Slavery to Sin and “Free-Will”

In today’s class I touched on the much disputed, but often incorrectly explained, notion of man’s so-called “free-will”.

What I wanted to show today, and what I will demonstrate in this post, is that “free-will” must be correctly defined and understood if we’re going to use the term in a Biblical and accurate manner. Further, the idea itself that “free-will” exists is a bit of a misnomer, and I will seek to give you some logical reasoning for that truth.  Lastly, “free-will” as it relates to our choice of Christ and salvation from bondage is a most abhorrent notion in the general way Christians today think of it. I will show you why its not only abhorrent, but also a logical absurdity.

Free-Will Popularly Defined

First we must understand what we’re talking about, and that means defining our terms.  “Free-will” is often understood to mean our mind/soul/will making choices in complete freedom and liberty, with no previous (“antecedent”) influence or outside influence or internal (spiritual) influence. For brevity sake, let it suffice to say that those who define freedom this way say that our will can be completely neutral or “indifferent” before we make our decisions. That the only thing that affects our decisions is our mind, or emotion, or understanding etc. (pre-supposing an entirely “free” act of the mind upon the will…as if one can be suspended apart from the other without any antecedent motive or influence).

I believe this is a poor definition of “free-will”, but it is what most people think of when they hear the term. They think of the power to make their own choice without reference to any outside/inside agency or coercion.

There’s No Such Thing as a Perfectly “Free” and Unbiased Will

In order for this popular definition of “free-will” to work in reality, our will must first achieve a perfect state of indifference or neutrality before making a decision – before choosing one thing or another. Without laboring the point too much, let me just say that this is a logical impossibility. It is impossible to not have any prior inclination or motive informing our mind/will either internally or externally. In other words, we do not live in a vacuum.

Jonathan Edwards explains, “to make out this scheme of liberty, the indifference must be perfect and absolute; there must be a perfect freedom from all antecedent preponderation of inclination. Because if the will be already inclined  before it exerts its own sovereign power on itself, then its inclination is not wholly owing to itself…For so long as prior inclination possesses the will, and is not removed, the former binds the latter, so that it is utterly impossible that the will should act otherwise than agreeable to it. Surely the will canot act or choose contrary to a remaining prevailing inclination of the will.

Now maybe it is obvious what I am getting at…the idea of a “free-will” (as popularly defined) is really non-existent because of the fact that we always lean on prior information and current desire to form our decision making.  We cannot properly claim for ourselves perfect indifference. In fact, because we are born into a bondage to sin all of our decision making is tainted by our sinful viewpoint and sinful desires. This is why re-birth is so crucial to true sanctification, and why “renewing our minds” has a much deeper meaning than most people perhaps realize.

Our Will is Never at Liberty Until Freed by Christ

Let us now briefly take a step back before looking at what Christ has done for us through regeneration, and remember the that prior to His work we were in a state of complete mental, emotional, and spiritual captivity. A.W. Pink helps us here:

The condition of the natural man is far, far worse than he imagines, and far worse than the average preacher and Sunday school teacher supposes. Man is a fallen creature, totally depraved, with no soundness in him from the sole of his foot even unto the head (Isa. 1:6). He is completely under the dominion of sin (John 8:34), a bond-slave to divers lusts (Titus 3:3), so that he “cannot cease from sin” (2 Pet. 2:14). Moreover, the natural man is thoroughly under the dominion of it. He is taken captive by the Devil at his will (2 Tim. 2:26). He walks according to the Prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). He fulfills the lusts of his father, the Devil (John 8:44). He is completely dominated by Satan’s power (Col. 1:13). And from this thraldom nothing but the truth of God can deliver.

We’ve also read in our study of John that mankind not only doesn’t desire the good things of God, but actually desires to stay in his sin and darkness (see John 3:19-21).

So when Jesus and Paul say that we are in bondage to sin, they’re saying that in man’s natural fallen state he will always choose sin above the things of God. Read that carefully – he will always “choose” sin above God and righteousness. It isn’t as though we didn’t have the “freedom” to choose. It is that in our “freedom” (or shall I say “bondage”) we chose sin – and we will always choose sin until the work of the Spirit because the things of God were things that we did not desire. The “antecedent” motive that Edwards speaks of, is tainted by sinful desires and information. Not until Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, changed out hearts and brought us into newness of life, did we desire to choose Christ or the things of God.

You can now perhaps begin to see how we can rightfully say that as human beings we are not puppets or robots, but that the way we popularly speak about “free-will” is off-kilter and inaccurate. Our freedom exists, but it is informed by our desires, and we choose the things we desire most. Therefore, prior to Christ, we were truly free only to sin.

Calvin explains, “For so long as we are governed by our sense and by our natural disposition, we are in bondage to sin; but when the Lord regenerates us by his Spirit, he likewise makes us free, so that, loosed from the snares of Satan, we willingly obey righteousness. But regeneration proceeds from faith, and hence it is evident that freedom proceeds from the gospel.”

Edwards further elaborates, “The will, therefore, so long as it is under the influence of an old preponderating inclination, is not at liberty for a new free act; or any, that shall now be an act of self-determination.”

In Conclusion – New Creations in Christ!

This has been a short post, and certainly there is more to be said on this topic, but I wanted to explain the logical absurdity of the idea that somehow, outside of the internal sovereign work of the Spirit and the reading of His Word, we freely choose/chose God and make righteous decisions. First God loved us, then we responded in love toward Him for the irresistible beauty of the offer of eternal life. The blinders were taken off, and we now freely choose what He freely offers.

In order to appreciate this great truth, we must first understand and appreciate what freedom is, what it is not, and just how much freedom we had prior to our being born again. The power of old things (antecedent inclinations and desires) has been broken. In the context of our discussion on the will, Edwards explains this reality, “Therefore, if there be the least degree of antecedent preponderation of the will, it must be perfectly abolished, before the will can be at liberty to determine itself the contrary way.” Thanks be to God that he has “abolished” our old ways (though we still battle the flesh – Rom. 7), and given us His Spirit!

Because we are now new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), and as I explained this morning, we now have freedom to choose not to sin. Our choices always rest upon our strongest inclinations/desires at the moment of choice. If you are not a Christian, that inclination will never be for the things of God (see Romans 1). If you are a Christian, and walking in the Spirit, you will bear the fruit of that Spirit (Jn. 8:31-32), and make choices that reflect the One who is changing those desires within you (2 Cor. 3:18).

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Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions

I’ve posted here prior about Jonathan Edwards and his remarkable devotion to God, and towering intellect and influence on the early American church (not to mention the continuing influence over today’s church).

And today, much to my delight, (I hope its okay to mention this) Brad Flurry reminded me of one of Edwards’ most famous writings – Resolutions.

‘Resolutions’ is a list of 70 goals and ideas based on Scripture and Edwards’ life lessons that he sought to accomplish each and every day.  He was continually visiting and revisiting these resolutions as he sought to give God glory in everything he did and said.

I’ve posted the Resolutions below for you to take a look at.  You can also find it here at Desiring God’s site.  The one that always sticks in my head is #19 which says, “Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.”

I hope these Resolutions once again refocus your mind on the Lord Jesus Christ, and His preeminence in your life.  Thanks again to Brad who also is taking some time to create his own list of resolutions – a great idea for each of us to consider so long as you keep the grace of the Lord in the forefront of your mind, and don’t allow legalism to creep into your thinking.  Always remember that the grace of God is what saves you.

Jonathan Edwards – Resolutions

Separated by Topic

Overall Life Mission

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the aforementioned things.

3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

22. Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.

62. Resolved, never to do anything but duty; and then according to Eph. 6:6-8, do it willingly and cheerfully as unto the Lord, and not to man; “knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord.” June 25 and July 13, 1723.

Good Works

11. Resolved, when I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances don’t hinder.

13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.

69. Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it. Aug. 11, 1723.

Time Management

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

18. Resolved, to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.

19. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.

37. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year. Dec. 22 and 26, 1722.

40. Resolved, to inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking. Jan. 7, 1723.

41. Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.

50.Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world. July 5, 1723.

51.Resolved, that I will act so, in every respect, as I think I shall wish I had done, if I should at last be damned. July 8, 1723.

52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.

55. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell torments. July 8, 1723.

61. Resolved, that I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it-that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done, etc. May 21, and July 13, 1723.

Relationships

14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.

15. Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.

16. Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.

31. Resolved, never to say anything at all against anybody, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said anything against anyone, to bring it to, and try it strictly by the test of this Resolution.

33. Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining, establishing and preserving peace, when it can be without over-balancing detriment in other respects. Dec. 26, 1722.

34. Resolved, in narration’s never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.

36. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it. Dec. 19, 1722.

46. Resolved, never to allow the least measure of any fretting uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved to suffer no effects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eve: and to be especially careful of it, with respect to any of our family.

58. Resolved, not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness and benignity. May 27, and July 13, 1723.

59. Resolved, when I am most conscious of provocations to ill nature and anger, that I will strive most to feel and act good-naturedly; yea, at such times, to manifest good nature, though I think that in other respects it would be disadvantageous, and so as would be imprudent at other times. May 12, July 2, and July 13.

66. Resolved, that I will endeavor always to keep a benign aspect, and air of acting and speaking in all places, and in all companies, except it should so happen that duty requires otherwise.

70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.

Suffering

9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.

67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.

57. Resolved, when I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether ~ have done my duty, and resolve to do it; and let it be just as providence orders it, I will as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin. June 9, and July 13, 1723.

Character

8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

12. Resolved, if I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.

21. Resolved, never to do anything, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him.

32. Resolved, to be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that in Prov. 20:6, “A faithful man who can find?” may not be partly fulfilled in me.

47. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good, and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peaceable, contented, easy, compassionate, generous, humble, meek, modest, submissive, obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable, even, patient, moderate, forgiving, sincere temper; and to do at all times what such a temper would lead me to. Examine strictly every week, whether I have done so. Sabbath morning. May 5, 1723.

54. Whenever I hear anything spoken in conversation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, Resolved to endeavor to imitate it. July 8, 1723.

63. On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, to act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time. Jan. 14 and July 3, 1723.

27. Resolved, never willfully to omit anything, except the omission be for the glory of God; and frequently to examine my omissions.

39. Resolved, never to do anything that I so much question the lawfulness of, as that I intend, at the same time, to consider and examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or no; except I as much question the lawfulness of the omission.

20. Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.

Spiritual Life

Assurance

25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.

26. Resolved, to cast away such things, as I find do abate my assurance.

48. Resolved, constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or no; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. May 26, 1723.

49. Resolved, that this never shall be, if I can help it.

The Scriptures

28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

Prayer

29. Resolved, never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.

64. Resolved, when I find those “groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26), of which the Apostle speaks, and those “breakings of soul for the longing it hath,” of which the Psalmist speaks, Psalm 119:20, that I will promote them to the utmost of my power, and that I will not be wear’, of earnestly endeavoring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness. July 23, and August 10, 1723.

The Lord’s Day

38. Resolved, never to speak anything that is ridiculous, sportive, or matter of laughter on the Lord’s day. Sabbath evening, Dec. 23, 1722.

Vivification of Righteousness

30. Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.

42. Resolved, frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this twelfth day of January, 1722-23.

43. Resolved, never henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God’s, agreeable to what is to be found in Saturday, January 12, 1723.

44- Resolved, that no other end but religion, shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it. Jan.12, 1723.

45. Resolved, never to allow any pleasure or grief, joy or sorrow, nor any affection at all, nor any degree of affection, nor any circumstance relating to it, but what helps religion. Jan. 12-13, 1723.

Mortification of Sin and Self Examination

23. Resolved, frequently to take some deliberate action, which seems most unlikely to be done, for the glory of God, and trace it back to the original intention, designs and ends of it; and if I find it not to be for God’s glory, to repute it as a breach of the 4th Resolution.

24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.

35. Resolved, whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved. Dec. 18, 1722.

60. Resolved, whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination. July 4 and 13, 1723.

68. Resolved, to confess frankly to myself all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help. July 23 and August 10, 1723.

56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

Communion with God

53. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer. July 8, 1723.

65. Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance; according to Dr. Manton’s 27th Sermon on Psalm 119. July 26 and Aug. 10, 1723.

 

 

 

Study Notes 7-14-12

Below are the notes from yesterday’s lesson.  I’ve got a few extras in there that I didn’t have time to mention – including some notes I had found from Jonathan Edwards on the 35th verse.  Enjoy!

6:22-24 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. [23] Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. [24] So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.

  • But the essence of what was going on here is that the next day, once everyone had been fed, and had gone home and slept (while the disciples were going through quite a trial on the Sea), they came looking to see what Jesus was up to, and what He might do and say today.  Again, their motives were not entirely pure…as MacArthur says, they were “thrill seekers.”

6:25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

  • Sproul aptly points out that when they said “when”, they really were meaning “how.”  For they had seen that Jesus had not gone out in a boat with the disciples, but rather had gone along by himself to pray (Mark 6:46).  However, Jesus doesn’t answer their question…

6:26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.

  • This is a stern rebuke – once again Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God sees right into their hearts.  Earlier in chapter two, we read that, “…when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:23-25).
  • James Montgomery Boice points out that there is application here even for Christians.  He asks us to closely examine our own motives as Christians when we come to Christ in prayer. “In am convinced that in our day in American Christianity there is a lamentable tendency to focus on human need rather than on God himself.”  He goes on to explain what he means by that, “What is wrong (with just coming to Christ with our needs all the time) is that it is tragically possible to so focus on our needs that we are actually focusing on ourselves rather than on Jesus, and so never get to the solutions to our problems that Jesus wants to bring.”
  • Am I coming to Christ with my needs fully realizing that He has allowed them to come into my life in order to show me something?  Perhaps something of my own sin?  Perhaps He wants to show me my need for constant dependence on Him?  Perhaps He wants to show me how finite I am, and use this to teach me something about Himself.  Whatever the reason may be, we need to be remind ourselves that Jesus Christ wants us to come into His presence seeking His kingdom in prayer – not just in word and deed!
  • I am not, of course, saying that we ought not to lay our burden at the cross, or that we ought not to come to our heavenly Father with our needs.  But when that becomes the sole focus of our supplication, we reveal that our desires aren’t yet fully conformed to His.  For we should be constantly asking God “Lord, how can I glorify you today?  How can these needs of mine be used to show me more about your character?  How can my situation refine me and purge me of more of my sinful nature? Lord please use me to bring yourself glory.”
  • Boice concludes the thought this way, “May I say it even more strongly? I am convinced that one of the major steps to achieving good spiritual mental health is getting your mind off yourself entirely and on the Lord instead.”

6:27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”

  • The first part of this verse is a call for us to seek the Kingdom first and let God take care of the loaves and the fishes.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
  • The second part of the verse stresses where this imperishable food was going to come from: the Son of Man. By now, it would have been evident to these people that Jesus was referring to Himself when He said “Son of Man”, so there would have been no confusion (I don’t think at least) with His point here.
  • The last part of the verse says something about the Son of Man, namely that God the Father has set his seal upon Him.  Carson explains, “The idea is that God has certified the Son as his own agent, authorizing him as the one who alone can bestow this food.”

6:28-29 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” [29] Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

  • As Carson points out, these people misunderstood the point Christ was making in verse 27.  “His point was not that they should attempt some novel form of work, but that merely material notions of blessing are not worth pursuing.  They respond by focusing all attention on work.”
  • These men had been so set on getting their material desires fulfilled that they had “missed the greater blessing” (Boice).  It shows where their minds where when they immediately thought of a blessing from God as something they could earn somehow.
  • How true this is of today!  So many people want to believe that they can do something to earn a merit badge toward heaven.  We Americans are used to pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps, and we almost innately feel like there is something we need to add to God’s work.
  • Ryle remarks, “we should observe, for one thing, in these verses, the spiritual ignorance and unbelief of the natural man…doing, doing, doing, was their only idea of the way to heaven…there are no limits to man’s dullness, prejudice, and unbelief in spiritual matters.”
  • I also think the lesson here of a works-based gospel can give us Christians pause to check our viewpoints on the work of God.  Why?  Because we naturally want to add our own name to God’s work.  We want to find someway in which we can be involved.  We are indeed responsible for responding in faith, however, it is God who gives us the faith!  It is God who is working in your heart to allow you to respond to that offer of the gospel.  But somehow we want to claim our finite free will above the will of the most holy Sovereign!  As Christians we need to learn to give this up.
  • But let us not miss the divine point as we simply analyze the mistakes of men.  This sentence (Boice calls the “golden sentence”) is, in essence, the gospel.  Jesus Christ here tells us how a man can be saved.  How?  To “believe in him whom he (the Father) has sent.”
  • These people of Galilee, like many today, want to know how to be “doing the works of God” – they want to do good things and live a good life.  Christ gives them the answer this time, and in so doing, He says that the work of God is that they believe on the Son of God – the one whom He has sent.  The mission of the Son is intricately caught up in the divine essence of what it means to “do the works of God.”  In other words, there is but one thing that God wants us to focus our attention on firstly, and that is to believe in His Son.

As Ryle sums it up:

If any two things are put in strong contrast, in the New Testament, they are faith and words. Not working, but believing, – not of works, but through faith, – are the words familiar to all careful Bible-readers. Yet here the great Head of the Church declares that believing on Him is the highest and greatest of all “works!” It is “the work of God.”

Doubtless our Lord did not mean that there is anything meritorious in believing. Man’s faith, at the very best, is feeble and defective. Regarded as a “work”, it cannot stand the severity of God’s judgment, deserve pardon, or purchase heaven.  But our Lord did mean that faith in Himself, as the only Savior, is the first act of the soul which God requires at a sinner’s hands.  Till a man believes on Jesus, and rests on Jesus as a lost sinner, he is nothing. Our Lord did mean that faith in Himself is that act of the soul which specially pleases God.  When the Father sees a sinner casting aside his own righteousness, and simply trusting in His dear Son, He is well pleased. Without such faith it is impossible to please God. Our Lord did mean that faith in Himself is the root of all saving religion.

6:30-31 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? [31] Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

  • These people might have been looking for manna from the Messiah who would “duplicate” the miracle that Moses had wrought in their midst – for such was the teachings of the Jews (see Boice).  But we’ve already explored the motives of these people, and it was obviously outside of the mere religious desire to see a second Messiah come from heaven.  Their desires were for their bellies!

6:32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.

  • First, He seems to correct them on their understanding of the Old Testament account of the story, for even though they said that “He gave them bread from heaven to eat”, it seems that they thought of “He” as Moses!  Jesus was eager to correct them in this misunderstanding.
  • Boice talks about the necessity of bread for life – especially in the days of Jesus. “Without bread, men died. If you see that, then you also see that Jesus was claiming to be the One whom men and women could not do without.”
  • Boice also points out that “everything before this (in the passage) has had to do with trusting Christ initially.  But when a person trusts Christ as Savior this is hardly the end.”  What he meant by this is that “bread should be eaten daily” as Christ should be “eaten” daily.  This isn’t a call for a daily Eucharist, but rather a call to satisfy our spiritual desires every day, just as we would our physical desires everyday.

6:33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

  • Jesus quickly makes the transition from the physical to the metaphysical, from the temporal to the eternal.  This is something He does ALL the time, it is one of the hallmarks of His teaching, and we see it throughout the gospels. First He will correct misunderstanding of the meaning of an Old Testament passage, then He will elevate their minds to the eternal from the shadow of the OT, then He will conclude by leading them to Himself – as we conclude by leading people to the cross when we are sharing about Christ.
  • Look carefully at the word “world” here and realize that – as Steve Lawson points out – there are at least 10 different uses for that word in the Gospel of John alone.  That means that we need to make sure the one that we have in mind actually fits the context of the text.  In this instance, I think it’s talking about every tribe, tongue, and nation.  Jew and Gentile, man and woman, servant and free man are all alike going to benefit from the Bread of God.
  • Lastly, when we look carefully at the Word of God, and see proclamations about the “world”, we need to more fully understand the significance of the work of Christ, and also the fact that Christianity is not secluded to one tribe or nation.  Christ came to save sinners from all over the globe.  An amazing thought.

6:34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

  • Not unlike the woman at the well, they want the bread (as she wanted the water) so that they would never have to worry about providing for themselves again!  Ryle even notes that, “there is a striking resemblance between the thought expressed in this verse, and the thought of the Samaritan woman, when she heard of the living water that Christ could give.”
  • The Galileans saw an eternal welfare state, as it were, and wanted Jesus to provide for them in this way “always.”  Of course they did. Ryle confirms my own feelings on the matter when he notes, “On the case of the Jews before us, the wish seems to have been nothing more than the ‘desire of the slothful,’ and to have gone no further. Wishing and admiring are not conversion.”

6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

  • This is the first of the seven “I AM” sayings of Christ (if we don’t include 6:20). And as I mentioned earlier, the underlying meaning or feeling conveyed by the language here is that Jesus Christ is God, Jehovah, the great I AM of the Old Testament wrapped in human flesh.
  • Of the several significant points that we need to look at, the first is that Jesus is connecting the “food that endures to eternal life” from verse 27 and that He is the manna that has come down from heaven from verse 33.  They are all one in the same “bread of life”, and they are all meant to point to Christ.
  • What is the result of eating this bread?  It is that one will never thirst or hunger again.  Is it not significant that the two miracles related to food in the New Testament Gospels are bread and wine?  Certainly there is a sort of shadow of the coming Eucharist.  Though I won’t assign too much importance or connection between the two by laying on Scripture something more than might be there.  But Jonathan Edwards also says there’s a connection here between the Showbread of the Old Testament and the privilege we have of eating at “the King’s Table” today.
  • What is clear is that Jesus is claiming to be that which satisfies the souls of man.  He is at the heart of what our hearts long for.  John Piper says this about verse 35, “what it means to believe in Jesus is to experience Him as the satisfaction of my soul’s thirst and my heart’s hunger. Faith is the experience of contentment in Jesus” (Battling Unbelief, Chp. 5).
  • I think the practicality of this passage lies in the fact that Jesus is the ultimate satisfaction for our lives.   When Augustine came onto the scene, one of the things he wanted to illuminate was the way to be truly happy.  As Sproul says, this wasn’t the happiness of the Epicureans or the Stoics.  This was something more substantial – it was finding true happiness in the knowledge of God.  This is what Jesus was saying to these men, I am the key to true satisfaction and happiness in this life and the next. Don’t seek after what the Epicureans give you (happiness for your belly), but that which satisfies the soul.
  • In the margins of his notes on this chapter, Jonathan Edwards scribbled something that I thought was really good.  He said that bread of heaven was “enough for all God’s people” – and he noted that there was a parallel with the feeding of the 5000 and the manna from Exodus that was more than enough for the people each day.  In fact Edwards said that one of the main applications for sinners was that “this bread will save you from eternal famine” and that, unlike the manna, “it doesn’t perish.”
  • The last thought that Edwards pointed out, also find a connection with the feeding of the 5000, and Ryle’s description of us as God’s ministers feeding His people with the Word of God.  Edwards says that we are “priests of Christ” doling out the holy Showbread of Christ (there is underlying sacrificial language/parallels there).  Edwards calls on sinners to not “loathe the heavenly manna and tread it under food.”
  • Yet so many do loathe Christ and scoff at the satisfaction He offers.  And as Christians, it is our unbelief that stops us from laying hold of the satisfaction Christ offers.  When we sin, we are basically saying that we find more satisfaction in our idolatry than in Christ.  We prefer our materialism (insert idol here) over Christ because we don’t believe the basic fact that Christ can be more satisfying than our sin.  This is the sin of unbelief.  We need to take Christ at His word and lay hold of that which is most satisfying – the Bread of Heaven.
  • If we truly believe Christ is what He said He is – the most satisfying thing we can lay hold of – how ought this to change our lives and spur us on?  What actions would you find yourself doing if you truly set your seal to what God the Father set His seal to?

 

Jonathan Edwards’ Advice to Young Converts

Last night I found myself enjoying a classic Edwards letter – one to Ms. Deborah Hatheway, that eventually was distributed and is popularly termed ‘Advice to Young Converts‘ (Ms. Hatheway was a recent convert).  I thought you all might also enjoy taking a scan through this wonderful letter.

One thing that I love about Edwards is his ability to list off several very very practical ways of applying the principles of the Gospel of our everyday lives.  In his writing, he is intensely concerned with living a holy life.  I hope and pray that this short foray into the writings of Edwards will delight you, and cause you to search out the deeper things of Christ.  If you are interested in reading more of Edwards’ work, Yale has setup an online collection that is pretty comprehensive and can be found here.

Here below is the copy of that letter…

To Deborah Hatheway in Suffield.

A Copy of a Letter Sent to Deborah Hatheway a young woman belonging to Suffield; by the Revd Mr Edwards of Northampton.

Northampton June 3d AD 1741.

Dear Child, as you desired me to Send you in writing Some Directions, how to behave your Self in your Christian Course, I would now Answer your request. The remembrance of the Great things I have lately Seen at Suffield, and the Dear affection for those Persons, I have there Conversed with, that give good Evidences of a Saving work of God upon their hearts Inclines me to do any thing that lies in my power, to Contribute to the Spiritual Joy and Prosperity of Gods people there; and what I write to you, I would also Say to other young women there, that are your friends and Companions and the Children of God; & therefore Desire you would Communicate as you have opportunity.

1. I would advise you to keep up as Great a Strife and earnestness in Religion in all parts of it, as you wou’d do if you knew your Self to be in a State of Nature, and was Seeking Conversion. We advise persons under Convictions to be earnest, & violent for the kingdom of heaven, but when they have attained to Conversion they ought not to be less watchfull laborious and earnest in the whole work of Religion, but the more; for they are under infinitely greater obligations. for want of this many Persons in a few months after their Conversion have begun to loose the Sweet and lively Sence of things, & to grow Cold and flat and dark, & have pierced themselves thrô with many Sorrows, whereas if they had done as the Apostle did Phil: 3. 12 13 14 their path would have been as the Shining light, that Shines more & more unto the perfect Day.

2. Dont leave off Seeking Striving & praying for the Same things that we exhort unconverted persons to Strive for: & a degree of which you have had in Conversion. Thus pray that your Eyes may be open’d, that you may receive your Sight, that you may know your Self, & be bro’t to Gods foot, & that you may see the Glory of God & Christ & may be raised from the Dead: & have the Love of Christ Shed abroad in your heart, for those that have most of these things, had ned Still to pray for them: for there is So much blindness & hardness & Death Remaining, that they Still need to have that work of God wrought upon them further to enlighten & enliven them; that Shall be a bringing out of Darkness into Gods marvellous light. And a kind of new Conversion & Resurrection from the Dead. There are very few requests that are proper for a natural person, but that in Some Sense are proper for the Godly.

3. When you hear Sermons hear them for your Self: tho what is Spoken in them may be more especially Directed to the unconverted, or to those that in other respects are in different Circumstances from your Self. Yet let the Chief intent of your mind be, to Consider with your Self, in what respects is this that I hear Spoken, Applicable to me & what Improvement ought I to make of this for my own Souls good.

4. Thô God has forgiven & forgotten your past Sins, yet don’t forget them your Self: Often remember what a wretched bond Slave you was in Egypt, often bring to mind your particular acts of Sin before Conversion, as the Blessed Apostle Paul is often mentioning, his old blaspheming & persecuting & injuriousness, to the renewed humbling of his heart & acknowledging that he was the least of the Apostles, & not worthy to be called an Apostle, & the least of all Saints, & the Chief of all Sinners: and be often in Confessing your old Sins to God & let that text be often in your mind Ezek: 16 63. That thou mayest remember & be Confounded & never open thy mouth any more because of thy Shame when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done Saith the Lord God.

5. Remember that you have more cause a thousand times to lament & humble your Self for Sins that have been Since Conversion than before, because of the infinitely greater Obligations that are upon you to live to God. And look upon the faithfulness of marginal Christ, in unchangeably Continuing his loving favour, & the unspeakable & Saving fruits of his everlasting love, notwithstanding all your Great unworthiness Since your Conversion, to be as wonderfull as his Grace in Converting you.

6. Be greatly abased for your remaining Sin, & never think that you lie low enough for it but yet dont be at all discouraged or disheartned by it. For thô we are exceeding Sinfull yet we have an advocate with the Father Jesus Christ the righteous, the preciousness of whose blood, & the merit of whose righteousness & the Greatness of whose love & faithfulness does infinitely overtop the highest mountains of our Sins.

7. When you engage in the Duty of Prayer or Come to the Sacrament of the Lords Supper or attend any other Duty of Divine worship, Come to Christ as Mary Magdalene did Luke 7. 37 38. Come & Cast your Self down at his feet & kiss ’em, and pour forth upon him the perfumed ointment of Divine love, out of a pure & broken heart, as She pour out her precious ointment out of her pure alabaster broken box.

8. Remember that Pride is the worst viper that is in the heart, the Greatest Disturber of the Souls peace & Sweet Communion with Christ, was the first Sin that ever was, & lies lowest in the foundation of Satans whole building, & is most Difficultly rooted out, & is the most hidden Secret & Deceitfull of all Lusts, & often Creeps in insensibly into the midst of Religion & Sometimes under the Disguise of Humility.

9. That you may pass a good Judgment of the frames that you are in, always look upon those the best Discourses, and the best Comforts, that have most of these two effects viz: those that make you lest, lowest, & most like a little Child, & Secondly, Those that do most engage & fix your heart in a full & firm Disposition to Deny your Self for God, & to Spend & be Spent for him.

10. If at any time you fall into any Doubt about the State of your Soul, under darkness & Dull frames of mind, tis proper to look over past Experience, but yet Dont Consume too much of your time & Strength in poring & puzling thoughts about old Experiences, that in Dull frames appear Dim & are very much out of Sight, at lest as to that which is the Cream & life & Sweetness of them: But rather apply your Self with all your might, to an earnest pursuit after renewed Experiences, New light, & new lively acts of faith & love. One new Discovery of the Glory of Christs face & the fountain of his Sweet grace & love will do more towards Scattering Clouds of Darkness & Doubting, in one minute: than Examining old experiences by the best mark that Can be given; a whole year.

11. When the Exercise of grace is at a low ebb, & Corruption prevails, & by that means fear prevails, Don’t desire to have fear Cast out any other way, than by the reviving & prevailing of love, for tis not agreable to the Method of Gods wise dispensations that it Should be Cast out any other way; for when love is asleep, the Saints need fear to restrain them from Sin & therefore it is So ordered, that at Such times fear Comes upon them, & that more or less as love Sinks. But when love is lively exercise, persons don’t need fear, & the prevailing of love in the heart, naturally tends to Cast out fear, as darkness in a room vanishes away as you let more & more of the pleasant beams of the Sun into it 1 John. 4 18.

12. You ought to be much in Exhorting & Counselling & warning others, especially at Such a Day as this: Heb: 10 25. & I would advise you especially, to be much in exhorting Children & young women your Equals, & when you exhort others that are men, I would advise you that you take opportunities for it, Chiefly when you are alone with them, or when only young persons are present. See 1 Tim: 2. 9, 11, 12.

13. When you Counsel & warn others, do it earnestly, affectionately & thoroughly. And when you are Speaking to your Equals, let your warnings be intermixed with Expressions of your Sense of your own unworthiness, & of the Sovereign grace that makes you differ, & if you Can with a good Conscience, Say how that you in your Self are more unworthy than they.

14. If you would Set up religious meetings of young women by your Selves, to be attended once marginal in a while, besides the other meetings that you attend I Should think it would be very proper & profitable.

15. Under Special Difficulties, or when in great need of or great longings after any particular mercies, for your Self or others; Set apart a Day of Secret fasting and Prayer alone; & let the Day be Spent not only in petitions for the mercies Desired, but in Searching your heart, & looking over your past life, & Confessing your Sins before God not as is wont to be done in Publick Prayer, but by a very particular rehearsal before God, of the Sins of your past life from your Childhood hitherto, before & after Conversion, with particular Circumstances & aggravations, also, very particularly & fully as possible, Spreading all the all the abominations of your heart before him.

16. Don’t let the adversaries of Religion have it to Say, that these Converts Don’t Carry themselves any better than others. See Mat: 5.47 What do ye more than others; how holily Should the Children of God, & the Redeemed & the beloved of the Son of God behave themselves, therefore walk as a Child of the light & of the Day & adorn the Doctrine of God your Saviour; & particularly be much in these things, that especially be Called Christian virtues, & make you like the Saints of God; be meek & lowly of heart & full of a pure heavenly & humble love to all & abound in deeds of love to others, & Self-denial for others, & let there be in your disposition to account others better than your Self.

17. Don’t talk of things of Religion & matters of Experience with an air of lightness and laughter which is too much the manner in many Places.

18. In all your Course, walk with God & follow Christ as a little poor helpless Child, taking hold of Christs hand, keeping your Eye on the mark of the wound on his hands & Side, whence came the blood that Cleanses you from Sin & hiding your nakedness under the Skirt of the white Shining Robe of his Righteousness.

19. Pray much for the Church of God & especially that he would Carry on his Glorious work that he has now begun; & be much in Prayer for the Ministers of Christ, & particularly I would beg a Special interest in your Prayers, & the Prayers of your Christian Companions, both when your alone & when you are together for your affectionate friend, that Rejoyces over you, & desires to be your Servant In Jesus Christ.

Jonathan Edwards

2-26-12 Study Notes

1:43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”

  • Note the divine imperative here.  He doesn’t ask, He tells Philip to “follow me.”  This reminds me of the efficacious work of the Spirit when He calls us to follow Christ – He lifts the blinds on the windows of our heart and causes us to see Christ for who He is.

1:44-45 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. [45] Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

  • Again we see that Philip and the other disciples are convinced (at least very nearly convinced) that they have found the Messiah.  This connoted both an understanding of the law and the prophets, and an attitude of expectation at Jesus’ arrival.
  • Nathanael is said to be the same person as Bartholomew.  Bartholomew was a surname and Nathanael was a given name.

1:46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

  • Nazareth was not a very important town, but it doesn’t seem that Nathanael’s opinion was necessarily universal.  As Morris says, “It is not a famous city, but we have no reason for thinking it was infamous. We should probably understand Nathanael’s words as the utterance of a man who could not conceive of the Messiah as coming from such an insignificant place.”

1:47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”

  • This is the first of two statements where Jesus seems to show a sort of super-human intellect.  But it is more than intellect of a “super-human” kind.  It is obviously knowledge that only the Divine Being could know.
  • The fact that Jesus used the term “Israelite” is interesting because its not the word used most in this gospel – usually the word “Jew” is used, but Jesus is using the covenant name of the nation and the one closely identified with Jacob – significant because Jacob is the character that best ties in this whole final passage.
  • When Jesus says there is no “guile” or “deceit” in Nathanael, it harkens our minds back to Jacob who was himself a deceiver.  Jesus is basically saying, ‘here is an Israelite in whom there is no Israel!’  He is praising Nathanael for being a straight-forward type of guy.

1:48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

  • This says something of the divine knowledge of Jesus during His time here on earth.  There is an ongoing argument among scholars as to how much Christ knew or could have known in his humanity.  Some ask the question: if he was fully human, how could his human mind have known what The Deity knows?  The question is worth asking, though we may never know the answer.  It is certainly obvious from the Scriptures that Jesus knew a lot – though it is my opinion from reading the Bible throughout the years that He didn’t use His full omnipotence while on earth.  For example, while on earth He said that only the Father knew the date of His second coming.  It is this kind of statement that leads me to think that He laid aside some of His divine omniscience.

1:49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

  • Note the way that Nathanael ties the two concepts of the “Son of God” and the “King of Israel” together.  I like this because it signifies both His deity and His humanity.  It also signifies His authority and kingship.
  • Keep in mind that Nathanael had just been identified as an “Israelite”, and now Nathanael is identifying Jesus as the “King of Israel” – he is submitting to His authority.
  • And by the reaction we read here, he seemed to understand right away that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies.

1:50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”

  • In this verse we’re given a hint from Jesus that the best is yet to come.  This is a fitting statement for the beginning of what would end up being the most exciting and world-altering three years ever lived by a man on earth.  Jesus’ ministry here on earth was a shower of one miracle after another.  Teaching after teaching by Christ flowed forth the divine wisdom with a profundity that forever changed the course of history for humanity.

1:51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

  • This is a clear reference to Jacob’s ladder – which is amazing to see the fulfillment of this from thousands of years prior (Gen. 28:10-17).  According to Jonathan Edwards, the passage serves as an analogy to what Christ fulfilled in bringing to us in Salvation and the Covenant of Grace.
  • The sleep that Jacob takes symbolizes death (spiritual death), and the rock he lays his head upon symbolizes Christ. The ladder is God’s Salvation and the Covenant of Grace, which was ushered in with Christ.  The ladder is the only way to heaven, though men desire to make their own ladders of self-righteousness, which only lead to destruction.  The rungs of the ladder are the ordinances and promises of God – they are strong enough to keep us and hold us as we climb upwards toward heaven.  The ladder, of course, leads to heaven.  It takes us to God who is far above the earthly sin and trouble of this life.
  • As Christians it is our mission each to day to climb the ladder.  Edwards says, “don’t rest is what you’ve attained.”  He also points out that there is great happiness – ultimate happiness – awaiting us at the top of the ladder, and that every man desires to reach that happiness.  Our souls all desire to be happy in God.
  • Lastly, let’s examine this title, “Son of Man.”  As Morris reminds us, “In the gospels it is used by Jesus as His favorite self-designation, occurring in this way over 80 times.
  • The term is derived from Daniel 7:13-14.  So why did Jesus like this title?  Leon Morris gives us four reasons:
  1. “Because it was a rare term and one without nationalistic associations. It would lead to no political complications.”
  2. “Because it had overtones of divinity”
  3. “Because of its societary implications.  The Son of Man implies the redeemed people of God.”
  4. “It had undertones of humanity. He took upon Him our weakness.”
  • Morris concludes, “It was a way of eluding to, and yet veiling his Messiahship, for His concept of the Messiah differed markedly from that commonly held.”

 

How do we teach this to our children?  If you were to tell your children on the way home today that you learned about how Jesus was and is the Word of God, what would you say?

EXAMPLE:  Today we learned about how the first disciples were called.  We also learned about the name that Jesus liked to use for himself (the Son of Man).  The title ‘Son of Man’ indicates that Jesus is divine, and that He’s also human.  The Jews who were listening to Jesus teach would not have thought much about this title (for older children: it was a title disassociated with any preconceived political or society notions) so they wouldn’t have had any incorrect thoughts about who Jesus was or who He was describing Himself to be.  We also learned about how Jacob from the Old Testament saw a ladder reaching all the way to heaven.  On the ladder there were angels going up and down – almost like a stairway.  Jesus said to His disciples that they would see angels walking up and down “on” the Son of Man – on Him!  What Jesus meant by this was that He was the great ladder (or stairway) that connected heaven and earth.  Our only way to get to heaven is by Jesus and His salvation.   

 

 

Getting to Know Jonathan Edwards

This week we’ll be learning about Jacob’s Ladder, and how Christ fulfilled the dream that Jacob had had hundreds of years before He stepped foot on earth.  The man who probably best described this vision and its full meaning, was Jonathan Edwards.

Most modern Christians have never studied much of what Edwards had to say, or who he was.  So I thought it would be helpful to provide a brief sketch of who this brilliant man was, so that you may more fully appreciate what he has to teach us in our study through the book of John.  To do this, I’m going to post below some excerpts from a few sources, but mostly from John Piper’s short Biography of the man which can be found by clicking here.

Chuck Colson says this about Edwards, “The western church – much of it drifting, enculturated, and infected with cheap grace – desperately needs to hear Edwards’ challenge. . . . It is my belief that the prayers and work of those who love and obey Christ in our world may yet prevail as they keep the message of such a man as Jonathan Edwards.”

Edwards was an 18th Century puritan preacher who is perhaps best known for his sermon “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” Many of you were probably made to read this sermon in high school – even if you went to a secular school.  Edwards is often demonized as a puritan who was himself angry at sinners, and concentrated most of his preaching powers on scaring people into the kingdom of heaven.  The truth, as is often the case, couldn’t be further from this ill-conceived caricature.

As John Piper says, “Most of us don’t know that he is considered now by secular and evangelical historians alike to be the greatest Protestant thinker America has ever produced. Scarcely has anything more insightful been written on the problem of God’s sovereignty and man’s accountability than his book, The Freedom of the Will.”

In his book, ‘The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards’, Steven Lawson notes that, “All Christian writing is influenced, to one extent or another, by the theological foundations upon which the author stands. Edwards’ writings, including his ‘Resolutions,’ rested squarely upon ‘Reformed theology in its English Puritan form.’ This theological system, which emphasized God’s glory and absolute sovereignty,’ provided a structural framework for Edwards’ thought.’ In short, Edwards was a ‘convinced Calvinist’; he had drunk deeply from the wells of Scripture and had tasted the supreme authority of God to his soul’s satisfaction.”

The influence that Edwards had on America, and the cause of Christ here in the relatively young colonies was profound.  As Piper says, “Does any of us know what an incredible thing it is that this man, who was a small-town pastor for 23 years in a church of 600 people, a missionary to Indians for 7 years, who reared 11 faithful children, who worked without the help of electric light, or word-processors or quick correspondence, or even sufficient paper to write on, who lived only until he was 54, and who died with a library of 300 books – that this man led one of the greatest awakenings of modern times, wrote theological books that have ministered for 200 years and did more for the modern missionary movement than anyone of his generation?”

For current leaders like Piper, Edwards has been a great source of inspiration.  “Alongside the Bible, Edwards became the compass of my theological studies. Not that he has anything like the authority of Scripture, but that he is a master of that Scripture, and a precious friend and teacher”, Piper says.

Piper describes the balance between studying the Bible and practical living as portayed by Edwards:

Edwards did not pursue a passion for God because it was icing on the cake of faith. For him faith was grounded in a sense of God which was more than what reason alone could deliver. He said,

A true sense of the glory of God is that which can never be obtained by speculative [reasoning]; and if men convince themselves by argument that God is holy, that never will give a sense of his amiable and glorious holiness. If they argue that he is very merciful, that will not give a sense of his glorious grace and mercy. It must be a more immediate, sensible discovery that must give the mind a real sense of the excellency and beauty of God. (Works, II, 906)

In other words, it is to no avail merely to believe that God is holy and merciful. For that belief to be of any saving value, we must “sense” God’s holiness and mercy. That is, we must have a true delight in it for what it is in itself. Otherwise the knowledge is no different than what the devils have.

Does this mean that all his study and thinking was in vain? No indeed. Why? Because he says, “The more you have of a rational knowledge of divine things, the more opportunity will there be, when the Spirit shall be breathed into your heart, to see the excellency of these things, and to taste the sweetness of them.” (Works, II, 162, see p.16)

But the goal of all is this spiritual taste, not just knowing God but delighting in him, savoring him, relishing him. And so for all his intellectual might, Edwards was the farthest thing from a cool, detached, neutral, disinterested academician.

As we continue to learn and to study together, I hope you will continue to grow by reading and meditating upon the Word of God, but will also take some time to reflect upon the great lessons we’ve learned from men like Jonathan Edwards.

To ready more about this great Godly man, see below for some resources:

‘The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards’ – Steve Lawson’s short Edwards Biography

‘Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography’ – Biography by Ian Murray

‘The Freedom of the Will’ – Edwards’ most famous book on Election

‘Religious Affections’ – The book that probably most influenced Piper’s view of God and what it means to be joyful in God.

‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ – famous sermon by Edwards on the need for repentance and salvation by Jesus Christ

‘The Spirit of Revival’ – Longish article by RC Sproul on the marks that identified the revival that Edwards lead in the 18th Century.