Carrying Immutable Happiness

21 Oct

“That which will cause that a man be a happy man in whatsoever condition he is in, and carrieth immutable happiness along with it, and such a happiness as by nothing in the world can be taken from him, that secures against all worldly evils so far as that they shall not be able to hurt him, must be of a very excellent and desirable nature. But this godliness doth…”

Jonathan Edwards, Christian Happiness

Packer on The Principles Which Shaped Edwards Theological Thinking

20 Oct

In his lecture on Jonathan Edwards, J.I. Packer summarizes five principles which shaped Edwards’ theological thinking.

1. God’s plan of grace as set out in the Westminster Confession is the beginning of the whole economy of divine saving love.

It began as a plan, an eternal decree of election and the first element in it was the Father’s election of the Son to be the Savior of the church. That is the element in God’s decree which in English theology has always been called the covenant of redemption, the agreement whereby the Father gave the Son the many whom He came into the world incarnate to redeem by his atoning death and to unite to himself in his risen life and to bring triumphantly to glory. The covenant of redemption is of great importance structurally in Edwards’ theology.

2. God is naturally unknown man to fallen man because fallen man is finite and now blind by reason of the inborn perversity of original sin which is our legacy from Adam.

So, it takes a divine supernatural light of the Holy Spirit with and through the Word to give knowledge of the reality of God to sinners and Edwards made a great deal of this. To understand words is not difficult if you know the language to which the words belong, but if your understanding of Christian theology is just a matter of words but not knowing the realities to which those words refer you are still in darkness. It takes a divine and supernatural light to bring you out of that darkness into a certainty of the reality of those things of which biblical words and sentences speak, and that awareness of their reality when it comes is as immediate and certain as seeing something.

3. God shows Himself through the history that Scripture records and interprets. Edwards’ hermeneutic of Scripture was historically focused.

George Marsden writes, “History according to Edwards is in essence the communication of God’s redemptive love in Christ. The history of redemption is the very purpose of creation. Nothing in human history has significance on its own, that is apart from the plan of God. Christ’s saving love is the center of all history and defined its meaning. Human events take on significance only as they are related to God’s redemptive action in bringing increasing number of human beings into the light of that love or as they illustrated human blindness in joining Satan’s warfare against all that is good. ” That is why Edwards wanted to write a systematic theology in the form of a history. God reveals Himself not simply by word but by action. He says what he is going to do and then he does and his doing of it reveals the meaning of his prediction that he is going to do it.

4. God is self-revealed as a Triune society bonded by love. and in some very bold reflections Edwards puts it this way, the personal Holy Spirit is Himself in His very nature the love that binds the Father and the Son to each other, and both to the Spirit to them.

Augustine had said something very like that. In Packer’s judgment Edwards says it in a more grounded and skillful way than Augustine. “Christ and His Father and Christians should be as it were one family, this is the divine goal. One family, His people, should be in a sort admitted into the society of the three persons in the Godhead.”

5. God remains when we have done all our Bible study and theological reflecting on the basis of the texts, God remains a transcendent mystery in the sense that there is more to Him than our human minds can ever grasp but yet if we look back and if we look around us and if we look ahead with the Bible in our hands, there is a great deal that we can see clearly.

If you want an illustration, imagine looking around and there is a long view that you can see ahead and behind and around until the rest is lost in a mist or fog. There is great clarity as far as it goes in the Bible and in this area of light which Scripture illumines, past, present, future, the themes that stand out are the sovereignty of God, the redeeming love of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and these are themes to which Edwards returns time and time again. On that phrase, God remains a transcendent mystery,we can see the way Edwards thought, by listening to the way Packer summarizes what he writes on the Trinity.”I am far from pretending to explaining the Trinity so as to render it no longer a mystery. I think it to be the highest and deepest of all divine mysteries still, notwithstanding anything that I have said or conceived about it. I don’t intend to explain the Trinity just to go up to the limit in understanding all that the Bible has to say about the Trinity.”

Even Geniuses Get Their Ideas From Somewhere

18 Oct

Sounding an awful lot like Jonathan Edwards before Jonathan Edwards, Nicolas Malebranche, sometime around 1700 writes,

“Tis an undeniable Truth, that God can have no other Principal End of his Actions, than Himself: and that he may have Subordinate Ends, tending to the Preservation of the Beings he has created. He can have no Principal End besides Himself: because, being not liable to error he can (not) place his ultimate End in Beings that include not all of Perfection . . . God therefore wills His Glory, as the Principal End; and the Preservation of His Creatures; only for His glory.”

Thinking about the Great Commandments…

18 Oct

People are confused about mercy ministry.

For some people, it is basically irrelevant. Any time anyone talks about mercy ministry, in their ears, it sounds as if they are talking about the social gospel. For others, it is supreme. Any time anyone talks of theology and gospel proclamation, in their ears, it seems as if they are hardheartedly ignoring the most pressing needs.

I think the Great Commandments help correct both errors.

If you are going to understand biblical ministries of mercy and compassion, first you must remember that the command to love God comes before the command to love your neighbor. And second you must understand that the command to love God is inextricably connected to the command to love your neighbor. 

For me to talk about loving my neighbor without at the same time being serious about loving God is not good. How can I even think I am doing any real good if while I am attempting to do I am doing the greatest evil? There is no sin worse than idolatry and yet when we disconnect love for people from love for God we are in effect idolaters.

What’s more, for me to talk about loving God without at the same time being serious about loving my neighbor is nonsense. How can I ever think I am serious about theology and doctrine if my study of theology and doctrine doesn’t create in me an increasing concern for the needs of people? Love for God expresses itself in obedience to His commandments, and any claims to love God without this wholehearted commitment to obey His commandments, is empty talk.

Jonathan Edwards WOD: Beatific

17 Oct

I once heard someone say the one thing missing in a lot of people’s Christianity is Christ.

Meaning, at least in part, we get so wrapped up in doing this or doing that, we often lose sight of Jesus. We settle for going through the motions, instead of actively pursuing delight in Him.

Obviously, we aren’t in heaven yet. We are not seeing and enjoying God now the way we will then. But one of the great privileges of being a Christian is that we get to enjoy glimmers of this glory. And we should want it.

One of the terms that was at the center of Edwards understanding of the Christian life is the word beatific. Now that’s not a word we use very often anymore.

But the word beatific, David Brand explains, simply “refers to that perfect, blessed, and immediate sight of God reserved for the saints in heavenly glory (1 Cor. 13:12; 1 Jn. 3:2), of which the transforming experience of regeneration and sanctification in this present life is the spiritual dawning (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Jn. 1:14; Acts 7:55,56).”

In other words, a big part of what makes heaven heaven is the fact we will see God as He is. It will be as if we were swimming in a sea of glorious light. As believers we long for that day, because we enjoy little glimpses of that glory now.

Jonathan Edwards explains,

“The saints in this world have an earnest of what is future, they have the dawnings of future light…The discoveries which the saints here have of God’s excellency and grace, are immediate in a sense; that is, they do not mainly consist of ratiocination (i.e.the process of exact thinking); but yet in another sense they are indirect, that is, they are by means of the gospel, as through a glass; but in heaven God will immediately excite apprehensions of himself, without use of any such means.”

Perhaps a couple of examples from his life will illustrate.

“The first instance, that I remember, of that sort of inwards, sweet delight in God and divine things, that I have lived much in since, was on reading those words, 1 Timothy 1:17. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. As I read the words, there came into my soul, and was as it were diffused through it, a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from any thing I ever experienced before. Never any words of Scripture seemed to me as these words did. I thought with myself, how excellent a Being that was, and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God and be rapt up to Him in heaven; and be as it were swallowed up in Him forever.”

Later he goes on to say,

“From about that time I began to have a new kind of apprehensions and ideas of Christ, and the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him. An inward sweet sense of these things, at times, came into my heart; and my soul was led away in pleasant views and contemplations of them. And my mind was great engaged to spend my time in reading and meditating on Christ, on the beauty and excellency of his person, and on the lovely way of salvation by free grace in him.”

He tries to describe his experience, writing,

“This I know now how to express otherwise, than by a calm, sweet abstraction of soul from all the concerns of this world; and sometimes a kind of vision, or fixed ideas and imaginations, of being alone in the mountains, or some sweet solitary wilderness, far from all mankind, sweetly conversing with Christ, and wrapt up and swallowed up in God. The sense I had of divine things, would often of a sudden kindle up, as it were, a sweet burning in my heart, an ardour of soul, that I know not how to express.”

Did you happen to notice some of the striking ways Edwards describes his walk with God?

Swallowed up in God.

An inward sweet sense of these things.

My soul was led away in pleasant views and contemplations of him.

Now obviously, I think obviously at least, not all of us will be this poetic. And even Edwards didn’t live on this kind of spiritual high at every single moment. But, have we tasted the kindness of God in our salvation? And do we seek more and more enjoyment and delight in Him?

Not every husband is going to write Shakespearean sonnets for his wife, but every husband who deserves the title husband, is going to pursue delighting in her. He’s not going to settle for just doing his duty. He wants more in his relationship with his wife. And he should.

Just as we should in our relationship with God.

The whole of religion depends on this…

13 Oct

“If there be no …. then the whole of religion is immediately thrown up and destroyed.”

I wonder how you would complete that statement?

This is how Jonathan Edwards once did:

If there be no future state of rewards and punishments in the other world, then the whole of religion is immediately thrown up and destroyed.

Is eternity that important to you? Not just in theory, but in every day life. Could you put my in front of religion in the preceding statement? If someone looked at your life could say they that if there is no future state of rewards and punishment in the other world, the way you are living your life would make no sense?

I am afraid there are many Christians who say they believe in eternity, but really don’t.

Wicked Men’s Slavery to Sin: A Remix

9 Oct

I am working my way through Jonathan Edwards sermons one by one over the next several years. In previous posts, I gave a brief summary of his sermon entitled, “Christian Happiness” and “The Value of Salvation.” It sometimes helps me process what he’s saying better if I try to paraphrase it and so I thought I might offer a short summary paraphrase of a third message here, “Wicked Men’s Slavery to Sin.”

—-

Freedom!

What price can you put on freedom? I would imagine for most of us there is no condition we can imagine more pitiful than that of a slave. Is there any one of us who would voluntarily choose slavery? The question answers itself.

And yet, the Bible tells us that everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.

This statement comes from John 8:34. Jesus has just made a great promise to those who believe in him. He explains “If you abide in my word, you truly are my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

But some of those listening didn’t like the sound of that. Having to be set free means you were previously enslaved. And they were too proud to believe that. They were religious after all! And as they looked back on their religious heritage, it made them angry to hear someone say that they needed to be freed.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesus’ statement strikes some of you the same way.

When you hear people talking about coming to Jesus for freedom, it makes little sense to you. You feel fairly happy already. Sure, you do some things that are wrong every once in a while, but to say you are a slave sounds too strong.

Is it?

What if things weren’t quite as they seem? Are you willing to consider that? It is one thing to enslave someone by force, but the trickiest of slave masters gets someone else to do what they want, without them even knowing they are enslaved.

Sin is like that.

There are a number of different proofs that you might not be quite as free as you seem to think.

If you are sinning, sin is making your life difficult. I guarantee it. Have you ever met a drunk? They often look happy, but what kind of happiness is that? They are not the only kinds of sinners who are like that. I know that sinners like to think their sin is making their lives more enjoyable, but the fact that they can think like that, only proves how deceptive sin really is.

Think about how hard wicked men have to work to satisfy their sinful desires. No matter how much they do, those sinful desires will refuse to be satisfied. Sinful desires keep asking for more no matter how much you feed them. As one example of that, just think about how hard wicked men work to get riches and how unsatisfied they are when they finally get them. Sometimes they even know that what they desire won’t satisfy them, and yet still feel like they absolutely have to have it. Not only does sin not satisfy, it actually makes life more difficult. We could make a long list of ways it does that. It steals happiness. It accuses the conscience. It complicates one’s relationships. And yet, even though it hurts people time and time again, they still choose it. That’s slavery.

Sinners are absolutely devoted to the commands of sin. Whenever sin calls, they answer. Even if their own happiness has to be sacrificed to do what sin is asking, they will do it, and quickly. In fact, sin has such control over the sinner that the sinner would rather burn in hell than stop doing what sin asks. The sinner looks for opportunities to serve sin. If sin asks them to hurt their friends, lie to their relatives, abuse those close to them, they will do it. If sin tells them they must do something that will ruin their lives, even then they will obey. Like a good servant, they are constantly ready to run any errand that sin sends them on. It is as if they wait at sin’s gates to hear what sin has for them to do.

Even though the sinner doesn’t benefit from his sin, he continues in it. There has never been a tyrant who has done more evil to those under his rule than sin. Sin treats its servants more cruelly than any master on earth has ever treated his and yet the wicked man keeps going back for more. There is no one who has truly gained a lasting advantage as a result of sin. No one has ever really been happier because he is proud or more content because he is malicious. Sin always does damage to people, often in this life, always in the life to come. And yet, the sinner won’t give it up. He prizes it. He defends it. The only thing a sinner really stores up for himself as a result of his sin, is wrath and judgment. Every time he sins he makes a hell a little bit hotter, and yet, even still, they give themselves to sin’s rule.

They serve sin with all that they are. They don’t serve sin partially but instead with their body and soul. Their minds serve sin. Even when the truth is obvious, they will close their eyes in order to serve sin. There may be something incredibly beautiful being shown to them, like the glory of Christ, but sin won’t allow them to see it or enjoy it. Their desires serve sin. Sin tells them what to love and they love it. Sin tells them what to hate and they hate it. Sin laughs at them as it causes them to embrace and defend things which in and of themselves are both ugly and worthless. There is no one in the whole world who has ever had the kind of command over someone else that sin has over the thoughts and desires of the sinner.

Wicked men truly are slaves to sin, and they should be pitied for it. If we saw someone who was a slave to a kind master, we would feel badly for him. But imagine a slave to a cruel one! If we saw a slave being ridiculed and mocked by his master, physically abused, we would have compassion on him. How much more should we pity wicked men! Their master is far worse and the work they do for him is much more difficult. The one who serves sin is worse than someone who is forced to labor in a mine or who is working himself to death in chains.

Our hearts would have to be very hard not to pity poor sinners who are enslaved like this. How can we not feel deeply for them as we watch sin put blindfolds over their eyes so that they cannot see a way of escape? How can we not cry out for them as we watch sin make them do his work on the edge of a cliff where the ground is slippery and they are always in danger of falling into a “bottomless pit of liquid fire?”

Even a king or a prince that serves sin is worthy of pity. The man who puts his confidence in riches, even if he were to own the entire world, he too is an object of compassion. The one who everyone looks up to and envies, but is under the control of pride, he also is someone who you should feel badly for. Their condition is so sad in fact that we ought to be constantly weeping on their behalf.

Before we spend much time weeping for others however, perhaps we ought to ask whether or not we should be weeping for ourselves. Are you living in slavery to sin? I am certain if I asked you whether or not you wanted to be someone’s slave, you would say no. But are you not choosing to live your live as a slave to sin? There is a way for you to be free. We have seen Jesus makes this promise in the gospel. But you must first seek it.

If you need motivation, consider this. You have the worst master in the world. I suppose if at least you served a good master you would have an excuse for continuing to live as his slave. But you don’t. You absolutely could not find a more evil or dishonorable master than sin.

I am sure you have met someone who you felt ashamed for. Perhaps you met a beggar who was in such a state that you had to look away. Now imagine being that person’s slave. How humbling! And yet it is worse to be a servant of sin than it would be to be a servant of that beggar. We would be embarrassed to be the slave of a homeless man. But being sin’s servant is far worse.

Or consider this. Would you let a monster live in your house? Imagine someone you consider pure evil. Would you invite him to stay with you as a friend? Never! And yet that person at least is a person. Sin is far below human nature. When you serve sin, you serve a master that is much below yourself.

And think about what kind of service he asks from you. If someone asked for you to give them your reason, would you do it? Would you choose to live like a foolish man? And yet, that’s exactly what sin asks of you. Demands, in fact! To serve sin is to make yourself a fool. How people must have laughed when Nebuchadnezzar lived those years like a cow. Yet, we too live like beasts, when we choose to live as slaves to sin.

Sin is killing you and you don’t even realize it. When sin enslaves a man, it begins by poking out his eyes, so he can’t see his miserable condition. It actually asks you to sharpen the knife that you are going to use to cut your own throat, to put poison on the arrows that are going to be thrust into your heart, to get the sword ready which is going to be used to take your life, to throw fuel onto the fire in which you are going to burn. Sin makes great promises of payment and reward, but the wages of sin in the end is death. No one would ever willingly work for someone who refused to pay them anything. How much less should we be willing to work for someone who pays us only in pain? And how much more foolish it is to work for someone who only pays you in death!

I know all of this sounds harsh. Maybe you are a bit upset. You are not the first. This is the way those religious leaders felt about what Jesus said. But what if the way the Scripture describes your condition really were true? Can you imagine telling a slave that he’s a slave and showing him how he can be free and having him get upset with you as a result? It is one thing to be a slave, it is something else to defend your slave master. Don’t do it! You through your slavery to sin are choosing to be God’s enemy, but you don’t have to be. God has made a way for you to set free, and that way is found in Jesus. If your freedom means anything to you, go to the Scriptures, and search them out, crying out to God, that He will help you find Jesus, and in finding Jesus, find true and lasting freedom.

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