On the positive, this set contains most of what you would ever want to read from Edwards including his Religious Affections, Freedom of the Will, Life of Brainerd, The End for Which God Created the World, etc.
On the negative, the set is printed in difficult type in two columns making these volumes difficult to read for many people. Check out more thoughts below.
As every Jonathan Edwards scholar knows full well, the riches of Edwards works will cost great riches (literally!) to obtain. Of the 26 volumes of Jonathan Edwards’s works, most of the hardback editions cost in the neighborhood of $125 each. Thankfully, someone at Yale Press had a good idea: put a few of them out there in paperback for substantially less. In this video, I briefly tell you about the available paperpacks.
Permission to re-blog this post, which originally appeared here, was kindly granted by the author, Obbie Tyler Todd. Rev. Todd (M.Div & Th.M from SBTS) is Associate Pastor of Students at Zoar Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Yale Philosopher John E. Smith once suggested that the sum of Jonathan Edwards’ thought could be considered “one magnificent answer” to the question “What is true religion?”. Without question, Edwards’ most comprehensive attempt to formulate that answer is found in The Religious Affections. These so-called “affections” serve as the “springs of motion” that propel all of human activity: “In everything we do, wherein we act voluntarily, there is an exercise of the will and inclination; it is our inclination that governs us in our actions.” (25) Godly affections are those found specifically inside the church. These religious affections are the “fervent exercises of the heart” the Lord bestows upon His church for the promotion of “true religion.” Still, due to its timeless instruction on human nature and the heart of true worship, Religious Affections continues to transcend age and creed in its ability to speak to the Christian life. The following are three truths that Edwards’ magisterial work delivers to the modern church for meditation and practice.
1. KNOWLEDGE OF GOD’S WORD AND TRUST IN ITS AUTHORITY
In his book Jonathan Edwards and the Church (2013), Rhys Bezzant eliminates the notion that Edwards’ ecclesiology was peripheral to his soteriology: “The church is not an afterthought in the otherwise individualist plans of God, but is the focused domain where God’s promises, presence, and purpose are to be discovered.” (ix) These three forces came together in the preached Word. The puritan religion was the religion of the Word and the one to which Jonathan Edwards wholly subscribed. As Edwards makes clear in The Religious Affections, any kind of accurate self-portrayal must begin in the Scriptures. Knowledge of self begins with true knowledge of God: “One who knew the heart of man better than we know our own hearts, and perfectly knew the nature of virtue and holiness, was the author of the Scriptures.” (229) God is the protagonist to the divine metanarrative and the one to whom we must continually be directed through His Word.
Throughout The Religious Affections, Edwards is insistent upon the fact that the Scriptures are God’s merciful self-revelation. Likewise, inspiration and illumination are both accomplished through the Spirit. Upon this divine authority, Edwards assures his readers that the Bible is our only trustworthy source in the things pertaining to salvation. Sinners must be “willing to have the Word of God rather than their own philosophy, and experiences, and conjectures, as their sufficient and sure guide.” (88) The authority of the Word is an issue that Edwards knew to be paramount in his own time and in the years to come: “The things revealed in the Word of God are so great, and so infinitely more important than all other things, that it is inconsistent with human nature, that a man should fully believe the truth of them, and not be influenced by them above all things in his practice.” (308) This is the confidence that Edwards had in the Word of God preached and believed: “Truly to see the truth of the Word of God, is to see the truth of the gospel.” (220) Edwards made a distinction between simple “notional” knowledge of the Gospel and a knowledge that “relishes and feels.” Biblical knowledge unaccompanied by a sense of holy beauty is worthless, according to Edwards. Conversely, Edwards exhorts his readers to seek “living upon Christ, and not upon experiences.” (103) Hence the Word of Christ is axiomatic to any ministry seeking to stave off rational and fanatical extremes.
2. WE DO THAT WHICH WE DESIRE MOST.
Long before John Piper invented the phrase “Christian Hedonism,” Jonathan Edwards introduced us to the “Religious Affections.” One of the truths contained in his magisterial work is that anywhere sinners have interests and exercise their wills, there is necessarily an inclination that dictates their behavior. According to Edwards, “Those acts which men delight in, they necessarily incline to do.” (317) These inclinations are what distinguish our pleasures from our displeasures. For example, if a young woman is bitter toward her parents when they forbid her from some unsavory activity, her displeasure must necessarily arise from an inclination to engage in that activity. Edwards knew that our loves define our hates, and our pleasures our displeasures.
Affections must have an object. Even a hardened sinner understands that to be “affectionate” implies someone receiving affection. The church’s primary task is therefore to designate Christ as the object of our affection. For unregenerate sinners in love with the world, Jesus cannot compete for the seat of their affections unless the seat-holder is dethroned. Therefore the “more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul” must find their telos and their satisfaction in Christ Jesus. Only then will human appetites be satiated.
According to the pastor from Northampton, “If men’s affection to God is founded first on His profitableness to them, their affection begins at the wrong end; they regard only for the utmost limit of the stream of divine good, where it touches them and reaches their interest, and have no respect to that infinite glory of God’s nature which is the original good, and the true fountain of all good.” (169) Our affections must never rest supremely in those benefits of Christ, but rather in Christ alone.
In order for the affections to rest in Christ, one must know Christ and His resurrection. In short, the Gospel must be fully understood and embraced. Edwards opines, “A man must first love God, or have his heart united to Him, before he will esteem God’s good his own, and before he will desire the glorifying and enjoying of God as his happiness.” (166) Gospel-less, ethical teaching will not suffice for transformative ministry. The concept of Christ-centered sanctification, for Edwards, was wrapped up in the idea of holiness. In The Religious Affections, Edwards’ eschatology informs his view of holiness, which in turn informs his view of humility. “It was never God’s design to give us any rules by which we may certainly know who of our fellow professors are His, and to make a full and clear separation between sheep and goats. On the contrary, it was God’s design to reserve this to Himself as His prerogative.” (120) The sheep and goats are indistinguishable today just as they were in Edwards’ post-Awakening era. Consequently, the identification of tares and wheat should be reserved for God in the eschaton. True religion, according to Edwards, was the power of godliness (Deut. 30:6). The pursuit of that godliness becomes the Christian mission in light of the mystery of election. This should prompt ministers of the Gospel to exhort their students to pursue holiness and to eschew licentious Christian living. According to Edwards, “Holiness, which is as it were the beauty and sweetness of the divine nature, is as much the proper nature of the Holy Spirit as heat is the nature of fire.” (129) A true love of God must begin with a delight in His holiness, not one’s own. In this sense, Religious Affections offers its readers a proto-“Christian hedonism,” recognizing that our desires and God’s glory are not mutually exclusive but rather consonant with the Gospel itself.
3. GOD’S GLORY MANIFESTED IN GOD’S LOVE.
Edwards has been called “the theologian of the first commandment” and with good reason. For him, love was central to theology: “For love is not only one of the affections, but it is the first and chief of the affections, and the fountain of all the affections. From live arises hatred of those things which are contrary to what we love, or which oppose and thwart us in those things that we delight in.” (36) In Edwards’ mind, love was the source of all affections, the well from which all inclinations were drawn. Love for God is the greatest commandment, and love for others the second greatest commandment. “Christians are Christlike,” Edwards remarked. (274) At the core of the Gospel message is love, and without love, one does not truly comprehend the truth of the Gospel. Edwards himself said in Religious Affections that he had no greater joy than to hear that his children walked in the truth. (329) Walking in that divine truth is epitomized by a life of love.
The love of God in His people is the means by which they are able to love others. And this is to His glory. A glimpse of God’s divine grace is the fire that ignites humble love for mankind. In Edwards’ mind, grace enables believers to see the beauty of God, to place him as the object of their affections. Therefore, in order to kindle a fire to serve, a pastor must place the glory of God as the supreme end of all ministry and life itself: “I know of no reason why a being affected with a view of God’s glory should not cause the body to faint, as well as being affected with a view of Solomon’s glory.” (60)
The glory of God was integral to Edwards’ very existence. It was all-encompassing. In fact, his extremely high view of Scripture was subservient to his extremely high view of God and His glory. He understood that nothing and no one else in the universe is worthy of worship other than God alone. For this reason, defining love in relation to God’s glory is ever so important. If sinners are taught that John 3:16 somehow means that they are deserving of God’s love, they will then carry a diminished view of grace. This naturally leads to a hidden belief in one’s inherent righteousness. On the other hand, when sinners are confronted with God’s glory as the determining influence behind salvation history, their worship is a humble worship. Loving a worthy God begins with an understanding of intrinsic human unworthiness. He is sovereign over all and set apart from all: “They that do not see the glory of God’s holiness cannot see anything of the true glory of His mercy and grace.” (183) At the bottom of grace and mercy is God’s glory.
Thirty years ago John Piper wrote a book calledDesiring God (1986). In it he famously stated that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” The concept was something Piper called “Christian Hedonism.” Aside from Scripture, he has consistently credited the crux of the idea to his theological hero Jonathan Edwards. And perhaps, through the help of John Piper’s prolific pen, millions of Christians will be drawn back to the genius of Religious Affections – a masterful work that continues to deliver spiritual gems to the modern church.
The following essay was written by Sarah Boss. It was originally published by the Wheaton Pub and also posted here at The Augustine Collective. This essay was also presented on 4/1/2016 at MCLLM (Midwestern Conference on Literature, Language, and Media) hosted by the English graduate department at NIU. Panel: “Fire, Nature, and Solitude: Transatlantic Romantic Trends.” EdwardsStudies.com thanks Sarah Boss for contributing this piece, and is grateful that she is following in her father’s footsteps in Edwards scholarship!
Herman Melville remarks in Moby-Dick, “Yes, as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.” Whether “everyone” knows this is not certain, but two other stalwarts of American thought surely did. Jonathan Edwards and Henry David Thoreau both give water serious meditation—Thoreau perhaps more famously in Walden, while Edwards’s meditations on water appear throughout his work, but especially in his journal Images of Divine Things. Although these two men operate within contrasting schemata—Edwards extending the Puritan tradition of emblems and typology into the realm of nature, and Thoreau adhering to the transcendentalist veneration of nature—they meditate on the exact same image of water. In the chapter of Walden, “The Ponds,” and in Image no. 117 of Images of Divine Things, Thoreau and Edwards both reflect on the image of a pond which is so clear and still that it reflects the sky in its surface. A close reading of Edwards and Thoreau’s accounts of still water reveals a striking similarity in these two writers’ techne. They create parallel discourses on water, as they assert the water’s significance, describe the water vividly, then finally imagine a descent into the water. However, despite these similarities, they arrive at contrasting conclusions. For Edwards, such a lake is “death” and “darkness itself,” but for Thoreau, Walden is “remarkable” for its “purity.” Ultimately, their contrasting conclusions reveal irreconcilable differences in methodology, resulting in two distinct modes of typology.
Edwards begins Image no. 117 with an explicit statement of his typology. Traditionally, typology is the reading and understanding of Old Testament “types” in light of their New Testament “antitypes” or fulfillment, but Edwards extends his reading beyond Scripture to include nature. In this image, he frames his typological reading as a poignant thesis. He writes, “The water, as I have observed elsewhere, is a type of sin or the corruption of man, and of the state of misery that is the consequence of it.” By asserting that water “is a type of” sin and corruption, Edwards accomplishes two things: First, he announces that he will interpret a universal image of a body of water, rather than one specific lake or pond, thus universalizing his forthcoming interpretation. Second, he establishes a strong sense of typology by using a being verb rather than simile or metaphorical language, thus clearly equating the “type” with his reading of it. Edwards’s strong, direct language and the placement of a clear thesis at the beginning of his entry strengthen his typological interpretation. Edwards moves to demonstrate his thesis through a description of the water’s “flattering appearance.” He writes, “How smooth and harmless does the water oftentimes appear, and as if it had paradise and heaven in its bosom. Thus when we stand on the banks of a lake or river, how flattering and pleasing does it oftentimes appear, as though under were pleasant and delightful groves and bowers, or even heaven itself in its clearness …” Here Edwards uses vivid imagery of heaven reflected on a lake’s surface to illustrate the comparison between such water and deceptive sin. His use of “we” invites the reader to join him in a communal memory and empathize with his rendering of the image, drawing her to the water’s beatific appearance. The clarity of Edwards’s thesis, combined with his succinct but vivid imagery, creates a firm foundation for his interpretation.
Thoreau’s thesis is more nuanced. He begins his first account of Walden Pond, “The scenery of Walden is on a humble scale, and, though very beautiful, does not approach to grandeur, nor can it much concern one who has not long frequented it or lived by its shore; yet this pond is so remarkable for its depth and purity as to merit a particular description.” Here Thoreau may seem almost self-deprecating, but buried in this unassuming start is a quiet thesis, which he will aim to demonstrate through his description of the pond. By stating that Walden is humble and without grandeur, then claiming that it is nevertheless “remarkable,” Thoreau elevates Walden above other landscapes or bodies of water that may seem more grand. He differs from Edwards in that he does not propose to address a universal image of water, but rather one specific body and its special attributes. The characteristic that merits such elevation is Walden’s “purity.” Thoreau will spend the body of this description of Walden discussing its color. He describes Walden’s color as being “blue at one time and green at another,” and recalls, “I have discerned a matchless and indescribable blue light, such as watered or changeable silks and sword blades suggest, more cerulean than the sky itself.” Such is the purity and beauty of Walden that all other ponds are merely “yellowish” and “but muddy by comparison.” The contrast between Walden’s purity and other ponds’ muddiness lends Walden a special quality, as if it possessed some inherent goodness. Furthermore, like Edwards, Thoreau notes the reflection of the sky on the water’s surface. He writes of Walden: “Lying between the earth and the heavens, it partakes of the color of both,” and he notes again times when “the surface of the waves may reflect the sky.” Noting Walden’s purity enables Thoreau to argue that it “partakes” of both heaven and earth, essentially acting as a mediator between the two—physically, but also symbolically. Moreover, by claiming that Walden’s color is “more cerulean than the sky itself,” Thoreau elevates the water above heaven. Giving Walden this heavenly quality suggests a symbolic essence of the water and prompts the reader to consider the double meaning of “purity”—physically, in terms of color, but also metaphysically, through ontological value.
Although Edwards and Thoreau have thus differed slightly in form, with Thoreau creating a more nuanced thesis, the real deviation comes after their parallel descent into the water. Edwards, after describing the “paradise and heaven” depicted on the water’s surface, sharply reasserts his thesis: “But indeed, it is all a cheat.” He subsequently envisions a scenario in which he and the reader are successfully tempted to enter into the water: “If we should descend into it, instead of finding pleasant, delightful groves and a garden of pleasure, and heaven in its clearness, we should meet with nothing but death, a land of darkness, or darkness itself.” In Edwards’s account of a descent into the water, he emphasizes the “cheat” of the image and the stark contrast between appearance and reality. The “garden of pleasure,” with its Edenic connotations, is exposed as “a land of darkness.” Edwards’s tone and use of the hypothetical “if” demarcate this passage as an urgent warning, rather than mere naturalistic description. Whoever descends into the water, in Edwards’s account, undergoes a sort of transformation; however, in this transformation the water does not purify but kills.
Thoreau’s account, though containing a parallel descent into the water, could not be more different from Edwards’s. Expanding on his thesis of Walden’s purity, Thoreau writes, “This water is of such crystalline purity that the body of the bather appears of an alabaster whiteness, still more unnatural, which, as the limbs are magnified and distorted withal, produces a monstrous effect, making fit studies for a Michael Angelo.” The purity and unearthliness that appeared in the water are shown to be true by a descent into it. Thoreau’s bather is also transformed—not by death but by apotheosis—as she becomes immortalized as a living work of art. At the end of this passage on Walden, Thoreau finally asserts his typological reading of the pond, as water that is not only pure in its appearance but which also purifies those who experience it. Such a transformation, in which the bather transcends her own humanity, reveals the duality of meaning in Thoreau’s “purity.” The pure appearance of Walden—unlike any other water—transfigures whoever is willing to embrace it. So, too, does an intellectual embrace of Walden—seeing it for its true “remarkable” self—enable a purification and transcendence of the mind.
Ultimately, Edwards and Thoreau were able to arrive at these contrasting interpretations because of their differing methodologies. In composing these accounts, they drew from different sources and operated out of clashing ideological frameworks. Edwards’s source for his typology was vast, as he cited Scripture to confirm his interpretations of nature. In Image no. 156 Edwards writes,
The Book of Scripture is the interpreter of the book of nature two ways: [first] by declaring to us those spiritual mysteries that are indeed signified or typified in the constitution of the natural world; and secondly, in actually making application of the signs and types in the book of nature as representations of those spiritual mysteries in many instances.
In this entry, Edwards clearly presents Scripture as the foundational interpretative tool through which nature should be read. In Image no. 117 in particular, Edwards connects his reading of lakes back to Scripture. He concludes the entry with a footnote: “Prov. 5:3-6,” which is a reference to a “forbidden woman” whose appearance is pleasing and flattering—like Edwards’s lake—but whose “feet go down to death.” Although his naturalistic observations and typological logic are sound in themselves, Edwards presents Scripture as his final evidence. Although these verses do not mention water, they use metaphor to demonstrate the same type of sin, corruption, and consequent misery as Edwards’s thesis, thus communicating the same absolute truth. Additionally, Image of Divine Things displays an extensive consideration of water, as Edwards examines water in its vicissitudes and uses biblical references to interpret it. These include: Image no. 15, flowing rivers are the effusions of the Spirit; Image no. 27, the stormy sea is the wrath of God; Image no. 77, the confluence of rivers flowing in various directions into the ocean is divine providence; Image no. 155, spring streams that rise then dry up again represent hypocrites; and so on. This wide consideration of water allows Edwards to make an informed, nuanced interpretation of a specific type of water, supported both by biblical sources and comparison with other naturalistic observations.
By contrast, although Thoreau cites writers, philosophers, and scientists throughout Walden, he does not explicitly draw on extratextual sources when developing his account of the pond. Instead, he relies on his own empirical observations and poetic insight. He, too, is painstaking in his interpretation, as he seems to describe Walden exhaustively, even through seasonal changes. Yet he narrows his observations to focus on one specific pond—he can cannot come to a universal conclusion about ponds or lakes nor does he attempt to. He notes himself that his interpretation of Walden would be lost on anyone who has not been there. Moreover, in a tone of righteous indignation, Thoreau concludes “The Ponds”: “Talk of heaven! Ye disgrace earth.” This spirited conclusion reaffirms Thoreau’s own elevation of earth over heaven and his emphasis on a nature-centric typology, revealing the heart of difference between Edwards and himself. Edwards’s typology is a conduit for looking outward and obtaining knowledge about the God who exists above the natural world, while Thoreau’s typology flows from an inward sight, like Emerson’s transparent eyeball, by which one is able to see the god within.
Yet despite various similarities and differences in their typology, Edwards and Thoreau both acknowledge the spiritual significance of nature and its intentional symbolism. In Image no. 57, Edwards writes,
‘Tis very fit and becoming of God, who is infinitely wise, so to order things that there should be a voice of his in his works instructing those that behold them, and pointing forth and showing divine mysteries and things more immediately appertaining to himself and his spiritual kingdom. The works of God are but a kind of voice or language of God, to instruct intelligent beings in things pertaining to himself.
For Edwards, a typological truth embedded in nature is in accord with God’s own methods of instruction. To extend typology from the Book of Scripture to the Book of Nature only enhances God’s communication with humankind. Likewise, although Thoreau does not adhere to orthodox Christianity and traditional typology, he also posits an intentional, truth-laden symbolism inherent in nature. Concerning Walden, he writes, “I am thinking that this pond was made deep and pure for a symbol.” This language of intentional symbolism—being “made for” a symbol—communicates a natural typology similar to Edwards’s. Ultimately, Edwards and Thoreau’s differing typologies of lakes both point to the universal symbolism of nature and its epiphanic, not just aesthetic, value.
Jonathan Edwards’s Freedom of the Will is certainly not the easiest piece of literature in the world, nor is it the most accessible treatise Edwards ever wrote. In fact, on my first pass through this incredible volume, I remember asking myself a few times during the journey “Is it over yet?”
Pressing on, though, we do come to some important insights as to the nature of the human will in relation to the sovereignty of God. As you may already know, Edwards had a very high view of the sovereignty of God, as a representative of high Calvinistic orthodoxy in his own day. In fact, Edwards argues in Freedom for a position called “compatibalism,” which is to say, that Edwards believes that God’s sovereignty is ultimately compatible with human freedom, rightly understood.
For Edwards, God is radically free. If we want to talk about free will as a philosophical concept, Edwards would suggest we begin with God’s free will. He alone determines the course of human events and indeed the outcome of all of our lives. But Edwards also believes that human beings always act in ways that are consistent with their own nature. We too are “free” to act according to our own impulses. Yes, God determines and controls all things, but nevertheless, humans are free to act in complete concert with their own strongest dispositions. In fact, we always act in harmony with our heart’s strongest desire at the time. But this, for us, is precisely the problem. We are sinners.
Here, Edwards introduces the concepts of moral ability and natural ability. Human beings, he says, are obviously limited in their natural ability. This corresponds to what we can do within our physical limitations in time and space. I cannot bench press more than 200 lbs any more, for example. Nor can any of us reading this blog post fly without the aid of aircraft. But moral ability has to do with what our soul will not or cannot do. A drunk (in Edwards own illustration) is certainly able to put down his beer (natural ability) but it may be that he does not have the spiritual capability to refuse another drop (moral ability).
This explains why some people receive the Gospel and others do not. Left to our own, we have the complete natural ability to receive Christ, but the problem lies in our lack of moral ability. Namely, our hearts are corrupt and will not come to Him for clemency. Edwards argues that what is needed is for the Holy Spirit to override that selfish impulse within us which refuses the grace of God by giving us a new living “principle” (Edwards’s stock term for spiritual quickening) in the very heart.
His own best illustration is as follows: Suppose there was a great king who had two men in prison. The first man desired to come and beg before the King. If he could, he would run straightaway to the throne room and beg for mercy and clemency. The problem in the first case, Edwards says, is that the bars and walls of the prison prevent him. He has the moral ability to repent, but not the natural ability. Some people, Edwards argues, mistakenly assume that Calvinism implies that God’s determination holds back willing penitents from repenting!
But this, however, is not really the case with fallen man.
No, for fallen man, the problem is exactly the opposite: Now suppose that the bars and prison door are wide open for our second hypothetical prisoner. Nothing hinders his coming straight to the King’s throne. The jail door is wide open. The guard beckons him on! Unfortunately, this second man hates the King. To repent would be utterly despicable in his own eyes. He would rather not bow the knee to the King, even if it meant his freedom. He would rather spit in the King’s face given the chance! His problem is not his natural ability – in fact nothing hinders his coming but his own heart. The problem is that he is not morally able to come. His is a spiritual problem indeed.
Thus, once again we see that divine grace is needful to change the heart of the prisoner. In this way, by distinguishing moral and natural ability, Edwards builds his case and upholds God’s sovereignty in salvation AND man’s responsibility to repent.
These ideas are not in conflict, but are in fact, “compatible.”
If you have not already discovered one of the coolest Jonathan Edwards sites on the web yet, let me introduce you to the Omohundro Institute for Early American History Quarterly.
On this page [click here] you can actually take a “virtual tour” of Jonathan Edwards’s person study, and examine (digitally of course) the personal affects of the Northampton Puritan, snooping through his desk, his notebooks, and other personal items.
William H. Kimnach and Kenneth P. Minkema provide the written commentary on the personal items. Here are some screenshots of what you can see.