The Grand Secret of Becoming “Thoroughly Christian”

edwards

Whether it’s getting free from our worldly sin, or getting free from the shackles of self-righteousness, our solution is found in one “grand secret,” writes Jonathan Edwards (Works, 20:90–91):

There is a twofold weanedness from the world. One is a having the heart beat off or forced off from the world by affliction, and especially by spiritual distresses and disquietudes of conscience that the world can’t quiet; this may be in men, while natural men. The other is a having the heart drawn off by being shown something better, whereby the heart is really turned from it.

So in like manner, there is a twofold bringing a man off from his own righteousness: one is a being beat or forced off by convictions of conscience, the other is a being drawn off by the sight of something better, whereby the heart is turned from that way of salvation by our own righteousness. . . .

In these things, in renouncing the world to trust in Christ only as the means and fountain of our happiness, and in renouncing our own righteousness to trust alone in his righteousness, lies the grand secret of being thorough Christians.

Luminescence

Kyle Strobel, writing in the new book Advancing Trinitarian Theology: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics (148, 152):

In [Jonathan] Edwards’s conception, God is not so loquacious as he is luminescent. Creation certainly pours forth speech, as the Psalmist declares (Ps 19), but it is written by the effusive overflow of God’s beauty. This speech is seen and not heard (or only heard as it is seen). The visual takes precedence in Edwards’s theology because of his doctrine of God, his understanding of the beatific vision, and its orientation for faith. One day believers will see “face to face” (1 Cor 13:12), so the spiritual sight of faith is the anticipation — through a glass darkly — of God’s beatific glory. …

Edwards ends right where he begins — with a God who is infinite happiness, delight, and joy. God’s life is, as it were, the truly religious life; God’s life is one of affection, delight, and the vision that “happifies.” God is the great contemplative, we can say, captivated with truth divine by consenting in union with Truth itself — the Logos. As Edwards claims, God’s excellency “is the highest theme that ever man, that ever archangels, yes, that ever the man Christ Jesus, entered upon yet; yea, it is that theme which is, to speak after the manner of men, the highest contemplation, and the infinite happiness, of Jehovah himself.”

God’s life serves as the archetype for perfect knowledge and therefore casts knowledge in a specifically affectionate and contemplative mold. This is why religious affection is a central issue for Edwards’s understanding of Christian life, knowledge, and conversion. To know God, one must know him as God knows himself — by gazing upon his perfect image in the affection and beauty of the Spirit.

Edwards and Theo-Drama

Edwards scholar Harry Stout, in the introduction to Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1739-1742, makes this insightful comment (pages 5–6):

Edwards’ history incorporated philosophy, theology, and narrative into a synthetic whole. Earlier he had established the proposition that “heaven is a world of love,” a metaphysical state infused with the innermost being and character of the Trinity. So too, he proposed, earth was a world of pulsating divine energy, and hell a perversion of love that set in motion the cosmic supernatural conflict between God and Satan with earth as the prize. What if the story of all three — heaven, earth, and hell — were integrated into one narrative, superior to systematic theology for its drama and to earthbound historiography for its prophetic inspiration?

While Edwards was intrigued by the idea of a narrative history, this does not imply that he was uninterested in theology or even that he would not identify himself as a preacher or theologian if forced to choose. In fact, Edwards often referred to his work as “divinity,” and produced several treatises, most notably Original Sin, Concerning the End for Which God Created the World, and The Nature of True Virtue, that take on the aspect of a systematic theology. It is rather to say that Edwards early on came to sense — especially in his sermons — that the most effective way to realize the theologian’s goal of knowledge of God was to abandon the synchronic methods of formal theology and “throw” the truths of “divinity” into the diachronic form of a history.

Enter: Edwards’ History of Redemption project.