Jonathan Edwards and Personal Holiness Series
A few months ago, I finished a series on Jonathan Edwards and his resolve in personal holiness. Here is an indexed post of all four posts.
- Part 1 – Looking Forward to Heaven and Enjoying Christ
- Part 2 – The Legacy of the Puritans and Solomon Stoddard
- Part 3 – Thirteen Hours a Day
- Part 4 – The Hatred of Sin
Iain Murray explains in his biography of Jonathan Edwards that holiness “never ceased to be first in his concerns.” Edwards expresses in his ‘Personal Narrative’ that between the age of 19 and early twenties, “I felt a burning desire to be in every thing a complete Christian; and conformed to the blessed image of Christ; and that I might live, in all things, according to the pure, sweet and blessed rules of the gospel.”
We might ask how did such a person, especially at his early age, have such a capacity to desire this level of holiness. I am convinced the reason he knew holiness so well was because his great joy was looking forward to heaven enjoying Christ.
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…. Heaven appeared exceedingly delightful, as a world of love; and that all happiness consisted in living in pure, humble, heavenly, divine love.
Edwards makes clear what this divine love is:
There was no part of creature holiness, that I had so great a sense of its loveliness, as humility, brokenness of heart and poverty of spirit; and there was nothing that I so earnestly longed for. My heart panted after this – to lie low before God, as in the dust; that I might be nothing, and that God might be ALL, that I might become as a little child.
Divine love, to Edwards, was making much of his holy God and making evident his poverty before him. This was his delight and it affected the way he looked at personal holiness.
In Part 1 of this series on Jonathan Edwards and Personal Holiness, I posted that the decisive reason for Edward’s personal holiness was his forward thinking of heaven and enjoying the person of Christ. In this second part, I would like to look at two major influences into Edward’s life that help stir this personal holiness of his.
- The Puritans – B. B. Warfield said this of Edwards, “He fed himself on the great Puritan divines, and formed not merely his thought but his life upon them.” With the life and mind of Edwards being what it was, Warfield’s statement is quite a claim. Yet, when Edward’s “Catalogue” (a list of books forty three pages long he either read or planned on reading) is looked at, this certainly seems true. Edward’s reading list included authors such Calvin, Perkins, Van Mastricht, Sibbes, and John Owen. John Owen was one of significance for Edwards, agreeing with Thomas Halyburton’s statement that John Owen’s writings were “above all human writings for a true view of the Mystery of the Gospel.” While Owen was not the natural philosopher that Edwards was, Owen did seem to have quite an impact on the themes that Edwards wrote on. They shared similar passions for the glory of Christ and his supremacy in all things in their volumes. However, all of the Puritans seemed to have an enduring affect on Edwards, even when Puritanism was passé in 18th century New England. When spiritual and doctrinal purity along with a right understanding of the depraved mind of man was scarce in New England, Edwards saw to it that he would not be primarily affected by his times, but by men a hundred years before him. Faithfulness to the biblical preaching of the Puritans, Edwards thought, would bring revival to New England and it most certainly did in the The Great Awakening.
- Solomon Stoddard – Solomon Stoddard was Edward’s grandfather, who he would assist and finally replace as pastor in Northampton. Stoddard, I think, gets looked over as a major influence on Jonathan Edwards. He is primarily the figure that created the Lord’s Supper controversy that eventually gets Edwards fired as pastor later in life. But this is not all that Stoddard did to the life of Edwards. Edwards himself admire his grandfather writing, “Many looked on him almost as a sort of deity.” That was not a scoff at the stupidity of those who adored Stoddard, but a statement of amazement in the affect he has on his people. Stoddard preached with vigor and lived in purity. He believed with earnest that the pastor’s purity has a profound effect on his congregation. He preached in his sermon The Defects of Preachers Reproved about the importance of powerful preaching and piety of the pastor, “a great want of good preaching whence it comes to pass, that among professors a spirit of piety runs exceedingly low.” Stoddard was known for his piety and powerful preaching. He was known to have been “favoured with a more than ordinary presence of God in his work.” Iain Murray writes a short account of when “a Frenchman was taking aim at Stoddard when an Indian beside him, who had previously been among the English, intervened warning him not to fire because ‘that was Englishman’s God.’ Obviously, the Indian’s understanding was exaggerated, but it shows Stoddard’s apparent influence in his community. His influence on his family is tremendous as well. One out of his two sons became a pastor, and all five of his daughters married pastors, many of whom had sons who would become pastors (including Edwards). Edwards writes of his grandfather, “My grandfather was a very great man, of strong powers of mind, of great grace and authority, of a masterly countenance, speech, and behavior.”
The obvious lesson that comes from these influences of Edwards is the power of reading great men who have gone and labored before us and the powerful nature of a family legacy. Pastors, worship leaders, Sunday school teachers, and even parents should read the Puritans. The Puritans have an understanding of the supremacy of Christ, holiness, and the fight against sin that is almost silent in the sermons and books of today. Parents could start by reading The Valley of Vision (a devotion of Puritan prayers) or read The Pilgrims Progress to yourself or your children. A great book for anybody to read in understanding the thought of the Puritans is A Quest for Godliness by J. I. Packer. We should also recognize that our own legacy on our family can be positive or negative. May we, by the grace of God, live in such a way that leaves a line of men and women who serve God, whether in ministry, or at home, or in the workplace, or in other nations, for the spreading of gospel to all people.
It is hard to be realistic on what to do with Edwards personal holiness at this point. The man commonly spent thirteen hours a day in his study. Not because he was a recluse and only enjoyed the communion with this books, but because he was a laborer for the Gospel and relied heavily on the communion with God. But this model is a hard one to follow. Hardly anyone, even pastors have the opportunity to spend 13 hours a day studying. Yet, Edward’s end desire of his study is one that we can have and should work hard to capture – the service of the gospel.
In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we have looked at Edward’s mindset and influences. In this post, I hope to, through the example of Jonathan Edwards, encourage a desire to labor for the knowledge of God, not for the sake of knowledge, but for the service of the gospel – for pastors or laypeople.
As I mentioned in Part 2, that Edward’s life and thought was largely influenced by Puritanism, it is no surprise that Edwards took very seriously the office of the preacher. It was the center of his ministry and he believed that his own spiritual life would make or break his effectiveness. As far as I can tell, his thirteen hour days of study was broken up into four parts: Sermon preparation, notes on Scripture, doctrinal study, and prayer and devotion. While his days might have been filled with more endeavors, it was not less.
- Sermon Preparation. It was apparent that Edwards wanted to give fresh thought to each new sermon. Expression and careful wording was important to him. He was communicating to his people the most important message and he did it with great care. This was shown in his language, metaphors, and choice of allusions. The great care and time given to sermon preparation is almost foreign to today’s pastors. Pastors are expected to be, first, counselors, then administrators, and finally preachers. This was not the order in Edward’s day, and nor should it be in ours. Don Carson once said in a talk on the importance of expository preaching, that he does not know one effective pastor who does not limit his counseling sessions and delegate his administration work for the purpose of giving availability for long and hard hours devoted to study and sermon preparation. Much of the spiritual formation, vision, and maturity of the local church is dependent upon the Word of God being rightly preached by the pastor.
- Doctrinal Study. Much of Edward’s time were excursions in theology. Asking and working hard to answering questions like, ‘What is man made for?’ (which would end up being the thesis for his book, The End For Which God Made the World), ‘If God is a communicating God, through what means does he communicate?’ He put many of these types of entries in his Miscellanies, which was an extensive work, not as a hobby, but to further his knowledge of his Holy God and to provide for his ministry labors. The Miscellanies was an integral part of his thought development as a theologian and author.
- Notes on Scripture. His work Notes on Scripture, which was just a series of numbered exegetical notes on Scripture, was an extended commentary on the entire Word of God. These are simply notes from faithful devotions and faithful work at discerning and understanding texts.
- Prayer and Devotions. This last sections seemed to be the ultimate priority for Edwards and of most importance. To Edwards, personal communion with the Triune God is the greatest tool in usefulness for God and his Gospel message. He had that peculiar Puritan spirit that, “To know God, to serve him, to enjoy him, was with [him] the great of existence…. Instead of catching occasional glimpses of the Deity through an obscure veil, they aspired to gaze full on the intolerable brightness, and to commune with him face to face.” This was the Puritan heart that was in Edwards. Iain Murray writes, “Prayer was not a compartment in his daily routine, an exercise which possessed little connection with the remainder of his hours alone. Rather he sought to make his study itself a sanctuary, and whether wrestling with Scripture, preparing sermons or writing in his notebooks, he worked as a worshiper (Italics mine).” The conviction that usefulness in his ministry relied some on his devotion kept his study a constant place of prayer, fasting, and meditation. Edwards writes of his devotions:
I have, many times, had a sense of the glory of the Third Person in the Trinity, and his office as Sanctifier, in his holy operation, communing divine light and life to the soul. God… has appeared as an infinite fountain of divine glory and sweetness, being full, and sufficient to fill and satisfy the soul, pouring forth communications; like the sun in its glory, sweetly and pleasantly diffusing light and life.
When one experiences communion with God in this way, the response can only be a life primarily devoted to holiness and a continual labor to enjoy him and cause others to enjoy him. May it be, whether we study for one hour a day or thirteen, that our study would be for the service of the gospel and our holiness.
For Edwards, the hatred of sin is the mark of true religious affection and true revival. There are at least two great times in the life of Edwards where the hatred of sin was a theme of great importance. First, was at Connecticut training school (soon to be Yale), where, as Iain Murray calls it, he had a “new sense of things.” In his “Personal Narrative”, we see that Edwards begins to understand and taste the joy of enjoying God. He writes as 19 or 20 year old:
Never any words of scripture seemed to me as these words did, “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory forever and ever, Amen” (1 Tim. 1:17). I thought with myself, how excellent a Being that was , and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God, and be rapt up in him in heaven, and be as it were swallowed up in him forever.
But these feelings did not come without a companion. They also came with the conviction and hatred of sin. The “terror” of sin which ruled his life before his conversion and even shortly following it filled his journals and his sermons in his first pastorate at New York. The conviction of sin brought an understanding of the holiness of God which his sin was of such a great offense towards. His great offense brought the understanding of God’s wrath against sin, which left him nowhere to go but grace in the great, bright shining face of Jesus Christ, which would his greatest affection in life.
The second time which the theme of the hatred of sin would be of great importance in his life was the Great Awakening. The Great Awakening was a large revival in New England throughout the early 1740’s, which would soon cause a massive reflection by Edwards on what it meant to be a Christian. This reflection would turn into the book, The Religious Affections.
The preaching of Edwards during the Great Awakening was primarily on the agonizing weight of sin and the glory of Christ as the beautiful remedy. Men and women throughout New England suddenly began to feel the dangers of their sin and desperately sought for the way in which they might be saved. In his famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God he says, “Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering, and there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that they won’t bear their weight…. The arrows of death fly unseen at noonday.” The people of New England saw their great need of remedy and all the glory of their salvation was put into the hands of God who sent his Son Jesus Christ to appease his angry and just hands.
One of the marks of a true believer, Edwards would conclude, is being made of the right affections. In his book Religious Affections he listed 10 affections that should be included in the life of the believer: fear, hope, love, hatred, desire, joy, sorrow, gratitude, compassion, and zeal. I remember reading that list for the first time and circling “hatred” and putting a question mark next to it, especially because it was accompanied with love, gratitude, and compassion. The affection of hatred was directed towards sin. Simply put, if we love Christ and have directed our affections to him, sin should be the primary object of our hatred. Edwards concludes that we should mourn that fact that we have offended such a holy and righteous God and relish in the grace that makes our soul presentable before Him. Without the hatred of sin, there can be no right thoughts of Christ or God, no honor or glory directed towards him from us, no worship suitable for his praise, only vanity.
We should learn from Edwards in his seriousness of sin. We should be serious concerning our sin in our worship, parenting, discipling, and most of all in our preaching and evangelism. When we biblically display the horror of our sin and offensiveness to God, Jesus is most glorified in the cross. Giving the false message that “we were good enough to die for” is a lie and gives people false pride and takes glory away from the blood of Jesus. We must rightly show our children, the lost, and congregations their disease so that they can fully grasp the remedy of Jesus Christ.