(Publishing Note: This article by Matthew Everhard appears in full in Westminster Society Journal, volume 2, “Means of Grace.” Westminster Society Press, 2018).
Preaching “Affectively” (Like Edwards)
The first thing that we might say about Edwards is that his preaching was designed to be affective (not to be confused with effective). That is, his sermons were aimed like an arrow resting on a taut bow string at the very heart of the man. In his great work, The Religious Affections, Edwards describes the affections as, “No other than the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul.” The word “inclination” is probably key here, as affections are different from mere emotions. Neither are they passions. Early on in the treatise, Edwards names off and briefly comments upon ten examples of the sorts of religious affections he is talking about: fear, hope, love, joy, hatred, desire, sorrow, gratitude, compassion, and zeal. We might observe in his preaching patterns that every sermon was designed to stir, perturb, or provoke one or more of these affections.
In his powerful and provocative work entitled The Supremacy of God in Preaching, John Piper mentions ten ways in which Jonathan Edwards preached the gospel with both power and authority: 1) By stirring up the holy affections of his hearers, 2) by enlightening the mind through logical consistency, 3) by saturating his messages with Scripture, 4) by employing analogies and images that captured the imagination, 5) by using threats and warnings consistent with Scripture’s balance of Law and gospel, 6) by pleading for a response from his hearers, 7) by probing the inner workings of the heart, 8) by yielding to the Holy Spirit in prayer, 9) by being broken and tenderhearted as a minister and, 10) with an intensity commensurate to the message of the gospel itself.
In one richly compelling chapter, Piper discusses the way that “gladness” should infiltrate the very act of preaching itself. He says, “A pastor who is not manifestly glad in God does not glorify God. He cannot make God look glorious if knowing and serving this God gives no gladness to the soul.” Here, Piper intimates that even the act of preaching should be joyful. He draws a very strong distinction between joy and flippancy, but nevertheless he argues persuasively that delivery of joyful news should be done joyfully. If a runner brought news of a victory in battle, would not his face, body, and general comportment reflect the tenor of the news that he brought? What other way can good news be communicated but by an advocate that is himself set free by the joy of the freedom he proclaims? Piper sums this truth up rightly when he says that, “One reason an essential element of love is the enjoyment of our work is that you can’t consistently give what you don’t have. If you don’t give gladness, you don’t give the gospel, you give legalism.”
Piper is wise to remind us that even when we are called to preach the difficult and hard truths of the Christian faith, we should do so with joy on our faces. There is no reason why sermons on holiness, obedience, suffering, and even the wrath to come must be delivered with deep frowns and sorrowful eyes. As a matter of fact, even Edwards’s most notoriously dark sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” concludes with a joyful invitation to repentance and new life. Though many know of Edwards’s frightening imagery of backsliding and hellfire, not many are as aware of his concluding imagery at the end of the sermon. This great image is one of Christ opening a window or door and beckoning as many as are called to enter into this way of salvation. We note again the language of happiness and joy in the conclusion as Edwards pleads with sinners to repent:
Many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.
I think Edwards realized this same truth that Piper expounds in The Supremacy of God, when the Northampton pastor once preached, “And how joyful will it be to [pastors] to consider that they have been the instruments of so advancing the kingdom and glory of their Lord in the world and bringing home those to Him that He has purchased with His blood.” Again he asks, “Is not that honorable to such little, inferior creatures as we to be employed to do that which, when done, rejoices the heart of the Son of God?” If we are to do Edwardsean preaching, not only should we preach joy, but we should preach joy, joyfully. We should preach dread, dreadfully. We should preach love, lovingly.
Preaching Doctrine (Like Edwards)
Revisit, if you will, that image of a pastor today trying to imitate Edwards with his wig and 90 minute sermon, thick with doctrine. Probably the reason that such theologically rich preaching would be ill-received today is that pastors have unwittingly trained our people not to expect it. In this way, a vicious cycle ensues. Pastors give their congregations less and less doctrinal substance, virtually “un-training” their people to receive it. This thereby lowers their expectations and demands for the same. One wonders what would happen if pastors were more intentional about re-asserting doctrine into our sermons the way that Edwards did.
Including a doctrinal section in one’s sermon is not unique to Edwards. (Almost all Puritans commonly did the same). But it is consistent with nearly every single one of Edwards’s extant sermons. In almost every manuscript sermon of the Northampton divine, Edwards gave a very succinct definition of a Christian doctrine drawn from the scriptural text about which he spoke. Edwards, like all of the Puritans of his age, was constant in his use of doctrinal content in his sermons and writings. As was consistent with the Puritan model of “text, doctrine, application,” his sermons stated up-front, and in his own words what doctrine he was preaching on, making his theological goals overt and clear to his audience. In this way, Edwards safe-guarded what is true, pure, lovely, and commendable (Philippians 4:8). Moreover, his congregation learned to discern the true from the false.
Remember, in the Puritan age fathers regularly catechized their family and children by reviewing the sermon on the Lord’s Day afternoon, expecting even young ones to learn the doctrinal context that was given by the minister. This is most easily done, of course, if the doctrinal statement of the sermon is given explicitly rather than being given implicitly or merely assumed throughout the course of the weekly sermon. Edwards’s doctrinal statements were always well-crafted, and were meant to be memorized and absorbed by the minds of both the educated and the neophytes in his congregation.
Looking at a couple of his doctrinal assertions, we realize just how much care and shaping he put into his formative, propositional truths. For instance, in Charity and Its Fruits, his doctrine for the occasion was gloriously simple: “Heaven is a world of love.” On an earlier occasion, his doctrinal statement in his sermon on 1 Corinthians 13:3 must have struck many hearers like a dagger to the heart “That all that man can do, and all that they can suffer, can never make up for the want of sincere Christian love in the heart.” I can only imagine fathers noting these poignant words in their notebooks and returning to the Sabbath day meal table to discuss this rich axiom with their families over dinner.
Sometimes Edwards’s doctrinal statements were much more complicated. In his series True and False Christians from Matthew 25:1–12, he gave this more extended, two-part doctrine for the church to learn: “I. That the visible church of Christ is made up of true and false Christians. II. Those two sorts of Christians do in many things agree, and yet in many other things do greatly differ.” While far wordier than the two examples mentioned above, this statement too is rich with insight, waiting to be explicated in discussion by families in the home. This two-part statement begs to be dissected: What do we mean by the “visible church?” In what ways are true and false Christians alike? In what ways are they different? Thus, by crafting very well intentioned and carefully honed doctrinal statements, Edwards both encouraged and enabled his people to think carefully on the doctrinal content of the weekly sermon.
If we are to help our people discover real and lasting joys in Christ, we will have to help them to discover the joy of Christian doctrine. Far from being perceived as “unnecessary” or “a divider” between Christian denominations, the Bible itself views doctrine as something intricately valuable to faith and growth in sanctification. In the seven uses of the word “doctrine” in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus in the ESV, the Apostle used the term in an unequivocally positive light. Paul bids his young co-laborers for the gospel to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1), “adorn the doctrine of God our savior” (Titus 2:10), and to hold firm to sound doctrine to enable the church to discern truth from error (1 Timothy 1:10, 1 Timothy 6:3). Doctrine is rarely if ever seen in the Bible as being unnecessarily divisive, but rather as a faithful, God-honoring summation of the faith “once for all given to the saints” (Jude 3).
Inspired by the clarity of Edwards and his peers in the doctrinal portions of Puritan sermons, I have recently been motivated to try something similar. After an opening illustration aimed at introducing the passage at hand, and giving the congregation some background information on the text which we are studying (the first part of the tripartite Puritan formulation), I have attempted stating a doctrinal assertion as Edwards does. I began articulating a particular truth in one or two lines, and informed the congregation that this is the immediate subject matter of the sermon. Intentionally, I place the doctrinal proposition on the Power Point in the view of all as I preach, and encourage the congregation to write it down and discuss it later as a family.
For instance, in a sermon on Luke 12:22–34, I recently defined the doctrine of worry as follows: “Worry is a creaturely lapse of trust in either God’s sovereignty over creation, or His benevolence towards those He loves.” In this way, worry is defined as a problem as it relates to God as our divine protector and Father, rather than merely a troubling feeling or emotion that we all experience. On a sermon on Luke 15:1–15, I defined irresistible grace as “Christ’s persistent pursuit of rogue sinners, resulting in their gracious capture and joyful return home.” In an Edwardsean way, I made a special effort to show how this doctrine is joyful, rather than merely engaging in an intellectual wrestling match about the divine decrees. In a sermon on Luke 4:16–30, I defined preaching as “a Spirit-empowered means of grace, in which promises and warnings of God are declared, resulting in either transformed lives or hardened hearts.” This doctrinal definition also helped me to form the three parts of my sermon more clearly: first, a discussion on the “means of grace,” second an explanation of the promises and warnings of God, and third an application that reminds hearers that preaching either transforms our lives or hardens our hearts. In this case, the doctrinal assertion also served as the outline for the sermon, even ending with what Edwards might have called the “use of examination,” to determine whether or not the preaching of the Word was hardening or softening the hearts of the hearers.
Concluding this section, I should say that I have observed anecdotally that giving a well-reasoned doctrinal statement at the beginning of the sermon helps in several significant ways. First, it helps the preacher to better articulate his outline and formulate his own trajectory for the sermon. As I noted above, a well-formed doctrinal statement may actually become the very outline of the message. Second, a succinct, well-crafted doctrine allows the congregation to learn or review a doctrinal formulation in the fresh words of the preacher. Once or twice, I have also placed my own doctrine next to a more standard formulation from the Westminster Confession or Heidelberg Catechism. In this way, the congregation gets two perspectives by which to approach the same concept. Finally, by introducing a doctrinal proposition at the beginning of the sermon (even if it is not stated as such) the preacher is better able to ensure that his overall preaching ministry is informed by the great truths of the Christian faith, rather than steered and directed by the perceived needs of a very impatient and self-centered culture. I believe this also allows us as Christians to experience our joy in Christ and the gospel, as over against other more humanistic loci.
We Will Never Be (Exactly) Like Jonathan Edwards
The bottom-line is that we will never be quite like Jonathan Edwards. He was a unique genius in his own age and time that we are unlikely to be able to replicate. Most of us were not given his intellectual abilities, nor were any of us perched on the unique stage of redemption history at the cusp of the Great Awakening as he was. Probably we should never wear a wig into the pulpit or preach a 90-minute sermon. (Unless styles and conventions suddenly change dramatically in our times!). However we can be like him in a great many other ways. We can live as preachers who faithfully feed our congregations with Bible-saturated messages and sermons week in and week out. We can serve the local church with the ordinary means of grace as he did, offering our people a rich diet of Word and Sacrament. We can make our doctrinal statements in our sermons clear and helpful for our people to apprehend and apply. More than that, we can preach the very same good news of the Gospel with all the affective power of voice, body, and intellect that God has given each of us. This, even if we do not have Edwards’s intellectual prowess or Whitefield’s command of voice and pulpit presence. Indeed, we can preach affective sermons that are aimed at the hearts of our people; that the Gospel may pierce deeply and profoundly, trusting that He will pour out His blessings upon our generation, even as He did among the Colonies so gloriously in times past.
 WJE 2:96.
 “In eighteenth century parlance, passions were irrational and out-of-control emotions that were to be avoided at all costs; and affections were not irrational, but rational, deeper springs of action.” Sean Michael Lucas, God’s Grand Design: The Theological Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 92.
 WJE 2:102.
 John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 81–106.
 Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, 53.
 Ibid., 53.
 Nichols, A Guided Tour, 201.
 Edwards, The Salvation of Souls, 81.
 Ibid., 86.
 There are some occasions in his longer series such as Charity and True and False Christians in which he does not give a doctrine because he is following up on a previous sermon and instead giving extended application or “improvement” of a doctrine given previously, possibly earlier in the same day.
 J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990), 277–290.
 Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990), 99–101.
 Ibid., 104.
 WJE 8:368.
 WJE 8:176.
 Edwards, True and False Christians, 64.
Preaching a “Big God” Theology
Edwards’s goal was to declare the sovereignty of God in all things. He preached what today might be called a “Big God” theology. Edwards’s Trinitarian theology permeates all of his preaching. Every sermon was carefully crafted to let his people feel the power of God’s judgment, dread the holiness of his righteous standard, weep for the guilt of their own sin, and cling to the cross of Jesus Christ as their own hope. The God of the Bible wasn’t merely tangential or peripheral to his preaching; it was central. By beginning and ending with God rather than the needs and feelings of man, Edwards kept his sermons focused on the pure fountain and source of all joy and dread, God. Themes of salvation, atonement, revival, and repentance in his preaching all pointed to the greatness of God’s dominion. Edwards knew that if his people were to experience true joy in this mortal life, it would come through real encounters with the Resurrected Christ, not by the oratory of the Enlightenment preachers, who extolled man’s virtue, intelligence, and volitional freedom. In a way, the form of the sermons themselves were merely circumstantial to the encounter that God would have with his people in the very event of the preaching act. Even when George Whitefield came through town, Edwards reminded his people that the truest and purest joys and fears were to be found in what Whitefield spoke and preached, not in the manner that he taught it or the richness of his voice. Edwards wanted his people to discover and encounter God Himself in a saving way that would last eternally, not merely through motivational speeches or “pick-me-ups” which would fade away in a matter of weeks or even years.
Thus, Edwards held a high view of preaching, possibly even an exalted one. Wilson H. Kimnach, writing the introduction to the Matthean Parables series, says in his brief essay “Edwards the Preacher” that “the preacher is, then, a ‘chosen one’ with a distinct charisma as a result of his call to serve Christ.” Edwards believed that it was the pastor-preacher who is designated with the divine role of declaring God’s greatness to His people. He then becomes a chief ambassador of joy for the King. Gary Crampton, in his interesting book, A Conversation with Jonathan Edwards quotes the Puritan as saying, “Ministers are God’s messengers, sent forth by Him; and in their office and administration among their people, represent His person, stand in His stead, as those that are sent to declare His mind, to do His works, and to speak in His name.” Speaking on another occasion in the context of a discussion of the minister’s divine commission to represent the authority of Jesus Christ through the written Word preached, the Northampton Divine said:
But if it was plain to them [his congregation] that I was under the infallible guidance of Christ, then I should have more power. And if it was plain to all the world of Christians that I was under the infallible guidance of Christ, and that I was sent forth to teach the world the will of Christ, then I should have power in all the world.
Clearly then, when Edwards thought of himself and other ministers of the gospel, he saw himself as a divine commissioner with representative and delegated authority, to declare both the Law and the gospel of God. When he spoke the deep truths of Scripture, he recognized that he was tasked with giving a human voice to the divine Word. He knew that these truths set people free from the law of sin and death, and therefore he savored his role in their ransom. For this reason, Edwards practically expected the dynamic power of God to be at work in and among his people as the Word went out, even though the power to call the fire from heaven did not reside in him, but in the Spirit. Perhaps this is why Edwards was used of God in two significant revivals and wrote some of the most important works on revivalism. He spoke a message of God, fully expecting to be used as God’s very mouthpiece, yielding the results of the harvest that the Lord ordained.
In probably one of his most illustrious quotes on the nature of gospel preaching, Edwards says in his sermon “Christ the Example of Ministers”:
Ministers [should] travail for the conversion and salvation of their hearers. They should imitate the faithfulness of Christ in his ministry, in speaking whatsoever God had commanded him, and declaring the whole counsel of God. They should imitate him with the manner of his preaching; who taught not as the scribes, but with authority, boldly, zealously, and fervently; insisting chiefly on the most important things in religion.
In brief, Edwards preached so that his people would be forced to encounter God. Yet these divine meetings occurred through what are called today “the ordinary means of grace”; Bible reading, preaching, prayer, and the right administration of the sacraments. Personally, I sense that there are some who would still find Edwards’s “Big God” theology compelling even today. Perhaps you are among them. Edwards would be delighted that many still share his conviction that the pulpit of the local church is still the divinely ordained means of communicating God’s truths to the world.
But if we are honest, doing what Edwards did verbatim would not “work” today. Suppose your pastor entered the pulpit with a white powdered wig, a black Geneva gown, and read a 60 to 90 minute sermon from handwritten notes. I get uncomfortable even imagining what would begin to happen in the pews if I tried that in my congregation. I would guess that our Wi-Fi network would max out as people deftly checked their phones. I can imagine peoples of all ages making multiple restroom breaks just to help the time pass. I can imagine the nursery team being overwhelmed due to the length of the service, and sending up signal flares to call for backup! What I cannot imagine is visitors returning to the church the following week. No, we would be foolish to try to emulate Edwards’s methods, even if we fully imbibe his theology. We don’t live in Edwards’s day and shouldn’t pretend we do.
That being said, thinking about most American Evangelical preaching today is alarming. I doubt Edwards would have even recognized it as “preaching.” There are many storytellers, but few expositors. Many “big personalities,” but not much “Big God” theology. I fear greatly that we live in an age that is in danger of being swept up in the teachings of men who have the winsome power of a George Whitefield, but without his hearty and faithful doctrine. The Church of Jesus Christ today has a plethora of men who are able to gather large crowds to hear them preach (read: give motivational talks), who purchase their DVD’s, and who tune in to their podcasts. And yet their doctrine is as thin and dry as a wafer. I have previously written on this topic in my article “The Cool Pastor,” in which I express serious concern about the way that cultural Christianity has created a seemingly unlimited number of celebrity pastors for itself, only to find their teaching void of rich, biblical content. Much of the preaching given by leaders in the evangelical church today has so far departed from the Puritan style of preaching doctrinal content as to have become unrecognizable in homiletical style and form. Not only are specific doctrinal assertions absent from most sermons, but many pastors view doctrine in general as unhelpful, confusing, and irrelevant. Many have forsaken expository preaching or verse-by-verse preaching en toto as a means of communication. Andy Stanley, for instance, writes:
Guys that preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible—that is just cheating. It’s cheating because that would be easy, first of all. That isn’t how you grow people. No one in the Scripture modeled that. There’s not one example of that. All Scripture is equally inspired, but not all Scripture is equally applicable or relevant to every stage of life. My challenge is to read culture and to read an audience and ask: What is the felt need? Or perhaps what is more important, what is an unfelt need they need to feel that I can address? Because if they don’t feel it, then they won’t address it.
Whether or not Stanley’s remarks about verse-by-verse preaching as “cheating” can be considered tongue-in-cheek, his view sadly reflects a perspective on preaching held by very many people today: surely there must be something more helpful and important (read: entertaining) than merely preaching the Bible a line at a time, right? My concern is that this point of view which Stanley has articulated is far too common.
At the same time, there is a ray of hope. Many of us are going ad fontes, back to the original sources. Ministers and lay people alike are being transformed by going back to more ancient sources of inspiration. Edwards studies, for instance, are burgeoning in many academic spheres. Reprints of his written works are selling well too, and some publishers, like Crossway for instance, are bringing more Edwards-related materials to the fore every year. Twenty-six volumes of his works have already been published by Yale University, and the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University Online is continually adding newly transcribed sermons and other writings to their digital database, bringing Edwards’s thoughts on the centrality of God into the homes of billions around the world. There are even podcasts devoted to discussing and promoting his teaching and discussing his sermons point by point. Let’s spend the rest of this article looking at two specific ways that we can learn from Edwards as preachers and parishioners (even if we never don a wig or black gown).
 Jonathan Edwards, Sermons by Jonathan Edwards on the Matthean Parables: Divine Husbandman (On the Parable of the Sower and Seed), vol. 2, eds. Kenneth P. Minkema, Adriaan C. Neele, and Bryan K. Kimnach (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2012), 25–30.
 Jonathan Edwards, Sermons by Jonathan Edwards on the Matthean Parables: True and False Christians. vol 1. On the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. Edited by Kenneth P. Minkema, Adriaan C. Neele, and Bryan K. Kimnach. (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2012), 2.
 Gary Crampton, A Conversation with Jonathan Edwards (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 48–49.
 Edwards, True and False Christians, 2.
 Edwards, Sermons, 455.
 Matthew Everhard, “The Cool Pastor: Oxymoron or Just a Regular Moron.” The Aquila Report. November 24, 2013. Accessed August 16, 2017. http://theaquilareport.com/the-cool-pastor-an-oxymoron-or-just-a-regular-moron/.
 Andy Stanley, “Andy Stanley on Communication. Part Two.” The Exchange: A Blog by Ed Stetzer. March 5, 2009. Accessed May 17, 2015. http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2009/march/andy-stanley-on-communication-part-2.html
 For instance, the Reformed Forum has a podcast show entitled “East of Eden” in which the works and theology of Jonathan Edwards are discussed exclusively.
(Publishing Note: this article by Matthew Everhard appears in full in the Westminster Society Journal, volume 2, Means of Grace. Westminster Society Press, Summer 2018).
If Jonathan Edwards is known by common American Evangelicals for only one thing, it is probably his famous July 8th, 1741, sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which he preached at Enfield, Connecticut, on Deuteronomy 32:35. There, his powerful imagery of the fires of hell, of snakes and spiders meeting their doom, and of woeful sinners—only moments away from falling into eternal death—was rhetorically overwhelming. According to historian George Marsden, “When Edwards started to preach, [the congregation] fell under the gaunt pastor’s almost hypnotic spell. Although Edwards had none of the dramatic gestures of a George Whitefield or a Gilbert Tennent and was said to preach calmly as though he were staring at the bell-rope in the back of the meeting house, he could be remarkably compelling.” So compelling, in fact, that Edwards actually had to stop the sermon in order to quiet the congregation, whose vocalizations and visceral reactions were presenting a problem to the sermon’s continuation. Edwards himself would state that this sermon “caused an immediate and general revival of religion throughout the place.” Would that God would pour out this kind of preaching on His church today!
In this article I would like to make some observations about the overall preaching ministry of Jonathan Edwards, along with its form and effectiveness; as well as to make some applications for modern preachers who would do well to emulate him in some ways. First, we will make an overview of Edwards’s general preaching ministry, then we will narrow down to two specific foci, namely, his affective power in the pulpit and his doctrinal content.
An Overview of the Preaching Ministry of Jonathan Edwards
Stephen Nichols tells us that “the sermon is the primary literary genre for Edwards.” Although many recognize how profound a theologian, philosopher, and writer Jonathan Edwards truly was, we cannot lose sight of the fact that Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, year after year, Edwards’s primary vocation was as a preacher and pastor in his local congregation in Northampton, Connecticut. Sermon preaching was his primary mode of communication and arguably his greatest legacy to the church, even above his lofty treatises. Ask one of his parishioners about him in his own day, and they would likely have simply identified him as their country preacher rather than a renowned philosopher of global import. The fact of the matter is that Jonathan Edwards preached thousands of sermons.
As a preacher, Edwards typically wrote out his sermons in full manuscript form. This is especially true for his earlier sermons before the Great Awakening. These manuscripts give us a great entry point into his literary legacy. After George Whitefield came through town on his preaching tour (1740), Edwards experimented with making briefer outlines. However, he never did fully give up the process of writing out his sermons in his own hand, especially when the situation called for a more formal delivery, such as when he preached before other clergy. When Edwards was later expelled from the Northampton Church (1750), and was resituated in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, as a missionary to the Native Americans (1751), he spoke more extemporaneously still, often taking previous sermons and reducing them in scope and difficulty to suit his less literate audience.
Although nowhere near as animated a preacher as George Whitefield, Edwards was by no means dull in the pulpit either. He was already recognized as extraordinarily gifted by his colleagues as early as 1731, when he was selected to preach an important sermon at Harvard’s commencement, which was later printed on account of the high public demand. This was Edwards’s first published piece. Samuel Hopkins, a student of Edwards, said “Mr. Edwards had the most universal Character of a good Preacher of almost any Minister in this Age.” Douglas Sweeney adds, citing eyewitness testimony, that “His ‘Appearance in the desk was with a good Grace, and his delivery easy, natural and very solemn.’”
Edwards’s aim in writing and delivering his sermons, however, was not to be clever or to impress his human audience. His goal was to convert sinners and build up the saints. In the introduction to their collection of Edwards’s sermons entitled The Salvation of Souls, editors Richard A. Bailey and Gregory A. Wills write that, “Edwards’s zeal for the salvation of sinners was central to his vision of the ministry.” Edwards held a very high view of the preacher’s duty, calling, and responsibility. Bailey and Wills do well to summarize Edwards’s view of the preacher when they write:
To labor for the sake of Christ and His kingdom means rescuing lost souls, Edwards held. Christ’s work was the work of redemption, and he sends out his ministers to continue in that work. The minister’s business, he proclaimed, ‘is to be an instrument to carry on Christ’s work, the work of redemption.’ Faithful ministers ‘will labor hard for the salvation of souls.’
There is no doubt, then, that when Edwards entered the pulpit on the Lord’s Day, as he did in both morning and evening meetings, he entered the sacred desk with the utmost gravity, solemnity and power, fully expecting his sermons to impact his hearers with the authority of the Word of God which he resolutely preached.
In terms of format and content, Edwards preached from a very regular sermonic construct, deviating from his usual construct only with extreme infrequency. Each sermon had three primary parts. First, Edwards began every sermon with a Scriptural reading or quotation, and then launched immediately into a short section of the message which elucidated the biblical text’s historical context or literary setting within the canon of Scripture. In this crucial beginning stage of the sermon, Edwards gave his audience a brief introduction to the passage at hand, often reminding his extraordinarily literate congregation of the situation in which the narrative or didactic piece of the Sacred Writ could be found.
Secondly, Edwards would move into a fuller exposition of the doctrine of the text, stated explicitly in his own words, and unfolded over the course of several pages in the manuscript. By modern standards, Edwards’s sermons would be considered doctrinally heavy, even burdensome to most evangelicals today. This doctrinal portion would often be broken down into several sub-points that would be cross-referenced tediously with any number of other texts in Scripture that supported the main point, as Edwards understood it. Edwards hardly ever quoted any other famous theologians directly (such as Augustine or Calvin) in his sermons, nor did he frequently quote from the Creeds or Confessions, although he did from time to time give explanations of key Greek and Hebrew terms.
Finally, the Puritan Pastor would launch into a final main section of the sermon, the “applications” (or “uses” or “improvements” as he often variously called them), in which he would apply the passage to the heart of the congregation. He strenuously urged his people to respond immediately by repenting, worshiping, expressing faith, “closing with Christ,” or obeying in dutiful compliance etc. For Puritans, the application section was considered to be the most important part of the sermon, as those in Jonathan Edwards’s day believed that the Bible was to be preached in plain language, and pressed hard into the heart and conscience of the listener. This tripartite formula was used by Edwards with hardly any variation at all. A simple survey of almost any one of Edwards’s sermons will reveal this general outline immediately.
 George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 219.
 Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, 220.
 WJE 22:400. Throughout this article the Works of Jonathan Edwards (26 volumes) published by Yale University Press will be referred to by their briefer reference designations, with volume and page number, as is common practice among serious Edwards studies. See also, Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” in Sermons of Jonathan Edwards. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005), 399.
 Stephen J. Nichols, Jonathan Edwards: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R., 2001), 195.
 A portion of which have been published, many have been lost, and hundreds still have never been published or even digitized for readers today. Presently, we have around 1,200 extant manuscripts of his sermons. Many of his sermon manuscripts are housed at the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University, waiting for scholars or volunteers to transcribe them into print or digital form from Edwards’s nearly impossible handwritten script. To be sure, there are still hundreds of sermons of Edwards that still have yet to come into the public eye for the first time.
 Douglas A. Sweeney, Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word: A Model of Faith and Thought (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2009), 76.
 Sweeney, Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word, 76.
 Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, 375-394.
 Ibid., 73.
 Ibid., 77.
 Ibid., 78.
 Jonathan Edwards, The Salvation of Souls: Nine Previously Unpublished Sermons on the Call of Ministry and the Gospel by Jonathan Edwards, eds. Richard A. Bailey and Gregory Wills (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2002), 16.
 Ibid., 18.
 Sweeney, Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word, 74.
 For example, in “A Divine and Supernatural Light,” Edwards tells about the historical context in which Matthew 16:17 can be found, i.e. Christ’s conversation with the disciples concerning his true identity versus the identity that the crowd has given him. See Edwards, Sermons, 87–89.
 For instance, in “God Glorified in Man’s Dependence,” he states that the doctrine unfolded in 1 Corinthians 1:29-31 is “God is glorified in the work of redemption in this, that there appears in it so absolute and universal a dependence of the redeemed on him.” See Edwards, Sermons, 5.
 For example, in his sermon “Jesus Christ the Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever,” Edwards gives several applications including reproof for senselessness and carelessness regarding the things of religion, encouragement to come to Christ and be concerned for one’s own soul, and consolation for the godly, to remind them that they are in a state of grace. Edwards, Sermons, 236–248.
The History of the Work of Redemption (published posthumously in 1773; now Volume IX of the Yale Works), is Jonathan Edwards’ attempt to retell the entire story of human history from the divine perspective of God’s sovereign plan. It is a meta-narrative that intends to cast the unfolding drama of redemptive history as a coherent, divinely driven unity, expressly controlled and compelled by God’s glorious determination. As such, it is unabashedly a theocentric retelling of human history, and a direct counterattack to the prevailing, contemporary Enlightenment view that mankind is driving its own history, propelled by the twin oars of human virtue and innovation.
Originally a sermon series preached in 1739, Edwards had great plans for his History. Before his untimely death, Edwards had planned to convert this sermon series, existing now only as a compilation of sermon manuscripts, into a comprehensive theology that would be classified in today’s rubric as “biblical theology.” His desire was so great to complete this work, that it almost prevented him from accepting the position of President of Princeton College (then, the College of New Jersey). Complimentary to other printed theologies available in his day that approached doctrine more systematically, such as Calvin’s Institutes, and Watson’s Body of Divinity, Edwards was hoping to create an authoritative, chronological work. Here, he would progress from creation through the fall, developing the themes of the major covenants, culminating in the coming of Messiah, and then driving victoriously towards the consummation of all things in the eternal age.
Jonathan Edwards Jr, his son, described the blueprint of the Puritan divine’s would-be magnum opus as follows:
“A body of divinity, in a new method, and in the form of a history; in which he was first to show, how the most remarkable events, in all ages from the fall to the present times, recorded in sacred and profane history, were adapted to promote the work of redemption; and then to trace, by the light of scripture prophecy, how the same work should be yet further carried on even to the end of the world.”
As a sermon series, Edwards preached some thirty messages on the text “For the moth will eat them up like a garment, and the worm will eat them like wool, but my righteousness will be forever, and my salvation to all generations” (Isaiah 51:8). His thesis which he carries on throughout the entire 1739 preaching series was “The work of redemption is a work that God carries on from the fall of man to the end of the world.” Typically, he describes this work as a “grand design,” always emphasizing that God is the driving and determining cause of all things. Interestingly, Edwards does not begin in earnest with creation (but might have if he had completed his full project) but rather starts the second sermon in earnest with the Fall, after a brief overview of his goals in the first message.
Edwards then divides biblical history into three primary epochs:  the Fall of man to the incarnation of Christ,  from Christ’s incarnation until his resurrection (His humiliation),  from thence to the end of the world.
Period One Edwards subdivides, primarily along the lines of the historical covenants; Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. He includes the captivity in Babylon. “Types of Christ,” or ways that Christ is forefigured in the Old Testament are replete throughout. He labors to show the revealing and fulfilling of Biblical prophecy, especially as it portends to Christ as the Messiah. Towards the close of the first triad, Edwards includes a section on “improvement” (or application) as all Puritan sermons would. It is notable, however, that the application sections are lighter than most Edwardsean sermons.
In Period Two, Edwards primarily focuses on themes related to the atonement, or the “purchase” (his term) of redemption fulfilled in Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Edwards believed the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to be central to the Biblical drama of history. The Old Testament had anticipated His coming; the New Testament sought to apply His life, death, and resurrection to believers’ souls and lives. Without any doubt, Edwards viewed the Christ Event (as one of my professors winsomely used to call it) as the pin that holds all of history together as a cohesive unity. No event, no matter how small, fails to point in some way to the centrality of Christ and His cross.
In the third Triad, Period Three, Edwards not only fills out the other major portions of the New Testament drama, i.e. the Ascension of Christ and the work of the Apostles, but he also takes the work beyond the Apostolic Age, and into post-biblical history, incorporating other major events into one sweeping narrative. Thus, he appends the destruction of the Empire of Rome, the rise and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church, and exalts the work of the Protestant Reformers. He views these events as the continuing story of redemption, not at all separated from the events recounted authoritatively in Scripture. As a post-millennialist, Edwards anticipated great success in the Gospel mission of the church. As a revivalist, Edwards continually shows his fascination – even absorption – with those times in which true religion is greatly fanned into flame. Of course, Edwards believed himself to be living in such a time, and from our contemporay position of retrospective, we must agree.
Throughout, there are strong motifs of spiritual warfare. However this “warfare” is not the trite, egocentric prayers for daily victory over petty sins that many believers engage in today; but rather the large-scale, cosmic conflict between God’s gloriously advancing army versus Satan’s feeble, but indefatigable resistance. The inevitable smashing of the Devil’s terrorist troops – more like guerrilla warfare than a fairly contested battlefield conflict – is a foregone conclusion, but must be played out in real-time.
As Edwards concludes the sermon series – remember: the final work was never completed as he envisioned it to be – he closes with improvements on the authority of Scripture, and warnings against apostasy and false religion (read: Roman Catholicism and “Mahomatism,” the latter already being perceived as an existential threat to Christendom). He ends with a glorious section on the joys of Heaven for those who repent and believe in the beautiful work of redemption purchased through Christ’s blood.
We are left to wonder what might have happened had Edwards finished his work and lived longer into his presidency at Princeton. Students of Reformed theology in particular and evangelicalism in general might have well become the heirs to one of the most significant works yet written in the young American Colonies. However it was not to be. If Edwards would be consistent with the premise of his own extant drafts in sermonic form, he would be compelled to admit that it was not part of God’s “grand design” for the book to ever be completed as he hoped.
- Give a big, overall summary of Edwards’s view of Heaven. What is it like?
- Why is it important to think about Heaven regularly?
- Do you see Christendom (the Church) becoming perfect this side of heaven? What do the saints worshipping in Heaven have that we lack here?
- In heaven will we see the Father, the Son, Holy Spirit and the crucified Christ (God-man)?
- How does Edwards’s conception of Heaven differ (if at all) from what the average person on the street thinks about Heaven?
- Do we have to be “holy” to be united with our heavenly Father? A number of times JE connected us here on earth being holy to be united with the Father, “and us if we are holy, to be united with them there” (heaven).
- In Glory will we have any concern or attention focused on anybody but the glorious Lord?
- JE says, “Those that are highest in glory, are those that are highest in holiness”. Is there a merit system or hierarchy of achieving rewards for our place in heaven?
- Do you long to see Jesus? How do you prepare? Do you have any regrets?
- At times do you find yourself bursting with emotion, heart pounding, tears welling up, but no words worthy of how you’re feeling towards our great God? What do you do? Do you hold back the tears in fear of bellowing out some indescribable guttural utterances amidst sobs and uncontrollable weeping? Is there anyone else that feels the way you do?
- Does anything he says here surprise you about Heaven? Open up new vistas for you? Confuse you?
- If you have read “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” how does this sermon compare?
- How did this sermon spur Edwards’s hearers on towards a holy life?
- Why does Edwards NOT think that all persons are going to experience Heaven equally?
- What does Edwards think about Hell as mentioned in this sermon?
- How does Edwards encourage us to bear difficulties in this life?
- Read Revelation 21 and 22. Does Edwards’s view of Heaven seem to comport with what we know about Heaven from the Bible?
- According to Edwards, what will we DO in Heaven?
- According to Edwards, will we know people in Heaven? What will we think of them?
“Charity never fails: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” — 1 Corinthians 13:8-10
From the first of these verses, I have already drawn the doctrine, that that great fruit of the Spirit in which the Holy Ghost shall not only for a season, but everlastingly, be communicated to the church of Christ, is charity or divine love. And now I would consider the same verse in connection with the two that follow it, and upon the three verses would make two observations.
First, that it is mentioned as one great excellence of charity, that it shall remain when all other fruits of the Spirit have failed. And,
Second, that this will come to pass in the perfect state of the church, when that which is in part shall be done away, and that which is perfect is come.
There is a twofold imperfect, and so a twofold perfect state of the Christian church. The church in its beginning, or in its first stage, before it was strongly established in the world, and settled in its New Testament state, and before the canon of Scripture was completed, was in an imperfect state — a state, as it were, of childhood, in comparison with what it was to be in its elder and later ages, when it should have reached its state of manhood, or of comparative earthly perfection. And so, again, this comparatively perfect church of Christ, so long as it remains in its militant state, that is, down to the end of time, will still be in an imperfect, and, as it were, in a childish state, in comparison with what it will be in its heavenly state, in which latter it is comparatively in its state of manhood or perfection.
And so there is a twofold failing of these miraculous gifts of the Spirit here mentioned. One was at the end of the first or infant age of the church, when the canon of Scripture was completed, and so there was to be no need of such gifts for the church in its latter ages, when it should have put away childish things, and come to a state of manhood before the end of the world, and when the Spirit of God should most gloriously be poured out and manifested in that love or charity, which is its greatest and everlasting fruit. And the other will be, when all the common fruits of the Spirit cease with respect to particular persons at death, and with .respect to the whole church at the end of the world, while charity shall still remain in heaven, and there the Spirit of God shall be poured forth and manifested in perfect love in every heart to all eternity.
The apostle, in the context, seems to have respect to both these states of the church, but especially to the latter. For though the glorious state of the church in its latter age on earth, will be perfect in comparison with its former state, yet its state in heaven is that state of the church to which the expressions of the apostle seem most agreeable, when he says, “When that which is perfect is come,” etc., and, “Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.” The doctrine, then, that I would draw from the text is, that
HEAVEN IS A WORLD OF CHARITY, OR LOVE.
The apostle speaks, in the text, of a state of the church when it is perfect in heaven, and therefore a state in which the Holy Spirit shall be more perfectly and abundantly given to the church than it is now on earth. But the way in which it shall be given when it is so abundantly poured forth, will be in that great fruit of the Spirit, holy and divine love, in the hearts of all the blessed inhabitants of that world. So that the heavenly state of the church is a state that is distinguished from its earthly state, as it is that state which God has designed especially for such a communication of his Holy Spirit, and in which it shall be given perfectly, whereas, in the present state of the church, it is given with great imperfection. And it is also a state in which this holy love or charity shall be, as it were, the only gift or fruit of the Spirit, as being the most perfect and glorious of all, and which, being brought to perfection, renders all other gifts that God was wont to bestow on his church on earth, needless. And that we may the better see how heaven is thus a world of holy love, I would consider, first, the great cause and fountain of love that is in heaven; second, the objects of love that it contains; third, the subjects of that love; fourth, its principle, or the love itself; fifth, the excellent circumstances in which it is there exercised and expressed and enjoyed; and, sixth, the happy effects and fruits of all this. And,
- The CAUSE and FOUNTAIN of love in heaven. — Here I remark that the God of love himself dwells in heaven. Heaven is the palace or presence-chamber of the high and holy One, whose name is love, and who is both the cause and source of all holy love. God, considered with respect to his essence, is everywhere — he fills both heaven and earth. But yet he is said, in some respects, to be more especially in some places than in others. He was said of old to dwell in the land of Israel, above all other lands; and in Jerusalem, above all other cities of that land; and in the temple, above all other buildings in the city; and in the holy of holies, above all other apartments of the temple; and on the mercy seat, over the ark of the covenant, above all other places in the holy of holies. But heaven is his dwelling-place above all other places in the universe; and all those places in which he was said to dwell of old, were but types of this. Heaven is a part of creation that God has built for this end, to be the place of his glorious presence, and it is his abode forever; and here will he dwell, and gloriously manifest himself to all eternity.
And this renders heaven a world of love; for God is the fountain of love, as the sun is the fountain of light. And therefore the glorious presence of God in heaven, fills heaven with love, as the sun, placed in the midst of the visible heavens in a clear day, fills the world with light. The apostle tells us that “God is love;” and therefore, seeing he is an infinite being, it follows that he is an infinite fountain of love. Seeing he is an all-sufficient being, it follows that he is a full and over-flowing, and inexhaustible fountain of love. And in that he is an unchangeable and eternal being, he is an unchangeable and eternal fountain of love.
There, even in heaven, dwells the God from whom every stream of holy love, yea, every drop that is, or ever was, proceeds. There dwells God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, united as one, in infinitely dear, and incomprehensible, and mutual, and eternal love. There dwells God the Father, who is the father of mercies, and so the father of love, who so loved the world as to give his only-begotten Son to die for it. There dwells Christ, the Lamb of God, the prince of peace and of love, who so loved the world that he shed his blood, and poured out his soul unto death for men. There dwells the great Mediator, through whom all the divine love is expressed toward men, and by whom the fruits of that love have been purchased, and through whom they are communicated, and through whom love is imparted to the hearts of all God’s people. There dwells Christ in both his natures, the human and the divine, sitting on the same throne with the Father. And there dwells the Holy Spirit — the Spirit of divine love, in whom the very essence of God, as it were, flows out, and is breathed forth in love, and by whose immediate influence all holy love is shed abroad in the hearts of all the saints on earth and in heaven. There, in heaven, this infinite fountain of love — this eternal Three in One — is set open without any obstacle to hinder access to it, as it flows forever. There this glorious God is manifested, and shines forth, in full glory, in beams of love. And there this glorious fountain forever flows forth in streams, yea, in rivers of love and delight, and these rivers swell, as it were, to an ocean of love, in which the souls of the ransomed may bathe with the sweetest enjoyment, and their hearts, as it were, be deluged with love! Again, I would consider heaven, with regard,
- To the OBJECTS of love that it contains. — Andhere I would observe three things: —
- There are none but lovely objects in heaven.— No. odious, or unlovely, or polluted person or thing is to be seen there. There is nothing there that is wicked or unholy. “There shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination” (Rev. 21:27). And there is nothing that is deformed with any natural or moral deformity; but everything is beauteous to behold, and amiable and excellent in itself. The God that dwells and gloriously manifests himself there, is infinitely lovely; gloriously lovely as a heavenly Father, as a divine Redeemer, and as a holy Sanctifier.
All the persons that belong to the blessed society of heaven are lovely. The Father of the family is lovely, and so are all his children; the head of the body lovely, and so are all the members. Among the angels there are none that are unlovely — for they are all holy; and no evil angels are suffered to infest heaven as they do this world, but they are kept forever at a distance by that great gulf which is between them and the glorious world of love. And among all the company of the saints, there are no unlovely persons. There are no false professors or hypocrites there; none that pretend to be saints, and yet are of an unchristian and hateful spirit or behavior, as is often the case in this world; none whose gold has not been purified from its dross; none who are not lovely in themselves and to others. There is no one object there to give offense, or at any time to give occasion for any passion or emotion of hatred or dislike, but every object there shall forever draw forth love.
And not only shall all objects in heaven be lovely, but,
- They shall be perfectly lovely.— There are many things in this world that in the general are lovely, but yet are not perfectly free from that which is the contrary. There are spots on the sun; and so there are many men that are most amiable and worthy to be loved, who yet are not without some things that are disagreeable and unlovely. Often there is in good men some defect of temper, or character, or conduct, that mars the excellence of what otherwise would seem most amiable; and even the very best of men, are, on earth, imperfect. But it is not so in heaven. There shall be no pollution, or deformity, or unamiable defect of any kind, seen in any person or thing; but everyone shall be perfectly pure, and perfectly lovely in heaven. That blessed world shall be perfectly bright, without any darkness; perfectly fair, without any spot; perfectly clear, without any cloud. No moral or natural defect shall ever enter there; and there nothing will be seen that is sinful or weak or foolish; nothing, the nature or aspect of which is coarse or displeasing, or that can offend the most refined taste or the most delicate eye. No string shall there vibrate out of tune, to cause any jar in the harmony of the music of heaven; and no note be such as to make discord in the anthems of saints and angels.
The great God who so fully manifests himself there, is perfect with an absolute and infinite perfection. The Son of God, who is the brightness of the Father’s glory, appears there in the fullness of his glory, without that garb of outward meanness in which he appeared in this world. The Holy Ghost shall there be poured forth with perfect richness and sweetness, as a pure river of the water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. And every member of that holy and blessed society shall be without any stain of sin, or imperfection, or weakness, or imprudence, or blemish of any kind. The whole church, ransomed and purified, shall there be presented to Christ, as a bride, clothed in fine linen, clean and white, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. Wherever the inhabitants of that blessed world shall turn their eyes, they shall see nothing but dignity, and beauty, and glory. The most stately cities on earth, however magnificent their buildings, yet have their foundations in the dust, and their streets dirty and defiled, and made to be trodden under foot; but the very streets of this heavenly city are of pure gold, like unto transparent glass, and its foundations are of precious stones, and its gates are pearls. And all these are but faint emblems of the purity and perfectness of those that dwell therein. And in heaven,
- Shall be all those objects that the saints have set their hearts upon, and which they have loved above all things while in this world.— There they will find those things that appeared most lovely to them while they dwelt on earth; the things that met the approbation of their judgments, and captivated their affections, and drew away their souls from the most dear and pleasant of earthly objects. There they will find those things that were their delight here below, and on which they rejoiced to meditate, and with the sweet contemplation of which their minds were often entertained; and there, too, the things which they chose for their portion, and which were so dear to them that they were ready for the sake of them to undergo the severest sufferings, and to forsake even father, and mother, and kindred, and friends, and wife, and children, and life itself. All the truly great and good, all the pure and holy and excellent from this world, and it may be from every part of the universe, are constantly tending toward heaven. As the streams tend to the ocean, so all these are tending to the great ocean of infinite purity and bliss. The progress of time does but bear them on to its blessedness; and us, if we are holy, to be united to them there. Every gem which death rudely tears away from us here is a glorious jewel forever shining there; every Christian friend that goes before us from this world, is a ransomed spirit waiting to welcome us in heaven. There will be the infant of days that we have lost below, through grace to be found above; there the Christian father, and mother, and wife, and child, and friend, with whom we shall renew the holy fellowship of the saints, which was interrupted by death here, but shall be commenced again in the upper sanctuary, and then shall never end. There we shall have company with the patriarchs and fathers and saints of the Old and New Testaments, and those of whom the world was not worthy, with whom on earth we were only conversant by faith. And there, above all, we shall enjoy and dwell with God the Father, whom we have loved with all our hearts on earth; and with Jesus Christ, our beloved Savior, who has always been to us the chief among ten thousands, and altogether lovely; and with the Holy Ghost, our Sanctifier, and Guide, and Comforter; and shall be filled with all the fullness of the Godhead forever!
And such being the objects of love in heaven, I pass,
III. To its subjects; and these are, the hearts in which it dwells. — In every heart in heaven, love dwells and reigns. The heart of God is the original seat or subject of love. Divine love is in him, not as in a subject that receives it from another, but as in its original seat, where it is of itself. Love is in God, as light is in the sun, which does not shine by a reflected light, as the moon and planets do, but by its own light, and as the great fountain of light. And from God, love flows out toward all the inhabitants of heaven. It flows out, in the first place, necessarily and infinitely, toward his only-begotten Son; being poured forth, without mixture, as to an object that is infinite, and so fully adequate to all the fullness of a love that is infinite. And this infinite love is infinitely exercised toward him. Not only does the fountain send forth streams to this object, but the very fountain itself wholly and altogether goes out toward him. And the Son of God is not only the infinite object of love, but he is also an infinite subject of it. He is not only the beloved of the Father, but he infinitely loves him. The infinite essential love of God, is, as it were, an infinite and eternal, mutual, holy, energy between the Father and the Son: a pure and holy act, whereby the Deity becomes, as it were, one infinite and unchangeable emotion of love proceeding from both the Father and the Son. This divine love has its seat in the Deity, as it is exercised within the Deity, or in God toward himself.
But this love is not confined to such exercises as these. It flows out in innumerable streams toward all the created inhabitants of heaven, to all the saints and angels there. The love of God the Father flows out toward Christ the head, and to all the members through him, in whom they were beloved before the foundation of the world, and in whom the Father’s love was expressed toward them in time, by his death and sufferings, as it now is fully manifested in heaven. And the saints and angels are secondarily the subjects of holy love, not as those in whom it is as in an original seat, as light is in the sun, but as it is in the planets, that shine only by reflected light. And the light of their love is reflected in the first place, and chiefly, back to its great source. As God has given the saints and angels love, so their love is chiefly exercised towards God its fountain, as is most reasonable. They all love God with a supreme love. There is no enemy of God in heaven; but all, as his children, love him as their Father. They are all united, with one mind, to breathe forth their whole souls in love to God their eternal Father, and to Jesus Christ their common Redeemer, and head, and friend.
Christ loves all his saints in heaven. His love flows out to his whole church there, and to every individual member of it. And they all, with one heart and one soul, unite in love to their common Redeemer. Every heart is wedded to this holy and spiritual husband, and all rejoice in him, while the angels join them in their love. And the angels and saints all love each other. All the members of the glorious society of heaven are sincerely united. There is not a single secret or open enemy among them all. Not a heart is there that is not full of love, and not a solitary inhabitant that is not beloved by all the others. And as all are lovely, so all see each other’s loveliness with full complacence and delight. Every soul goes out in love to every other; and among all the blessed inhabitants, love is mutual, and full, and eternal. I pass next to speak, as proposed,
- Of the principle of lovein heaven. — And by this I mean, the love itself that fills and blesses the heavenly world, and which may be noticed both as to its nature and degree. And,
- As to its nature.— In its nature, this love is altogether holy and divine. Most of the love that there is in this world is of an unhallowed nature. But the love that has place in heaven is not carnal but spiritual. It does not proceed from corrupt principles or selfish motives, nor is it directed to mean and vile purposes and ends. As opposed to all this, it is a pure flame, directed by holy motives, and aiming at no ends inconsistent with God’s glory and the happiness of the universe. The saints in heaven love God for his own sake, and each other for God’s sake, and for the sake of the relation that they have to him, and the image of God that is upon them. All their love is pure and holy. We may notice this love, also,
- As to its degree.— And in degree it is perfect. The love that dwells in the heart of God is perfect, with an absolutely infinite and divine perfection. The love of angels and saints to God and Christ, is perfect in its kind, or with such a perfection as is proper to their nature. It is perfect with a sinless perfection, and perfect in that it is commensurate to the capacities of their nature. So it is said in the text, that “when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away.” Their love shall be without any remains of any contrary principle, having no pride or selfishness to interrupt it or hinder its exercises. Their hearts shall be full of love. That which was in the heart on earth as but a grain of mustard-seed, shall be as a great tree in heaven. The soul that in this world had only a little spark of divine love in it, in heaven shall be, as it were, turned into a bright and ardent flame, like the sun in its fullest brightness, when it has no spot upon it.
In heaven there shall be no remaining enmity, or distaste, or coldness, or deadness of heart towards God and Christ. Not the least remainder of any principle of envy shall exist to be exercised toward angels or other beings who are superior in glory; nor shall there be aught like contempt or slighting of those who are inferiors. Those that have a lower station in glory than others, suffer no diminution of their own happiness by seeing others above them in glory. On the contrary, all the members of that blessed society rejoice in each other’s happiness, for the love of benevolence is perfect in them all. Every one has not only a sincere, but a perfect goodwill to every other. Sincere and strong love is greatly gratified and delighted in the prosperity of the beloved object; and if the love be perfect, the greater the prosperity of the beloved is, the more is the lover pleased and delighted; for the prosperity of the beloved is, as it were, the food of love, and therefore the greater that prosperity, the more richly is love feasted. The love of benevolence is delighted in beholding the prosperity of another, as the love of complacence is, in beholding the beauty or perfection of another. So that the superior prosperity of those that are higher in glory, is so far from being a hindrance to the degree of love felt toward them, that it is an addition to it, or a part of it.
There is undoubtedly an inconceivably pure, sweet, and fervent love between the saints in glory; and that love is in proportion to the perfection and amiableness of the objects beloved, and therefore it must necessarily cause delight in them when they see that the happiness and glory of others are in proportion to their amiableness, and so in proportion to their love to them. Those that are highest in glory, are those that are highest in holiness, and therefore are those that are most beloved by all the saints; for they most love those that are most holy, and so they will all rejoice in their being the most happy. And it will not be a grief to any of the saints to see those that are higher than themselves in holiness and likeness to God, more loved also than themselves, for all shall have as much love as they desire, and as great manifestations of love as they can bear; and so all shall be filly satisfied; and where there is perfect satisfaction, there can be no reason for envy. And there will be no temptation for any to envy those that are above them in glory, on account of the latter being lifted up with pride; for there will be no pride in heaven. We are not to conceive that those who are more holy and happy than others in heaven, will be elated and lifted up in their spirit above others; for those who are above others in holiness, will be superior to them in humility. The saints that are highest in glory will be the lowest in humbleness of mind, for their superior humility is part of their superior holiness. Though all are perfectly free from pride, yet, as some will have greater degrees of divine knowledge than others, and larger capacities to see more of the divine perfections, so they will see more of their own comparative littleness and nothingness, and therefore will be lowest and most abased in humility.
And, besides, the inferior in glory will have no temptation to envy those that are higher than themselves, for those that are highest will not only be more loved by the lower for their higher holiness, but they will also have more of the spirit of love to others, and so will love those that are below them more than if their own capacity and elevation were less. They that are highest in degree in glory, will be of the highest capacity; and so having the greatest knowledge, will see most of God’s loveliness, and consequently will have love to God and love to the saints most abounding in their hearts. And on this account those that are lower in glory will not envy those that are above them, because they will be most beloved by those that are highest in glory. And the superior in glory will be so far from slighting those that are inferior, that they will have most abundant love to them — greater degrees of love in proportion to their superior knowledge and happiness. The higher any are in glory, the more they are like Christ in this respect, so that the love of the higher to the lower will be greater than the love of the equals of the latter to them. And what puts it beyond all doubt that seeing the superior happiness of others will not be a damp to the happiness of the inferior, is this, that their superior happiness consists in their greater humility, and in their greater love to them, and to God, and to Christ, than the inferior will have in themselves. Such will be the sweet and perfect harmony among the heavenly saints, and such the perfect love reigning in every heart toward every other, without limit or alloy, or interruption; and no envy, or malice, or revenge, or contempt, or selfishness shall ever enter there, but all such feelings shall be kept as far away as sin is from holiness, and as hell is from heaven! Let us next consider,
- The excellent circumstances in which love shall be exercised and blessed, and enjoyed in heaven.— And,
- Love in heaven is always mutual. — It is always met with answerable returns of lovewith returns that are proportioned to its exercise. Such returns, love always seeks; and just in proportion as any person is beloved, in the same proportion is his love desired and prized. And in heaven this desire of love, or this fondness for being loved, will never fail of being satisfied. No inhabitants of that blessed world will ever be grieved with the thought that they are slighted by those that they love, or that their love is not fully and fondly returned.
As the saints will love God with an inconceivable ardency of heart, and to the utmost of their capacity, so they will know that he has loved them from all eternity, and still loves them, and will continue to love them forever. And God will then gloriously manifest himself to them, and they shall know that all that happiness and glory which they are possessed of, are the fruits of his love. And with the same ardor and fervency will the saints love the Lord Jesus Christ; and their love will be accepted; and they shall know that he has loved them with a faithful, yea, even with a dying love. They shall then be more sensible than now they are, what great love it manifested in Christ that he should lay down his life for them; and then will Christ open to their view the great fountain of love in his heart for them, beyond all that they ever saw before. Hereby the love of the saints to God and Christ is seen to he reciprocated, and that declaration fulfilled, “I love them that love me;” and though the love of God to them cannot properly be called the return of love, because he loved them first, yet the sight of his love will, on that very account, the more fill them with joy and admiration, and love to him.
The love of the saints, one to another, will always be mutual and reciprocated, though we cannot suppose that everyone will, in all respects, be equally beloved. Some of the saints are more beloved of God than others, even on earth. The angel told Daniel that he was “a man greatly beloved” (Dan. 9:23); and Luke is called “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14); and John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 20:2). And so, doubtless, those that have been most eminent in fidelity and holiness, and that are highest in glory, are most beloved by Christ in heaven; and doubtless those saints that are most beloved of Christ, and that are nearest to him in glory, are most beloved by all the other saints. Thus we may conclude that such saints as the apostle Paul and the apostle John are more beloved by the saints in heaven than other saints of lower rank. They are more beloved by lower saints than those of equal rank with themselves. But then there are answerable returns of love in these cases; for as such are more beloved by all other saints, so they are fuller of love to other saints The heart of Christ, the great Head of all the saints, is more full of love than the heart of any saint can be. He loves all the saints far more than any of them love each other. But the more any saint is loved of him, the more is that saint like him, in this respect, that the fuller his heart is of love.
- The joy of heavenly love shall never be interrupted or damped by jealousy.— Heavenly lovers will have no doubt of the love of each other. They shall have no fear that the declarations and professions of love are hypocritical; but shall be perfectly satisfied of the sincerity and strength of each other’s affection, as much as if there were a window in every breast, so that everything in the heart could be seen. There shall be no such thing as flattery or dissimulation in heaven, but there perfect sincerity shall reign through all and in all. Every one will be just what he seems to be, and will really have all the love that he seems to have. It will not be as in this world, where comparatively few things are what they seem to be, and where professions are often made lightly and without meaning; but there every expression of love shall come from the bottom of the heart, and all that is professed shall be really and truly felt.
The saints shall know that God loves them, and they shall never doubt the greatness of his love, and they shall have no doubt of the love of all their fellow inhabitants in heaven. And they shall not be jealous of the constancy of each other’s love. They shall have no suspicion that the love which others have felt toward them is abated, or in any degree withdrawn from themselves for the sake of some rival, or by reason of anything in themselves which they suspect is disagreeable to others, or through any inconstancy in their own hearts or the hearts of others. Nor will they be in the least afraid that the love of any will ever be abated toward them. There shall be no such thing as inconstancy and unfaithfulness in heaven, to molest and disturb the friendship of that blessed society. The saints shall have no fear that the love of God will ever abate towards them, or that Christ will not continue always to love them with unabated tenderness and affection. And they shall have no jealousy one of another, but shall know that by divine grace the mutual love that exists between them shall never decay nor change.
- There shall benothing within themselves to clog or hinder the saints in heaven in the exercises and expressions of love. — In this world the saints find much to hinder them in this respect. They have a great deal of dullness and heaviness. They carry about with them a heavy-molded body — a clod of earth — a mass of flesh and blood that is not fitted to be the organ for a soul inflamed with high exercises of divine love; but which is found a great clog and hindrance to the spirit, so that they cannot express their love to God as they would, and cannot be so active and lively in it as they desire. Often they fain would fly, but they are held down as with a dead weight upon their wings. Fain would they be active, and mount up, as a flame of fire, but they find themselves, as it were, hampered and chained down, so that they cannot do as their love inclines them to do. Love disposes them to burst forth in praise, but their tongues are not obedient; they want words to express the ardency of their souls, and cannot order their speech by reason of darkness (Job 37:19); and often, for want of expressions, they are forced to content themselves with groanings that cannot be uttered (Rom. 8:26).
But in heaven they shall have no such hindrance. There they will have no dullness and unwieldiness, and no corruption of heart to war against divine love, and hinder its expressions; and there no earthly body shall clog with its heaviness the heavenly flame. The saints in heaven shall have no difficulty in expressing all their love. Their souls being on fire with holy love shall not be like a fire pent up, but like a flame uncovered and at liberty. Their spirits, being winged with love, shall have no weight upon them to hinder their flight. There shall be no want of strength or activity, nor any want of words wherewith to praise the object of their affection. Nothing shall hinder them from communing with God, and praising and serving him just as their love inclines them to do. Love naturally desires to express itself; and in heaven the love of the saints shall be at full liberty to express itself as it desires, whether it be towards God or to created beings.
- In heaven love will be expressed with perfect decency and wisdom.— Many in this world that are sincere in their hearts, and have indeed a principle of true love to God and their neighbor, yet have not discretion to guide them in the manner and circumstances of expressing it. Their intentions, and so their speeches, are good, but often not suitably timed, nor discreetly ordered as to circumstances, but are attended with an indiscreetness that greatly obscures the loveliness of grace in the eyes of others. But in heaven the amiableness and excellence of their love shall not be obscured by any such means. There shall be no indecent or unwise or dissonant speeches or actions — no foolish and sentimental fondness — no needless officiousness — no low or sinful propensities of passion — and no such thing as affections clouding or deluding reason, or going before or against it. But wisdom and discretion shall be as perfect in the saints as love is, and every expression of their love shall be attended with the most amiable and perfect decency and discretion and wisdom.
- There shall be nothing external in heaven to keep its inhabitants at a distance from each other, or to hinder their most perfect enjoyment of each other’s love.— There shall be no wall of separation in heaven to keep the saints asunder, nor shall they be hindered from the full and complete enjoyment of each other’s love by distance of habitation; for they shall all be together, as one family, in their heavenly Father’s house. Nor shall there be any want of full acquaintance to hinder the greatest possible intimacy; and much less shall there be any misunderstanding between them, or misinterpreting things that are said or done by each other. There shall be no disunion through difference of temper, or manners, or circumstances, or from various opinions, or interests, or feelings, or alliances; but all shall be united in the same interests, and all alike allied to the same Savior, and all employed in the same business, serving and glorifying the same God.
- In heaven all shall be united together in very near and dear relations — Love always seeks a near relation to the one who is beloved; and in heaven they shall all be nearly allied and related to each other. All shall be nearly related to God the supreme object of their love, for they shall all be his children. And all shall be nearly related to Christ, for he shall be the head of the whole society, and the husband of the whole Church of saints, all of whom together shall constitute his spouse. And they shall all be related to each other as brethren, for all will be but one society, or rather but one family, and all members of the household of God. And more than this,
- In heaven all shall have property and ownership in each other.— Love seeks to have the beloved its own; and divine love rejoices in saying, “My beloved is mine, and I am his.” And in heaven all shall not only be related one to another, but they shall be each other’s, and belong to each other. The saints shall be God’s. He brings them home to himself in glory, as that part of the creation that he has chosen for his peculiar treasure. And on the other hand, God shall be theirs, made over to them in an everlasting covenant in this world, and now they shall be forever in full possession of him as their portion. And so the saints shall be Christ’s, for he has bought them with a price; and he shall be theirs, for he that gave himself for them will have given himself to them; and in the bonds of mutual and everlasting love, Christ and the saints will have given themselves to each other. And as God and Christ shall be the saints’, so the angels shall be their angels, as is intimated in Mat. 18:10; and the saints shall be one another’s, for the apostle speaks (2 Cor. 8:5) of the saints in his days, as first giving themselves to the Lord, and then to one another by the will of God; and if this is done on earth, it will be more perfectly done in heaven.
- In heaven they shall enjoyeach other’s love in perfect and uninterrupted prosperity. — What often on earth alloys the pleasure and sweetness of worldly pleasure, is, that though persons live in love, yet they live in poverty, or meet with great difficulties and sore afflictions, whereby they are grieved for themselves and for one another. For, though in such cases love and friendship in some respects lighten the burden to be borne, yet in other respects they rather add to its weight, because those that love each other become, by their very love, sharers in each other’s afflictions, so that each has not only his own trials to bear, but those also of his afflicted friends. But there shall be no adversity in heaven, to give occasion for a pitiful grief of spirit, or to molest or disturb those who are heavenly friends in the enjoyment of each other’s friendship. But they shall enjoy one another’s love in the greatest prosperity, and in glorious riches and comfort, and in the highest honor and dignity, reigning together in the heavenly kingdom — inheriting all things, sitting on thrones, all wearing crowns of life, and being made kings and priests unto God forever.
Christ and his disciples, while on earth, were often together in affliction and trial, and they kept up and manifested the strongest love and friendship to each other under great and sore sufferings. And now in heaven they enjoy each other’s love in immortal glory, all sorrow and sighing having forever fled away. Both Christ and his saints were acquainted with much sorrow and grief in this world, though Christ had the greatest share, being peculiarly a “man of sorrows.” But in heaven they shall sit together in heavenly places, where sorrow and grief shall never more be known. And so all the saints will enjoy each other’s love in heaven, in a glory and prosperity in comparison with which the wealth and thrones of the greatest earthly princes are but as sordid poverty and destitution. So that as they love one another, they have not only their own but each other’s prosperity to rejoice in, and are by love made partakers of each other’s blessedness and glory. Such is the love of every saint to every other saint, that it makes the glory which he sees other saints enjoy, as it were, his own. He so rejoices that they enjoy such glory, that it is in some respects to him as if he himself enjoyed it in his own personal experience.
- In heaven all things shall conspire to promote their love, and give advantage for mutual enjoyment.— There shall be none there to tempt any to dislike or hatred; no busybodies, or malicious adversaries, to make misrepresentations, or create misunderstandings, or spread abroad any evil reports, but every being and everything shall conspire to promote love, and the full enjoyment of love. Heaven itself, the place of habitation, is a garden of pleasures, a heavenly paradise, fitted in all respects for an abode of heavenly love; a place where they may have sweet society and perfect enjoyment of each other’s love. None are unsocial or distant from each other. The petty distinctions of this world do not draw lines in the society of heaven, but all meet in the equality of holiness and of holy love.
All things in heaven do also remarkably show forth the beauty and loveliness of God and Christ, and have the brightness and sweetness of divine love upon them. The very light that shines in and fills that world, is the light of love, for it is the shining of the glory of the Lamb of God, that most wonderful influence of lamb-like meekness and love that fills the heavenly Jerusalem with light. “The city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it; for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” (Rev. 21:23). The glory that is about him that reigns in heaven is so radiant and sweet, that it is compared (Rev. 4:3) to “a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald;” and it is the rainbow that is so often used in the Old Testament as the fit token of God’s love and grace manifested in his covenant. The light of the New Jerusalem, which is the light of God’s glory, is said to be like a jasper stone, clear as crystal (Rev. 21:11), thus signifying the greatest preciousness and beauty; and as to its continuance, it is said there is no night there, but only an endless and glorious day. This suggests, once more, that,
- The inhabitants of heaven shall know that they shall forever be continued in the perfect enjoyment of each other’s love.— They shall know that God and Christ shall be forever with them as their God and portion, and that his love shall be continued and fully manifested forever, and that all their beloved fellow-saints shall forever live with them in glory, and shall forever keep up the same love in their hearts which they now have. And they shall know that they themselves shall ever live to love God, and love the saints, and to enjoy their love in all its fulness and sweetness forever. They shall be in no fear of any end to this happiness, or of any abatement from its fulness and blessedness, or that they shall ever be weary of its exercises and expressions, or cloyed with its enjoyments, or that the beloved objects shall ever grow old or disagreeable, so that their love shall at last die away. All in heaven shall flourish in immortal youth and freshness. Age will not there diminish anyone’s beauty or vigor; and their love shall abide in everyone’s heart, as a living spring perpetually springing up in the soul, or as a flame that never dies away. And the holy pleasure of this love shall be as a river that is forever flowing clear and full, and increasing continually. The heavenly paradise of love shall always be kept as in a perpetual spring, without autumn or winter, where no frosts shall blight, or leaves decay and fall, but where every plant shall be in perpetual freshness, and bloom, and fragrance, and beauty, always springing forth, and always blossoming, and always bearing fruit. The leaf of the righteous shall not wither (Psa. 1:3). And in the midst of the streets of heaven, and on either side of the river, grows the tree of life, which bears twelve manner of fruits, and yields her fruit every month (Rev. 22:2). Everything in the heavenly world shall contribute to the joy of the saints, and every joy of heaven shall be eternal. No night shall settle down with its darkness upon the brightness of their everlasting day.
Having thus noticed many of the blessed circumstances with which love in heaven is exercised, and expressed, and enjoyed, I proceed, as proposed, to speak, lastly,
- Of the blessed effects and fruits of this love, as exercised and enjoyed in these circumstances.— And of the many blessed fruits of it, I would at this time mention but two.
- The most excellent and perfect behavior of all theinhabitants of heaven toward God and each other. — Charity, or divine love, is the sum of all good principles, and therefore the fountain whence proceed all amiable and excellent actions. And as in heaven this love will be perfect, to the perfect exclusion of all sin consisting in enmity against God and fellow creatures, so the fruit of it will be a most perfect behavior toward all. Hence life in heaven will be without the least sinful failure or error. None shall ever come short, or turn aside from the way of holiness in the least degree, but every feeling and action shall be perfect in itself and in all its circumstances. Every part of their behavior shall be holy and divine in matter, and form, and spirit, and end.
We know not particularly how the saints in heaven shall be employed; but in general we know that they are employed in praising and serving God; and this they will do perfectly, being influenced by such a love as we have been considering. And we have reason to think that they are so employed as in some way to be subservient, under God, to each other’s happiness, for they are represented in the Scriptures as united together in one society, which, it would seem, can be for no other purpose but mutual subserviency and happiness. And they are thus mutually subservient by a perfectly amiable behavior one towards another, as a fruit of their perfect love one to another. And even if they are not confined to this society, but if any or all of them are at times sent errands of duty or mercy to distant worlds, or employed, as some suppose them to be, as ministering spirits to friends in this world, they are still led by the influence of love, to conduct, in all their behavior, in such a manner as is well pleasing to God, and thus conducive to their own and others’ happiness. The other fruit of love, as exercised in such circumstances, is,
- Perfect tranquillity and joy in heaven.— Charity, or holy and humble Christian love, is a principle of wonderful power to give ineffable quietness and tranquillity to the soul. It banishes all disturbance, and sweetly composes and brings rest to the spirit, and makes all divinely calm and sweet and happy. In that soul where divine love reigns and is in lively exercise, nothing can cause a storm, or even gather threatening clouds.
There are many principles contrary to love, that make this world like a tempestuous sea. Selfishness, and envy, and revenge, and jealousy, and kindred passions keep life on earth in a constant tumult, and make it a scene of confusion and uproar, where no quiet rest is to be enjoyed except in renouncing this world and looking to another. But oh! what rest is there in that world which the God of peace and love fills with his own gracious presence, and in which the Lamb of God lives and reigns, filling it with the brightest and sweetest beams of his love; where there is nothing to disturb or offend, and no being or object to be seen that is not surrounded with perfect amiableness and sweetness; where the saints shall find and enjoy all that they love, and so be perfectly satisfied; where there is no enemy and no enmity; but perfect love in every heart and to every being; where there is perfect harmony among all the inhabitants, no one envying another, but everyone rejoicing in the happiness of every other; where all their love is humble and holy, and perfectly Christian, without the least carnality or impurity; where love is always mutual and reciprocated to the full; where there is no hypocrisy or dissembling, but perfect simplicity and sincerity; where there is no treachery, or unfaithfulness, or inconstancy, or jealousy in any form; where there is no clog or hindrance to the exercises or expressions of love, no imprudence or indecency in expressing it, and no influence of folly or indiscretion in any word or deed; where there is no separation wall, and no misunderstanding or strangeness, but full acquaintance and perfect intimacy in all; where there is no division through different opinions or interests, but where all in that glorious and loving society shall be most nearly and divinely related, and each shall belong to every other, and all shall enjoy each other in perfect prosperity and riches, and honor, without any sickness, or grief, or persecution, or sorrow, or any enemy to molest them, or any busybody to create jealousy or misunderstanding, or mar the perfect, and holy, and blessed peace that reigns in heaven! And all this in the garden of God — in the paradise of love, where everything is filled with love, and everything conspires to promote and kindle it, and keep up its flame, and nothing ever interrupts it, but everything has been fitted by an all-wise God for its full enjoyment under the greatest advantages forever! And all, too, where the beauty of the beloved objects shall never fade, and love shall never grow weary nor decay, but the soul shall more and more rejoice in love forever!
Oh! what tranquillity will there be in such a world as this! And who can express the fullness and blessedness of this peace! What a calm is this! How sweet, and holy, and joyous! What a haven of rest to enter, after having passed through the storms and tempests of this world, in which pride, and selfishness, and envy, and malice, and scorn, and contempt, and contention, and vice, are as waves of a restless ocean, always rolling, and often dashed about in violence and fury! What a Canaan of rest to come to, after going through this waste and howling wilderness, full of snares, and pitfalls, and poisonous serpents, where no rest could be found!
And oh! what joy will there be, springing up in the hearts of the saints, after they have passed through their wearisome pilgrimage, to be brought to such a paradise as this! Here is joy unspeakable indeed, and full of glory — joy that is humble, holy, enrapturing, and divine in its perfection! Love is always a sweet principle; and especially divine love. This, even on earth, is a spring of sweetness; but in heaven it shall become a stream, a river, an ocean! All shall stand about the God of glory, who is the great fountain of love, opening, as it were, their very souls to be filled with those effusions of love that are poured forth from his fullness, just as the flowers on the earth, in the bright and joyous days of spring, open their bosoms to the sun, to be filled with his light and warmth, and to flourish in beauty and fragrancy under his cheering rays.
Every saint in heaven is as a flower in that garden of God, and holy love is the fragrance and sweet odor that they all send forth, and with which they fill the bowers of that paradise above. Every soul there, is as a note in some concert of delightful music, that sweetly harmonizes with every other note, and all together blend in the most rapturous strains in praising God and the Lamb forever. And so all help each other, to their utmost, to express the love of the whole society to its glorious Father and Head, and to pour back love into the great fountain of love whence they are supplied and filled with love, and blessedness, and glory. And thus they will love, and reign in love, and in that godlike joy that is its blessed fruit, such as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath ever entered into the heart of man in this world to conceive; and thus in the full sunlight of the throne, enraptured with joys that are forever increasing, and yet forever full, they shall live and reign with God and Christ forever and ever!
In the application of this subject, I remark,
- If heaven be such a world as has been described, then we may see a reason why contention and strife tend to darken our evidence of fitness for its possession.— Experience teaches that this is the effect of contention. When principles of malignity and ill-will prevail among God’s people, as they sometimes do through the remaining corruption of their hearts, and they get into a contentious spirit, or are engaged in any strife whether public or private, and their spirits are filled with opposition to their neighbors in any matter whatever, their former evidences for heaven seem to become dim, or die away, and they are in darkness about their spiritual state, and do not find that comfortable and satisfying hope that they used to enjoy.
And so, when converted persons get into ill frames in their families, the consequence commonly, if not universally, is, that they live without much of a comfortable sense of heavenly things, or any lively hope of heaven. They do not enjoy much of that spiritual calm and sweetness that those do who live in love and peace. They have not that help from God, and that communion with him, and that near intercourse with heaven in prayer, that others have. The apostle seems to speak of contention in families as having this influence. His language is (1 Pet. 3:7), “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them” (your wives) “according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel; and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers be not hindered.” Here he intimates that discord in families tends to hinder Christians in their prayers. And what Christian that has made the sad experiment, has not done it to his sorrow, and in his own experience does not bear witness to the truth of the apostle’s intimation?
Why it is so, that contention has this effect of hindering spiritual exercises and comforts and hopes, and of destroying the sweet hope of that which is heavenly, we may learn from the doctrine we have considered. For heaven being a world of love, it follows that, when we have the least exercise of love, and the most of a contrary spirit, then we have the least of heaven, and are farthest from it in the frame of our mind. Then we have the least of the exercise of that wherein consists a conformity to heaven, and a preparation for it, and what tends to it; and so, necessarily, we must have least evidence of our title to heaven, and be farthest from the comfort which such evidence affords. We may see, again, from this subject,
- How happy those are who are entitled to heaven.— There are some persons living on earth, to whom the happiness of the heavenly world belongs as much, yea, much more than any man’s earthly estate belongs to himself. They have a part and interest in this world of love, and have a proper right and title to it, for they are of the number of those of whom it is written (Rev. 22:14), “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” And, doubtless, there are such persons here amongst us. And oh! how happy are all such, entitled as they are to an interest in such a world as heaven! Surely they are the blessed of the earth, and the fullness of their blessedness no language can describe, no words express. But here some may be ready to say, “Without doubt they are happy persons that have a title to such a blessed world, and are soon to enter on the eternal possession of its joys. But who are these persons? How shall they be known, and by what marks may they be distinguished?” In answer to such an inquiry, I would mention three things that belong to their character: —
First, they are those that have had the principle or seed of the same love that reigns in heaven implanted in their hearts, in this world, in the work of regeneration. They are not those who have no other principles in their hearts than natural principles, or such as they have by their first birth, for “that which is born of the flesh is flesh.” But they are those who have been the subjects of the new birth, or who have been born of the Spirit. A glorious work of the Spirit of God has been wrought in their hearts, renewing them by bringing down from heaven, as it were, some of the light and some of the holy, pure flame that is in that world of love, and giving it place in them. Their hearts are a soil in which this heavenly seed has been sown, and in which it abides and grows. And so they are changed, and, from being earthly, have become heavenly in their dispositions. The love of the world is mortified, and the love of God implanted. Their hearts are drawn to God and Christ, and for their sakes flow out to the saints in humble and spiritual love. “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible” (1 Pet. 1:23); “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).
Second, they are those who have freely chosen the happiness that flows from the exercise and enjoyment of such love as is in heaven, above all other conceivable happiness. They see and understand so much of this as to know that it is the best good. They do not merely yield that it is so from rational arguments that may be offered for it, and by which they are convinced that it is so, but they know it is so from what little they have tasted of it. It is the happiness of love, and the beginning of a life of such love, holy, humble, divine, and heavenly love. Love to God, and love to Christ, and love to saints for God and Christ’s sake, and the enjoyment of the fruits of God’s love in holy communion with God, and Christ, and with holy persons — this is what they have a relish for; and such is their renewed nature, that such happiness suits their disposition and appetite and wishes above all other things; and not only above all things that they have, but above all that they can conceive it possible that they could have. The world does not afford anything like it. They have chosen this before all things else, and chosen it freely. Their souls go out after it more than after everything else, and their hearts are more eager in pursuit of it. They have chosen it not merely because they have met with sorrow, and are in such low and afflicted circumstances that they do not expect much from the world, but because their hearts were so captivated by this good that they chose it for its own sake before all worldly good, even if they could have ever so much of the latter, and enjoy it ever so long.
Third, they are those who, from the love that is in them, are, in heart and life, in principle and practice, struggling after holiness. Holy love makes them long for holiness. It is a principle that thirsts after growth. It is in imperfection, and in a state of infancy, in this world, and it desires growth. It has much to struggle with. In the heart in this world there are many opposite principles and influences; and it struggles after greater oneness, and more liberty, and more free exercise, and better fruit. The great strife and struggle of the new man is after holiness. His heart struggles after it, for he has an interest in heaven, and therefore he struggles with that sin that would keep him from it. He is full of ardent desires, and breathings, and longings, and strivings to be holy. And his hands struggle as well as his heart. He strives in his practice. His life is a life of sincere and earnest endeavor to be universally and increasingly holy. He feels that he is not holy enough, but far from it; and he desires to be nearer perfection, and more like those who are in heaven. And this is one reason why he longs to be in heaven, that he may be perfectly holy. And the great principle which leads him thus to struggle, is love. It is not only fear; but it is love to God, and love to Christ, and love to holiness. Love is a holy fire within him, and, like any other flame which is in a degree pent up, it will and does struggle for liberty; and this its struggling is the struggle for holiness.
- What has been said on this subject may well awaken and alarm the impenitent.— And,
First, by putting them in mind of their misery, in that they have no portion or right in this world of love. You have heard what has been said of heaven, what kind of glory and blessedness is there, and how happy the saints and angels are in that world of perfect love. But consider that none of this belongs to you. When you hear of such things, you hear of that in which you have no interest. No such person as you, a wicked hater of God and Christ, and one that is under the power of a spirit of enmity against all that is good, shall ever enter there. Such as you are, never belong to the faithful Israel of God, and shall never enter their heavenly rest. It may be said to you, as Peter said to Simon (Acts 8:21), “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter, for thy heart is not right in the sight of God;” and as Nehemiah said to Sanballat and his associates (Neh. 2:20), “You have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem.” If such a soul as yours should be admitted into heaven, that world of love, how nauseous would it be to those blest spirits whose souls are as a flame of love! and how would it discompose that loving and blessed society, and put everything in confusion! It would make heaven no longer heaven, if such souls should be admitted there. It would change it from a world of love to a world of hatred, and pride, and envy, and malice, and revenge, as this world is! But this shall never be; and the only alternative is, that such as you shall be shut out with “dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie,” (Rev. 22:15); that is, with all that is vile, and unclean, and unholy. And this subject may well awaken and alarm the impenitent,
Secondly, by showing them that they are in danger of hell, which is a world of hatred. There are three worlds. One is this, which is an intermediate world — a world in which good and evil are so mixed together as to be a sure sign that this world is not to continue forever. Another is heaven, a world of love, without any hatred. And the other is hell, a world of hatred, where there is no love, which is the world to which all of you who are in a Christless state properly belong. This last is the world where God manifests his displeasure and wrath, as in heaven he manifests his love. Everything in hell is hateful. There is not one solitary object there that is not odious and detestable, horrid and hateful. There is no person or thing to be seen there, that is amiable or lovely; nothing that is pure, or holy, or pleasant, but everything abominable and odious. There are no beings there but devils, and damned spirits that are like devils. Hell is, as it were, a vast den of poisonous hissing serpents; the old serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and with him all his hateful brood.
In that dark world there are none but those whom God hates with a perfect and everlasting hatred. He exercises no love, and extends no mercy to any one object there, but pours out upon them horrors without mixture. All things in the wide universe that are hateful shall be gathered together in hell, as in a vast receptacle provided on purpose, that the universe which God has made may be cleansed of its filthiness, by casting it all into this great sink of wickedness and woe. It is a world prepared on purpose for the expression of God’s wrath. He has made hell for this; and he has no other use for it but there to testify forever his hatred of sin and sinners, where there is no token of love or mercy. There is nothing there but what shows forth the Divine indignation and wrath. Every object shows forth wrath. It is a world all overflowed with a deluge of wrath, as it were, with a deluge of liquid fire, so as to be called a lake of fire and brimstone, and the second death.
There are none in hell but what have been haters of God, and so have procured his wrath and hatred on themselves; and there they shall continue to hate him forever. No love to God will ever be felt in hell; but everyone there perfectly hates him, and so will continue to hate him, and without any restraint will express their hatred to him, blaspheming and raging against him, while they gnaw their tongues for pain. And though they all join together in their enmity and opposition to God, yet there is no union or friendliness among themselves — they agree in nothing but hatred, and the expression of hatred. They hate God, and Christ, and angels, and saints in heaven; and not only so, but they hate one another, like a company of serpents or vipers, not only spitting out venom against God, but at one another, biting and stinging and tormenting each other.
The devils in hell will hate damned souls. They hated them while in this world, and therefore it was that with such subtlety and indefatigable temptations they sought their ruin. They thirsted for the blood of their souls, because they hated them; they longed to get them in their power to torment them; they watched them as a roaring lion does his prey; because they hated them, therefore they flew upon their souls like hell-hounds, as soon as ever they were parted from their bodies, full of eagerness to torment them. And now they have them in their power, they will spend eternity in tormenting them with the utmost strength and cruelty that devils are capable of. They are, as it were, continually and eternally tearing these poor damned souls that are in their hands. And these latter will not only be hated and tormented by devils, but they will have no love or pity one towards another, but will be like devils one to another, and will, to their utmost, torment each other, being like brands in the fire, each of which helps to burn the others.
In hell all those principles will reign and rage that are contrary to love, without any restraining grace to keep them within bounds. Here will be unrestrained pride, and malice, and envy, and revenge, and contention in all its fury and without end, never knowing peace. The miserable inhabitants will bite and devour one another, as well as be enemies to God, and Christ, and holy beings. Those who, in their wickedness on earth, were companions together, and had a sort of carnal friendship one for another, will here have no appearance of fellowship; but perfect and continual and undisguised hatred will exist between them. As on earth they promoted each other’s sins, so now in hell they will promote each other’s punishment. On earth they were the instruments of undoing each other’s souls — there they were occupied in blowing up the fires of each other’s lusts, and now they will blow forever the fires of each other’s torments. They ruined one another in sinning, setting bad examples to each other, poisoning each other by wicked talk, and now they will be as much engaged in tormenting, as once they were in tempting and corrupting each other.
And there their hatred and envy, and all evil passions, will be a torment to themselves. God and Christ, whom they will hate most, and toward whom their souls will be as full of hatred as an oven is ever full of fire, will be infinitely above their reach, dwelling in infinite blessedness and glory which they cannot diminish. And they will but torment themselves by their fruitless envy of the saints and angels in heaven, whom they cannot come nigh to or injure. And they shall have no pity from them or from anyone, for hell is looked on only with hatred, and with no pity or compassion. And thus they will be left to spend their eternity together.
Now consider, all ye that are out of Christ, and that were never born again, and that never had any blessed renovation of your hearts by the Holy Spirit implanting divine love in them, and leading you to choose the happiness that consists in holy love as your best and sweetest good, and to spend your life in struggling after holiness, — consider your danger, and what is before you. For this is the world to which ye are condemned; and so the world to which you belong through the sentence of the law; and the world that every day and hour you are in danger of having your abode everlastingly fixed in; and the world to which, if you repent not, you will soon go, instead of going to that blessed world of love of which you have now heard. Consider, oh! consider, that it is indeed thus with you.. These things are not cunningly-devised fables, but the great and dreadful realities of God’s Word, and things that, in a little while, you will know with everlasting certainty are true. How, then, can you rest in such a state as you are in, and go about so carelessly from day to day, and so heedless and negligent of your precious, immortal souls? Consider seriously these things, and be wise for yourself, before it is too late; before your feet stumble on the dark mountains, and you fall into the world of wrath and hatred, where there is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, with spiteful malice and rage against God, and Christ, and one another, and with horror and anguish of spirit forever. Flee to the stronghold while ye are prisoners of hope, before the door of hope is closed, and the agonies of the second death shall begin their work, and your eternal doom is sealed!
- Let the consideration of what has been said of heaven stir up all earnestly to seek after it.— If heaven be such a blessed world, then let it be our chosen country, and the inheritance that we look for and seek. Let us turn our course this way, and press on to its possession. It is not impossible but that this glorious world may be obtained by us. It is offered to us. Though it be so excellent and blessed a country, yet God stands ready to give us an inheritance there, if it be but the country that we desire, and will choose, and diligently seek. God gives us our choice. We may have our inheritance wherever we choose it, and may obtain heaven if we will but seek it by patient continuance in well-doing. We are all of us, as it were, set here in this world as in a vast wilderness, with diverse countries about it, and with several ways or paths leading to these different countries, and we are left to our choice what course we will take. If we heartily choose heaven, and set our hearts entirely on that blessed Canaan — that land of love, and if we choose and love the path that leads to it, we may walk in that path; and if we continue to walk in it, it will lead us to heaven at last.
Let what we have heard of the land of love stir us all up to turn our faces toward it, and bend our course thitherward. Is not what we have heard of the happy state of that country, and the many delights that are in it, enough to make us thirst after it, and to cause us, with the greatest earnestness and steadfastness of resolution, to press towards it, and spend our whole lives in traveling in the way that leads thither? What joyful news might it well be to us when we hear of such a world of perfect peace and holy love, and to hear that it is possible, yea, that there is full opportunity, for us to come to it, and spend an eternity in its joys! Is not what we have heard of that blessed world enough to make us weary of this world of pride, and malice, and contention, and perpetual jarring and jangling, a world of confusion, a wilderness of hissing serpents, a tempestuous ocean, where there is no quite rest, where all are for themselves, and selfishness reigns and governs, and all are striving to exalt themselves, regardless of what becomes of others, and all are eager after worldly good, which is the great object of desire and contention, and where men are continually annoying, and calumniating, and reproaching, and otherwise injuring and abusing one another — a world full of injustice, and oppression, and cruelty — a world where there is so much treachery, and falsehood, and fickleness, and hypocrisy, and suffering, and death — where there is so little confidence in mankind, and every good man has so many failings, and has so much to render him unlovely and uncomfortable, and where there is so much of sorrow, and guilt, and sin in every form.
Truly this is an evil world, and so it is like to be. It is in vain for us to expect that it will be any other than a world of sin, a world of pride and enmity and strife, and so a restless world. And though the times may hereafter be mended, yet these things will always be more or less found in the world so long as it stands. Who, then, would content himself with a portion in such a world? What man, acting wisely and considerately, would concern himself much about laying up in store in such a world as this, and would not rather neglect the world, and let it go to them that would take it, and apply all his heart and strength to lay up treasure in heaven, and to press on to that world of love? What will it signify for us to hoard up great possessions in this world; and how can the thought of having our portion here be pleasing to us, when there is an interest offered us in such a glorious world as heaven is, and especially when, if we have our portion here, we must, when the world has passed away, have our eternal portion in hell, that world of hatred, and of endless wrath of God, where only devils and damned spirits dwell?
We all naturally desire rest and quietness, and if we would obtain it, let us seek that world of peace and love of which we have now heard, where a sweet and blessed rest remaineth for God’s people. If we get an interest in that world, then, when we have done with this, we shall leave all our cares, and troubles, and fatigues, and perplexities, and disturbances forever. We shall rest from these storms that are raging here, and from every toil and labor, in the paradise of God. You that are poor, and think yourself despised by your neighbors and little cared for among men, do not much concern yourselves for this. Do not care much for the friendship of the world; but seek heaven, where there is no such thing as contempt, and where none are despised, but all are highly esteemed and honored, and dearly beloved by all. You that think you have met with many abuses, and much ill-treatment from others, care not for it. Do not hate them for it, but set your heart on heaven, that world of love, and press toward that better country, where all is kindness and holy affection. And here for direction how to seek heaven,
First, let not your heart go after the things of this world, as your chief good. Indulge not yourself in the possession of earthly things as though they were to satisfy your soul. This is the reverse of seeking heaven; it is to go in a way contrary to that which leads to the world of love. If you would seek heaven, your affections must be taken off from the pleasures of the world. You must not allow yourself in sensuality, or worldliness, or the pursuit of the enjoyments or honors of the world, or occupy your thoughts or time in heaping up the dust of the earth. You must mortify the desires of vain-glory, and become poor in spirit and lowly in heart.
Second, you must, in your meditations and holy exercises, be much engaged in conversing with heavenly persons, and objects, and enjoyments. You cannot constantly be seeking heaven, without having your thoughts much there. Turn, then, the stream of your thoughts and affections towards that world of love, and towards the God of love that dwells there, and toward the saints and angels that are at Christ’s right hand. Let your thoughts, also, be much on the objects and enjoyments of the world of love. Commune much with God and Christ in prayer, and think often of all that is in heaven, of the friends who are there, and the praises and worship there, and of all that will make up the blessedness of that world of love. “Let your conversation be in heaven.”
Third, be content to pass through all difficulties in the way to heaven. Though the path is before you, and you may walk in it if you desire, yet it is a way that is ascending, and filled with many difficulties and obstacles. That glorious city of light and love is, as it were, on the top of a high hill or mountain, and there is no way to it but by upward and arduous steps. But though the ascent be difficult, and the way full of trials, still it is worth your while to meet them all for the sake of coming and dwelling in such a glorious city at last. Be willing, then, to undergo the labor, and meet the toil, and overcome the difficulty. What is it all in comparison with the sweet rest that is at your journey’s end? Be willing to cross the natural inclination of flesh and blood, which is downward, and press onward and upward to the prize. At every step it will be easier and easier to ascend; and the higher your ascent, the more will you be cheered by the glorious prospect before you, and by a nearer view of that heavenly city where in a little while you shall forever be at rest.
Fourth, in all your way let your eye be fixed on Jesus, who has gone to heaven as your forerunner. Look to him. Behold his glory in heaven, that a sight of it may stir you up the more earnestly to desire to be there. Look to him in his example. Consider how, by patient continuance in well-doing, and by patient endurance of great suffering, he went before you to heaven. Look to him as your mediator, and trust in the atonement which he has made, entering into the holiest of all in the upper temple. Look to him as your intercessor, who forever pleads for you before the throne of God. Look to him as your strength, that by his Spirit he may enable you to press on, and overcome every difficulty of the way. Trust in his promises of heaven to those that love and follow him, which he has confirmed by entering into heaven as the head, and representative, and Savior of his people. And,
Fifth, if you would be in the way to the world of love, see that you live a life of love — of love to God, and love to men All of us hope to have part in the world of love hereafter, and therefore we should cherish the spirit of love, and live a life of holy love here on earth. This is the way to be like the inhabitants of heaven, who are now confirmed in love forever. Only in this way can you be like them in excellence and loveliness, and like them, too, in happiness, and rest, and joy. By living in love in this world you may be like them, too, in sweet and holy peace, and thus have, on earth, the foretastes of heavenly pleasures and delights. Thus, also, you may have a sense of the glory of heavenly things, as of God, and Christ, and holiness; and your heart be disposed and opened by holy love to God, and by the spirit of peace and love to men, to a sense of the excellence and sweetness of all that is to be found in heaven. Thus shall the windows of heaven be as it were opened, so that its glorious light shall shine in upon your soul. Thus you may have the evidence of your fitness for that blessed world, and that you are actually on the way to its possession. And being thus made meet, through grace, for the inheritance of the saints in light, when a few more days shall have passed away, you shall be with them in their blessedness forever. Happy, thrice happy those, who shall thus be found faithful to the end, and then shall be welcomed to the joy of their Lord! There “they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and lead them to living fountains of waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”