The Puritans: Jonathan Edwards, Part 6.

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” (Revelation 5:5-6). 

 The lion and the lamb, though very diverse kinds of creatures, yet have each their peculiar excellences. The lion excels in strength, and in the majesty of his appearance and voice: the lamb excels in meekness and patience, besides the excellent nature of the creature as good for food, and yielding that which is fit for our clothing and being suitable to be offered in sacrifice to God. But we see that Christ is in the text compared to both, because the diverse excellences of both wonderfully meet in him.

 There do meet in Jesus Christ infinite highness and infinite condescension. There meet in Jesus Christ, infinite justice and infinite grace. In the person of Christ do meet together infinite glory and lowest humility.

Infinite glory, and the virtue of humility, meet in no other person but Christ. They meet in no created person; for no created person has infinite glory, and they meet in no other divine person but Christ. For though the divine nature be infinitely abhorrent to pride, yet humility is not properly predicable of God the Father, and the Holy Ghost, that exist only in the divine nature; because it is a proper excellency only of a created nature; for it consists radically in a sense of a comparative lowness and littleness before God, or the great distance between God and the subject of this virtue; but it would be a contradiction to suppose any such thing in God.

But in Jesus Christ, who is both God and man, those two diverse excellences are sweetly united. He is a person infinitely exalted in glory and dignity. Philippians 2:6. “Being in the form of God, he thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” There is equal honor due to him with the Father. John 5:23. “That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.” God himself says to him, “thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever,” Hebrews 1:8. And there is the same supreme respect and divine worship paid to him by the angels of heaven, as to God the Father, ver. 6. “Let all the angels of God worship him.”

But however he is thus above all, yet he is lowest of all in humility. There never was so great an instance of this virtue among either men or angels, as Jesus. None ever was so sensible of the distance between God and him, or had a heart so lowly before God, as the man Christ Jesus. Matthew 11:29. What a wonderful spirit of humility appeared in him, when he was here upon earth, in all his behavior! In his contentment in his mean outward condition, contentedly living in the family of Joseph the carpenter, and Mary his mother, for thirty years together, and afterwards choosing outward meanness, poverty, and contempt, rather than earthly greatness; in his washing his disciples’ feet, and in all his speeches and deportment towards them; in his cheerfully sustaining the form of a servant through his whole life, and submitting to such immense humiliation at death!                                                                                                                                                                                 Jonathan Edwards

In 1750, Edwards and his family left Northampton. They took refuge in the frontier settlement of Stockbridge, near the western border of Massachusetts, where he served as pastor to a small congregation and as a missionary to the Housatonic Indians. He learned to accommodate himself well to the level of understanding of the Native Americans. His years in Stockbridge were complicated. When the conflict of the French and Indian War reached the village in 1754, several inhabitants were killed.

It was during this time in Stockbridge that Edwards wrote his most significant works. As Dr. Joel Beeke explains, “Out of those long hours in the study, and especially from the period of relative isolation at Stockbridge, came a vast body of Edwards’s writings. His greatest literary achievement from this period was Freedom of the Will (1754), in which Edwards argues that only the regenerate person can truly choose the transcendent God; that choice can be made only through a disposition that God infuses in regeneration. In this, Edwards rejected the materialism of the British philosophers along with the utilitarianism of free-will advocates. Logically, Edwards succeeds in making Arminianism an impossibility. Other important works completed during his Stockbridge years include Concerning the End for which God Created the World and The Nature of True Virtue (both published posthumously in 1765), and The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin (1758)—a tour de force against Pelagianism.”

In 1758, Edwards agreed to become president of the College of New Jersey at Princeton. He left his family that January, as “affectionately as if he should not come again.” One of his daughters wrote; as he departed, he turned back to his wife and said, “I commit you to God.”

Edwards preached his inaugural sermon at Princeton on Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever.” While at Princeton, Edwards hoped to complete two major treatises, one showing the harmony of the Old and New Testaments, and the other, a much-expanded treatise on The History of the Work of Redemption. However, Edwards did not live to complete these works. On March 22, 1758, after only a few months in Princeton, he died of complications from a smallpox inoculation.

Regarding Edwards’ legacy, Dr. Beeke writes, “The effect of this spiritual giant’s theological insight on New England Christianity has been immense and is often debated. Some say Edwards provided the impetus to move New England beyond the thought of its founders. In that sense, Edwards was a true philosopher. Others say Edwards was the last representative of Puritan theology and thought in the New World, where Puritanism would later be disdained. A third group finds little fault with Edwards or his theology, but accuses his followers of veering from the truths that inspired Edwards. Though Edwards himself stressed godly living, some of his successors discarded the biblically Reformed base which supported that godliness in their attempt to adopt Edwards’s more speculative views and methods. That, in turn, fostered a decline of both doctrinal and experiential Calvinism in New England. This group maintains that Edwards was a theologian/philosopher whose vision died with him, but that is certainly not true. Edwards’s vision continued at Princeton and many other places, and was alive in the Second Great Awakening.”

Dr. Beeke continues by explain, “Perhaps the most accurate assessment of Edwards is a combination of several views. Edwards was a profound theologian, as readers of The End for Which God Created the World can attest. Edwards was also a minister with great pastoral sensitivity—consider his Religious Affections. Recent scholarship has focused on Edwards’s metaphysics, gleaning primarily from his philosophical and scientific writings. Whatever view one may hold, all agree that his writings, specifically his sermons, are profitable specimens of one of America’s best and last Puritans.”

Soli deo Gloria!



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