In this message, Edwards scholar Oliver Crisp discusses the preaching style, content, and strategy of the Northampton Puritan. Crisp is a professor of theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. His newest book is Edwards Among the Theologians (purchase here).
Kyle Strobel, one of the number of excellent young Jonathan Edwards scholars discusses his book Formed for the Glory of God (Purchase here). In this accessible volume, Strobel discusses the spiritual practices of Jonathan Edwards including, prayer, meditation, fasting, and Scripture reading.
In this great sermon, Sam Storms discusses Jonathan Edwards’s theology of joy as an ever-increasing reality for the saints as they encounter the holiness of God in Heaven.
Perhaps no one in the history of the Church (aside from Pelagius) was more vocal and persistent in objecting to the reformed doctrine of imputation and original sin than was John Taylor (1694-1761) of England. His views were made explicit in a volume he wrote in 1735 entitled,The Scripture-Doctrine of Original Sin. Certainly the best testimony to the influence of Taylor’s work was that provided by Jonathan Edwards (1703-58):
“According to my observation, no one book has done so much towards rooting out of these western parts of New England, the principles and scheme of religion maintained by our pious and excellent forefathers, the divines and Christians who first settled this country, and alienating the minds of many from what I think are evidently some of the main doctrines of the gospel, as that which Dr. Taylor has published against the doctrine of original sin.”
Taylor’s disdain for the reformed doctrine of imputation and original sin was grounded upon one foundational principle that he held to be inviolable: sin and guilt are entirely personal.One person’s sin is his alone and cannot be reckoned or charged to the account of another. Neither can guilt in any sense be corporate apart from the voluntary consent of all persons involved. “A representative of moral action,” said Taylor, “is what I can by no means digest. A representative, the guilt of whose conduct shall be imputed to us, and whose sins shall corrupt and debauch our nature, is one of the greatest absurdities in all the system of corrupt religion.”Concerning Adam and Eve, he insisted that as the sin “they committed was personal, done only by them; so also must the real guilt be personal, and belong only to themselves; that is, no other could, in the eye of justice and equity, be blameable and punishable for that transgression, which was their own act and deed, and not the act and deed of any other man or woman in the world.”
Taylor argues that only the person who has a “consciousness” of sin can justly be held guilty for it. It is absurd to suppose that an infinitely righteous God would charge with a crime persons who had no hand or choice in its execution, indeed, a crime committed before they even existed. Such is possible only on the “purely imaginary” supposition that one man’s consciousness, and therefore liability of guilt, is transferable to another. To charge God with such an act is “highly profane and impious.”
Finally, in a statement that fairly shook with indignation, Taylor sums up his feelings concerning the reformed doctrine of original sin:
“But that any man, without my knowledge or consent, should so represent me, that when he is guilty I am to be reputed guilty, and when he transgresses I shall be accountable and punishable for his transgression, and thereby subjected to the wrath and curse of God, nay further that his wickedness shall give me a sinful nature, and all this before I am born and consequently while I am in no capacity of knowing, helping, or hindering what he doth; surely anyone who dares use his understanding, must clearly see this is unreasonable, and altogether inconsistent with the truth and goodness of God.”
Is imputation immoral? Is it unjust? Is it wrong for God to hold us accountable for the sin of Adam? Many have responded to these questions, but none with more creativity and depth than Jonathan Edwards. What was his solution to the problem posed by the doctrine of original sin?
If we are to understand Edwards’ solution to this problem we must come to terms with two crucial and controversial concepts he developed: his doctrine of “continuous creation” and his theory of “personal identity.” We will begin with the doctrine of continuous creation (creatio continua).
Who “Caused” It?
According to this doctrine, the initial creation ex nihilo of all things was but the first act in a never-ending series of creative acts whereby God each moment preserves and upholds the existence of all things. The same power required to bring an entity into being is required to sustain it in or as being. Therefore, the distinction between “creation” and “preservation” or “conservation” is only semantic, not conceptual. Edwards argues that it is by means of a continuous creation from instant to instant that all created substance, both material and immaterial, is preserved in being. Thus he says that
“God’s preserving created things in being is perfectly equivalent to a continued creation, or to his creating those things out of nothing at each moment of their existence. If the continued existence of created things be wholly dependent on God’s preservation, then those things would drop into nothing, upon the ceasing of the present moment, without a new exertion of the divine power to cause them to exist in the following moment.”
The doctrine of continuous creation simply asserts that the existence of any and all entities at any and all times is the immediate effect of divine power. Edwards would insist that event B always follows event A, not because A is the efficient cause of B, but because God has ordained that when A occurs (an event that God produces ex nihilo), B will follow. What you and I might call a causal sequence Edwards calls a series of divine acts. All substance and all events are productions of divine power, continuous creations. Event B does not follow event A because of some mechanistic impact of A on B. The principle on account of which B necessarily follows A is the will of God operating on B so that it will follow A. It is the divine wisdom which has determined that it was fitting for B to follow A and for A to precede B in the order of nature (and not anything in A or B themselves).
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to pursue a handful of theological mentors as a lifelong learner. I believe it was John Piper who wrote something to that effect in one of his books. He had chosen Jonathan Edwards as one of his own “dead mentors,” and I too began to be intrigued by the idea that I could take just a few of the great dead theologians and study their thinking reflectively. I mean, really delve deeply into their thought and way of life to absorb as much as possible about them.
In some sense, we must all choose between reading broadly and reading deeply to some extent. We could choose, for instance, to read quite broadly from a bit of Augustine, Luther, and Edwards here, and then a little bit of Warfield, Lewis, Piper, Packer and others there. In fact, I see great value in that sort of enterprise. After all, I do want to be well read, and I think most other scholars, theologians, and pastors feel the same. But we’d probably have to skim across the top, and read just a few of their well known works to really get to know each of them.
Another approach could be to choose to read deeply and reflectively in just one or two of these authors, if perhaps only for a few months or years at a time. After all, the shortness of human life, the finitude of our humanity, and the competition for our time from other endeavors in life (such as the priority of church, ministry, and family) all necessarily limit our scope and ability to read all that we want to read.
So I took Piper’s advice and for the last three years, I have been trying to live in the mind of just two men, the dead theologian Jonathan Edwards, and the living theologian John Frame. I have to admit that this has been very good for my overall thinking.
I chose Jonathan Edwards for my doctoral dissertation at Reformed Theological Seminary, and I didn’t look back. I made this decision consciously, and having already sampled quite a bit of his material in prior years, especially his sermons. I determined to read Edwards for a number of reasons: 1. Edwards represents some of the best thinking in my own tradition, Reformed or Calvinistic evangelicalism. 2. Edwards is regarded as one of the best, if not the best, theologian America has ever produced. I could read him in his own language, English, untranslated. 3. But my third reason was most important: he spoke about joy as much or more as any other theologian I know of. If Luther is the theologian of justification, and Calvin is the theologian of the Holy Spirit, Edwards must certainly be the theologian of joy.
Stressed and worn by several hard years of pastoral ministry, I needed a good dose of joy and Edwards was just the one to give it to me. My topic for my dissertation then became “Jonathan Edwards’s Theology of Joy.”
So for the past three years I have been studying the life and ministry of Jonathan Edwards. I read his Religious Affections, The End for Which God Created the World, The Nature of True Virtue, The Distinguishing Marks, Freedom of the Will, and many more.
In the best sense of the word, I have stalked him. I’ve been rummaging through his major works. I’ve been ruminating in his personal papers and Miscellanies. Even eavesdropping into his private letters. And I have found joy everywhere.
[See also my post: Top Ten Edwards Books]
In the coming months, I hope to publish my findings from my dissertation more broadly so that others too can savor the gleanings of joy that I found in Edwards. But before I wrap up this post, I want to give just a few reasons why you too should consider spending a few months or years in the mind of a genius like Edwards.
1. Choosing a dead theologian takes us out of our limited culture and experience and puts us into the midst of the trials and struggles of saints who have gone before us. I especially appreciated walking with Edwards as he found joy in the tumults of his own times: the threats of Native Americans, the tensions regarding the Great Awakening, and even the looming danger of such diseases as tuberculosis, which eventually took the life of his friend David Brainerd. These struggles, although greatly different from our own, actually show us how much we have in common.
2. Reading a dead theologian helps us to think perspectivally. As I go through my day, reading my Bible, talking to my staff, playing with my children – I can’t help but be myself. None of us can be anything other than ourselves! And yet reading deeply and reflectively in another man’s works helps us to see life (even our Bibles!) through another lense. Through another perspective. Having read dozens of books by and about Edwards, I can’t help but ask myself “How would Edwards have viewed this?” or “What would Edwards have done about this problem?” Considering our situations from another perspective helps us to be more objective thinkers and overall, more creative and credible preachers, and writers (or artists, homemakers, or engineers as the case may be).
3. Finally, by reading a dead theologian, I got a fresh glimpse of Edwards’s God. The Northampton Puritan helped me to see God again and in bright, daring new ways. The God of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is certainly different from the milder, more domesticated God of many seeker-friendly churches today! Edwards expanded my view of God’s greatness; His holiness, justice, and power. Most of all, and perhaps this is particular to Edwards, I saw God again as Holy Trinity. Edwards is constantly reminding his readers that salvation is accomplished by a thrice-holy God, ever existing as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And this God – is relentlessly joyful in Himself.
Matthew Everhard is the senior pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida and the curator of EdwardsStudies.com.
In this video post, EdwardsStudies.com general editor Matthew Everhard gives a very brief introduction to an incredibly clear and easy book to begin studying Edwards! In fact, this book is so easy to read, it even has cartoons provided. That doesn’t necessarily make the thoughts of Edwards easier, but this is as good of an intro as you can get to the Northampton Puritan.
The book recommended here is James P. Byrd’s work Jonathan Edwards for Armchair Theologians. You can buy it here at Amazon.com.
(Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Bible Design Blog on May 28, 2015).
The Blank Bible
Two famous men in Colonial-American history owned Bibles that had literally been cut to pieces and then stitched back together again.
The first, was Thomas Jefferson – more concerned with morality than divinity – who famously edited out the miraculous and the supernatural from Scripture. Hardly an orthodox Christian by any definition, Jefferson simply cut away the portions that he did not like.
The other man was the famous New England Puritan, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), considered by some to be the greatest scholar that America has ever produced. Edwards’s own rebound Bible had an entirely more sacred purpose – he took copious notes on nearly every major section of Scripture.
The story of this particular Bible is relentlessly fascinating.
What is the Blank Bible?
Dubbed by most (including Edwards himself) as the “Blank Bible,” the official title of the manuscript is technically “Miscellaneous Observations on Holy Scripture,” and can be found today in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. There, you can see it yourself – possibly handle it even – provided of course that the curator is in a good mood, and that you lick the orange Cheetos powder off your fingers before touching it.
The Blank Bible is entirely unusual in construction: it is really two books in one. It consists of a large 9.5 X 7.5 inch blank writing notebook, nearly three inches in girth, into which an entire miniature King James Version of the Bible has been meticulously stitched. Bound in brown leather over board , the book literally looks like one larger volume ate a smaller one for dinner.
Picture something the size of an ESV Study Bible, but fatter at the top than the bottom. From the side view, it looks like a python trying to squeeze down a meal.
The smaller book, a 1653 King James Bible, printed in London by the “Company of Stationers” is a miniscule, double-column, AV with both side and center column references, along with some study notes provided by the publisher to boot. Someone (not Edwards) who was very skilled in bookbinding took apart both original books, first removing their signatures and cutting apart the individual sheets, and then splicing together the larger blank pages with the smaller text of the KJV. Finally, the boundary sewed the newer, larger work together as an irregularly shaped monolith.
History of the Strange Apparatus
Apparently the Blank Bible came into Edwards’s possession through family: it bears the name and handwritten signature of his brother-in-law, Benjamin Pierpont, and is dated by the same in his own script in 1728. A young candidate for ministry, Pierpont never actually ended up being ordained unfortunately. Apparently, he came into some controversy with the local clergymen having acted “apishly” around the young ladies, and was dubbed unfit for public ministry. Sadly, he died sometime thereafter.
Clearly interested in owning the unique book himself – no others like it exist – Edwards obtained possession of the Blank Bible sometime around 1730, probably through the mediation of Sarah his wife. Whether Benjamin could see that his ministry career was going nowhere and gave it to Edwards himself before he died, or whether it came to Edwards as part of the deceased’s estate is unknown. However it came into Edwards’s possession, it had already collected around 70 of Benjamin’s own thoughts and comments on Scripture. No matter. All the New Hampshire Puritan would do is add another 5,506 entries or so over the next thirty years.
The Bible itself is still in remarkably good condition. Its high traffic wear is from daily use, not at all from neglect or abuse. One theory holds that the current cover is itself yet another rebind. The fact that the signatures appear to have been tightened up against the inner columns, resulting in a smaller gutter, suggests that it was used so much by Edwards that the minister again took it to a professional, who cinched the signatures even tighter, added a newer cover and sewed it up again for a third time. A note in the flyleaf from Edwards himself dating the book to 1748 (almost twenty years after he received it) may support that theory.
So You Want to Read it Huh?
In terms of its contents, the Blank Bible contains a treasure trove of information for Jonathan Edwards scholars to devour. As a matter of fact, some people are surprised to know that there are thousands of pages of Edwards’s materials that have still never been published. This volume, too, has only recently come into publication thanks to scholar Stephen J. Stein who meticulously transcribed Edwards’s nearly indecipherable handwriting into the 24th Volume of the complete Yale edition Works of Jonathan Edwards (2006).
This is a good news/bad news deal for eager readers, though. The bad news is that if anyone wants to actually read the thoughts of Edwards on various texts throughout the Bible in the published volume of the Yale Edition, they will have to fork over $225.00 claims to do so.
The good news is that the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University has graciously hosted the entire volume digitally, published for free on the internet, alongside a host of other Edwards manuscripts, sermons, and treatises.
Writing Your Own ‘Miscellaneous Observations’
For some, this unique book will create a desire to replicate a Blank Bible of their own. For those who are interested in creating their own ‘Miscellaneous Observations on Scripture,’ there are options. It may not be feasible to do what Edwards’s Bible managed to do – merge two existing volumes into one. But it may be possible to attempt what Edwards did in spirit at least. Today, high quality Bible publishers have given us a number of options for those who want to work closely with the sacred text: just like a Puritan!
First, consider a wide margin edition. I have written about the glory of these editions elsewhere as has Mark. While you may not be able to pour 5,506 entries into the space just over an inch wide on either margin, at least you won’t have to dip your quill into the ink to write every third letter either.
Second, Crossway is making some really cool journaling Bible options now too. Their new single column journaling Bible improves on the previous edition, now by reducing the text of Scripture down to one column instead of two columns. In this way, confusion between which column of Scripture you are referring to in the lined margin space is eliminated.
If neither of these options work for you, it is still possible to acquire loose-leaf editions of several major Bible translations. Although you’ll never get that sweet leather smell, a three ring binder will give you the ability to add notes as your collection of “Miscellanies” grows.
So, go make a “Blank Bible” like Jonathan Edwards! Just don’t edit out the parts you don’t like as did Thomas Jefferson and become “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
– Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville Florida. He is the author of Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647 and a few other shorter books.
“The Blank Bible.” Ed. Stephen J. Stein. Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University Online. Works of Jonathan Edwards. Vol. 24. http://edwards.yale.edu/archive. Accessed April 2, 2015.
All pictures courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
In this classic talk from the Desiring God conference, Iain Murray gives the highlights from his classic biography of Jonathan Edwards. With a brief introduction by John Piper.
In this video from a couple of years ago, Steve Lawson speaks on Jonathan Edwards and church history. Lawson is also the author of the introductory level book The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards.
Hundreds of years ago, the Puritan Jonathan Edwards owned a one-of-a-kind Bible that has rarely, if ever, been replicated. Until today, that is.
Edwards (1703-1758) took possession of an unusual 1653 King James Bible, the pages of which were removed, and spliced back into a larger volume with entirely blank pages. The resulting amalgamation looked like a large notebook that had swallowed a small hand-sized Bible alive!
This enabled Edwards to own a Bible in which every other page was completely blank – perfectly suitable for a lifetime of note-taking. And that he did! Edwards filled the Bible with 5,506 notes and entries making it one of the great artifacts of Early Colonial history through which we can learn of his personal theology and exegetical insights. Today, this Bible has become known as the “Blank Bible” and is now in possession at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript at Yale University.
[Note: I have written a much larger history of Edwards’s unusual Bible here. Edwards’s Blank Bible can be read for free here at the Yale site, or obtained in print as Volume XXIV of Edwards Complete Yale Works (24 Volumes). ]
Today, I am excited to announce that Crossway has intentionally replicated this unusual Bible and made it available to the public for purchase. No, you don’t get Edwards’s own notes inside, but you do get to create your own notes everywhere throughout!
The result is Crossway’s Journaling Bible: Interleaved Edition. Let me describe it in this brief review.
The first difference between Edwards’s Bible and the replica is translation. Edwards had the KJV and this Crossway edition of course comes in the English Standard Version. But for me, that is ideal. The ESV is one of the most literal and beautiful translations available today. Edwards would approve.
Now, you’ve seen journaling Bibles before, right? In fact, Crossway has several others to offer in their lineup. So what makes this one different? Well, the great design factor here is that the Edwards Bible comes with an entire blank page (both sides) between every page of Scripture making the usable writing space about ten times greater than even the most free-form journaling Bible. Far from being a mere wide margin Bible, this setup allows artists, preachers, diary scribes, and budding theologians to produce far more commentary, message notes, graphic designs, or exegetical observations in their Bibles.
In terms of size, it is surprisingly consistent with what Edwards had. His was 9.5 X 7.5, and the new Crossway edition is almost the same dimensions. That seems rather fitting to me. For those in the know, this is essentially the same size as an ESV Study Bible, the owners of which know is a rather large book indeed. This book probably won’t make a very good traveling companion for you, and it certainly won’t fit in your pocket, but it will make a faithful servant at your study, desk, or office.
At the same time, there are some features that would make the Puritan Edwards downright jealous. Edwards was known to treasure paper (yes, paper!), often writing his sermon notes on unfolded fans, parcel packaging, bills from the market, or whatever else he could get his hands on. Let me say that the paper in this edition is fantastic. A cream color, it is pleasant to the eye, smooth to the touch, and thick enough for substantial writing. That’s what this baby is designed for, right?
Speaking of layout, the two-column format is printed without center column references, similar to what Crossway does in their longtime favorite Thinline setup, although the font is a half-step down at a mere 7.5. This makes the Journaling Bible: Interleaved Edition a bit difficult to see for those with troubled up-close sight. For me, it’s no problem at all. It looks to me roughly comparable to a Cambridge Pitt Minion, although the PM has the text lines printed much closer together giving the Edwards Replica a better, easier read in my own opinion.
In one sense, it is minimalistic. There are no study notes, charts, or maps. The reference suite featured is Crossway’s lightest touch, containing only references to those places in Scripture where other portions are directly quoted. For instance, Acts 2:17 has a reference note to Joel 2:28-32. But there is very rare page clutter here, such as translation notes and manuscript variants. Thus, the text is virtually free from obstruction. The job to fill the pages with notes and references belongs to the owner. You.
This edition comes in cloth over board, giving it a nice timeless look. It’s both quaint and modern. Rustic and durable. The hardback style means this larger Bible has plenty of structure to prevent it from being floppy, although draping it with a nice piece of natural brown leather would make a pleasing (but significantly costly) upgrade.
Here are some other pics: