How Could Jonathan Edwards Own Slaves?

Wrestling with the History of a Hero John Piper: When I gave the inaugural biographical message of the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors in 1988 on the life of Jonathan Edwards, I had never heard that Edwards owned slaves,1 nor that he pushed back against those who opposed slaveownership while themselves benefiting from slavery.2 I had read Edwards diligently for twenty years — all of his major works and many sermons and smaller treatises and letters, plus at least three biographies — but had never noticed anything suggesting he owned a slave. I was surprised. Some have argued that his slaveholding is not surprising, but rather fits with his view of hierarchy in society — that is, that some people properly have more authoritative roles, while others have more servant roles. George Marsden says, in fact, that “we can consider Edwards’ attitudes toward slavery in the context of his hierarchical assumptions. Nothing separates the early eighteenth-century world from the twenty-first century more than this issue.”3 So in

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Heaven is a World of Love

Sam Storms: Crossway has recently launched a series of short books under the heading, Crossway Short Classics. The most recent one is the essay by Jonathan Edwards, Heaven is a World of Love. They asked me to write the Foreword to it, which you will find below. I can’t think of anyone who was more productive during the course of his earthly life than Jonathan Edwards. One need only glance at the Yale University Press edition of his collected works to verify this as fact. And that does not take into account the vast number of as yet unpublished sermons that we hope will one day be made available. I cite this about Edwards merely to refute the oft-heard cliché that some people are so heavenly minded as to be of no earthly good. Edwards’s earthly achievements may be directly linked to his focus on, dare I say his obsession with, the glory of heaven that he had not as yet experienced. Edwards was

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God Created Us for “exceeding, inexpressibly great happiness”

Sam Storms: Saturday, October 5th, is the birthday of my theological hero, Jonathan Edwards. He was born in 1703 in East Windsor, Connecticut, and his life and words continue to affect me in countless ways. The Edwards home was rather unusual, as Jonathan had 10 sisters and no brothers! But that’s not my focus in this article. I want to briefly reflect on one of the more important truths that occupied his mind. Although what follows is primarily designed for those who, like Edwards, are in pastoral ministry, all of you can benefit greatly from reflecting deeply on what he said. Edwards was just 21 years old when he preached a sermon entitled, “Nothing Upon Earth Can Represent the Glories of Heaven.” It was the first sermon he ever preached based on a text from the book of Revelation (21:18). And it was in this sermon that he articulated one of the most important theological insights he ever had: “God created

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Genuine revival, spiritual affections, and bodily manifestations

Sam Storms: The division among Christian folk during the revival we know as the First Great Awakening (1734-35; 1740-42) often was due to their different understandings of the nature and significance of physical or bodily manifestations. Many of the so-called Old Lights in Jonathan Edwards’s day insisted on the spurious nature of the so-called “revival” by pointing to the physical and emotional phenomena that were occurring. These manifestations, so they insisted, are proof that the Spirit is not in the “revival”. The Spirit does not operate in such ways and thus these phenomena demonstrate that the religious excitement is merely a work of the flesh or of disturbed souls or, worse still, the Devil. The ironic thing is that today there are many who insist on precisely the opposite conclusion. They regard such physical and emotional manifestations to be almost certain proof that the Spirit is present and at work. In the absence of such phenomena they would likely conclude that the Spirit was

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Affections and emotions: Are they the same?

Sam Storms: The word “affection” may be unfamiliar to many, except when used of romantic feelings that pass between a man and a woman. This is not the sense in which I use it here. Jonathan Edwards defined the affections as “the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul.” So, are our “affections” the same as our “emotions” or “passions”? I don’t think so. Certainly, there is what may rightly be called an emotional dimension to affections. Affections, after all, are sensible and intense longings or aversions of the will. Perhaps it would be best to say that whereas affections are not less than emotions, they are surely more. Emotions can often be no more than physiologically heightened states of either euphoria or fear that are unrelated to what the mind perceives as true. Affections, on the other hand, are always the fruit or effect of what the mind understands and knows. The will

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10 Things You Should Know about Jonathan Edwards’ Most Important Sermon

Sam Storms: The first thing you should know (but not included among the ten) is that Jonathan Edwards’s most important sermon was not “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” That was certainly his most famous sermon, but not the most important one he ever preached. That distinction must be reserved for “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” which he delivered to his congregation in Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1734. The full title to this message was “A Divine and Supernatural Light Immediately Imparted to the Soul, by the Spirit of God, shown to be both a Scriptural and Rational Doctrine.” The sermon was based on Matthew 16:17 where Jesus said to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (1) Edwards was quick to explain what the “divine and supernatural light” is not. It is not to be identified with the conviction of sin that unregenerate people experience. The

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Resolutions for the New Year (with a little help from Jonathan Edwards)

Sam Storms: Resolving in the grace of God to bring one’s life into greater conformity to the image of Jesus is an appropriate expression of Christian sanctification, regardless of the time of year. It was in the late fall of 1722 that 19-year-old Jonathan Edwards wrote the first of what would eventually become 70 resolutions for life. He was, at the time, serving as pastor of a Presbyterian church in New York City. The 70th, and last resolution, was written on August 17th, 1723. It is essential that one acknowledge the sustaining grace of God to empower our keeping of all resolutions. Edwards put it this way: “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.” Instead of listing all 70, I’ve selected a few that have had the greatest

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4 Christian Principles For Making New Year’s Resolutions

Burk Parsons: It seems that every new year, we are caught up in a whirlwind of well-intentioned resolutions. With premeditated bursts of enthusiasm, those closest to us begin to take part in peculiar, and sometimes public activities that even cause neighborhood children to look puzzled. We find ourselves bearing witness to surprising edicts and seemingly self-conscious new year’s manifestos whereupon we are summoned to behold what sweeping changes may come—resolutions for impending dispositions, impossible diets, and impenetrable fortresses of discipline. The skeptical observer may inquire: “Is all this fervor really necessary?” Moreover, the cynical reader may ask: “Is it even appropriate to make resolutions? After all, shouldn’t we at all times and all seasons seek to live wisely, obediently, and biblically?” Some may even go so far as to argue that resolutions themselves are not biblical based on the fact that the Word of God itself provides us with a complete and authoritative compilation of God’s resolutions for His people. To manufacture

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Treasure God’s Ordinary Grace

Ryan Griffith: In a Christian subculture that often privileges the extraordinary, a real temptation exists to discount the mundane — and perhaps rarely more so than at the end of summer. Summer can throw us off-kilter. “Mountaintop experiences” — whether through mission trips, summer camps, or periods of spiritually-intense isolation in natural beauty — can give us an extraordinary sense of God’s presence — and an unusual sense of power, clarity, and courage. These moments, of course, are important. But privileging them may contribute to our discouragement when the power seems to fade. When we return to the mundane world of everyday challenge, we can become disheartened. This is because we fundamentally tend to undervalue the power of ordinary spiritual life. We fail to grasp the reality that the ordinary Christian life is the result of the uncommon working of God’s Spirit. We need to eclipse the relatively rare mountaintop experience with a clearer vision of the vital, gracious, and personal

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“Religion” is the End for which God Created the World

Sam Storms: The noun “religion” and the adjective “religious” have both become nigh unto cuss words in today’s evangelical vocabulary. “Religion” is often thought to be synonymous with legalism and externalism. By externalism I mean an approach to life where the only thing that matters is behavioral conformity to a set of rules. The Pharisees were profoundly “religious” because in terms of what you could see, they obeyed the law with meticulous detail. But internally many of them were devoid of true love for God. Religion, then, is considered by many today to be equivalent to a rigid and lifeless traditionalism. We often contrast “religion” with the “gospel” and urge one another to avoid the former and embrace the latter. But it wasn’t until the late 20th century that “religion” became a cuss word in Christian circles. In James 1:26-27 and throughout most of church history the word “religion” simply referred to the totality of one’s ultimate allegiance and commitment.

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God’s Grand Design

Sam Storms: Recent events across the globe have cast many professing Christians into the throes of pessimism. Be it the expansion and brutality of ISIS abroad or the Supreme Court legalization of same-sex marriage here at home, one often hears cries of fear and doomsday. Now, make no mistake. These and other developments are to be lamented (and energetically resisted when possible) The full effect of terrorism and moral decay have yet to be felt and will undoubtedly wreak chaos and social havoc in the days ahead. But Christians must never yield to the perverse mentality that suggests God is losing or that his purposes might be thwarted. I was recently reminded of the proper perspective of God’s people upon reading Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Approaching the End of God’s Grand Design” (The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1743-1758, edited by Wilson H. Kimnach, Yale:25, pp. 113-126). Edwards delivered this message in December, 1744. The text on which he

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The beauty of Christ

Jonathan Edwards: He is indeed possessed of infinite majesty, to inspire us with reverence an adoration; yet that majesty need not terrify us, for we behold it blended with humility, meekness, and sweet condescension. We may feel the most profound reverence and self-abasement, and yet our hearts be drawn forth sweetly and powerfully into an intimacy the most free, confidential, and delightful. The dread, so naturally inspired by his greatness, is dispelled by the contemplation of his gentleness and humility; while the familiarity, which might otherwise arise from this view of the loveliness of his character merely, is ever prevented by the consciousness of his infinite majesty and glory; and the sight of all his perfections united fills us with sweet surprise and humble confidence, with reverential love and delightful adoration. — Jonathan Edwards Works, Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth), cxxxix (HT: Of First Importance)

The beauty of Christ

  Jonathan Edwards: He is indeed possessed of infinite majesty, to inspire us with reverence and adoration; yet that majesty need not terrify us, for we behold it blended with humility, meekness, and sweet condescension. We may feel the most profound reverence and self-abasement, and yet our hearts be drawn forth sweetly and powerfully into an intimacy the most free, confidential, and delightful. The dread, so naturally inspired by his greatness, is dispelled by the contemplation of his gentleness and humility; while the familiarity, which might otherwise arise from this view of the loveliness of his character merely, is ever prevented by the consciousness of his infinite majesty and glory; and the sight of all his perfections united fills us with sweet surprise and humble confidence, with reverential love and delightful adoration. — Jonathan Edwards Works, Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth), cxxxix (HT: Of First Importance)

How can we tell when God is really at work?

  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,

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Five things Jonathan Edwards teaches us about the Christian life

  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

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The Grand Secret of Becoming “Thoroughly Christian”

  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

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God himself is the great good of our redemption

  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

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Jonathan Edwards on Spiritual Pride

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

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The Wrath of God and the Heart of the Atonement

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

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Would You Know a Revival If You Saw One?

  J. I. Packer: Would we recognize a reviving of religion if we were part of one? I ask myself that question. For more than half a century the need of such reviving in the places where I have lived, worshiped, and worked has weighed me down. I have read of past revivals. I have learned, through a latter-day revival convert from Wales, that there is a tinc in the air, a kind of moral and spiritual electricity, when God’s close presence is enforcing his Word. I have sat under the electrifying ministry of the late Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who as it were brought God into the pulpit with him and let him loose on the listeners. Lloyd-Jones’s ministry blessed many, but he never believed he was seeing the revival he sought. I have witnessed remarkable evangelical advances, not only academic but also pastoral, with churches growing spectacularly through the gospel on both sides of the Atlantic and believers maturing in the life

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