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"A God Entranced Vision of All Things"

Those who know me will know that I have a fondness for the works (those I have managed to read) of the 18th Century American Pastor/theologian, Jonathan Edwards. And the primary reason is that his vision of God and his desire that we should delight in him always resonates deeply with me.

 

I have just finished reading a great collection of essays about Edwards called “A God Entranced Vision of All Things.”[1] I also recently read Robert Jenson’s book on Edwards’s theology.[2] Together they have reminded me of just what it was I liked about Edwards.

 

Jonathan Edwards came from the Puritan New England tradition but in many ways he was a transitional figure. His involvement with the New England revivals of the 1730s and 40s and his writings that stem from them, are perhaps the things those who know anything of him will know. To say that Edwards came out of the Puritan tradition is, I know, to invite many to stop reading. After all weren’t the Puritans just fuddy-duddy party poopers that were terrified that somebody somewhere may just be having fun? If you have that view of them then you would be surprised if you ever got to read them. John Bunyan, for example, wrote many wonderful things, (Pilgrim’s Progress for example), but one of them, Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ is a masterpiece of reassurance for people who worried that they might not be truly coming to Jesus as they ought to. In fact the Puritans were masterly at seeking to address the heart issues of Christians.

 

The Puritans also had a very strong view of the glory of God. They were God-saturated people. And this was something that Edwards picked up on and expanded upon. For him the pursuit of happiness and our duty to glorify God were one and the same thing. True happiness consisted in pursuing the greatest good, and that is God. Edwards said that, “God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.”[3] Elsewhere he states that, “True saints have their minds, in the first place, inexpressibly pleased and delighted with the sweet ideas of the glorious and amiable nature of the things of God.”[4]

 

Edwards knew what he was talking about because he had had amazing experiences of the presence of Jesus Christ. He talks, for example, of a period during which he was much taken with the Song of Songs (which most people in Edwards’ day took to be an allegory of the love of Christ for his church and vice versa), Edwards talks of being “carried away” by his “contemplations.”

 

"This I know not how to express otherwise, than by a calm, sweet abstraction of soul from all concerns of this world; and sometimes a kind of vision, or fixed ideas and imaginations, of being alone in the mountains, or some solitary wilderness, far from all mankind, sweetly conversing with Christ, and wrapt 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 ardor of soul that I know not how to express.[5]"

 

Edwards saw two periods of revival in his church, the second of which coincided with the revival that shook Britain under Whitefield and Wesley. Out of these experiences, Edwards wrote several pieces about how to discern a genuine work of the Spirit. In these days when the word “revival” is misused as a term for an evangelistic event, it is worth remembering Edwards’ view of it. Edwards was clear that a revival was a work of the Holy Spirit and would come or not as he pleased. God is sovereign and that means that one cannot manipulate him into bringing a revival. Further, revival was something that happened to the church and only afterwards led to conversions outside of it. It seems that all true revivals have come about when the church stood in desperate need of being woken up. That was certainly true of the church in England before first Whitefield and then Wesley began to preach justification by faith and the need for a person to be re-born of God.

 

A true work of the Spirit had, Edwards said, five characteristics (which he drew from 1 John 4). The first is that Jesus Christ as God incarnate and crucified is upheld and made more lovely to the sight of believers. The second is that an operation of the Spirit lures people away from the pleasures of this world and draws their minds towards eternal things. Third, it makes people’s minds and hearts to have a greater regard for Scripture. Fourth it increases love to God and love to man; and fifth, it convinces men of sound, by which Edwards means biblical, doctrine.

 

But Edwards’ vision is much bigger than revival. For him the reason that God created the whole universe was in order to display his glory. The Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit seek to glorify each other through it and that means that all creatures will bring glory to God. They will do this in the end whether they want to or not because God is God. But God’s purpose for those whom he calls and saves is nothing less than that we be drawn up into the communion of love that exists between the Father, Son and Spirit. It is to draw us ever closer to God, becoming ever more like him whilst never actually becoming as he is.

 

And this leads Edwards to see things, all things, from the smallest to the largest, as manifestations of the glory of God. It wrought in him a “God entranced vision of all things.” Now if that is the result of a true revival of the church, then it is surely worth praying for? The local FIEC churches are regularly praying for revival in this area. Can I challenge you to join them, and me, in a concerted prayer for this to happen in our time?

 

[If this has sparked your interest in Edwards and you want to know where to go next, my suggestion is to begin with someone who understands how Edwards thought and can give us a modern English take on it. One of the best of these is Sam Storms’ “Pleasures Evermore.”[6]]



[1] John Piper and Justin Taylor (eds), A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2004).

[2] Robert W. Jenson, America's Theologian, A Recommendation of Jonathan
Edwards
(New York, NY.: Oxford University Press, 1988).

 

[3] Cited in John Piper, “A God Entranced Vision of All Things: Why We Need Jonathan Edwards 300 Years Later” in John Piper and Justin Taylor (eds), A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2004), 27.

[4] Piper, “A God Entranced Vision of All Things”, 29.

[5] Quoted from Sam Storms, Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2007), 165.

[6] Sam Storms, Pleasures Evermore: The Life-Changing Power of Enjoying God (Colarado Springs, CO.: NavPress, 2000).

 

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