I love innocent comments that give me a reason to ride one of my hobby horses. ~M2~ innocently asked if Jonathan Edwards ever wrote about love.
It is my belief that Jonathan Edwards, along with William Law, George Whitefield, George Fox, William Penn, Jeremy Taylor, and a smattering of others, is one of a very elite group of protestant mystics whom God granted the grace to see far and see hard.
As a result Edwards did produce some remarkable works centered on love, affection, and compassion.
His treatise Religious Affections is one example, from which, the following excerpt:
from Religious Affections
The evidence of this in the Scripture is very abundant. If we judge of the Nature of Christianity, and the proper spirit of the gospel, by the word of God, this spirit is what may, by way of eminency, be called the Christian spirit; and may be looked upon as the true, and distinguishing disposition of the hearts of Christians as Christians. When some of the disciples of Christ said something, through inconsideration and infirmity, that was not agreeable to such a spirit, Christ told them, that they knew not what manner of spirit they were of, Luke 9:55, implying that this spirit that I am speaking of, is the proper spirit of his religion and kingdom. All that are truly godly, and real disciples of Christ, have this spirit in them; and not only so, but they are of this spirit; it is the spirit by which they are so possessed and governed, that it is their true and proper character. This is evident by what the wise man says, Prov. 17:27 (having respect plainly to such a spirit as this): "A man of understanding is of an excellent spirit." And by the particular description Christ gives of the qualities and temper of such as are truly blessed, that shall obtain mercy, and are God's children and heirs: Matt. 5:5, 7, 9, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God." And that this spirit is the special character of the elect of God, is manifested by Col. 3:12, 13: "Put on therefore as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another." And the apostle, speaking of that temper and disposition, which he speaks of as the most excellent and essential thing in Christianity, and that without which none are true Christians, and the most glorious profession and gifts are nothing (calling this spirit by the name of charity), he describes it thus, 1 Cor. 13:4, 5: "Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil."
Portions of this Thanksgiving Sermon are lovely:
from "Thanksgiving Sermon"
1. Proposition. The saints in heaven are employed; they are not idle; they have there much to do: they have a work before them that will fill up eternity.
We are not to suppose, when the saints have finished their course and done the works appointed them here in this world, and are got to their journey’s end, to their Father’s house, that they will have nothing to do. It is true, the saints when they get to heaven, rest from their labours and their works follow them. Heaven is not a place of labour and travail, but a place of rest. Heb. iv. 9. There remaineth a rest for the people of God. And it is a place of the reward of labour. But yet the rest of heaven does not consist in idleness, and a cessation of all action, but only a cessation from all the trouble and toil and tediousness of action. The most perfect rest is consistent with being continually employed. So it is in heaven. Though the saints are exceedingly full of action, yet their activity is perfectly free from all labour, or weariness, or unpleasantness. They shall rest from their work, that is, from all work of labour and self-denial, and grief, care, and watchfulness, but they will not cease from action. The saints in glory are represented as employed in serving God, as well as the saints on earth, though it be without any difficulty or opposition. Rev. xxii. 3. “
To judge by all of his works and his life, he was, like John Wesley, a man after God's own heart and God spoke to him of intimate matters; however, he was woefully misguided in some of his opinions by misunderstandings that accrued as a result of common errors of his time and some Calvinist influences.
With regard to mysticism and divine union, we have, "A DIVINE AND SUPERNATURAL LIGHT, IMMEDIATELY IMPARTED TO THE SOUL BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD, SHOWN TO BE BOTH A SCRIPTURAL AND RATIONAL DOCTRINE.'
Admittedly, the majority of his corpus was dedicated to being "a fisher of man" and reeling in the lost souls of the time--so Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is a note struck forcefully and often. Nevertheless, not all of his work is so militant, even though all is strident and forceful. Were I to give a single word to describe Edwards's work, I would say that it is vigorous. There is a tautness to it that sings of Divine Things. Take, for example, "The Church's Marriage to Her Sons and to Her God"--a remarkable sermon that wayward Priests would do well to read again and again. So too with True Saints, When Absent from the Body, Are Present with the Lord:
from "True Saints, When Absent from the Body, Are Present with the Lord"
And therefore there is a certain place, a particular part of the external creation, to which Christ is gone, and where he remains. And this place is that which we call the highest heaven, or the heaven of heavens; a place beyond all the visible heavens. Eph. iv. 9, 10. “Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended, is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens.” This is the same which the apostle calls the third heaven, 2 Cor. xii. 2. reckoning the aerial heaven as the first, the starry heaven as the second, and the highest heaven as the third. This is the abode of the holy angels; they are called “the angels of heaven,” Matt. xxiv. 36. “The angels which are in heaven,” Mark xiii. 32. “The angels of God in heaven,” Matt. xxii. 30. and Mark xii. 25. They are said “always to behold the face of the Father which is in heaven,” Matt. xviii. 10. And they are elsewhere often represented as before the throne of God, or surrounding his throne in heaven, and sent from thence, and descending from thence on messages to this world. And thither it is that the souls of departed saints are conducted, when they die. They are not reserved in some abode distinct from the highest heaven; a place of rest, which they are kept in, until the day of judgment; such as some imagine, which they call the hades of the happy: but they go directly to heaven itself. This is the saints’ home, being their Father’s house: they are pilgrims and strangers on the earth, and this is the other and better country that they are travelling to, Heb. xi. 13-26. This is the city they belong to: Phil. iii. 20. “Our conversation or (as the word properly signifies, citizenship) is in heaven.” Therefore this undoubtedly is the place the apostle has respect to in my text, when he says, “We are willing to forsake our former house, the body, and to dwell in the same house, city or country, wherein Christ dwells,” which is the proper import of the words of the original. What can this house, or city, or country be, but that house, which is elsewhere spoken of, as their proper home, and their Father’s house, and the city and country to which they properly belong, and whither they are travelling all the while they continue in this world, and the house, city, and country where we know the human nature of Christ is? This is the saints’ rest; here their hearts are while they live; and here their treasure is.
The geography of the afterlife may be truncated, but the image herein is glorious.
Reading The Types of the Messiah is an intricate and satisfying Bible Study all on its own. Truly remarkable is the thought that this is a small fraction of the work on one man. Reading this treatise sends you through a high-speed survey of the entire Old Testament looking for the signs of the Messiah throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. I won't cite it here; however, were one to read it slowly with reference to each of the Scriptures quoted, there is no doubt but that one we be far better acquainted with the person of Jesus than before one started.
And let me conclude this whirlwind tour with another beautiful fragment of a sermon. Stop and think what it would be like today to be able to here sermons so well constructed, so carefully considered, so well thought-out. It would be this remarkable quality that would serve to draw people toward Christ--the truth presented in all of its beauty.
from "The Peace Which Christ Gives His True Followers"
“My peace I give unto you.” Christ by calling it his peace signifies two things,
1. That it was his own, that which he had to give. It was the peculiar benefit that he had to bestow on his children, now he was about to leave the world as to his human presence. Silver and gold he had none; for, while in his estate of humiliation, he was poor. The foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests; but the Son of man had not where to lay his head: Luke ix. 58. He had no earthly estate to leave to his disciples who were as it were his family: but he had peace to give them.
2. It was his peace that he gave them; as it was the same kind of peace which he himself enjoyed. The same excellent and divine peace which he ever had in God, and which he was about to receive in his exalted state in a vastly greater perfection and fulness: for the happiness Christ gives to his people, is a participation of his own happiness: agreeable to chapter xv. 11. “These things have I said unto you, that my joy might remain in you.” And in his prayer with his disciples at the conclusion of this discourse, chapter xvii. 13. “And now come I to thee, and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” And verse 22. “And the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them.”. . .
The use that I would make of this doctrine, is to improve it as an inducement unto all to forsake the world, no longer seeking peace and rest in its vanities, and to cleave to Christ and follow him. Happiness and rest are what all men pursue. But the things of the world, wherein most men seek it, can never afford it; they are labouring and spending themselves in vain. But Christ invites you to come to him, and offers you this peace, which he gives his true followers, and that so much excels all that the world can afford, Isa. lv. 2, 3.
You that have hitherto spent your time in the pursuit of satisfaction in the profit or glory of the world, or in the pleasures and vanities of youth, have this day an offer of that excellent and everlasting peace and blessedness, which Christ has purchased with the price of his own blood. As long as you continue to reject those offers and invitations of Christ, and continue in a Christless condition, you never will enjoy any true peace or comfort; but will be like the prodigal, that in vain endeavoured to be satisfied with the husks that the swine did eat.
What is particularly nice about Edwards is that each sermon has this "application" section in which the abstracts of the commentary, the ideals that are pointed out, are given focus and purpose. This might well be called the "exhortation to holiness." It is rarely without reference to God's Wrath (a favorite subject) but also His infinited mercy in welcoming sinners home. Edwards is a nice specific to a time in which sin is seen as "not so bad." We tend to have lost a sense of the enormity of the crime we commit, the immensity of the ingratitude we express when we follow our own lead.
I love the work of Jonathan Edwards. The theology may have its problems, but the prose is sinewy and peppered with startling images and wonderful, powerful language, all crafted with an eye to making the Glory of God known to sinners. A Catholic must tiptoe through the TULIP and other things Calvinist, but there is remarkable fruit to be harvested here.