Category Archives: Jonathan Edwards

Edwards and Theo-Drama

Edwards scholar Harry Stout, in the introduction to Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses, 1739-1742, makes this insightful comment (pages 5–6):

Edwards’ history incorporated philosophy, theology, and narrative into a synthetic whole. Earlier he had established the proposition that “heaven is a world of love,” a metaphysical state infused with the innermost being and character of the Trinity. So too, he proposed, earth was a world of pulsating divine energy, and hell a perversion of love that set in motion the cosmic supernatural conflict between God and Satan with earth as the prize. What if the story of all three — heaven, earth, and hell — were integrated into one narrative, superior to systematic theology for its drama and to earthbound historiography for its prophetic inspiration?

While Edwards was intrigued by the idea of a narrative history, this does not imply that he was uninterested in theology or even that he would not identify himself as a preacher or theologian if forced to choose. In fact, Edwards often referred to his work as “divinity,” and produced several treatises, most notably Original Sin, Concerning the End for Which God Created the World, and The Nature of True Virtue, that take on the aspect of a systematic theology. It is rather to say that Edwards early on came to sense — especially in his sermons — that the most effective way to realize the theologian’s goal of knowledge of God was to abandon the synchronic methods of formal theology and “throw” the truths of “divinity” into the diachronic form of a history.

Enter: Edwards’ History of Redemption project.

Eschatological Joy, Daily Joy, and Spirit Indwelling

So often in Scripture the presence of joy comes along with the presence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:52; 1 Thess 1:6; Gal 5:22; Rom 14:17; 15:13). Jonathan Edwards picks up and develops this link between the Spirit and joy all over in his works, particularly when he writes on the Trinity, heaven, and on the religious affections.

The link between the indwelling of the Spirit and our joy is especially noteworthy in an except like this one taken from his Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith (Yale 21:190):

What Christ purchased for us, was that we might have communion with God in his good, which consists in partaking of or having communion of the Holy Ghost. All the blessedness of the redeemed consists in partaking of the fullness of Christ, their head and Redeemer, which, I have observed, consists in partaking of the Spirit that is given him not by measure. This is the vital sap, which the branches derive from the true vine; this is the holy oil poured on the head, that goes down to the members.

Christ purchased for us that we should enjoy the love, but the love of God flows out in the proceeding of the Spirit; and he purchased for them that the love and joy of God should dwell in them, which is by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

The sum of all spiritual good which the saints have in this world, is that spring of living water within them which we read of, John 4:10–14; and those rivers of living waters flowing from within them which we read of, John 7:38–39, which we are there told is the Holy Spirit.

And the sum of all happiness in the other world, is that river of living waters which flows from the throne of God and the Lamb, which is the river of God’s pleasure and is the Holy Spirit; which is often compared in Scripture to water, to the rain and dew, and rivers and floods of waters (Isaiah 44:3, Isaiah 32:15, Isaiah 35:6–7, Isaiah 41:17–18 compared with John 4:14, and Isaiah 43:19–20).

Notice a few key points drawn together by Edwards:

  1. Our joy is expensive, and the high cost is purchased for us at the cross.
  2. The Spirit’s joy is Christ’s joy first, shared with us by virtue of our union with Christ.
  3. The indwelling presence of the Spirit is the origin of spiritual joy in our lives.
  4. And perhaps most interesting to me, joy — both our joy today and our joy eternal — are both deeply embedded in our union to Christ and in the purchased permanency of the Spirit’s indwelling in our lives now and forever. Which is why for Edwards there are such strong ties of continuity to be discovered between our present experience of joy in this world (no matter how disrupted and faulty and fallen), and our perfected joy that will be fully revealed in the next world.

The ‘Now’ of Eschatological Joy (Take 2)

First we noticed how Luther connects the present experience of joy in the Christian life with eternal joy in heaven, and that by the gracious acting of the Holy Spirit. He does this at a fundamental level in his theological thinking. The same continuity emerges all over the writings of Jonathan Edwards, most profoundly introduced in his doctrine of the Trinity, but for our purposes here it is a point made particularly well in Religious Affections (Yale ed.), 2:235–236]. Note in this excerpt how closely Edwards ties joy to the indwelling Holy Spirit, and how our joy-experience now in the Christian life is a foretaste of the coming banquet. Or to say it another way, note how the indwelling Spirit becomes the link of continuity between our joy now and our joy eternal:

The inheritance that Christ has purchased for the elect, is the Spirit of God; not in any extraordinary gifts, but in his vital indwelling in the heart, exerting and communicating himself there, in his own proper, holy or divine nature: and this is the sum total of the inheritance that Christ purchased for the elect.

For so are things constituted in the affair of our redemption, that the Father provides the Savior, or purchaser, and the purchase is made of him; and the Son is the purchaser and the price; and the Holy Spirit is the great blessing or inheritance purchased, as is intimated, Galatians 3:13–14, and hence the Spirit is often spoken of as the sum of the blessings promised in the gospel (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4 and ch. 2:38–39, Galatians 3:14, Ephesians 1:13). This inheritance was the grand legacy which Christ left his disciples and church, in his last will and testament (John, chs. 14, and 15, and 16). This is the sum of the blessings of eternal life, which shall be given in heaven. (Compare John 7:37–39 and John 4:14 with Revelation 21:6 and Revelation 22:1, 17).

Tis through the vital communications and indwelling of the Spirit, that the saints have all their light, life, holiness, beauty and joy in heaven: and ’tis through the vital communications and indwelling of the same Spirit, that the saints have all light, life, holiness, beauty and joy on earth; but only communicated in less measure.

And this vital indwelling of the Spirit in the saints, in this less measure and small beginning, is the “earnest of the Spirit” [II Corinthians 1:22], the “earnest of the future inheritance” [Ephesians 1:14], and “the firstfruits of the Spirit,” as the Apostle calls it, Romans 8:23, where, by the firstfruits of the Spirit, the Apostle undoubtedly means the same vital gracious principle, that he speaks of in all the preceding part of the chapter, which he calls Spirit, and sets in opposition to flesh or corruption.

Vital Union with Christ and Sanctification in Jonathan Edwards

One of the interesting connections Edwards makes on the topic of sanctification is found in his sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:8 delivered at David Brainerd’s funeral on October 12, 1747. There, in one section, Edwards connects sanctification within his broad (and glorious) worldview. Edwards makes the following points:

  • Sanctification is the progressive emerging of Christ’s holiness in our lives through (a) our vision of Christ’s glory, and (b) our union with Christ by the Spirit.
  • We see Christ’s glory partially now, therefore our transformation can only be incomplete in this life.
  • We experience vital union with Christ partially now, therefore our holiness will never fully emerge in this life.
  • In death we behold Christ’s full glory (beatific vision), and there our sanctification is complete (glorification).
  • In death all hindrances to experiencing vital union with Christ are removed, and there our sanctification is complete (glorification).

It’s interesting how Edwards merges here two key themes of sanctification: (1) vital union with Christ in progressive sanctification, and (2) our sight of Christ’s glory in progressive sanctification. Those two realities are really one reality for Edwards. To see Christ’s glory is to experience unhindered union with Him. The beatific vision of Christ perfects our vital union with Christ. And it’s at that point his holiness will then flow unhindered in our lives, to our delight and to God’s glory.

All that may be a little more than we would wish to hear at a funeral sermon, but nevertheless it’s here in Edwards, and here it is in his own words (Works, 25:230–232):

III. The souls of true saints, when absent from the body, go to be with Jesus Christ, as they are brought into a most perfect conformity to, and union with him. Their spiritual conformity is begun while they are in the body; here beholding as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, they are changed into the same image: but when they come to see him as he is, in heaven, then they become like him, in another manner. That perfect right will abolish all remains of deformity, disagreement and sinful unlikeness; as all darkness is abolished before the full blaze of the sun’s meridian light: it is impossible that the least degree of obscurity should remain before such light. So it is impossible the least degree of sin and spiritual deformity should remain, in such a view of the spiritual beauty and glory of Christ, as the saints enjoy in heaven when they see that Sun of righteousness without a cloud; they themselves shine forth as the sun, and shall be as little suns, without a spot.

For then is come the time when Christ presents his saints to himself, in glorious beauty; “not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; and having holiness without a blemish” [Ephesians 5:27]. And then the saints’ union with Christ is perfected. This also is begun in this world. The relative union is both begun and perfected at once, when the soul first closes with Christ by faith: the real union, consisting in the union of hearts and affections, and in the vital union, is begun in this world, and perfected in the next. The union of the heart of a believer to Christ is begun when his heart is drawn to Christ, by the first discovery of divine excellency, at conversion; and consequent on this drawing and closing of his heart with Christ, is established a vital union with Christ; whereby the believer becomes a living branch of the true vine, living by a communication of the sap and vital juice of the stock and root; and a member of Christ’s mystical body, living by a communication of spiritual and vital influences from the head, and by a kind of participation of Christ’s own life.

But while the saints are in the body, there is much remaining distance between Christ and them: there are remainders of alienation, and the vital union is very imperfect; and so consequently, are the communication of spiritual life and vital influences: there is much between Christ and believers to keep them asunder, much indwelling sin, much temptation, an heavy-molded frail body, and a world of carnal objects, to keep off the soul from Christ, and hinder a perfect coalescence. But when the soul leaves the body, all these clogs and hindrances shall be removed, every separating wall shall be broken down, and every impediment taken out of the way, and all distance shall cease; the heart shall be wholly and perfectly drawn, and most firmly and forever attached and bound to him, by a perfect view of his glory. And the vital union shall then be brought to perfection: the soul shall live perfectly in and upon Christ, being perfectly filled with his Spirit, and animated by his vital influences; living as it were only by Christ’s life, without any remainder of spiritual death, or carnal life.

I look forward to that day!!

A World Full of Images of Divine Things

Writes Jonathan Edwards in Typological Writings, page 152:

I expect by very ridicule and contempt to be called a man of a very fruitful brain and copious fancy, but they are welcome to it. I am not ashamed to own that I believe that the whole universe, heaven and earth, air and seas, and the divine constitution and history of the holy Scriptures, be full of images of divine things, as full as a language is of words; and that the multitude of those things that I have mentioned are but a very small part of what is really intended to be signified and typified by these things: but that there is room for persons to be learning more and more of this language and seeing more of that which is declared in it to the end of the world without discovering all.

HT: Ann Voskamp, who perhaps more than anyone else I know consistently works this Edwardsian worldview out in her writings (and gets ridiculed for it).

One Qualm with McClymond and McDermott

In their new book, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Oxford: 2011), the authors write: “Edwards was strictly orthodox in his commitment to a Calvinist conception of human sin and divine grace. Yet the tendency of the later notebooks was toward an appreciation of God’s presence and activity within non-Christian and secular cultures” (page 190, emphasis mine).

That word “yet” bothers me. It suggests that Reformed orthodoxy is something separate from appreciating the divine truth, goodness, and beauty in non-Christian cultures. I don’t doubt there are Calvinists today who mistakenly make this dichotomy, but historically it would be better for the authors to replace “Yet” with “Thus.”

As I explain in Lit! (chapter 5), an appreciation for non-Christian culture is part of what it means to be Reformed in the Augustine > Calvin > Luther > Goodwin > Edwards > Sibbes > Kuyper > Bavinck sense of the Reformed/Puritan tradition. But of course explaining Reformed orthodoxy, gospel exclusivism, and an appreciation for non-Christian culture is no easy venture. I was reminded of this yesterday when a literature professor suggested that my book was too suspicious of culture for many Christian readers! Alas.

It’s too bad Edwards died before he could make his attempt on paper.

How Jonathan Edwards Processed Theology

The new theology of Jonathan Edwards by Michael McClymond and Gerald McDermott is a magnificent achievement in bringing theological synthesis to the copious works of America’s most noteworthy theologian. Now that the works of Edwards are online and more accessible than ever, I’m sure other volumes of similar magnitude will follow in the future, but to date there’s nothing that compares to this new volume in scale and breadth. McClymond and McDermott’s work is to the theology of Edwards what Marsden’s work is to the life of Edwards, and unless the second half is a major disappointment it will be my book of the year in 2011. (Since it’s technically copyright 2012, it may be my selection next year, too!)

In one of the earliest sections of the book the authors explain the different ways Edwards processed different theological ideas (pages 10–12). Since my friend Andy recently dissected the theological brain of the greatest Canadian theologian, I thought I would write a summary of how the theological brain of America’s greatest theologian worked, a very brief one.

According to McClymond and McDermott, Edwards processed his theology on three fronts by juggling, connecting, and infusing ideas.

By juggling ideas, Edwards studied many different theological topics at the same time. His 1,400 recorded miscellanies testify to how well he captured and developed various ideas. It was to these notebooks that Edwards turned in developing books and sermons, a well to withdraw years of recorded and retrievable thoughts.

By connecting ideas, Edwards thoughts were not merely atomized, random miscellanies. The genius of Edwards is not only how deeply he thought with atomized topics recorded in his notebooks, but how he connected and cross-pollinated orthodox theological themes that led him to consider fairly novel conclusions. What he discovered was a nearly limitless interrelationship between the themes, tying strings to the various themes he had once juggled.

By infusing ideas, Edwards was able to take the major conclusions of his research and infuse those ideas into his larger theological picture. The topics he juggled in his mind, began to grow and connect, which he then worked into major themes – notably the brilliant idea that God’s passion for His own glory and man’s happiness are not at odds. In my mind infusing a key theme (or a few key themes) into the whole structure of one’s theological convictions is really the most difficult of the three, and something only a few exegetically-grounded, deep thinking theologians will achieve with much public success (think John Piper).

Yet for all his brilliance, Edwards leaves us a pattern that I find helpful. As those who research Scripture and theology we need (1) a place to record our developing thoughts, (2) time to see how themes of Scripture relate to one another, and (3) deeply-rooted convictions about major themes.

Print, trim, and paste this into your copy of Religious Affections

I named my blog and my firstborn after Jonathan Edwards, the brilliant theologian. Yet, I think it would be wise to print and paste the following quote on the inside cover of his classic book Religious Affections (if you own it—and you should!).

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (London, 1873), 3:107:

Many sincere believers are too introspective. They look too exclusively within, so that their hope is graduated by the degree of evidence of regeneration which they find in their own experience. This, except in rare cases, can never lead to the assurance of hope. We may examine our hearts with all the microscopic care prescribed by President Edwards in his work on The Religious Affections, and never be satisfied that we have eliminated every ground of misgiving and doubt. The grounds of assurance are not so much within, as without us.

The Beauty of God’s Holiness

What is beauty?

This is an important question and one that Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) addresses in his classic book Religious Affections. There in his third point on the nature of holy affections he argues that personal delight in God’s holiness is the evidence of God’s active grace. This point, and how it connects to beauty, is one that needs to be unpacked.

To set up this point Edwards contrasts God’s natural attributes and his moral attributes. God’s (so called) natural attributes are his grandeur, strength, and power. It is entirely possible, Edwards writes, to stand amazed by these natural attributes and yet remain unconverted. “’Tis possible that those who are wholly without grace, should have a clear sight, and a very great and affecting sense of God’s greatness, his mighty power, and awful majesty; for this is what the devils have … [yet] they are perfectly destitute of any sense of relish of that kind of [his] beauty.”

He continues.

A sight of the awful greatness of God, may overpower men’s strength, and be more than they can endure; but if the moral beauty of God be hid, the enmity of the heart will remain in its full strength, no love will be enkindled, all will not be effectual to gain the will … whereas the first glimpse of the moral and spiritual glory of God shining into the heart, produces all these effects, as it were with omnipotent power, which nothing can withstand (2:264­–265).

For Edwards, genuine conversion is marked by something deeper than reverence for God’s natural attributes. A believer will actually find what no non-believer will find—delight in God’s moral attributes, namely his perfect holiness.

God’s holy beauty is where all genuine and saving Theology begins.

Edwards further develops his argument by revealing how holiness and beauty are inseparable. For example:

  • The Savior is altogether lovely because he is altogether holy (Rev. 3:7). “All the spiritual beauty of his human nature, consisting in his meekness, lowliness, patience, heavenliness, love to God, love to men, condescension to the mean and vile, and compassion to the miserable, etc. all is summed up in his holiness.”
  • Heaven is sweet because it is the holy Jerusalem where the holiness of Christ is celebrated (Isa. 63:15, Rev. 4:8, 21:2, 10–11).
  • God’s word is sweet because the doctrines are holy doctrines. This explains the Psalmist’s delight (Pss. 19:7-10; 119:140).
  • The gospel is a sweet because it is a holy gospel.

These themes merge even closer in three Old Testament passages that highlight the beauty, splendor, and attractiveness of God’s holiness (1 Chr. 16:29, Pss 29:2, 96:9):

Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness

These passages seem to rest at the core of Edwards’ argument. Divine holiness is the very definition of supreme beauty. And once the heart is given a sweet taste of God’s moral perfections, the redeemed heart cannot but be attracted to the beauty of God’s holiness.

As Gerald R. McDermott writes [Reformation and Revival, vol. 6:1, 109-10]:

This is what sets the saint apart from all others. Others may also see divine things, but they don’t see their beauty or glory. … The unregenerate may see or know divine things (some don’t ever see divine things at all) but they never see their beauty—which is the beauty of holiness. According to Edwards, this is the glory that the Bible says is the central thing that makes God and His ways attractive—that lures humans in love to Him. This is the light that makes the person of Jesus so ravishingly beautiful, that has drawn the hearts of millions to Himself for the last two millennia. This is the brightness that all saints see in comparison to which their own hearts appear filthy.

In our visually-driven world, where beauty is measured by a worldly fad or by some subjective visual response, these theological ideas carry enormous consequences.

For example, we learn that standards of aesthetic beauty in art and literature cannot ever be divorced from God’s moral holiness: holiness is beautiful. Sin cannot be anything other than ugliness. Or consider personal renewal. What we so often mistake as drudgery when we think about battling sin is actually our personal participation in God’s own striking holiness (1 Pet. 1:16). Which is why it’s not surprising that feminine beauty is shaped and defined by God’s holiness (1 Pet. 3:1–6). The implications to this beauty-holiness connection are nearly endless.

At its root, the point Jonathan Edwards makes in Religious Affections is an important one: the splendor of God’s holiness is the pinnacle of all beauty. And it is a beauty that should tug at the strings of our affections.

Family Trip: Jonathan Edwards 2010

This fall we are planning a return to homeschooling and along with it we are planning one course for the kids that focuses on colonial American history. My hope is that this learning will lead up nicely to a short road trip in October to track the footprints of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and the Great Awakening. I hope to blog the trip if it happens (DV).

The trip goals are simple:

(1) visit key places in the life of Jonathan Edwards,

(2) learn about the Great Awakening,

(3) better appreciate domestic life and architecture in Colonial America,

(4) better understand the 18th century tension between colonists and native Americans,

(5) appreciate the marriage of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards,

(6) learn about the person and preaching of George Whitefield and his initial meeting with Edwards in Northampton,

(7) learn about David Brainerd and the frontier missions work with the indians that Edwards later participated, and

(8) appreciate nature’s beauty.

The route will largely unfold chronologically in an 874 mile long balloon-shaped loop (see map here). The planning is early and things will change but what follows are all the locations I’m planning to hit. Most of them I have found and marked with GPS coordinates (because I’m nerdy like that). I’ll fill in the locations as I find them.

Please tell me if you know of other landmarks of interest that I have not mentioned here. We cannot see everything (sadly New Haven, CT got an early x). Please tell me what I’ve missed.


East Windsor, CT: 1703-1716

Timothy Edwards’ church
Timothy was Edwards father and he was a pastor. This is the site of the East Windsor awakening of 1716. For background reading see Marsden, 33-34.
Location: 41.830287,-72.617598

Jonathan Edwards’ birthplace (Oct 5, 1703) and childhood
For background reading on Edwards’ childhood and his early memories of the natives see Marsden, 11-24.
Location: 41.844849,-72.611963 (birthplace marker)

Edwards Cemetery
Resting place for his parents (Timothy and Esther Edwards) and two daughters (Jerusha and Lucy).
Location: 41.848644,-72.609842

Hike: Windsor Meadows State Park
We plan to hike a bit along the way so I throw this in as one option.
Location: 41.813263,-72.647379


Enfield, CT: 1741

Sinners in the Hands” sermon location
On the July 8, 1741 sermon see Marsden, 219-226; Murray, 168-170. Listen to Mark Dever read/preach the message in 58-minutes (
Location: 41.971588,-72.592761 (stone marker)

Windsor Locks Canal State Park Trail
A beautiful <2 mile hike. Read Edwards appreciation for nature’s beauty in Miscellany #108 (Works, 13.278-280)
Location: 41.986587,-72.605060


Northampton, MA: 1726-1750

Read Marsden, 110-374

Historic Northampton Museum
Gateway to Jonathan Edwards walking tour. The website reads ( “The Museum and Gift Shop are open daily, Tuesday through Saturday from 10 AM until 5 PM and on Sunday from Noon until 5 PM. Historic Northampton is closed on Mondays & Holidays.”
Location: 46 Bridge St, Northampton, MA 01060

Edwards’ home
Read about their home (Marsden, 320-323) and the historic meeting there between Jonathan Edwards and Whitefield on Oct. 17, 1740 (see Dallimore, 1:537-540; Marsden, 206-213).
location: ?? Smith College ??

Jonathan Edwards’ church location
See the commemorative plaque for the 1737 church on the front steps and the JE plaque inside. For background read about the periods of awakenings in the church read Marsden, 150-169.
Location: 42.319062,-72.630887

Bridge Street Cemetery
Resting place of David Brainerd, Jerusha Edwards, and many of the Stoddards. Read about Brainerd and Jerusha in Marsden, 320-340.
Location: 42.327452,-72.629693


Stockbridge, CT: 1750-1758

Read Marsden, 375-428

Morning reading: Sermon, “Christ Is to the Heart Like a River to a Tree,” a brief sacramental message read and translated to the Mahican Indians in Stockbridge in August of 1751 (Works, 25:602-604).

Stockbridge Library Association
Jonathan Edwards artifacts on display.
Location: 46 Main St, Stockbridge, MA

Mission House
Read about the mission house in Marsden, 375-380, 390-391. The website reads ( “Open Memorial Day Weekend to Columbus Day [2nd Mon in Oct], Thursday through Monday, 11am–3pm.”
Location: 42.283161,-73.315984

Edwards’ home
Where Edwards wrote Freedom of the Will, The End for Which God Created the World, and Original Sin.
Location: perhaps 42.283143,-73.314487 (Directions “Go down street [W] a little ways from library, home site on right marked by small marble fountain.”)

UPDATED: Edwards’ church location
Location: perhaps in the area of 42.283788,-73.319806 [HT: Martyn]

UPDATED: Edwards’ monument
Location: 42.284223,-73.320254 [HT: Martyn]


Princeton, NJ: 1758

Princeton Cemetery
Resting place for Jonathan and Sarah Edwards. Readings: Marriage summary (find a good one); passings and burials in Marsden, 490-498.
Location: 40.352509,-74.660135

Nassau Hall
Period building
Location: 40.348641,-74.659301

MacLean House
Period building (back side only)
Location: 40.349063,-74.660211


Philadelphia, PA

George Whitefield statue
On the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, which began in 1740 as a meeting place for the crowds who flooded to hear Whitefield preach. The statue was commissioned and purchased by Benjamin Franklin. Franklin said: “I knew him intimately upwards of thirty years. His integrity, disinterestedness and indefatigable zeal in prosecuting every good work I have never seen equaled and shall never see excelled.”
Location: 39.950452,-75.197347


Misc. places of interest we will not see

George Whitefield Rock
Whitefield preached from this boulder to a gathering of a few hundred people on Oct 16, 1740 on his way to Northampton.
Location: 42.231930,-72.126419


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