The Sweetest Joys and Delights I have experienced

2 Jan

I am reading through Jonathan Edwards’ Miscellanies.

Miscellany is sort of a strange word, meaning odds and ends, a mixture of items, and I think you need a strange word like that to describe what Edwards’ Miscellanies are, because they don’t really fit so well into a specific kind or style of writing.

They are almost like a journal, but one of the things that has struck scholars over the years, is their almost absolute absence of references to Edwards’ personal life. He makes basically no references to his public activities, and he makes hardly any references to what’s happening in his private life.

As one scholar explains, “The content of this theological journal appears impersonal; it contains no records of such events in Edwards’ family life as the birth of a child or the death or a relative, nor does it include reflections on his spiritual condition. Very few entries are even written in the first person.”

We are so used to thinking and talking about ourselves, that if someone doesn’t talk about themselves, we tend to think that we aren’t really seeing what’s going on inside their hearts. We assume if we could look into a person’s deepest thoughts, we’d find them thinking, primarily about themselves.

That is perhaps why it is difficult for us to read the Miscellanies at first and think of them as very personal. But, Ava Chamberlain makes such a powerful and I think convicting point, when she writes,

“The personal dimension of these writings will come more clearly into focus if we abandon the assumptions that the affective inner life of an author must dwell first and foremost on the self. The ‘Miscellanies’ are a record of Edwards’ affective inner life, but it is a life centered on God and not the self.”

In other words, when we read these Miscellanies we are in a sense looking into Edwards’ soul but what we find there is a passion for Christ.

Chamberlain continues,

“The ‘Miscellanies’ trace Edwards’ communion with this most excellent love object. Self-scrutiny was a distraction, if not a temptation, leading him away from this ‘sweetness.’ ‘The sweetest joys and delights I have experienced,’ he reveals, have been in a ‘direct view of the glorious things of the gospel.’ It is a ‘loss that I cannot bear, to take off my eye from the glorious pleasant object I behold without me, to turn my eye in upon myself, and my good estate.’ Edwards composed the ‘Miscellanies’ not simply as an intellectual exercise but as a devotional discipline, which transcended in its aim the self-centered diary. Refusing ‘to turn his eye in upon himself,’ he recorded his heart’s delight in the ‘glorious things of the gospel.’ This was his lifelong pursuit, to draw near to God through an understanding of doctrine.”

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