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.

Eschatological Joy, Daily Joy, and Spirit Indwelling

So often in Scripture the presence of joy comes along with the presence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:52; 1 Thess 1:6; Gal 5:22; Rom 14:17; 15:13). Jonathan Edwards picks up and develops this link between the Spirit and joy all over in his works, particularly when he writes on the Trinity, heaven, and on the religious affections.

The link between the indwelling of the Spirit and our joy is especially noteworthy in an except like this one taken from his Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith (Yale 21:190):

What Christ purchased for us, was that we might have communion with God in his good, which consists in partaking of or having communion of the Holy Ghost. All the blessedness of the redeemed consists in partaking of the fullness of Christ, their head and Redeemer, which, I have observed, consists in partaking of the Spirit that is given him not by measure. This is the vital sap, which the branches derive from the true vine; this is the holy oil poured on the head, that goes down to the members.

Christ purchased for us that we should enjoy the love, but the love of God flows out in the proceeding of the Spirit; and he purchased for them that the love and joy of God should dwell in them, which is by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

The sum of all spiritual good which the saints have in this world, is that spring of living water within them which we read of, John 4:10–14; and those rivers of living waters flowing from within them which we read of, John 7:38–39, which we are there told is the Holy Spirit.

And the sum of all happiness in the other world, is that river of living waters which flows from the throne of God and the Lamb, which is the river of God’s pleasure and is the Holy Spirit; which is often compared in Scripture to water, to the rain and dew, and rivers and floods of waters (Isaiah 44:3, Isaiah 32:15, Isaiah 35:6–7, Isaiah 41:17–18 compared with John 4:14, and Isaiah 43:19–20).

Notice a few key points drawn together by Edwards:

  1. Our joy is expensive, and the high cost is purchased for us at the cross.
  2. The Spirit’s joy is Christ’s joy first, shared with us by virtue of our union with Christ.
  3. The indwelling presence of the Spirit is the origin of spiritual joy in our lives.
  4. And perhaps most interesting to me, joy — both our joy today and our joy eternal — are both deeply embedded in our union to Christ and in the purchased permanency of the Spirit’s indwelling in our lives now and forever. Which is why for Edwards there are such strong ties of continuity to be discovered between our present experience of joy in this world (no matter how disrupted and faulty and fallen), and our perfected joy that will be fully revealed in the next world.

The ‘Now’ of Eschatological Joy (Take 2)

First we noticed how Luther connects the present experience of joy in the Christian life with eternal joy in heaven, and that by the gracious acting of the Holy Spirit. He does this at a fundamental level in his theological thinking. The same continuity emerges all over the writings of Jonathan Edwards, most profoundly introduced in his doctrine of the Trinity, but for our purposes here it is a point made particularly well in Religious Affections (Yale ed.), 2:235–236]. Note in this excerpt how closely Edwards ties joy to the indwelling Holy Spirit, and how our joy-experience now in the Christian life is a foretaste of the coming banquet. Or to say it another way, note how the indwelling Spirit becomes the link of continuity between our joy now and our joy eternal:

The inheritance that Christ has purchased for the elect, is the Spirit of God; not in any extraordinary gifts, but in his vital indwelling in the heart, exerting and communicating himself there, in his own proper, holy or divine nature: and this is the sum total of the inheritance that Christ purchased for the elect.

For so are things constituted in the affair of our redemption, that the Father provides the Savior, or purchaser, and the purchase is made of him; and the Son is the purchaser and the price; and the Holy Spirit is the great blessing or inheritance purchased, as is intimated, Galatians 3:13–14, and hence the Spirit is often spoken of as the sum of the blessings promised in the gospel (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4 and ch. 2:38–39, Galatians 3:14, Ephesians 1:13). This inheritance was the grand legacy which Christ left his disciples and church, in his last will and testament (John, chs. 14, and 15, and 16). This is the sum of the blessings of eternal life, which shall be given in heaven. (Compare John 7:37–39 and John 4:14 with Revelation 21:6 and Revelation 22:1, 17).

Tis through the vital communications and indwelling of the Spirit, that the saints have all their light, life, holiness, beauty and joy in heaven: and ’tis through the vital communications and indwelling of the same Spirit, that the saints have all light, life, holiness, beauty and joy on earth; but only communicated in less measure.

And this vital indwelling of the Spirit in the saints, in this less measure and small beginning, is the “earnest of the Spirit” [II Corinthians 1:22], the “earnest of the future inheritance” [Ephesians 1:14], and “the firstfruits of the Spirit,” as the Apostle calls it, Romans 8:23, where, by the firstfruits of the Spirit, the Apostle undoubtedly means the same vital gracious principle, that he speaks of in all the preceding part of the chapter, which he calls Spirit, and sets in opposition to flesh or corruption.