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jonathan edwards

April 09, 2010

Free Stuff Fridays

It is a Jonathan Edwards kind of a Friday today and Moody publishers would like to give to you a set of five new books about Edwards. They are offering five sets of these books with each set being a $30 value. Not half bad, is it?

The Essential Edwards Collection is edited by Douglas Sweeney and Owen Strachan. Here’s what Moody says about the series:

Jonathan Edwards was a colonial, philosophical preacher and theologian. To many he stands as the preeminent theologian and thinker of the American tradition. This series of five books covers Edwards’ life and major writings opening an accessible window into the heart and mind of the man credited for starting the First Great Awakening.

By way of introduction, presentation and reflection the authors unearth the choicest treasures of Edwards’ writings for lay people to discover. Eminently readable and understandable, The Essential Edwards Collection proves you do not need to be a scholar to enjoy and benefit from the writings and life of Jonathan Edwards.

This set includes all 5 books of The Essential Edwards Collection: Jonathan Edwards Lover of God, Jonathan Edwards On Beauty, Jonathan Edwards On Heaven and Hell, Jonathan Edwards On the Good Life, and Jonathan Edwards on True Christianity.

Easily accessible and readable, you do not need to be a scholar to enjoy these insights about Jonathan Edwards and his writings.

Each winner will receive the full set of five books. And I really don’t know what to say about it beyond that. So sign up and win!

Rules: You may only enter the draw once. Simply fill out your name and email address to enter the draw. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon.

November 14, 2008

It was a couple of years ago now that I read George Marsden’s great biography of Jonathan Edwards. As I read it I was often stopped short by Edwards’ wisdom. Constantly surrounded by conflict, and often facing people who sought to undermine his ministry, Edwards had every opportunity to reflect on the task of a minister. One of these conflicts involved the question of whether sermons should primarily enlighten the mind or whether they should primarily stir the affections. Charles Chauncy, his opponent in this debate, believed that “an enlightened mind, and not raised affections, ought always be the guide of those who call themselves men; and this, in the affairs of religion, as well as other things.” Chauncy, as with many men of his day, believed that the affections were closely related to the passions of one’s animal nature and needed to be restrained by the higher faculty of reason. Intellect was on a higher plane than affection.

Edwards disagreed, teaching that one could not neatly separate the affections from the will. Both the intellect and affections are fallible and unreliable, he insisted, but both are given by God and ought to be exercised by the Christian.

Marsden points out an application of this. “Critics of the awakenings alleged that when people heard many sermons in one week they would not be able to remember much of what they had heard. Edwards countered, ‘The main benefit that is obtained by preaching is by impression made upon the mind in the time of it, and not by the effect that arises afterwards by a remembrance of what was delivered.’” Marsden concludes, “Preaching, in other words, must first of all touch the affections” (Page 282).

I found this a great encouragement. Like every other Christian, I have often sat enraptured in church, having my mind filled and my affections stirred. But sometimes after arriving home I can barely remember a word that was said. The same is sometimes true of books, Bible studies and conferences. What was so meaningful at the time may be nearly forgotten only a short time later, leaving me to question if it was really so important in the first place. This is not to say that nothing sticks in my mind. Certainly I do remember a lot of what I hear and what I read. But when I consider a 500-page book or a series of eight addresses and compare what I read or what I heard to what I now remember, it can be awfully frustrating. It can be discouraging.

But, according to Edwards, if I were to worry in this way I would be placing too great an emphasis on intellect while downplaying the importance of affections. I independently reached a similar conclusion to this not so long ago, though unlike Edwards, my conclusions were based on necessity rather than being argued from Scripture. With the amount of conferences I attend and the number of books I read, I have had to have faith that God is working through them, even if I cannot remember the intimate details of a book or conference even only three short weeks after the fact. I’ve had to trust that the effort is not wasted, even if so much seems to fade away so quickly. I’ve had to trust that the Holy Spirit is at work behind the scenes, doing His work, even when I cannot easily measure any benefit. I’ve had to trust, and this has been a useful exercise to me.

The words of Edwards gave me confidence that the benefit of a book cannot be measured simply by how much I remember a week or two weeks or a month after reading it. The benefit of a sermon may be greater during the hearing of it than in the later reflections upon it. The benefit of a conference may be more in the hearing than in the recounting of it. God uses books, Bible studies, conferences and sermons not just to fill my mind, but also (and perhaps even primarily) to stir my affections, even if a frustrating amount of the benefit seems to fade away far too quickly.

I ran Edwards’ quote through Google and found that others have discussed these words as well. I found one article particularly beneficial. Paul at Expository Thoughts applies them to taking notes during church. He also quotes Martyn Lloyd-Jones who wrote of Edwards, “The first and primary object of preaching is not only to give information. It is, as Edwards says, to produce an impression. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently…. It is not primarily to impart information; and while you are writing your notes you may be missing something of the impact of the Spirit.”

God was good to allow me to encounter these words. In the couple of years since I first read them, they have often resounded in my heart and given me confidence that the Spirit is at work when my affections are stirred and my heart longs for Him.

August 21, 2008

This morning brings us to our sixth reading in Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. This week we had a rather long reading of the first sign of authentic affections—the first chapter where we really get to the heart of the book.

Summary

This week’s reading dealt with the first authentic affection. Here is what Edwards sought to prove: “Affections that are truly spiritual and gracious do arise from those influences and operations on the heart which are spiritual, supernatural and divine.” It took him forty pages to do so!

Discussion

This chapter surprised me a little bit. While this was to be the first of the “positive signs” and the first to follow the section dealing with the many “signs of nothing,” the chapter had a clear negative tone to it. It seemed that Edwards proved “something” primarily by disproving “nothing.” That may not make much sense but perhaps you see what I’m getting at. He proved his point by spending page after page disproving other things. It seems that the back story for this chapter involves people in Edwards’ day attempting to prove they were true Christians by stating that God had given them such knowledge, through feelings or through Scripture or through any other means. He responds by showing that such means can be brought about even in unregenerate men. Thus true affections can only be brought about by truly spiritual, supernatural and divine operations.

Edwards distinguishes here between the spiritual man and the natural man. Those who are spiritual are those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit; all other men are natural. The Holy Spirit may influence them in various ways and even work certain things in their hearts and minds, but they are not men who have undergone that supernatural act of regeneration. This is a good distinction to make in our day as we live at a time when anyone who acknowledges some kind of a deity or who has some kind of faith is called spiritual. Oprah Winfrey is as “spiritual” a person as you’ll find, but she utterly rejects Christianity. Edwards reminds us that no one can be spiritual unless he is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Hence we can acknowledge other people as religious, but, when we look to Scripture, must deny that they can be spiritual; there is no Spirit in them.

This is not to say that the Spirit is unable to influence people who are unregenerate. “The Spirit of God, in all His operations upon the minds of natural men, only moves, impresses, assists, improves, or some way acts upon natural principles; but gives no new spiritual principle.” In other words, He can work even in natural men by using natural means. “He only assists natural principles to do the same work to a greater degree which they do of themselves by nature.” This was something I had never really considered in the past and I found it valuable to think about.

Now maybe I missed something in this chapter—maybe my mind was mush by the end, but I found few points of application. Perhaps it is that I have never really encountered people in life whose claim to Christianity is some inward voice or the fact that verses of Scripture have come to their minds. But somehow I struggled with really applying this portion of the book to my own life. I am hoping that someone can leave a comment offering a few points of application.

Next Time

For next week we will read the second distinguishing sign of truly gracious and holy affections. This is quite a bit shorter than this week’s reading, so should not pose quite as much of a challenge. In my book it comes out at only fourteen pages.

Your Turn

As always, I am eager to know what you gained from this part of the book. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you can only say anything if you are going to say something that will wow us all. Just add a comment with some of the things you gained from the this week’s reading. To this point the discussion has been very helpful and engaging.

May 06, 2008

As anyone knows who has studied the life of Jonathan Edwards, he dedicated a large portion of his ministry to thinking, writing and teaching about the freedom of the will. And, of course, he eventually published a classic work dealing with the subject. In writing the book he thought back to the days when revival had swept his church, his community and the area around it. And as he reflected on the individuals who had been swept up in the revival, or those who had made professions of faith in the years following, he became aware of a fundamental flaw in many of these professions. “Self-controlled individuals, as he had observed in his parishes for the past fifteen years, would acknowledge guilt for particular sins, but not guilt for their fundamentally rebellious hearts.”

Little has changed. I have met countless people who consider themselves Christians and who admit to sin in their lives and feel guilt and remorse for individual sins, but who seem unable or unwilling to admit the incontrovertible fact that their hearts are in rebellion against God. The Bible tells us in plain terms that we are not sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners. And I don’t think we can overstate what a fundamental difference this is! We do not need to seek forgiveness merely for the sins we commit, but for our fundamentally evil and rebellious hearts—hearts that, in their natural state, hate God and are fully and completely and gleefully and willingly opposed to Him.

In his must-read biography of Edwards, George Marsden summarizes Edwards’ assessment of this problem. “Guided by conscience, they saw particular sins as failures of will power, which might be overcome by exercising greater self-control.” When sin has been defined merely as individual acts of the will, it is possible for humans, even devoid of God’s help, to overcome those evil acts and deeds. A man who explodes in anger or a woman who grumbles against her husband can overcome those sins in their own power. Unbelievers can throw off addiction and poor behavior through an act of the will. But they can never address the heart of the issue. While they may make cosmetic changes, they can never overcome the deeper issues because they can never change their hearts.

Those who profess Christ can do the same thing; Christians are also capable of overcoming the appearance of sin and the outward manifestations of sin in their own power. Over the past week Aileen has dedicated a lot of her time to helping a neighbor who is preparing to sell her house. They have been painting the house and it is amazing to see what a fresh coat of paint can do to “clean up” a house. But it is merely a cosmetic change. Underlying issues, structural issues, can be masked for a time, but will show up again if they are not properly dealt with. Similarly, Christians can dedicate great effort and go to great pains to remove traces of sin from their lives. But all the time they may have done this without the aid and assistance of the Holy Spirit. They may never have owned up to their fundamental sinfulness, their natural enmity towards God. They may never feel or acknowledge guilt not only for what they do but for who they are.

The evidence proves that many Christians, and most likely the vast majority of those who identify themselves as Christians, have a worldview that is functionally secular. Many people who go to church every Sunday, who read Christian books and who read their Bibles and pray every day, still think like unbelievers. Their worldview—their way of seeing and understanding the world—is no different from before they claimed to be Christians. Jonathan Edwards, looking to the refusal of the people of his day to own up to their guilt, realized that “the liberal Christianity of the new republic would be built around such moral principles.” Modern day evangelicalism is likewise founded on such lax moral principles.

A couple of years ago I spoke to the administrator of a church in the area. This person had been a Christian for several years and was active as a leader in the church. Discussing a recent and high-profile crime that had been covered by the media, this person told me, “I just don’t understand how anyone could do that. I don’t understand how anyone could be that bad. I could never be that evil!” As we spoke, I realized that this was a person who knew that he committed sins, and yet one who clearly did not understand his inherently sinful nature. He knew he sinned but refused to believe he was a sinner. Sin is what he did, not what he was. Recently my thoughts turned to a couple we know who seemed to become believers, but whose lives did not seem to show much evidence of true life change. They were quickly drafted into service in their church and were soon actively involved in leadership and service. They were baptized despite highly-visible and unrepentant sin in their lives. They became members. And yet their lives, including this one very obviously and blatantly sinful aspect of their lives, did not change at all. Neither did the church seem to require or expect them to change. They modified aspects of their lives, I suppose, but that fundamental change of heart just never seemed to happen. As of the last time we saw them, they still did not seem to think, act, talk and, in many ways, live like Christians. They knew they sinned but didn’t seem to know that they were and still are sinners.

Here is how Marsden concludes this short section of the book:

Even the most popular evangelicalism of the next two centuries tended to emphasize guilt for and victory over known sins. Although the submission of one’s will to God and a subsequent infilling or baptism of the Holy Spirit typically would be urged as necessary to achieve moral purity, God’s power was most often seen as cooperating with or working through the native powers of the sovereign individual will. While American Christianity in general and evangelicalism in particular came in too many varieties to allow easy generalization, we can at least say that Edwards was correct in identifying a trend toward what he called “Arminianism” in what would become “the land of the free.”

The foundational problem that led to this low view of sin and God’s expectation of holiness was a wrong view of the freedom of the will. People did not realize that the will is wholly bound by the sinful nature. They felt that they were able, in their own power and through their own freedom, to change their behavior. They did not understand or care to understand the depth of their depravity. They may have sought God’s assistance in doing this, but did not rely on His grace and power. God merely cooperated with man’s inherent ability. And sadly, even centuries later, little has changed across a large spectrum of Christianity. Take a book from the shelf of your local Christian bookstore and you should not be surprised to read that your fundamental problem is not your sinful nature but your individual self-destructive acts.

The solution today is the same as it was in Edwards’ day. “People needed to be properly convinced of their real guilt and sinfulness, in the sight of God, and their deserving of his wrath.” Every Christian needs not only to own up to his sin and guilt, but to admit that he is deserving of God’s wrath. No one has properly apprehended God’s grace until he has understood his own sinfulness and knows that he fully deserves God’s just and holy punishment. The evangelical church of our day is a wrathless church—a church that speaks often of God’s love and grace, but rarely of the deepest necessity of this love and grace. The church today needs an infusion of the gospel, the whole gospel, which speaks not only of God’s love, but first of our desperate need of reconciliation. The gospel portrays us as we really are—as sinners who sin because of our fundamental guilt, our fundamental hatred of God. Only when we see ourselves as sinners can we truly see Christ as Savior. Only when we have identified ourselves as fallen in Adam can we truly and properly identify ourselves as raised up and set apart in Christ.