hearts, at the same time, entirely agree with it, and if once it was clearly explained to their understandings, would immediately close with it, and embrace it. How far these things may be, I will not determine, but am fully persuaded that great allowances are to be made on these and such like accounts, in innumerable instances. Though it is manifest from what has been said, that the teaching and propagating contrary doctrines and schemes, is of a pernicious and fatal tendency.

From “Justification by Faith Alone.”


(by the way)

I love Edwards.  Reading him is like taking a guided tour through the mountains.   He pulls me along through the most rigorous logical theology, I’m huffing and puffing and sweating, and then he stops, and points off in the distance: “By the way…”

In Justification by Faith Alone, he has a section in which he is proving that “we are justified by faith only, without any manner of goodness of our own.”  This is because “the nature of things will not admit of it,” because of “the infinite guilt that the sinner is under till justified.”  Some argue against the infinite evil of sin like this:  if sin is infinitely evil because it is against an infinite God, then in the same way love to God must be infinitely good because it is toward an infinite God.  Edwards responds with a thick and technical line of reasoning.  I think I had to read it four times, and even now re-reading it a fifth time for the sake of this post I think I grasped it even better.  Our sin “is ill deserving in proportion to the distance there is between God and the creature; the greatness of the Object and the meanness of the subject, aggravates it.”  But the reverse is true with regard to our respect toward God: “it is worthless (and not worthy) in proportion to the meanness of the subject [us]… The unworthiness of sin or opposition to God rises and is great in proportion to the dignity of the object and inferiority of the subject; but on the contrary, the value of respect rises in proportion to the value of the subject.”  In other words, because God is so infinitely worthy of respect, the fact that we are so “mean,” or inferior in our ability to give Him the respect He is due, renders our respect of very little value at all.  Our disrespect, or sin, on the other hand, is “evil and heinous in proportion to the degree of what it denies in the Object, and as it were takes from it.”  He sums up: “Respect is valuable in proportion to the value of what is given to the object in that respect, which undoubtedly is great in proportion to the subject’s value, or worthiness of regard; because the subject in giving his respect, can give no more than himself: so far as he gives his respect, he gives himself to the object; and therefore his gift is of greater or lesser value in proportion to the value of himself.”

whew.  pass me a towel, Jon, please?

and then he drops this:

Hence (by the way) the love, honor, and obedience of Christ towards God, has infinite value, from the excellency and dignity of the person in whom these qualifications were inherent. The reason why we needed a person of infinite dignity to obey for us, was because of our infinite comparative meanness, who had disobeyed, whereby our disobedience was infinitely aggravated. We needed one, the worthiness of whose obedience might be answerable to the unworthiness of our disobedience, and therefore needed one who was as great and worthy as we were unworthy.


and then he just passes on to “Another objection…”

I am learning from Edwards to find as many Christ-oriented “by-the-ways” as I can: while I read, while I think, while I live.  Whenever I have worked hard to understand something better, or enjoyed something particularly intensely, or discovered some new thing, to then ask “and how does this relate to Jesus Christ, who He is, what He is like, and what He has done?”

“For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things to Whom be glory forever Amen!”

Review: Justification by Faith Alone

Justification by Faith Alone by Jonathan Edwards

Also found in Banner of Truth Vol. 1

I stumbled upon this discourse while looking for something to read, providentially just after I had finished Fuller’s Gospel & Law, and had my mind thoroughly exercised with Edward’s theology of “Justification by Faith Alone.” This was originally a set of sermons he preached which had resulted in a great response from his congregation, and at their insistence he had them published.

He first goes to his typical great lengths to define what he means, first by “Justification,” “Faith”, and “Alone.” He clears away misunderstanding when talking about faith: calling it a “condition” of justification may be true, but not very clear; calling it the “instrument” of justification is liable to misunderstanding. In the end, he defines it from a couple directions. 1.) Faith is “that which renders it a meet and suitable thing, in the sight of God, that the believer, rather than others, should have this purchased benefit assigned to him.” 2.)It is suitable because “it is that in him which, on his part, makes up the union between him and Christ.” We are not justified as a reward for the virtue and excellency that is in faith, and Edwards goes to great lengths to explain why this is so.

Throughout the discourse, several related subjects are given thorough Edwardsian treatment, particularly as they relate to justifying faith. The infinite guilt of the sinner, how Paul’s reference to “the law” as distinct from faith cannot refer merely to the “ceremonial law,” and how the honor of the Mediator is at stake in this doctrine, are just a few.

I had never thought about “the honor of the authority of God,” but Edwards has, and he explains how it relates to justifying faith. He gives an exposition of how “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags,” how the saints will have differing degrees of glory in heaven, yet each as full as they can be, and all on the basis of Christ’s righteousness not our own. He defines repentance and its relation to faith, explains how hatred of sin flows from justifying faith, and concludes with a model of Christian charity in theological controversy, even when the stakes are as high as this.

And much more!

Throughout he is Christ exalting, concerned that Christ be glorified and magnified, and not an ounce of glory that He is due be withheld due to faulty doctrinal thinking. Once again, my mind has been lifted to new heights in reflection on the glory of God, the grace of God, the love of God, the beauty and the excellency of Christ.

Highly recommended.

Review: A Divine and Supernatural Light…

…Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God, Shown to be both a Scriptural and Rational Doctrine by Jonathan Edwards


Tasting that Honey is Sweet – a sense of the loveliness and beauty of God

I was primarily alerted to this sermon through John Piper’s God Is the Gospel, which makes reference to this work several times. It is a sermon preached in 1734 on Matthew 16:17 “Blessed art thou Simon Bar-Jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” It can also be found in Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 2

In the sermon, Edwards explains what he means by “divine and supernatural light.” It is not those things that man may understand naturally by his conscience or a sense of the wickedness of sin. Nor is it impressions made upon the imagination like “a visible lustre or brightness of any object.” It is not a discovery of any new truths not found in the word of God. Nor is it just being inwardly affected by religious things. This last point is made powerfully as he explains how a man can be affected by the sufferings of Jesus Christ “as by any other tragical story.” And even more so simply because of the “interest he conceives mankind to have in it.” Man can be affected with the ideas of heaven, as well as by “a romantic description of the pleasantness of fairy land.”

Divine and spiritual light, rather, is “a real sense and apprehension of the divine excellency of things revealed in the word of God… He does not merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but he has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart. There is not only a rational belief that God is holy, and that holiness is a good thing, but a sense of how amiable God is on account of the beauty of this divine attribute.” God made us capable of knowing in two distinct ways: “First, that which is merely notional… the other is, that which consists in the sense of the heart; as when the heart is sensible of pleasure and delight in the presence of the idea of it.” “There is a difference between having an opinion, that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace.”

He explains that seeing this beauty causes a conviction of the truth of to arise, and puts in words what I have experienced, but have never been able to describe so well: “They believe the doctrines of God’s word to be divine, because they see a divine, and transcendent, and most evidently distinguishing glory in them; such a glory as, if clearly seen, does not leave room to doubt of their being of God, and not of men.”

He explains that this light is given immediately to the soul by God, not mediated through other means, thought other means may accompany it. For instance, the word of God “conveys to our minds these doctrines; it is the cause of a notion of them in our heads, but not of the sense of their divine excellency in our hearts.” That sense of divine excellency is given immediately, directly from God Himself.

“Reason’s work is to perceive truth and not excellency.  It is not ratiocination that gives men the perception of the beauty and amiableness of a countenance, though it may be many ways indirectly an advantage to it; yet it is no more reason that immediately perceives it, than it is reason that perceives the sweetness of honey: it depends on the sense of the heart, – Reason may determine that a countenance is beautiful to others, it may determine that honey is sweet to others; but it will never give me a perception of sweetness.”

He proves his points from scripture, and from reason, and then offers an “improvement” on the doctrine, aka “application.” 1. Reflect on the goodness of God! 2. Examine ourselves, and see “whether we have ever had this divine light let into our souls.” 3. Earnestly seek this spiritual light.

“The least glimpse of the glory of God in the face of Christ doth more exalt and ennoble the soul, than all the knowledge of those that have the greatest speculative understanding in divinity without grace.”

Amen, and amen. I highly recommend this sermon as a meditation on the revelation of the beauty of truth to the soul by the Spirit of God.

Not Every Effecting View

I am particularly sensitive to descriptions and analysis of false professions of faith, mainly because it was my own experience for 20 years of my life, and am also alert to its fearful possibility in others.  I am always looking for ways to sift through the true and the false, as nearly as possible.  When eternity is at stake, you must try to distinguish these things as closely as possible.  Edwards, as usual, is so insightful.

From A Divine and Supernatural Light by Jonathan Edwards, found in Banner of Truth vol. 2.

Not Mere Religious Insight or Affection
It is not every affecting view that men have of the things of religion that is this spiritual and divine light. Men by mere principles of nature are capable of being affected with things that have a special relation to religion as well as other things. A person by mere nature, for instance, may be liable to be affected with the story of Jesus Christ, and the sufferings he underwent, as well as by any other tragical story: he may be the more affected with it from the interest he conceives mankind to have in it: yea, he may be affected with it without believing it; as well as a man may be affected with what he reads in a romance, or sees acted in a stage play. He may be affected with a lively and eloquent description of many pleasant things that attend the state of the blessed in heaven, as well as his imagination be entertained by a romantic description of the pleasantness of fairy land, or the like. And that common belief of the truth of the things of religion, that persons may have from education or otherwise, may help forward their affection. We read in Scripture of many that were greatly affected with things of a religious nature, who yet are there represented as wholly graceless, and many of them very ill men. A person therefore may have affecting views of the things of religion, and yet be very destitute of spiritual light. Flesh and blood may be the author of this: one man may give another an affecting view of divine things with but common assistance: but God alone can give a spiritual discovery of them.

A Climax of Redemptive History (Christmas) Song

Hail to the Lord’s Anointed,
great David’s greater Son!
Hail in the time appointed,
his reign on earth begun!

Probably my favorite song from Joy Beyond the Sorrow, which might be my favorite Indelible Grace record yet.

Merry Christmas, as we celebrate the coming of David’s Greater Son.

The Undertow of the Eschaton

Christmas as the End of History by John Piper (12/20/81).

I just listened to this sermon today, and was struck by the parable of the “already/not yet” or “inaugurated eschatology” theme.  It was the final sermon in a 10 part series on The History of Redemption preached in 1981.  If you can, I recommend downloading the mp3 and listening to it, rather than just reading the transcript.  There is so much more life in a sermon actually heard instead of read.

Anyway, here’s the conclusion:

Christmas and the River of History

Creation out of nothing was an awesome event. Imagine what the angelic spirits must have felt when the universe, material reality of which they had never imagined, was brought forth out of nothing by the command of God. The fall was an awful event, shaking the entire creation. The exodus was an amazing display of God’s power and love. The giving of the law, the wilderness provisions, the conquering of Canaan, the prosperity of the monarchy—all these acts of God in redemptive history were very great and wonderful. Each one was a very significant bend in the river of redemptive history, bringing it ever and ever closer to the ocean of God’s final kingdom. But we trivialize Christmas, the incarnation, if we treat it as just another bend on the way to the end. It is the end of redemptive history.

And I think the analogy of the river helps us see how. Picture the river as redemptive history flowing toward the ocean which is the final kingdom of God, full of glory and righteousness and peace. At the end of the river the ocean presses up into the river with its salt water. Therefore, at the mouth of the river there is a mingling of fresh water and salt water. One might say that the kingdom of God has pressed its way back up into the river of time a short way. It has surprised the travelers and taken them off guard. They can smell the salt water. They can taste the salt water. The sea gulls circle the deck. The end has come upon them. Christmas is not another bend in the river. It is the arrival of the salt water of the kingdom of God which has backed up into the river of history. With the coming of Christmas, the ocean of the age to come has reached backward up the stream of history to welcome us, to wake us up to what is coming, to lure us on into the deep. Christmas is not another bend in the river of history. It is the end of the river. Let down your dipper and taste of Jesus Christ, his birth and life and death and resurrection. Taste and see if the age to come has not arrived, if the kingdom has not come upon us. Does it not make your eyes sparkle?

My prayer for us all this year is that we might see ourselves living between the first and second appearances of Jesus Christ, which together, are the end of redemptive history. That we might see these two appearances united by the overflow of the glorious ocean of the future kingdom of God into the present; and ourselves borne along no longer by the forces of history, but by the power of the age to come. May we feel the undertow of the eschaton and yearn to be there with the Lord forever. Even so come quickly, Lord. Amen.

Review: The End for Which God Created the World

The End for Which God Created the World by Jonathan Edwards

This dissertation was originally part one of a two part work, the second being A Dissertation Concerning The Nature Of True Virtue. They both appear in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 1, and this particular work (not True Virtue) appears in God’s Passion for His Glory, with significant helps to understanding Edwards and this particular work.

This is a very difficult book to read, especially in the beginning. Edwards was the most brilliant philosopher America has ever produced, and some would say the greatest theologian as well. It takes severe effort to work through his very detailed definitions and then the logic he works through using those definitions. The first half of the book is primarily philosophical, and the second half he addresses everything that Scripture has to say about his subject.

There is much here to stretch the mind. For example, for God to be morally good, He MUST delight in Himself above all things:

“The moral rectitude of the disposition, inclination, or affection of God CHIEFLY consists in a regard to HIMSELF, infinitely above his regard to all other beings; in other words, his holiness consists in this.” (Ch.1, S.1, D.4)

“And thus it is fit it should be, if it be fit he should thus love himself, and prize his own valuable qualities; that is, it is fit that he should take delight in his own excellencies being seen, acknowledged, esteemed and delighted in.” (Ch. 1, S.3)

Edwards argues thoroughly for these points, expands upon them, draws out their implications, and answers objections. Then, he moves on to Scripture. As much as I enjoyed the philosophical part, I enjoyed the Scriptural part all the more, as Edwards produces verse after verse after verse showing clearly from Scripture everything he has argued for from reason, and more. It was like light was streaming from these verses with a clarity I had never seen before, and it came rushing to a climax in the final paragraph:

“God, in glorifying the saints in heaven with eternal felicity, aims to satisfy his infinite grace or benevolence, by the bestowment of a good infinitely valuable, because eternal: and yet there never will come the moment, when it can be said, that NOW this infinitely valuable good has been actually bestowed. END”

and Edwards drops the mic.

This is one of the best books I have ever read. John Piper recommends that if you can’t make it through the whole thing, at least read Chapter 1: Sections 3 and 4, and Chapter 2.

Review: God’s Passion for His Glory

God’s Passion for His Glory / The End for Which God Created the World by John Piper / Jonathan Edwards

This is a great introduction to the writings of Jonathan Edwards, and his bedrock vision of the glory of God. The first half of the book is by Piper, his eulogy to Edwards and the impact he has has had on Piper’s own life. But reading Edwards is hard work, and so Piper does several things here. First he primes the pump – he speaks so highly of Edwards effect on him, he exhorts you to the effort it takes to read Edwards, he tells you about Edward’s life so that you begin to know the man himself, he warns you that it will be difficult but promises that it will be worth it. Ultimately, Piper distills the beautiful vision of the glory of God that Edwards has seen and passed along to him, and passes it on to us in a form that is palatable to our modern minds and abilities. And then he points to Edwards and says, “Now if you really want a taste, read him.”

Second, after priming the pump, he gives us Edwards himself, The End For Which God Created the World. In doing so, he has done us a number of huge favors. He has rescued this work from the intimidating The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 1, with its tiny print, double columns, narrow margins, and hundreds of pages of text. It is so nice to have a margin wide enough to write notes in! Not only that, but Piper has adjusted the format to make it easier to follow, adding paragraph headings, explanatory footnotes, definitions to obsolete words, punctuation where helpful, etc. And lastly, he has done the work that Adler describes in How to Read a Book, of mapping out our course for us ahead of time, explaining what Edwards is up to in each section of the work: philosophical definitions in the introduction, arguing from reason in chapter 1, and from Scripture in chapter 2. Piper highlights the most important sections, if you can’t quite make it through the most difficult parts, and lets you know which parts you really must read.

And then Edwards himself paints a picture of the glory of God from his brilliant and God besotted mind. I thought I know some things about the glory of God before I read this book. I realized I didn’t know much at all. Reading Edwards is like hauling theological timber. It is difficult, sometimes painful work, but the result is a solid theological foundation upon which to build the rest of your structure. Reading Edwards is like seeing for the first time.

One of the best books I have ever read.