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Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume One Kindle Edition
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Qualifications for Communion
The situation: Edwards’ grandfather and predecessor, generously styled by Edwards as a ‘great and eminent divine,’ had, in conformity to the compromising fashion of the day, relaxed the rules of admission to communion. To avoid violating his conscience and offending God, Edwards decided to reestablish strictness of admission. Moreover, he perceived that the purity and even the existence of his church was at stake. Unless reined in, loose admission can only end badly. “The power of godliness will be lost…Election of ministers will soon be carried by a formal looser sort; the exercise of discipline will by this means be impossible” (Mr. Mitchell, Appendix.) (Is that not the state and practice of most of our churches today?) So he did not let his desire for continued acceptance to prejudice his judgment. He published his findings, resigned the outcome to providence, and left ‘the event in God’s hand.’ Though brilliantly persuasive and incisive, the warning in the Preface not to blindly follow a man’s false doctrine did not repent from prejudice, those members on his predecessor’s side. That is a very strong bias that will maintain its obstinate opinion against what is more than ‘enough to silence the present objection.’ Thus, this ‘humble inquiry’ is the burden that sealed the great theologian’s dismissal from his Northampton Pastorate.
The rules on both sides of this debate refuse admission to backsliders and obvious unregenerate sinners. Both sides agree that a certain something must be observable in the life of the candidate. But will it be a visibility of moral sincerity, or rather of saving Christianity; of moral sincerity in religion, or of regeneration and renovation of heart; of doctrinal knowledge and moral character, or of that plus apparent probability of being real saints; of that which gives right to a kind of negative charity or freedom from censure, or of that which might justly induce a positive judgment in favor; of orthodox opinion about Christ, or of that and an inward esteem of him? The latter clauses are what Edwards argues for. In other words, Edwards argues for a knowledgeable profession plus a positive reputation of Christian grace: a profession of saving faith, credibly significant of the thing professed (Mr. Lob, Appendix.) The latter clauses are proved to be the Scripture rule. In the New Testament “graceless men were not admitted designedly, but unawares.” The position of liberal admission presumes too much on the gracious effect that might follow upon the unbeliever’s communication of the ordinance, which he does on the basis of a promise to believe in Christ. Thus the position has been called a ‘converting ordinance.’ The answer to this converting ordinance is that the word, not providence, is our rule.
The communion advocated by Edwards determines its communicants, not by the pastor acting as a ‘searcher of the heart’ or a ‘lord of conscience.’ It judges of whether there is a “serious profession concerning what he finds in his own soul, after he has been well instructed” and “where there is no other external visible thing to contradict and overrule it.” The pastor is an inquirer into the affair for the maintenance of church purity. Even according to Stoddard, Edwards’ predecessor, communion is both a privilege and obligation that “must be limited agreeable to the institution.” Mr. Bolton: “an unsanctified [unbelieving] presence will be found as bad as a profane absence” (Appendix.) What he means is that participation in the ordinance while unbelieving is just as bad as neglecting to participate while believing. The Appendix, incidentally, is a reply by Foxcoft to Edwards’ query concerning what was normative in orthodox tradition. Much post-Reformation history on the practice of this doctrine is gathered in it. The information is sufficient to convince that it was Stoddard, not his successor, who broke from biblical custom.
A word from Edwards on the nature of the ordinance will especially show why he was anxious to order things right. “There is in the Lord’s supper a mutual solemn profession of the two parties transacting the covenant of grace, and visibly united in that covenant; the Lord Christ by his minister, on the one hand, and the communicants (who are professing believers) on the other.” A faithful minister will not want to permit or encourage transactions with the Lord that are based on lies or presumptions.
Not only is this discourse instructive on so vital and difficult a subject to judge, but because the matter is so thoroughly searched, there branches from it great, unexpected things, to loosely quote the prophet Jeremiah. There is an enlightening commentary on the order of conversion doctrine, which runs: humiliation, knowledge, faith, love, obedience; meanings of symbolic ritual concisely told: “circumcision of heart…manifestly signifies that great change of heart that was typified by the ceremony of circumsion of the flesh”; plenty of teaching on the covenant of grace; much use of logic to overthrow erroneous ideas; and a dazzling list of dispensational contrasts: “the one had carnal ordinances, (so they are called Heb. 9.10.) the other a spiritual service...the one an earthly Canaan, the other a heavenly; the one a worldly sanctuary, the other a spiritual; the one a bodily and temporal redemption (which is all they generally discerned or understood in the passover,) the other a spiritual and eternal.” Knowledge runneth over.
Density of thought will keep most Christians away from Qualifications for Communion, or any other of Edwards’ masterpieces, for that matter. But there is little defense to excuse oneself from higher learning when that intelligence is clearly enunciated. Hard reading is necessary to resolve questions of significance. “It is wisely ordered that the saints should escape perplexity in no other way than that of great strictness, diligence, and maintaining the lively, laborious, and self-denying exercises of religion.” Each saint ought to strive to be able to say, with Edwards, “I examine for myself, have a judgment of my own.”
Excerpts like these can make Edwards sound like just a nose-to-the-book academic. In truth, Edwards was probably more holy than scholarly. All of the writings of this man that I have read have a sanctified feel. Sometimes he alludes to his intimacy with God. For example, in the Preliminary concerning the present inquiry, he says this: “I have been brought to this necessity in divine providence, by such a situation of affairs and coincidence of circumstances and events, as I choose at present to be silent about; and which it is not needful, nor perhaps expedient to publish to the world.” A studious man he was, but always moving at God’s direction.
This is a more important subject than most Christians realize; this treatise on it is about as clear as close reasoning gets; the arguments are both solemn and convincing.
Answer to Solomon Williams
This Answer is a reply to an attempted refutation by Solomon Williams of Edwards’ Qualifications for Communion. That is one cocky man who attempts to refute something that Edwards wrote. He must be overly assured of his slyness, too, if he thinks to break the rules for polemical discourse without being found out by such an opponent. (Those rules may be found at the close of the Qualifications.) It is largely because of the duplicity of Williams that the Answer to Solomon Williams is not as lucid as the Qualifications that it is founded upon. Subtle misrepresentations are hard to disentangle. Having come to ‘the real hinge of the controversy.’ I was in that place unable to locate the hinge. Several times I was left staring at an exclamation mark without an idea as to what I was supposed to be so forcibly convinced of. And I could not fully reconcile footnotes with opinions maintained in the principal part.
Notwithstanding my inability to decipher some of the particulars, I did understand the substance. The Qualifications are restated plainly and often. The matter is set down with certainty again: “The controversy was, whether there was any need of making a credible profession of godliness, in order to persons being admitted to full communion; whether they must profess having faith, or whether a profession of common faith were not sufficient; whether persons must be esteemed truly godly, and must be taken in under that notion, or whether if they appeared morally sincere, that were not sufficient?…There was no suggestion that the dispute was only about the degree of evidence; but what was the thing to be made evident; whether real godliness, or moral sincerity.” More, “If any sincerity at all be requisite in order to a title to the seals of the covenant of grace, doubtless it is the sincerity which belongs to that covenant. But there is only one sort of sincerity which belongs to that covenant; and that is a gracious sincerity. There is but one sort of faith belonging to that covenant; and that is a saving faith in Jesus Christ, called in Scripture unfeigned faith.” This is copiously affirmed in the directives in Scripture given to help ascertain between disciples true and false. “This moral sincerity, which Mr. Williams insists on, is a most indeterminate thing…The Scripture gives us many infallible rules, by which to distinguish between saving grace, and common. But I know of no rules given in the Bible, by which men may certainly determine this precise degree of moral sincerity.” Analogies like the following one are produced to enforce the point: “And would not common sense teach an earthly prince not to admit into his household, such as he had no reason to look upon so much as probable friends and loyal subjects in the heart?”
The controversy revolves around the notion of a ‘converting ordinance.’ This idea is more fully explained here than before. It is not just the idea that the communication of the sacrament may be the occasion of a conversion, but that the ordinance was instituted as a means of conversion by Christ himself. Besides the want of proof in support of this, Edwards says that a proper management of the institution “forbids its being given or received under any other notion than that of the communicant’s being converted already.” Mr. W. insists that “men who have no more than common grace and moral sincerity, may lawfully come to sacraments; and yet by what he says…they must profess more. So that men who have no more must profess more; and this, it seems, according to divine institution!” (Footnote.) Admission to the Lord’s Supper is a benefit as well as an obligation, a privilege to a means of grace: “The sacraments are covenant privileges…benefits to which persons have a right by covenant. But persons can have no right to any of the benefits of a covenant, without compliance with its terms.” Compliance would be unfeigned faith and grace in the heart. “A negative charity may be sufficient for a negative privilege, such as freedom from censure and punishment; but something more than a negative charity, is needful to actual admission to a new positive privilege.” Admitting persons on the condition of a promise or goodwill or anything other than a credible profession is foolish “because herein they take an oath to the Most High, which, it is ten thousand to one, they will break as soon as the words are out of their mouths, by continuing still unconverted; yea, an oath which they are breaking even while they are uttering it. And what folly and wickedness is it for men to take such oaths!…it is so much more likely they will not be converted the very next moment…When an unconverted man makes such a promise, he promises what he has not to give…There is indeed a sufficiency in God to enable him; but he has no claim to it. For God’s helping a man savingly to believe in Christ is a saving blessing.”
It is a happy discovery that while “this matter may be examined to the very bottom” and brought “to the test of calm reasoning”, there is a fit place once or twice for a witty remark. About Mr. W’s inconsistency, namely, in owning the ‘imagination and chimera’ that he contemns Edwards for advocating, Edwards remarks, “However, it falls out something happily for me, that I am not quite alone in the chimera, but have Mr. W. himself to join me in it.”
I will not hide the fact that this Answer is a labor to read. But it is an answer, I think, that closes the question on loose admission. And as before, there are unexpected things to behold. I especially like this good piece of advice for that part of mushy Christianity that stupidly says, ‘don’t judge!’ at the first sign of correction. “And here I would crave leave to say, that I humbly conceive, a distinction ought to be made between opposing and exposing a cause, or the arguments used to defend it, and reproaching persons.”
Affixed to the Answer is a letter to his former church. It is a tender warning to his church members about the consequences of the false doctrine that they refused to repent of. In that letter we come upon these gracious words about Mr. Williams: “My aim is not to beget in you an ill opinion of Mr. W. as though he were as corrupt in his settled persuasion, as one would be ready to think, if he were to judge only by things delivered in some parts of this [his] book; and especially if it should be supposed, that he embraced all the consequences of what he here maintains. Men often do not see or allow the plain consequences of their own doctrines.” It seems, after all, from extracts of Mr. W’s sermons, that he was a Christian man, and a preacher of ‘the offers of grace’ and “the allurements and invitations of the great Saviour of the world.”
This is a recondite defense, though painstaking rereading is required in places. Jonathan Edwards is a good example to all Christian critics. He attacks the errors of the opposing view, but never the man responsible for promoting the view. Indeed, I think he goes farther with his charity than he needs to go.
The End for which God Created the World
The Editor’s little Preface contains a thoughtful estimate of Edwards’ genius in handling ‘sublime and important’ subjects. “Many theorems, that appeared hard and barren to others, were to him pleasant and fruitful fields, where his mind would expatiate with peculiar ease, profit, and entertainment.” The Editor offers the following summary of what Edwards accomplished under the above title. “Our author has produced, from the purest principles of reason, and the fountain of revealed truth, abundant evidence, that God’s ultimate and chief END in the creation of the universe, in the operations of providence, and in the methods of salvation, is his OWN GLORY.” This helps us keep our footing in the collection of what seems best to outline the author’s labor on this ultimate doctrine.
So “that which God had primarily in view in creating, and the original ordination of the world, must be constantly kept in view [as we consider what God’s end was].” This primary view and original decree is the end God will establish, notwithstanding, and even by, all that happens in the realm of time. This end, most simply put, is, “All things are so wonderfully ordered for his glory.” In other words, “It appears, that all that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God’s works, is included in that one phrase, the glory of God; which is the name by which the ultimate end of God’s works is most commonly called in Scripture; and seems most aptly to signify the thing.” That glory is indeed the end for which God created the world, is apparent in that it was what our Lord looked to as ‘the center of rest and support’ when he was most extremely distressed “with a view of that which was infinitely the most difficult part of his work.” If this were the only argument, I think it should suffice to convince us of Edwards’ thesis. As a note of interest, Edwards’ approach upon this subject proceeds like so. To prove his dissertation, he begins by reason alone, then summons theology to corroborate his philosophy.
There should be no need to justify God being his own end in creating the world. “It is reasonable to suppose that he had respect to himself, as his last and highest end, in this work; because he is worthy in himself to be so, being infinitely the greatest and best of beings. All things else, with regard to worthiness, importance, and excellence, are perfectly as nothing in comparison of him.” Though everything else besides God is as nothing compared to him, yet, “as it is fit that God should love and esteem his own excellence, it is also fit that he should value and esteem the love of his excellency. And if it becomes a being highly to value himself, it is fit that he should love to have himself valued and esteemed.” But any love that God receives adds nothing to him. “Now if the creature receives its ALL from God, entirely and perfectly, how is it possible that it should have any thing to add to God, to make him in any respect more than he was before, and so the Creator become dependent on the creature?” There is an example of how he argues a point by reason, or philosophy.
The answer as to why it came to happen that God created the world lies in his excellence, and therefore in his attributes, the sum of which are termed, God’s internal glory. “The whole of God’s internal good or glory, is in these three things, viz. his infinite knowledge, his infinite virtue or holiness, and his infinite joy and happiness. Indeed there are a great many attributes in God, according to our way of conceiving them: but all may be reduced to these; or to their degree, circumstances, and relations…the external glory of God consists in the communication of these.” He elaborates, “The disposition to communicate himself, or diffuse his own FULNESS, was what moved him to create the world…an emanation of his own fulness, was what excited him to create the world; and so, that the emanation itself was aimed at by him as a last end of the creation.” God’s glory is emanated through his creatures. “God communicates himself to the understanding of the creature, in giving him the knowledge of his glory; and to the will of the creature, in giving him holiness, consisting primarily in the love of God: and in giving the creature happiness, chiefly consisting in joy in God. These are the sum of that emanation of divine fulness called in Scripture, ‘the glory of God.”” Since knowledge to the creature “is but a conformity to God…the image of God’s own knowledge of himself,” God, in communicating, makes himself his end. If this seems altogether too intricate, the encouraging thing is that in all likelihood, no one has exceeded Edwards in expatiations of this sort. Even if you can follow his thought halfway as far as it really went, you’ve taken a journey beyond the point that ninety percent of theologians are able to take you.
There is a simpler version of his thesis. This may be easier to digest and remember. “God’s love to himself, and his own attributes, will therefore make him delight in that which is the use, end, and operation of these attributes…his love to them was not properly what excited him to intend to create them.” A footnote by Mr. G. Tennent is helpful: “The end of wisdom…is design; the end of power is action; the end of goodness is doing good.”
There is no doubt that an attempt to follow, comprehend, summarize, or simplify what the mind of Edwards has found out with regard to why we exist, must be a dogged attempt. The Editor’s notes on the origin of sin, and why sin was allowed, serve as the necessary substructure.
Mr. Edwards’ run up to the conclusion especially moved me. His closing remark on God’s infinity is the jewel in the crown where the saints are concerned in this holy subject. “I suppose it will not be denied by any, that God, in glorifying the saints in heaven with eternal felicity, aims to satisfy his infinite grace or benevolence, by the bestowment of a good infinitely valuable, because eternal: and yet there never will come the moment, when it can be said, that now this infinitely valuable good has been actually bestowed.” The saints of God will enjoy a continual increase in all that is good forever.
The End for which God Created the World concerns the highest subject imaginable. The subject is intelligently entertained. The points, positions, and proofs are all in a row. It is a holy endeavor.
Thoughts on the Revival
Thoughts on the Revival is more positive than The Religious Affections, more descriptive and less critical, easier and more pleasant to read, more balanced, and just as deep in places, in other places more. I think it is more valuable and deserving of praise. In this marvelous blend of facts and fine prose, things are lifted from the pages of Scripture that the majority of Christians would never, without aid, see. When there gets to be a desire for sound and beautiful judgment on what the Holy Ghost did and could do again, then we’ll begin to have some reason to hope for an imminent outpouring—not before.
The Affections answered the need of finding out for sure wherein true religion consists; Thoughts on the Revival is an attempt to judge whether a certain revival evinced true religion or not. Both works were written after the second wave of 1740. The second wave was far more extensive than the one being judged in the Thoughts. The one being appraised here is that one “when the Spirit was wonderfully poured out in this place seven years ago, and near thirty souls in a week, take one with another, for five or six weeks together, were to appearance brought home to Christ.” We may glean some context from the Memoirs: In that first instance of awakening “ten towns in the same county, and seventeen in the adjoining colony of Connecticut, within a short time, were favored with revivals of religion.” Gleaning once again from the Memoirs, we can say that in the second wave the Great Awakening was in force; by 1744 it had swept through “more than one hundred and fifty congregations in New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania; as well as in a considerable number more, in Maryland and Virginia.” This is not to mention what was going on abroad at that time.
The reason why the Thoughts is more optimistic than the Affections is, I think, because the latter was written and preached in 1742-43, when certain ‘deviations from decorum and good sense’ had begun to seep in, ‘owing chiefly to contagion from without’ (Memoirs.) The Thoughts was already published by 1742, just ‘to check these commencing evils’ (Ibid.) While he was writing it, the ‘glorious work of the Spirit of God’ was thought by many to be the beginning of ‘the promised reign of Christ on earth’ (Ibid.) The careful, coolheaded Edwards did not think this wholly improbable. “It is not unlikely that this work of God’s Spirit, so extraordinary and wonderful, is the dawning, or, at least, a prelude of that glorious work of God, so often foretold in Scripture, which, in the progress and issue of it, shall renew the world of mankind…we cannot reasonably think otherwise, than that the beginning of this great work of God must be near. And there are many things that make it probable that this work will begin in America.” Right away after it rolled off the press on top of that second wave, Edwards’ Thoughts on the Revival became “to a very wide extent, the common text-book of evangelical divines, on the subject of which it treats” (Memoirs.) It should be our textbook now as well as then, notwithstanding his fault in thinking that this revival was the beginning of a renovation of the world.
Setting down some context was necessary in order to show why the book is so utterly stirring. Now what does the book contain, precisely? A succinct answer to this is not easily obtained. Divers concerns are attended to in it. During this “great and wonderful event, a strange revolution, an unexpected, surprising overturning of things, suddenly brought to pass; such as never has been seen in New England, and scarce ever has been heard of in any land.” The five parts into which the material is assembled, are: proving the work; obligations to it; opposing objectors; correcting mistakes; and promoting the work. The titles of the parts give us no clue at all concerning the treasures to be found in the perusal of any section within any one of the parts. The section titles give a hint, though, of the wealth that is virtually untouched and seldom even coveted, by readers in our churches. Reading Edwards on revival makes us pant for those water brooks in Scripture that regenerate and refresh. Thoughts on the Revival is like a porthole through which to catch sight of the infinite richness of Christ. By reading about the experiences contained in this volume we may be encouraged to live more holy lives. By some acquaintance with revival history we may come to believe in the possibility of being so blessed that way ourselves in our own communities today. I think, in some degree, the Scriptures that speak of greater things to follow the apostolic era, are accomplished in the glory that falls to the individual who happens to be in the path of a post-biblical revival. For descriptions of the overwhelming and overpowering love of God by the person of the Holy Ghost, I do not know where one could better turn to than Edwards. An extract can do very little to justify the worth and beauty of the whole. But I will quote just a bit: “The person has more than once continued for five or six hours together, without interruption, in a clear and lively view or sense of the infinite beauty and amiableness of Christ’s person, and the heavenly sweetness of his transcendent love. So that (to use the person’s own expressions) the soul remained in a kind of heavenly elysium, and did as it were swim in the rays of Christ’s love, like a little mote swimming in the beams of the sun that come in at the window. The heart was swallowed up in a kind of glow of Christ’s love coming down as a constant stream of sweet light, at the same time the soul all flowing and reflowing from heart to heart.” To those who snub these altered states of holy drunkenness, he replies, “Now if such things are enthusiasm, and the fruits of a distempered brain, let my brain be evermore possessed of that happy distemper!” To prevent a quenching of the divine visitation by which multitudes became ‘visibly new creatures,’ Edwards is energetic and verbose in proclaiming that the Spirit of the Lord had come indeed. “Whatever imprudences there have been, and whatever sinful irregularities; whatever vehemence of the passions, and heats of the imagination, transports and ecstacies: whatever error in judgment, and indiscreet zeal; and whatever outcries, faintings, and agitations of body; yet, it is manifest and notorious, that there has been of late a very uncommon influence upon the minds of a very great part of the inhabitants of New England, attended with the best effects.”
These are deep thoughts on the revival. The content is as free flowing as a letter. Some parts almost put me in a trance.