How can we tell when God is really at work?

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Ray Ortlund:

In The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741), Jonathan Edwards pulled out of 1 John 4 the biblical indicators that God is at work, even if the people involved are complicating it with their own imperfections and eccentricities.  And we do complicate it.  In this life, the work of the gospel is never pure, always mixed.  The light of God does not stream in unfiltered by us.  To some extent, we even block it out.  We are sorry for that.  But we do not need to be stuck in analysis-paralysis.  The real work of God is discernible, within all the mess, in four ways:

One, when our esteem of Jesus is being raised, so that we prize him more highly than all this world, God is at work.

Two, when we are moving away from Satan’s interests, away from sin and worldly desires, God is at work.

Three, when we are believing, revering and devouring the Bible more and more, God is at work.

Four, and most importantly, when we love Jesus and one another more, delighting in him and in one another, God is at work.

Satan not only wouldn’t produce such outcomes, he couldn’t produce them, so opposite are these from his nature and purposes.  These simple and obvious evidences of grace are sure signs that God is at work, even with the distractions we inevitably introduce.

Biblical, fairminded discernment keeps our eyes peeled for fraudulence but also frees us, and even requires us, to rejoice wherever we see the Lord at work.  Indeed, that is the real purpose of discernment — not to fasten on whatever is wrong, but to rejoice in and promote whatever is right.  After all, God is at work.

Five things Jonathan Edwards teaches us about the Christian life

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Dane Ortlund:

For many of us, Jonathan Edwards is a skinny white guy who never smiled, except when talking about hell. If we know anything more, it’s:

  • that he wrote a lot of really dense books
  • that he talked a lot about the glory of God
  • that he was part of the Great Awakening
  • that John Piper likes him a lot.

And that’s about it.

But there are riches to be mined in Jonathan Edwards far beyond what you may have been exposed to. Reading Jonathan Edwards is not for historians and professors mainly, but for the rest of us.

Here are five things Edwards teaches us about the Christian life—your Christian life.

1. If you’re a Christian, you don’t realize how radically different and freshly empowered you now are.

When sinners repent and believe for the first time, it often feels as if nothing much has happened, and it often looks as if nothing much has happened. Our wrinkles don’t go away. Our Myers-Briggs personality profile doesn’t change. Our IQ isn’t improved. Our driver’s license photo looks the same after conversion as before, just a few years older and grayer.

Similarly, a foreigner who has just attained citizenship in his country of residence will not feel or look much different, upon receiving formal declaration of citizenship. Yet they now belong to an entirely new nation. More than this, they now have all the rights and privileges that belong to citizens of that nation.

Edwards teaches us that the quiet, seemingly innocuous change that takes place in the new birth is of eternal—even cosmic—significance. A fallen sinner has just become an invincible heir of the universe. The Holy Spirit has just taken up permanent residence in the temple of this soul. In new birth, Edwards writes, the Christian “is a new creature, he is just as if he were not the same, but were born again, created over a second time.”

For a Christian to wallow in sin and misery is for a butterfly to crawl miserably along the branch as if it were still a caterpillar.

2. Even if you’re a Christian, you don’t realize how radically fallen and blindly dysfunctional you remain.

If we understate the positive change in new birth, we also tend to understate the fallenness that remains. But Edwards knew of the strange dysfunctions that remain among all of us, including true believers. He saw it in himself.

Edwards spoke frequently, for example, of the lurking dangers of pride: “It is a sin that has, as it were, many lives. If you kill it, it will live still. If you suppress it in one shape, it rises in another. If you think it is all gone, it is there still. Like the coats of an onion, if you pull one form of it off, there is another underneath.”

We often don’t feel the weight of our sin. Why? Because of our sin. The disease is itself what prevents us from detecting the disease.

How do we get out? One answer is: read Jonathan Edwards. His sermons will do wonders to re-sharpen your blunted conscience and re-sensitize your heart to its fallenness.

3. Authentic discipleship to Jesus Christ calms and gentle-izes (not radicalizes and excites) Christians.

Edwards is famous for his hellfire sermons, but it is striking to trace the evolution of his preaching over his three decades in the pulpit. Scholars point out that the hellfire sermons were more typical of the young Edwards and gradually decreased over his career, while other themes grew increasingly strong: the beauty of Christ, the loveliness of holiness, the calmness of a justified life, the gentleness of God.

A sermon that nicely sums up the core of Edwards’ ministry is “The Spirit of the True Saints Is a Spirit of Divine Love,” based on 1 John 4:16. There we read statements like:

  • “The very nature of God is love. If it should be enquired what God is, it might be answered that he is an infinite and incomprehensible fountain of love.”
  • “He who has divine love in him has a wellspring of true happiness that he carries about in his own breast, a fountain of sweetness, a spring of the water of life. There is a pleasant calmness and serenity and brightness in the soul that accompanies the exercises of this holy affection.”
  • “God in Christ allows such little, poor creatures as you are to come to him, to love communion with him, and to maintain a communication of love with him. You may go to God and tell him how you love him and open your heart and he will accept of it.”

That, more than anything else, is the pulsating core of Edwards’s ministry. Radical godliness is not obnoxious, showy, or boisterous. It is quiet, gentle, and serene.

4. Christianity is gain, and only gain.

Toward the end of his life, Edwards was kicked out of his church by a vote of ten to one—by professing Christians, upstanding church members. This, and other trials he encountered during his life, lead me to conclude that the lofty vision of Christian living that he has left to us is not naïve idealism. He felt the pain not only of rejection, but of rejection by close friends and family members who were part of his church. And yet, having his eyes opened to present pain did not close his eyes to future glory.

Why? Because we will have God, in heaven, unfiltered, forever. Consider the following breathtaking statement:

The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another: but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or in each other, or in any thing else whatsoever that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what shall be seen of God in them.

Christians leave nothing behind when they die. All is gain.

5. Revival is not what you think it is.

When evangelicals today hear the word revival, we generally picture tears, loudness, animated preaching, exuberance, humiliating confession of sin, and so on. Some of these things may be present in revival, perhaps, but Edwards came to long for revival because he saw that it is not a move from the ordinary to the extraordinary so much as a move from the sub-ordinary to the ordinary. We become human again. We breathe once more.

Edwards witnessed two revivals. One was local, contained to New England, in the mid-1730s. The other, six years later, was transatlantic and became known as the Great Awakening. Edwards made the fascinating observation that, in the first revival, God’s people tended “to talk with too much of an air of lightness, and something of laughter,” whereas in the second revival “they seem to have no disposition to it, but rejoice with a more solemn, reverential, humble joy.” The first revival’s joy was real but frothy. The second revival’s joy was deeper and more calm.

Simply put, revival isn’t weird. True revival is rehumanizing. It re-centralizes not the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit so much as the ordinary fruit of the Spirit.

 

Dane Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) is senior vice president for Bible publishing at Crossway in Wheaton, Illinois, where he lives with his wife, Stacey, and their four kids. He is the author of several books, most recentlyEdwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God. Dane blogs at Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology. You canfollow him on Twitter.

The Grand Secret of Becoming “Thoroughly Christian”

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Tony Reinke:

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.

Gentleness is Not an Option

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“[G]entleness is essential to Christian living. It is not an add-on. It is . . . one of the few indisputable evidences of the Holy Spirit alive and well within someone. Gentleness is not just for some Christians, those wired in a certain way. It cannot merely be an inherent character trait, a result of personality or genetic predisposition, because it is listed as part of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Looked at another way, nowhere in the New Testament’s lists of spiritual gifts is gentleness identified as one such gift. It is not a gift of the Spirit for a few. It is the fruit of the Spirit for all. To be gentle is to become who we were meant to be; that is, to return to who we once were, in Eden.”

– Dane C. Ortlund, Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God (Crossway), 91.

(HT: Jared Wilson)

 

Praise God for His electing grace

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Make God the peculiar object of your praises. The doctrine of electing grace shows what great reason you have to do so. If God so values you, set so much by you, has bestowed greater mercies upon you than on all the ungodly in the world, is it too little a requital for you to make God the peculiar object of your praise and thankfulness? If God so distinguishes you with his mercies, you ought to distinguish yourself in his praises. You should make it your great care and study how to glorify that God who has been so peculiarly merciful to you.

And this, rather, because there was nothing peculiar in you differing you from any other person that moved God to deal thus peculiarly by you: you were as unworthy to be set by as thousands of others that are not regarded of God, and are cast away by him forever as worthless and filthy.

— Jonathan Edwards “Christians a Chosen Generation” in Sermons and Discourses, 1730-1733, ed. Mark Valeri(New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999), 318

(HT: Of First Importance)

Dane Ortlund: Edwards on the Christian Life

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Justin Taylor:

I am so thankful for Dane Ortlund’s new book, Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God. As George Marsden notes in his foreword, “Books such as Edwards on the Christian Life are especially welcome as part of the current Edwards revival precisely because Edwards is so many-sided and complex. The essence of his theology needs to be distilled from his many writings and to be presented in practical terms for Christians today. Dane Ortlund does just that. Reading Edwards’s own works can inspire Christians today, but often it is best to start with a more accessible introduction, such as the present one.”

In Ortlund’s introduction he provides an outstanding overview of where he is going:

Our strategy will be to ask twelve questions about the Christian life and provide, from Edwards, corresponding answers. These will form the chapters of this book, with a final thirteenth chapter diagnosing four weaknesses in Edwards’s view of the Christian life. Twelve chapters identify what we can learn from Edwards; one chapter identifies what he could learn from us. In brief the twelve questions and answers are:

1. What is the overarching, integrating theme to Edwards’s theology of the Christian life?

Answer: Beauty.

2. How is this heart-sense of beauty ignited? How does it all get started? What must happen for anyone to first glimpse the beauty of God?

New birth.

3. Having begun, what then is the essence of the Christian life? What does seeing God’s beauty create in us? What’s the heart and soul of Christian living?

Love.

4. How does love fuel the Christian life? What’s the non-negotiable of all non-negotiable that will keep us loving? What does divine beauty give to us?

Joy.

5. And what uniquely marks such love and joy? What is the aroma of the Christian life? What does Edwards diagnose about the Christian life that is most important for recovery today?

Gentleness.

6. Where do I go to get this love, joy, and gentleness? How can I find it? What,
concretely, sustains this kind of life, through all our ups and downs?

The Bible.

7. But as I go to the Bible, what do I do with it as I read? How do I own it, make it mine,
turn it into this joy-fueled love?

Prayer.

8. What then is the overall flavor of the Christian life? What is the aura, the feel, of following Christ in a world of moral chaos and pain?

Pilgrimage.

9. As new birth, Bible, prayer, and all the rest go in, what comes out? What is the fruit of the Christian life?

Obedience.

10. Who is the great enemy of Christian living? Who wishes above all to prevent loving, joyful, gentle lives?

Satan.

11. What is the great concern of the Christian life? Toward what, supremely, should our
efforts be directed as we walk with God?

The soul.

12. Finally, what does all this funnel into? When will we be permanently and fully and unfailingly alive to beauty? What, above all else, is the great hope of the Christian life?

Heaven.

Commendations here.

God himself is the great good of our redemption

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Jonathan Edwards:

The redeemed have all their objective good in God. God himself is the great good which they are brought to the possession and enjoyment of by redemption. He is the highest good, and the sum of all that good which Christ has purchased. God is the inheritance of the saints; he is the portion of their souls. God is their wealth and treasure, their food, their life, their dwelling place, their ornament and diadem, and their everlasting honor and glory. They have none in heaven but God; he is the great good which the redeemed are received to at death, and which they are to rise to at the end of the world.

The Lord God, he is the light of the heavenly Jerusalem; and is the ‘the river of the water of life’ that runs, and the tree of life that grows, ‘in the midst of the paradise of God.’ The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another: but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or each other, or in anything else whatsoever, that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what will be seen of God in them.

— Jonathan Edwards“God Glorified in the Work of Redemption” in The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader, ed. Wilson H. Kimnach, et al 74-75

(HT: Of First Importance)

 

The sufferings of Christ do fully repair the injury

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God may save any of the children of men without prejudice to the honour of his majesty. If men have affronted God, and that ever so much, if they have cast ever so much contempt on his authority; yet God can save them, if he pleases, and the honour of his majesty not suffer in the least.

If God should save those who have affronted him, without satisfaction, the honour of his majesty would suffer. For when contempt is cast upon infinite majesty, its honour suffers, and the contempt leaves an obscurity upon the honour of the divine majesty, if the injury is not repaired.

But the sufferings of Christ do fully repair the injury. Let the contempt be ever so great, yet if so honourable a person as Christ undertakes to be a Mediator for the offender, and in the mediation suffer in his stead, it fully repairs the injury done to the majesty of heaven by the greatest sinner.

— Jonathan Edwards
The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 2
(Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1997), 851

(HT: Of First Importance)

More Blessed than the Virgin Mary

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Justin Taylor:

Can you imagine if you had been there? What would it have been like to be with our Lord Jesus face to face? To walk with him and to listen to him for hours on end. To hear the tone of his voice. To ask him any question you want.

What if, instead of just being one of the disciples in the outer circles, you were one of the key players: Mary the humble mother of God; Peter the exuberant bumbler turned repentant leader; John the Baptizer, who leaped for joy at Jesus in Elizabeth’s womb and then was able to baptize his cousin and Lord.

But if you are in Christ, the reality is that things are better for you know than it would have been to be any of these folks who knew Christ in the flesh.

For example, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matt 11:11; cf. Luke 7:28).

Peter, recalling the Transfiguration and hearing the voice of the Father expressing pleasure in his Son, goes on to say that “we [including you and me] have the prophetic word more fully confirmed. . .” ( 2 Pet 1:17-19).

And at the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus tells his disciples, “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you” (John 16:7).Jonathan Edwards, in his landmark sermon series on 1 Corinthians 13, comments on this theme with a particular view to the blessed virgin Mary:

Great was the privilege which God bestowed on the blessed virgin Mary, in granting that of her should be born the Son of God; that a person who was infinitely more honorable than the angels, who was the Creator and King of heaven and earth and the great Savior of the world, should be conceived in her womb, born of her, and nursed at her breast, was a far greater privilege than to be the mother of the child of the greatest earthly prince that ever existed. But yet, surely that was not so great a privilege as it was to have the grace of God in the heart, to have Christ, as it were, born in the soul, as Christ himself does expressly teach us.

Edwards here cites Luke 11:27-28:

As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Edwards continues:

And once when some told him that his mother and brethren stood without desiring to speak with him, he thence took occasion to let them know that there was a more blessed way of being related to him than that which consisted in being his mother and brethren according to the flesh, viz. in having grace in the heart, and bringing forth the fruits of it in the life.

And here he cites Matt. 12:46-50:

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”  And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

—Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits: Living in the Light of God’s Love, ed. Kyle Strobel (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 74-75.

Jonathan Edwards on Spiritual Pride

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Justin Taylor:

Jonathan Edwards found human language almost inadequate to express the insidious nature of spiritual pride. It would take several metaphors even to begin describing this strategy of Satan. “This is,” he wrote, “the main door by which the Devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of religion. ‘Tis the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit, to darken the mind, and mislead the judgement; this is the main handle by which the Devil takes hold of religious persons, and the chief source of all the mischief that he introduces, to clog and hinder a work of God. This cause of error is the mainspring, or at least the main support of all the rest. Till this disease is cured, medicines are in vain applied to heal all other diseases.”

Later, he writes:

“There is no sin so much like the Devil as this, for secrecy and subtlety, and appearing in great many shapes that are undetected and unsuspected, and even appearing as an angel of light: it takes occasion to arise from everything; it perverts and abuses everything, and even the exercises of real grace and real humility, as an occasion to exert itself.

It is a sin that has, as it were, many lives; if you kill it, it will live still; if you mortify and suppress it in one shape, it rises in another; if you think it is all gone, yet it is there still.

There are a great many kinds of it, that lie in different forms and shapes, one under another, and encompass the heart like the coats of an onion; if you pull off one, there is another underneath.

We had need therefore to have the greatest watch imaginable, over our hearts, with respect to this matter, and to cry most earnestly to the great Searcher of hearts, for his help. “He that trusts his own heart is a fool” [Prov. 28:26]

—Jonathan Edwards, “Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England,” in The Great Awakening, ed. C. C. Goen, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 4 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), 414, 416-417.

“Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom. 7:24-25)

God’s Sovereignty Encompasses Everything

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How can we really say God is sovereign over all when there is so much chaos and pain in the world?

Jonathan Edwards:

Nothing shall hinder his great design. God’s great ends will be obtained: all his ends will be obtained, and by his own means.

After all this seeming confusion and vast succession of strange and wonderful revolutions, everything shall come out right at last. There is no confusion in God’s scheme; he understands his own works and every wheel moves right in its place.

Not one mote of dust errs from the path that God has appointed it; he will bring order at last out of confusion. God doesn’t lose himself in the intricate endless moves of events that come to pass. Though men can’t see the whole scheme, God sees. The course and series of events in divine providence is like the course of a great and long river with many branches and innumerable windings and turnings which often seems to go backwards.

— Jonathan Edwards, 1744 sermon entitled “Approaching the End of God’s Grand Design,” in Works, 25:121

(HT: Dane Ortlund)

The Wrath of God and the Heart of the Atonement

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Denny Burk:

“But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.”
-Isaiah 53:10

“God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation in His blood through faith, in order to demonstrate His righteousness.”
-Romans 3:25

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us– for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’”
-Galatians 3:13

“It is those who cannot come to terms with any concept of the wrath of God who repudiate any concept of propitiation… It is God himself who in holy wrath needs to be propitiated, God himself who in holy love undertook to do the propitiating and God himself who in the person of his Son died for the propitiation of our sins. Thus God took his own loving initiative to appease his own righteous anger by bearing it his own self in his own Son when he took our place and died for us.”
-John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 167, 172

“God dealt with him as if he had been exceedingly angry with him, and as though he had been the object of his dreadful wrath. This made all the sufferings of Christ the more terrible to him, because they were from the hand of his Father, whom he infinitely loved… It was an effect of God’s wrath, that he forsook Christ. This caused Christ to cry out once and again, ‘My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?’”
–Jonathan Edwards, “Of Satisfaction for Sin” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2, p. 575

“Can you now think what a vast aggregate of misery there would have been in the sufferings of all God’s people, if they had been punished through all eternity? And recollect that Christ had to suffer an equivalent for all the hells of all His redeemed. I can never express that thought better than by using those oft-repeated words: it seemed as if Hell were put into His cup; He seized it, and, ‘At one tremendous draught of love, He drank damnation dry.’ So that there was nothing left of all the pangs and miseries of Hell for His people ever to endure. I say not that He suffered the same, but He did endure an equivalent for all this, and gave God the satisfaction for all the sins of all His people, and consequently gave Him an equivalent for all their punishment. Now can ye dream, can ye guess the great redemption of our Lord Jesus Christ?”
-Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Particular Redemption”

“Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgment for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption and glory. To affirm penal substitution is to say that believers are in debt to Christ specifically for this, and that this is the mainspring of all their joy, peace and praise both now and for eternity.”
-J. I. Packer, “What Did the Cross Achieve? The Logic of Penal Substitution,”Tyndale Bulletin 25 (1974): 25.

“The words of [Romans 3:25-26] afford an insight into the innermost meaning of the cross as Paul understands it… It involves nothing less than God’s bearing the intolerable burden of that evil Himself in the person of His own dear Son, the disclosure of the fullness of God’s hatred of man’s evil at the same time as it is its real and complete forgiveness.”
-C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, 1:213-214

Have You?

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Have you tasted and seen that the Lord is good?

Have you, when you have thus been emptied of yourself and weaned from this vain world, found a better good?

Have you had those discoveries of Christ, or that sense of his excellency or sufficiency and wonderful grace, that has refreshed and rejoiced your heart, and revived it as it were out of the dust, and caused hope and your comfort to spring forth like the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain?

Has there been light let into your soul, as the light of the sun pleasantly breaking forth out of the cloud after a dreadful storm, or as the sweet dawning of the light of the morning after long wandering in a dark night, or the bright and beautiful day star arising with refreshing beams?

Have you had that divine comfort that has seemed to heal your soul and put life and strength into you and given you peace after trouble and rest after labor and pain?

Have you tasted that spiritual food, that bread from heaven, that is so sweet and so satisfying, so much better than the richest earthly dainties?

Have you felt something of the divine comfort and peace, which can’t be expressed and which passes all understanding?

Have you tasted that in Christ that has turned the stream of your affections that way and filled you with longings after more of him?

– Jonathan Edwards, “Like Rain Upon Mown Grass,” in Works, Yale ed., 22:315

(HT: Dane Ortlund)

Delighting in Scripture

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Sam Storms:

As you read what Jonathan Edwards said about Scripture, ask yourself if it reflects your own point of view:

“I had then, and at other times, the greatest delight in the holy scriptures, of any book whatsoever. Oftentimes in reading it, every word seemed to touch my heart. I felt a harmony between something in my heart, and those sweet and powerful words. I seemed often to see so much light exhibited by every sentence, and such a refreshing food communicated, that I could not get along in reading; often dwelling long on one sentence, to see the wonders contained in it; and yet almost every sentence seemed to be full of wonders” (Personal Narrative).

How far removed this is from the declarations of boredom that I so often hear from people who describe their reaction to reading Scripture! I think what Edwards here refers to must be what the author of Psalm 119 had in mind when he spoke repeatedly of the impact of Scripture on his soul. Consider the following brief sampling, and ask yourself if such vivid and passionate language accurately portrays your attitude toward the glory and power of God’s Word:

“In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches” (v. 14).

“I will delight in your statutes” (v. 16).

“My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times” (v. 20).

“Your testimonies are my delight” (v. 24).

“Behold, I long for your precepts” (v. 40).

“for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love” (v. 47).

“The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (v. 72).

“Oh how I love your law!” (v. 97).

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (v. 103).

“Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart” (v. 111).

“Therefore I love your commandments above gold, above fine gold” (v. 127).

“I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil” (v. 162).

“My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly” (v. 167).

Developing a “Taste” for Glory

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Justin Taylor posts:

From Kyle Strobel’s Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards (IVP, 2013), 62-64:

While we journey to glory we should learn to trust the path laid before us. Sometimes, no doubt, we find that the path is of our own making. Our natural affections have turned us off course onto other things we find beautiful. But, broadly speaking, grasping the path of glory is really just grasping onto Jesus. By focusing our attention on Jesus and the “Jesus Way,” we come to gain a “taste” for this way over others. Some of the fleshliness that used to taste so good is now bitter. We are walking a path of putting to death our sin by slowly conforming to God’s glory and beauty. In doing so, the sin that still wages war within us begins to die.

In Christ, our sight, hearing and taste are now sensitized to a different world, and therefore they help us trust in the way of the Lord. Many people saw Jesus but did not follow him. What did they not see that the disciples did? Why were the disciples affected by Christ and not so many others?

To explain this, Edwards turns to taste. The Spirit of God works within one’s heart to give them a divine taste—a taste of the ways of God. It is in this vein that the psalmist would say, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Ps 119:103). Without it, people cannot recognize God and his way as beautiful, “no more than a man without the sense of tasting can conceive of the sweet taste of honey, or a man without the sense of hearing can conceive of the melody of a tune, or a man born blind can have a notion of the beauty of the rainbow.” The disciples were given a divine taste, and so they sought to satisfy their longing by following Christ.

Edwards offers an illustration of two men, one of whom is born without the sense of taste. The man with the sense of taste loves honey, and he greatly delights in it because of its taste. The other man also loves honey, but, not having the sense of taste, he loves it because of its color and texture. The excellency and sweetness of honey is in its taste, Edwards argues, therefore the man who loves the honey because of its taste builds upon the foundation of honey’s true beauty. If you don’t “know” the taste of honey, you don’t truly “know” honey. Likewise, to know Jesus is to develop a taste for who he is and what he is about. If we return to our hiking analogy, we can say that a “taste” for the destination drives your journey. You hunger for it (Mt 5:6). Others may travel with you who only share your actions, and not your taste for the destination. They have the form but not the power of godliness (2 Tim 3:5). A taste of God is prioritizing God above all else.

For true religious affections, the object, God, is primary, and I am secondary. With false affections, the focus reverts to me. The one who seeks Christ alone will know the delight that only he can give.

One who goes looking for self-fulfillment will never find it. In other words, having a taste of divine things is what allows the heavenly destination to captivate your heart. Without that taste it is impossible to will God, and therefore it is impossible to actually walk the path to glory. This taste is the taste of heaven and is the taste that calibrates our souls to glory and beauty. This taste creates a hunger for divine things. This taste is not given in its perfection, but is a seed of grace in the soul. Cultivating this taste should lead to a deeper and deeper hunger for God and his glory. The ways of God, the calling of the church, the Word of God and the ordinances of God should all be tasty aspects of life. Ultimately, our taste should be oriented by God and his life of love, and therefore the hunger of our flesh should begin to be killed off. In this sense, our taste is similar to the compass whose needle seeks north. We can say that the needle has a taste for north. Around that taste all our other affections should fall into place—the west, east and south of our soul should be oriented by the true north of heaven—God and his life of love.

David, in Psalm 34, proclaimed, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Ps 34:8). In a sense, Edwards’s description of religious affection is a call to taste and see that the Lord is good (and continue to do so)! The light of God’s beauty and glory is given so that believers can actually see that the Lord is good. But sight alone does not comprehend the depths of the Christian experience. For that, Edwards turns to taste. Tasting and seeing that the Lord is good entails having the whole of one’s heart made alive to God in Christ by the Holy Spirit—it is communion with the three-personed God.

Tasting and seeing are the kinds of things that beget more tasting and seeing. Tasting and seeing beget desire. It is this desire that turns the Christian more and more fully to her Lord who is beautiful and glorious. It is a journey we will continue for eternity.

Taken from Formed for the Glory of God by Kyle Strobel. Copyright(c) 2013 by Kyle Strobel. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com

Jonathan Edwards on Heaven, a World of Love

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Sam Storms:

“The heaven I desired was a heaven of holiness; to be with God, and to spend my eternity in divine love, and holy communion with Christ. My mind was very much taken up with contemplations on heaven, and the enjoyments there; and living there in perfect holiness, humility and love: And it used at that time to appear a great part of the happiness of heaven, that there the saints could express their love to Christ. It appeared to me a great clog and burden, that what I felt within, I could not express as I desired. The inward ardor of my soul, seemed to be hindered and pent up, and could not freely flame out as it would. I used often to think, how in heaven this principle should freely and fully vent and express itself. Heaven appeared exceedingly delightful, as a world of love; and that all happiness consisted in living in pure, humble, heavenly, divine love.”

I know what Edwards meant when he expressed his frustration in not being able to “freely and fully vent and express” his love for Christ. Physical pains hold us back. Relational struggles distract our thoughts. Fatigue limits how long we can praise. Fleshly impulses defile even our highest and most sincere declarations of love. This is one reason why heaven is so appealing and the anticipation of it so spiritually animating. One day, and forevermore, we will pray and praise and celebrate and rejoice and enjoy God without the slightest tinge of lust or greed or pride or weakness or boredom. Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Edwards mentions, in passing, a time of pressure and emotional burden that weighed heavily on his soul, the remedy for which was “contemplations of the heavenly state.” He continues:

“It was a comfort to think of that state, where there is fullness of joy; where reigns heavenly, calm, and delightful love, without alloy; where there are continually the dearest expressions of this love; where is the enjoyment of the persons loved, without ever parting; where those persons who appear so lovely in this world, will really be inexpressibly more lovely, and full of love to us. And how sweetly will the mutual lovers join together, to sing the praises of God and the Lamb! How will it fill us with joy to think, that this enjoyment, these sweet exercises, will never cease, but will last to all eternity.”

From the Man Who Preached ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’

220px-Jonathan_Edwards_engraving“They that find Christ [discover that] though he be so glorious and excellent a person, yet they find him ready to receive such poor, worthless, hateful creatures as they are, which was unexpected to ‘em. They are surprised with it.
They did not imagine that Christ was such a kind of person, a person of such grace. They heard he was an holy Saviour and hated sin, and they did not imagine he would be so ready to receive such vile, wicked creatures as they. They thought he surely would never be willing to accept such provoking sinners, such guilty wretches, those that had such abominable hearts.

But behold, he is not a whit the more backward to receive ‘em for that. They unexpectedly find him with open arms to embrace them, ready forever to forget all their sins as though they had never been. They find that he as it were runs to meet them, and makes ‘em most welcome, and admits ‘em not only to be his servants but his friends [Luke 15:11-24]. He lifts ‘em out of the dust and sets ‘em on his throne; he makes them the children of God; he speaks peace to them; he cheers and refreshes their hearts; he admits ‘em unto strict union with himself, and gives the most joyful entertainment, and binds himself to them to be their friend forever.

So are they surprised with their entertainment. They never imagined to find Christ a person of such kind of love and grace as this. ‘Tis beyond all imagination or conception.”

Jonathan Edwards, ‘Seeking After Christ,’ in Works, Yale ed., 22:290

(HT: Dane Ortlund)

Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Advice on What to Read

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D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

My advice to you is: Read Jonathan Edwards. Stop going to so many meetings; stop craving for the various forms of entertainment which are so popular in evangelical circles at the present time. Learn to stay at home. Learn to read again, and do not merely read the exciting stories of certain modern people. Go back to something solid and deep and real.

Are we losing the art of reading? Revivals have often started as the result of people reading volumes such as these two volumes of Edwards’ works. So read this man. Decide to do so. Read his sermons; read his practical treatises, and then go on to the great discourses on theological subjects.

—D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Jonathan Edwards and the Crucial Importance of Revival,”Puritans: Their
Origins and Successors
 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1987), 369-370.

Lloyd-Jones elsewhere explained the importance of this practice in his own ministry:

In my early days in the ministry there were no books which helped me more, both personally and in respect of my preaching, than the two-volume edition of the Works of Jonathan Edwards. . . . I devoured these volumes and literally just read and reread them. It is certainly true that they helped me more than anything else. . . . If I had the power I would make these two volumes compulsory reading for all ministers!

(HT: Justin Taylor)

God himself is the great good of our redemption

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The redeemed have all their objective good in God. God himself is the great good which they are brought to the possession and enjoyment of by redemption. He is the highest good, and the sum of all that good which Christ has purchased. God is the inheritance of the saints; he is the portion of their souls. God is their wealth and treasure, their food, their life, their dwelling place, their ornament and diadem, and their everlasting honour and glory. They have none in heaven but God; he is the great good which the redeemed are received to at death, and which they are to rise to at the end of the world.

The Lord God, he is the light of the heavenly Jerusalem; and is the ‘the river of the water of life’ that runs, and the tree of life that grows, ‘in the midst of the paradise of God.’ The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another: but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or each other, or in anything else whatsoever, that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what will be seen of God in them.

— Jonathan Edwards “God Glorified in the Work of Redemption” in The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader, ed. Wilson H. Kimnach, et al74-75

(HT: Of First Importance)

How can we tell when God is really at work?

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Ray Ortlund:

In The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741), Jonathan Edwards pulled out of 1 John 4 the biblical indicators that God is at work, even if the people involved are complicating it with their own sins and eccentricities.  And we do complicate it.  In this life, the work of the gospel is never pure, always mixed.  But we do not need to be stuck in analysis-paralysis.  The true gold of grace is discernible, within all the mess, in four ways:

  • One, when our esteem of Jesus is being raised, so that we prize him more highly than all this world, God is at work.
  • Two, when we are moving away from Satan’s interests, away from sin and worldly desires, God is at work.
  • Three, when we are believing, revering and devouring the Bible more and more, God is at work.
  • Four, and most importantly, when we love Jesus and one another more, delighting in him and in one another, God is at work.

Satan not only wouldn’t produce such things, he couldn’t produce them, so opposite are these from his nature and purposes.  These simple and obvious evidences of grace are sure signs that God is at work, even with the imperfections we inevitably introduce.

If we hold out for perfection, we will wait until we are with the Lord.  True discernment keeps our eyes peeled for fraudulence but also unleashes us, and even requires us, to rejoice wherever we see the Lord at work right now.

Don’t turn away because of the non-gold; prize the gold.  Defend it.  Rejoice over it.  God is giving it.