[Jonathan] Edwards discovered, and says all over the place, that quietly enjoying the beauty of God, that is, communing with him in his son, who is the mighty and radiant friend of sinners, like me, quietly enjoying that is what–to use a word that Edwards delightfully used–happifies us. That’s how we get happified. In fact he said in one place that no one could look on God in our fallen state and live, and he said the reason for that isn’t because, well it’s not what I always thought it was growing up, namely because of God’s wrath and because of his purity in a other transcendent kind of way but rather because our joy in looking at God would be too overwhelming for our frail nature, it would incinerate us because we would be too happy. We couldn’t handle it.
Our joy in looking at God would be too overwhelming for our frail nature. We couldn’t handle it.
Praise God that by his mercy we will not be burned up, our frail nature will one day be able to delight in fullness of joy.
And for this day we are invited to delight in God’s beauty, to happify our hearts by communing with him through the Son.
May our hearts be continually happified in Christ.
Any day now, she will begin walking. My daughter has been moving from couch to table and scooting along, but has yet to take her first unaided steps. We have walked the halls of our home, hand in hand, as she learns her way. Those moments of eye contact are as pure and precious as I have ever known.
The writer of Ecclesiastes says there is nothing new under the sun. But there is a time where everything is new for you. And then there is a time where things are new again.
Parents of older children have asked me, “did you ever think you could love someone so much the instant you saw them?” I am often unprepared for the tenderness my little girl reveals in me, and how I treasure the smallest of moments with her.
And even though we wish she would start walking, we know it means saying goodbye to the slap-slap-slap of her hands upon the hardwood floor. In this it is ever more plain to me how slow we as humans develop. I keep looking at her and wanting the (first) next step. Then I think, she will learn to walk. It is a natural part of development, and it will come in time. That helps me wait.
In a season where I have longed for my own growth, to finally overcome my lack of discipline, my pride, or any of the items on my mental list of the better me, I am frustrated at how long it seems to take to master the first step. But God knows exactly how long it will take, and what is forming in me for the change to happen. Where I seem to keep crawling, his grace takes me hand in hand, it helps me lean into him as I learn my footsteps.
This leaning teaches me. My daughter is not old enough yet to realize my failures, she has no framework for distrust in her father at one year old. But it is coming. Whether it be my sin, or someone else’s, she will learn pain and fear and regret amidst all the good and beautiful and true things that life has to offer. She will have to learn how to trust and believe what is true.
The call to my anxious heart could not be more timely. God is a good father, who gives himself and is trustworthy. He will never leave his children, nor forsake them due to their performance. I consistently base my expectation of God’s love towards me on my experience of the inherent failures of every human relationship in my life, instead of the inherent lack of failure at any level in the life of Jesus Christ who is my covering. To believe this more quickly and more deeply is the growth I need – that God is a good father to me despite me because of Jesus.
To believe this in itself is a work of faith, the gift of God.
In a prayer for the believers of the early church, the apostle Paul asked God that Christ would dwell in the hearts of these believers through faith. He asked that through presence of Christ in their heart they would be rooted and grounded in love. This gift of stability and foundation would enable them to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love, to apprehend and know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that they might be filled with all the fullness of God.
Paul prayed that these believers might see God’s goodness and believe in Him despite all which would tempt them to doubt (like their own failures to walk faithfully in holiness). That they could re-read sections of this same letter and believe that God is a God who lavishes his kindness upon his children because of Jesus. He wants their good and is working for it in Christ. What a living promise of our inheritance as his child! To delight with long-abandoned wonder in beauty that is more real and true than the things we can now touch and hold.
I want my heart to grasp his character with more faith and sight each day. I want roots and stability in love through the gift of faith that I might relish in the kindness of God’s love towards me in his son, and as his child. Which transforms the days I rate myself high and low, where I swing between pride and self condemnation into days where I quit looking at myself and look more intently at the goodness of God. Even in the midst of a tantrum it is a new experience for me to both recognize failure and be moved in love towards my child. God does the same towards us, unmoved by our failure because of Christ, and pursuing us in love as his children.
Recently I sat with a few friends as we spoke of our children and the unexpected moments with each new season of development. One brother said, “I was looking at my son recently and it clicked in my head. All the love I feel in my heart, the fullness and depth that wells up, that’s what my dad felt when he looked at me.”
Believer, that’s what God feels when he looks at you in Christ. It’s not selfish to delight in his love, or to thank him for it. What good father would not welcome the affection of his children and rejoice in the sharing of their love? It is our learned distrust and inherent separation from him that he gives us faith to overcome in Christ. He loves us because of Jesus and invites us into life with him, helping us grow up and develop into all that he would have us to be. It is because of God’s beauty in his God-ness and as the good father that we come to him, where things become new again in a deeper, truer way than before.
By grace we trade the slap-slap-slap of our hands to take his own and lean into Him for our lives.
When I love something, I want you to know about it. Moreover, I want you to enjoy it like I do. The lyric that pricked my heart, the meal that made my night, what The Lord showed me in the Scriptures this morning. I want to share it with you.
But am I sharing too soon?
There is something right and good about rejoicing in beauty with others. But I wonder if we’re shorting ourselves in the sharing; if the act of sharing too quickly robs the joy of knowing more deeply. I’m afraid that some of our daily actions foster this in ways we might not expect.
Lately I’ve caught myself and thought – you’re sharing this, but are you sharing too quickly? Moreover, am I growing content with the snippet of truth over the depth of learning the Truth afforded to me?
Here are two scenarios from my life:
– Retweeting or favoriting a post on Twitter. I interact with a post holding a truth I agree with. I scan Twitter, like what I see, I agree with it / star it. I pocket my phone and go on.
– I sit down with the Scriptures and engage the text. The Holy Spirit meets me in the text and gives eyes to see something about God’s character and my hope in Christ. As a pastor, I (all too quickly) begin to think through how I can share this with someone and what I would need to communicate in getting the point across. My eyes move from my first role as Child to Pastor, I’m now studying for a lesson to teach instead of learning what I’m being taught.
In the shift to sharing, I fear I’m grazing – that I’m fooling myself into being full. The sheer number of sources I graze from on a daily basis is astounding when listed out: Twitter, Facebook, Email, Instagram, Feedly, Texts, Photos, Voicemail, Radio, and Television. It’s no wonder that the grazing keeps me distracted from my true food like the three baskets of chips before my fajitas. But I am pointing to, retweeting, liking and commenting on these things all day long.
And it seems okay because everyone else is too.
The issue for my heart is that these thumbed double-taps are training me to think I have apprehended a truth because I have affirmed it, shared it with my circle of friends. That I have learned what I have put before others. They associate it with me now, so I am okay to do the same for myself. Less often is my inclination to sit and mine beauty, than it is now to run and share a snippet of it with others.
In this I trade beholding for a quick glance, but the jewel of Christian hope demands fixation. The beauty of Christ is inexhaustible and brings ever increasing joy for the diligent seeker.
You come across people dedicated to their diet of information. The sources they look to are confined to what they view as worthy. They have limited their options in pursuit of depth, discriminating with their intake, which shows in their lives. When we are uncritical adopters, we fail we sift the good and hold onto it. We graze with little concern because the discovery of the new is entertainment.
The call of the Christian is to behold the beauty of Christ and keep our eyes fixed upon him as we call others to see him. Our attention is to be focused upon him, our eyes upon the oldest thing that never gets old, letting the new pass by without fear of missing out.
There is a difference between sharing and learning. Don’t confuse the two, thinking you have learned what you have shared. Precious blood is spilled in the acquiring of knowledge, and it comes at great effort. It demands more than our weakening appetites, and we must strengthen ourselves or be contented with ever spoiling entertainment.
November 22, 1963 etched itself into the minds of a generation with the assassination of President Kennedy.
There will be many articles today remembering the 50th anniversary of his tragic death.
On this same day in history, C.S. Lewis died. Fifty years later, his works have helped countless readers find words for desires that haunt the human soul until they rest with right longing. Lewis helped us name the longing.
Lewis has taught me, time and again, the value of childlike belief. Far from naive acceptance, this belief is unhindered by cynicism and unburdened by pretense. Many have and will speak more deeply than I can here regarding his influence on the world, but I can tell you that his works have drawn tears like blood through images of my brokenness, that of the world, and the beauty of a real Savior who is making all the sad things come untrue.
Several years ago I wrote a short poem about Lewis, and share it with you again today – the 50th anniversary of his death.
portrait: clive staples.
sit among a ring of
pipe smoke & warm brown ales
and dream fairy tales
he helped us see that happiness is the longing
to crave it is to be pierced with
pierced and yet bleeding to live
waiting wishing hoping for piercing again
further up further in
that diamond hard grass—your feet made firm at last?
Edwards took the sermon as the opportunity to make truth real to his hearers. Every ounce of preparation was done to engage the individuals in the congregation in all of their physical senses, and, then, in their affections, the senses of the soul. We have asked the role of the preacher in the divine act of conversion; we know that it is to preach a beautiful Savior with every means of engagement possible. The preacher labors in the image and the imagination, which is undergirded by his labor in logic.
What implication does this have for the modern preacher? What are good examples to look at of how one communicates to the understanding and will of a person – engaging the imagination and leaving an impression of truth upon the soul? How does one set the table in the sermon and proclaim the Savior in our modern context?
Edwards sought to proclaim the excellency of God to the soul of his hearers, to help them see and taste that which was real. But how does one communicate this to an audience today?
Consider the Lord’s Supper. Bread and wine are tangible objects that reside in the natural and sensible understanding of all in the congregation. Through the proclamation of the preacher and the work of the Spirit, the bread and wine become symbols consumed by the believer, absorbed by all five senses. The souls that hold the elements in their hands are led through them to the truth they represent, perceiving and feasting upon the beauty of Christ.
The preacher may exegetically go verse-by-verse with his congregation, but the power of narrative must be considered for every style. We are creatures who love narratives, who pursue the opportunity to be engaged in all our senses. We pay handsomely to enter a world of imagination where our passions and affections are stirred by what we see and hear. It is in narrative that the preacher can lay extended images before the soul and speak to the senses. The preacher need not create a fictional world for his sermon, but he should labor for his congregation to taste the dust in the air and hear the stones drop even as Christ writes in the dirt (John 8:1-11).
Where Edwards appropriated empiricist terms to communicate his ideas regarding the soul, his study of the soul was not a dispassionate or merely academic venture. He did not stand on the outside of religious experience looking to diagnose it. Edwards stood within the realm of faith, a disciple of Christ and pastor of his church. He wrote so that the Church might see Christ more clearly and delight in God’s beauty. This was Edwards’ heart, and his desire came across in his work. The preacher who would champion the beauty of Christ must delight in him before uttering a word. The heart of the preacher must be transformed by the beauty of Christ, or else his words will speak of a place he has perhaps only visited while he tells others it is to be their home. How can someone describe the sweetness of something they have not tasted? Therefore the type of person the preacher is, the Spirit-wrought character of the man, will have deeper impact on his hearers than his most eloquent sermon.
Where the preacher might be tempted in expounding doctrines to leave the audience with maxims or next steps, the desired end is to bring the individual before Christ in such a way that they sense and taste his beauty compared to everything else they have tried to find salvation within. Christ is preached not as something else to try, but as the true fulfillment of their soul’s longing. In preparation for this, the preacher should be a student of his people and culture. One should work to understand the mindset of different parts of culture. This helps the preacher see inside differing worldviews, and then to speak to them with the Scriptures engaging the understanding, will, and affections.
Modern examples of theologians and pastors who have labored in Edward’s footsteps to engage the soul with light and heat, truth and affection are C.S. Lewis, D.M. Lloyd-Jones, John Piper, and Timothy Keller. Lewis for his disarming images, where one winces with the need of salvation as Eustace is freed from his scales, and holds their breath at the majesty of Aslan in Narnia. Lloyd-Jones spoke to the whole of a person with a physician’s touch aiming to move the individual towards an apprehension of the beauty of Christ. Piper is methodical in his logic and he presents Christ clearly to the understanding and the will, desiring to light the affections on fire with zeal for God’s glory. Keller is winsome and thoughtful, able to inhabit the worldview of those in his context in such a way as to see the misdirected loves of their lives and speak to their faults with surgeon-like precision. These men and their work are worth studying. Their word choice, argument construction, and images are selected to enact the very things this work is concerned with, but underneath it all is their consuming desire to see Christ glorified, not their rhetoric.
Edwards penned countless words categorizing and cataloguing the way in which concepts and doctrines interact. His Miscellanies are an incredible array of connections in thought, a systematic exploration of the human condition and divine truth. They are a testament to his desire to understand and speak into the mysteries of God in the lives of men. His work concerning faculty psychology and the sense of the heart are examples of this desire, and they are of great benefit to the preacher of the Word. In a world full of contradiction between experiential desire and rationalism, Edwards speaks to us today and points to the strength of the affections and the need to engage them. The affections are daily being engaged whether it is by the truth or not and it is the duty of the pastor to proclaim the excellencies of God in such a way that his hearers truly hear. It is not enough to preach that Christ is our treasure when people have little concept of what that means. We must look to what they treasure, expose their heart’s attachment to it, and then proclaim the beauty and value of Christ over the inadequacy of what they have found worthy. In this the preacher plays his role within the divine act of conversion, setting the table before the understanding and the will, proclaiming the Savior.
In tracing the steps of the preacher in his pulpit duty, there are several baseline responsibilities for the one who proclaims the Word. First, he is a man under authority; God has laid upon this man the mantle of shepherding the flock entrusted to him. It is his responsibility to (1) prepare his flock for heaven, laboring to see Christ formed in them through the maturity of Christian love and character and (2) fulfill the great commission through the sharing of the Gospel to unredeemed individuals.
Second, this man speaks so as to make the invisible visible with all his might, praying that the Spirit meets his efforts and carries them to their goal. The preacher labors in his language, using all the rhetorical strength available to him to focus the attention, imagination, and full faculties of each individual in the pews towards the things of God. He labors knowing he is against powers beyond flesh and blood, beyond indifference and disinterest.
Therefore, the preacher’s aim in the pulpit is to set the table of understanding regarding the things of God, but that is not his end goal. He is to instruct the imagination towards apprehending the things of God in relation to their natural understanding, trusting the Spirit to impart the foundational sense that enables and allows them to see Christ through the Word. But still, the preacher should do more. His aim is to pierce the affections with such light and to warm them with such heat, that the hearers are without defense, yet without fear. His aim is more than instruction, it is conversion, and, therefore, his approach is beyond mere inflammation of the emotions. The string of his bow is taught with methodical understanding, with the surgical precision of logic to opposition and love to self-centeredness ready to pierce the heart and release hope into long forsaken dreams of fulfillment and acceptance. If the Spirit does not empower the aim of the preacher, the string will loose and the arrow will break upon deaf ears and blind eyes.
Setting the Table
As Edwards’ held that language was the means through which religious truth was applied towards the heart of an individual, then the proclamation of the Word, specifically in the sermon, is the means through which the preacher labors to prepare the heart of the listener.[i] When the preacher opens the Word, he never deals with an audience of static maturity, each heart being different. The soul in the pew may have little to no natural knowledge of the things of God; he may be a learned academic. The preacher is dealing with the soil of souls: the unredeemed, the weak, the fruitful, and a dozen variations of each. Therefore, he tends the garden of these souls with the truth of God, laboring to teach the meta-narratives of Scripture and the implications of salvation to practical holiness. As the language learner studies vocabulary and grammar to form sentences, the preacher teaches the language of the things of God that the Spirit might give the sense of God’s grammar, his order and beauty in communicating with fallen mankind. Upon the table sit the means of grace, which when regularly proclaimed, provide the setting for grace to act.[ii]
Laboring in the Image
As the preacher stands in the pulpit, he looks at souls in the pews wondering how to make the words of the text come alive to their hearts. Speaking from faculty psychology, the task is to take the natural understanding and experience of each individual and connect it to the sense of what is being described. This is where Edwards excelled with his use of images as he labored to bring a clear image into the mind’s eye that would bridge the gap between what an individual heard and what they knew. He looked into the daily experience of his people and tried to hone in on what was common to all. Then, when an image was presented, there was little doubt that the natural understanding and sense would be able to perceive what he was talking about, making the correlation to a divine truth a lesser obstacle. The majority of Edward’s images were from nature.[iii] If an individual knew the warmth of fire and the threat of fear, then, when Edwards spoke of the terrors and fires of hell, there was a closer connection to understanding and sense. If the same man knew of the warmth of light and the welcomed the passing of darkness, then there was an experiential base for seeing Christ as the light of the world.[iv]Edwards sought to use images as an entry point, to take the listener into their imagination through the natural image, and then show them the divine color and shape of the truth at hand. Therefore, the imagination became the bridge between understanding and apprehension.[v]
Readers of Edwards will no doubt be familiar with the strength and clarity of his images. While others might turn to elaborate illustrations or contrived situations to explain a point, Edwards chose to speak through the commonplace experiences that his audience knew, that which they encountered at every turn in their natural understanding and sense. In this, he avoided abstraction and fought for concreteness.
Where the revivalist is armed with the sense of urgency to press the hearts of his hearers, Edwards appealed to the totality of the individual. He walked with them through what they knew in order to shine light on what they could never comprehend unless the Spirit moved. He reasoned and highlighted their first-hand experience.
Edward’s intentionality in delivery betrays his devotion to the efficacy of the message, to not distract or diminish the importance of what was at hand and to not waste an ounce of attention towards the pursuit of God’s beauty being known. It has been noted that when Edwards was sixteen he laid ground rules for himself in regards to his manner of style, which later would influence his preaching delivery.[vi] Readily apparent among them is the desire for modesty and self-effacement. He writes, “Let it not look as if I was much read, or was conversant with books, or with the learned world.”[vii]Where Edwards labored for the clear image, he also desired to remove any opportunity for miscommunication between himself and the congregation. Seeking to stir both understanding and emotion, Edwards took all his study, all his intellect, and poured it into a sober and direct call towards salvation. Again, students of Edwards note that his prose is not lacking in color, his sermons being wrought with clear and articulate artistry, but they do not terminate on the aesthetic nature of the language, rather on the beauty of God. Words were the means, never the end, lest the poet-preacher be caught in awe by his own rhetorical strength and not in awe of God. To guard against even the hint of distraction or rhetorical focus, Edward’s always kept the target of affections in view through his earnestness and sober approach, allowing for proportional use of rhetoric and oratory as long as it “beget true apprehensions in the minds of the hearers, of the subject spoken of, and so to enlighten the understanding.”[viii] Edwards was doing more than the calling people to do good; he was calling them to taste that which awaited them in Christ and have their will changed and affections awakened in the process.[ix]
Laboring in the Imagination
If the image set before the minds eye does not lead into the depth of the sermon’s argument, then the image is faulty and the listener will be left behind. If the image does, however, lead the listener into the imagination, there is no limit to which the redeemed imagination might climb. The sense of the heart, once imparted and centered upon God, is able to truly envision the things of God, to see the beauty of God in Christ. When the soul consents to the reality of God’s revelation in Christ, there is a continual revelation of the depths of the wisdom of God in Christ. This change in man causes a reorientation and strengthening of reason.[x] The divine mystery is laid before the redeemed and the enlightened imagination is able to truly see by discovery of existing spiritual realities, namely the beauty and glory of God.[xi] This leads the individual forward from the point of conversion. With maturity and development, the saint is able to look into the depths of the wisdom of God and journey further up and further into the mountains of God’s beauty and excellency. The key for the preacher who would seek to engage the redeemed imagination is that Christ is the mediator between the imagination and God’s truth.[xii]Therefore, it is in Christ that the imagination looks to see the character of God displayed, and it is Christ that the preacher holds out to the congregation as the object of faith.
Laboring in the Logic
The preacher calls to the imagination of each individual, aiming to stir and direct true affections borne out of right understanding. Edwards was careful to determine precisely what he was dealing with in his messages, describing ways for individuals to know what was happening in their souls as they listened to the Word. Therefore, the logic of a preacher must be the solid foundation of his message. Edward’s sermons were stacked deep with proofs from the text in carefully arranged arguments. The progression in them was academic, but the heart that carried them was fiercely pastoral. It was his thorough and well-constructed logic that gave freedom to his work in the imagination of his listeners. Where Edwards spoke of the need for light and heat from the preacher, he spoke of truth and passion, logic and the affections.[xiii] Preaching the doctrines of sin, depravity, salvation, and regeneration require clear and articulate thought. One must be able to deftly walk through the argument and anticipate the minds of their hearers. It is the driving force of clear and articulate truth that frees images to capture the imagination of the listener and serve its purpose to reveal Christ through the doctrines preached.[xiv] Here the preacher labors in logic to serve his congregation that they might encounter both the light and heat of the sermon.
Next Implications for the Modern Preacher
<h6>,/h6>[i] Simonson, Jonathan Edwards, 109.
[ii] Jonathan Edwards, The “Miscellanies,”: (Entry Nos. 501-832) (WJE Online Vol. 18), Ed. Ava Chamberlain. http://edwards.yale.edu/
[iii] Conrad Cherry, Nature and Religious Imagination: From Edwards to Bushnell (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1980), 26.
[iv] Ibid., 35.
[v] Simonson, Theologian of the Heart, 73.
[vi] Cherry, Nature and Religious Imagination, 32.
[vii] Ibid., 22.
[viii] Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, The Great Awakening, Vol. 4, Some Thoughts Concerning Revival, Edited by C.C. Goen (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972), 387. See alsoCherry, Nature and Religious Imagination, 34. [ix] Cherry, Nature and Religious Imagination, 35; 41.
[x] Simonson, Theologian of the Heart, 76.
[xi] Ibid., 80. [xii] Ibid., 79.
[xiii] Jonathan Edwards,“The True Excellency of a Gospel Minister” in Sermons and Discourses, 1743-1758 (WJE Online Vol. 25), Ed. By Wilson H. Kimnach, http://edwards.yale.edu/), 92. See also Simonson, Theologian of the Heart, 113.
[xiv] Simonson, Theologian of the Heart, 108; “The test of the preachers power was whether he could transform doctrine into preparatory experience that grace would complete as saving experience. This was the crucial premise in Edward’s rhetoric.”
[this is the 3rd of 5 posts on Jonathan Edwards’ view on conversion and the role of the preacher in the process. Here’s the rest]
There is little dispute that the way in which a man or woman is converted to belief in Christ is a mystery. To try and explain it away would be futile, but, as previously mentioned, there is a certain pattern, even recognizable progression in understanding that has historically been seen in the lives of those who come to faith. Edwards studied those around him and was able to discern this chain of events in the relationship between the understanding, the affections, and the will that involved the Word of God, and largely (but not solely) the proclamation of it.
The unredeemed attends service on a Sunday morning and sits down among the congregation. Having attended church as a child, he comes now two or three times a year mostly out of compulsion around holidays. He sits with a natural knowledge of the world, the experiential knowledge of his waking hours and of every season of life fueling the way in which he interacts with the world. His will is inclined towards sin, as it is dispositionally inclined away from the things of God because of the fall of man. He sits in the sanctuary; unable to grasp the truth of God but for some reason he is in service this Sunday.
As the preacher expounds upon the Gospel from the Word of God, the Spirit begins to use the understanding of this man and, through the means of the Word being proclaimed, makes connections between his natural and sensible knowledge to the attributes of God. The sense of loneliness and futility is met by the Gospel truth of separation from God. The experiential knowledge of shame and regret, failure and pain is harnessed to communicate the state of man in sin before God. The Word of God functions to furnish man’s understanding with the things of God and he now has a reference for what Christians believe regarding the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, and the need for salvation. Then, something happens: the Spirit gives a gift to this man. A spiritual sense in the heart, there is now an apprehension of belief, a taste of pleasure that gives color and depth to the flat knowledge from moments before.
The unredeemed imagination is enlightened and used for godly purposes to impart a spiritual sense of reality, which now enables this man to see his state before God and the necessity of Christ as his savior. His hearts is quickened and brought before the Lord. The reality now apprehended is no different from the truths proclaimed moments before; there is no progression in the revelation of scripture, but there is a fundamental change in the way to which this man will forever view these truths. He can actually see them now. This is the mysterious act; those whom the Spirit draws, enables, and equips respond to this vision of beauty, a divine and supernatural light has invaded their understanding, will, affection – their whole being (2 Cor 4:6).[i] Where there had been no testimony of God’s beauty before the impartation of this gift of the Spirit, there is now a real sense of divine beauty of the immeasurable excellency of God and the new inclination of the will towards the things of God. There is an experiential realization of the divine character that is attested with the fervency that the same individual would have spoken of toward the reality of gravity, something he could see with his own eyes. Now he can see with the eyes of faith. As Edwards put it, “The truth of the gospel to them is plain from the effects it has in their hearts, and from what they themselves have experienced of its power, and seen of its excellency.”[ii]
The Sense of the Heart
Indeed, Edwards also said that the “prime alteration that is made in conversion, that which is first and the foundation of all, is the alteration of the temper and disposition and spirit of the mind.”[iii] What happens within the act of conversion is that our natural and experiential sense is given a stronger foundation, that of a spiritual sense. Where the things of God were a mystery to the unredeemed, now it seems that they become clearer and the Word of God brings one closer in contact with the lens through which things are made clear, the person of Christ. Edwards was careful to make the distinction that this spiritual sense was not a new faculty of understanding, but a new foundation. Indeed it is the same person, the same filing cabinets and marked edges of understanding, but a new foundation and inclination for both the understanding and the will.[iv]This holistic change in man is compared to the raising of the dead or the birth of a new creation because the new sense is as striking as sight to the blind and sound to the deaf.[v] It is through Christ that the individual is enabled to see the beauty of God at work. What once were unrecognizable points now become beautiful and harmonious. Random events are now traced to the hand of God. An example of this is to ask a maturing believer if how they see their own salvation has changed over the last decade. The way in which one describes their salvation grows and develops as one understands the interplay of events and the sovereign hand of God. It is not their salvation that has changed, but their understanding of the work of God towards and within them. The Spirit’s gift to the individual is the gift of this sense of the heart and is the impartation of the Spirit to the believer.
Edwards’ emphasis upon this sense took the divergent streams of enlightenment reasoning and experiential knowledge and let them flow together giving intellectual and dispassionate faith a framework for experiential knowledge of the Divine Nature. Many have deemed this emphasis his unique theological contribution and, therefore, it merits a closer look within the act of conversion.
As previously outlined, when the faculties of understanding and will work together within daily life, the unredeemed individual is inclined towards sin and away from the things of God. Actions may be deemed loving, giving, and conscionable, but they are unable to extend towards a divine motive or character. When the spiritual sense is imparted to man, it provides a new foundation to the understanding and will allowing the individual to see into the divine nature and have his affections redirected, specifically towards the beauty of God in Christ. Edwards deemed it sweetness, a relish to the soul. As the will is properly inclined through the gift of the Spirit, there is an apprehension of beauty, full delight in what is estimated to be the greatest pleasure available to man.[vi]As “reason’s work is to perceive truth and not excellency,” this gift enables man to truly perceive and delight in what is excellent.[vii]Let reason guide a man to see honey is enjoyable to others, but reason alone will never give man the taste of its sweetness.[viii]
Edwards spoke of this sense directly in his sermon, A Divine and Supernatural Light, and gave four exhortations towards the nature of it:
1. This is the most excellent and divine wisdom that any creature is capable of.
2. This knowledge is that which is above all others sweet and joyful.
3. This light is such as effectually influences the inclination, and changes the nature of
4. This light, and this only, has its fruit in a universal holiness of life.[ix]
This experiential sense is the sweetest and highest wisdom mankind is capable of. It is the strongest and most influential knowledge man can apprehend and upon receipt he or she is inclined towards Christ (2 Cor 3:18). It alone brings about the character and quality of holiness to the believer that bears fruit in his daily life.
Knowing that the work of redemption, the imparting of a spiritual sense and the presence of the Holy Spirit, is the work of God towards the people of God, what is the role of the preacher in the act of conversion? What does the preacher need to pay attention to in his preparation and delivery to attend to the souls in his congregation that he might join with and be used by the Spirit in the work of God? What role does the sense of the heart play in the preacher’s preparation and delivery (i.e. how might the preacher enflame this sense towards greater delight in God or prepare the unredeemed to perceive the things of God should the Spirit act?).
Next: The Role of the Preacher
[i] Ibid., 117; “This plainly shows, that there is a discovery of the divine superlative glory and excellency of God in Christ, peculiar to the saints, and also, that it is as immediately from God, as light from the sun: and that it is the immediate effect or his power and will.”
[ii] Jonathan Edwards, “A Spiritual Understanding of Divine Things Denied to the Unregenerate”in Sermons and Discourses: 1723-1729 (WJE Online Vol.14), Ed. Kenneth P. Minkema. http://edwards.yale.edu/. [iii] Jonathan Edwards, “Miscellany #397” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards,The “Miscellanies”: (Entry Nos. a-z, aa-zz, 1-500) (WJE Online Vol. 13), Ed. Harry S. Stout. http://edwards.yale.edu/. [iv] Edwards, Religious Affections, 206.
[vi] Terrence Erdt, Jonathan Edwards, Art and the Sense of the Heart (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980), 32.
[vii] Edwards, “Divine and Supernatural Light”, 121. [viii] Ibid.
[ix] Ibid., 122-3.