Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) on the wonderful love of God

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“The work of redemption, which the gospel declares unto us, above all things affords motives to love; for that work was the most glorious and wonderful work of love ever seen or thought of. Love is the principal thing which the gospel reveals in God and Christ. The gospel brings to light the love between the Father and the Son, and declares how that love has been manifested in mercy; how that Christ is God’s beloved Son in whom he is well pleased. And there we have the effects of God’s love to his Son set before us in appointing him to the honor of a mediatorial kingdom, in appointing him to be the [Lord and Judge] of the world, in appointing that all men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father. There is revealed the love which Christ has to the Father, and the wonderful fruits of that love, as particularly his doing such great things, and suffering such great things in obedience to the Father, and for the honor of the Father’s justice, authority and law. There it is revealed how the Father and the Son are one in love, that we might be induced in like manner to be one with them, and with one another, agreeable to Christ’s prayer, John 17:21–23, “That they all may be one; as thou Father art in me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” The gospel teaches us the doctrine of the eternal electing love of God, and reveals how God loved those that are redeemed by Christ before the foundation of the world; and how he then gave them to the Son, and the Son loved them as his own. The gospel reveals the wonderful love of God the Father to poor sinful, miserable men, in giving [Christ not only to love them while in the world, but to love them to the end. And all this love is spoken of as bestowed on us while we were wanderers, outcasts, worthless, guilty, and even enemies.] The gospel reveals such love as nothing else reveals. John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this.” Romans 5:7–8, “Scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” God and Christ in the gospel revelation appear as clothed with love, as being as it were on a throne of mercy and grace, a seat of love encompassed about with pleasant beams of love. Love is the light and glory which are about the throne on which God sits.”

- Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), “Charity and its Fruits”, in: Ethical Writings (Works of Jonathan Edwards Online Vol. 8), p. 143-145

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900): The plain truth is that without Christ there is no happiness in this world

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In Chapter 10 of his work Practical Religion, J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) focuses on where true happiness is to be found. After having pointed to several places where men customarily look for happiness in vain, such as in social status, fame, wealth, education, knowledge, leisure, pleasure, and amusement, he shifts to a focus on the way of true happiness. The excerpt below is from p. 247-255:

There is a sure path which leads to happiness, if men will only take it. There never lived the person who travelled in that path, and missed the object that he sought to attain.

It is a path open to all. It needs neither wealth, nor rank, nor learning in order to walk in it. It is for the servant as well as for the master: it is for the poor as well as for the rich. None are excluded but those who exclude themselves.

It is the one only path. All that have ever been happy, since the days of Adam, have journeyed on it. There is no royal road to happiness. Kings must be content to go side by side with their humblest subjects, if they would be happy.

Where is this path? Where is this road? Listen, and you shall hear.

The way to be happy is to be a real, thorough-going true-hearted Christian. Scripture declares it: experience proves it. The converted man, the believer in Christ, the child of God–he, and he alone, is the happy man.

It sounds too simple to be true: it seems at first sight so plain a receipt that it is not believed. But the greatest truths are often the simplest. The secret which many of the wisest on earth have utterly failed to discover, is revealed to the humblest believer in Christ. I repeat it deliberately, and defy the world to disprove it: the true Christian is the only happy man.

What do I mean when I speak of a true Christian? Do I mean everybody who goes to church or chapel? Do I mean everybody who professes an orthodox creed, and bows his head at the belief? Do I mean everybody who professes to love the Gospel? No: indeed! I mean something very different. All are not Christians who are called Christians. The man I have in view is the Christian in heart and life. He who has been taught by the Spirit really to feel his sins–he who really rests all his hopes on the Lord Jesus Christ, and His atonement–he who has been born again and really lives a spiritual, holy life—he whose religion is not a mere Sunday coat, but a mighty constraining principle governing every day of his life–he is the man I mean, when I speak of a true Christian.

What do I mean when I say the true Christian is happy? Has he no doubts and no fears? Has he no anxieties and no troubles? Has he no sorrows and no cares? Does he never feel pain, and shed no tears? Far be it from me to say anything of the kind. He has a body weak and frail like other men; he has affections and passions like every one born of woman: he lives in a changeful world. But deep down in his heart he has a mine of solid peace and substantial joy which is never exhausted. This is true happiness.

Do I say that all true Christians are equally happy? No: not for a moment! There are babes in Christ’s family as well as old men; there are weak members of the mystical body as well as strong ones; there are tender lambs as well as sheep. There are not only the cedars of Lebanon but the hyssop that grows on the wall. There are degrees of grace and degrees of faith. Those who have most faith and grace will have most happiness. But all, more or less, compared to the children of the world, are happy men.

Do I say that all true Christians are equally happy at all times? No: not for a moment! All have their ebbs and flows of comfort: some, like the Mediterranean sea, almost insensibly; some, like the tide at Chepstow, fifty or sixty feet at a time. Their bodily health is not always the same; their earthly circumstances are not always the same; the souls of those they love fill them at times with special anxiety: they themselves are sometimes overtaken by a fault, and walk in darkness. They sometimes give way to inconsistencies and besetting sins, and lose their sense of pardon. But, as a general rule,* the true Christian has a deep pool of peace within him, which even at the lowest is never entirely dry.

[* Ryle here adds a footnote: {I use the words, "as a general rule," advisedly. When a believer falls into such a horrible sin as that of David, it would be monstrous to talk of his feeling inward peace. If a man professing to be a true Christian talked to me of being happy in such a case--before giving any evidence of the deepest, most heart-abasing repentance--I should feel great doubts whether he ever had any grace at all}.]

The true Christian is the only happy man, because his conscience is at peace. That mysterious witness for God, which is so mercifully placed within us, is fully satisfied and at rest. It sees in the blood of Christ a complete cleansing away of all its guilt. It sees in the priesthood and mediation of Christ a complete answer to all its fears. It sees that through the sacrifice and death of Christ, God can now be just, and yet be the justifier of the ungodly. It no longer bites and stings, and makes its possessor afraid of himself. The Lord Jesus Christ has amply met all its requirements. Conscience is no longer the enemy of the true Christian, but his friend and adviser. Therefore he is happy.

The true Christian is the only happy man, because he can sit down quietly and think about his soul. He can look behind him and before him, he can look within him and around him, and feel, “All is well.” – He can think calmly on his past life, and however many and great his sins, take comfort in the thought that they are all forgiven. The righteousness of Christ covers all, as Noah’s flood overtopped the highest hills. He can think calmly about things to come, and yet not be afraid. Sickness is painful; death is solemn; the judgment day is an awful thing: but having Christ for him, he has nothing to fear. He can think calmly about the Holy God, whose eyes are on all his ways, and feel, “He is my Father, my reconciled Father in Christ Jesus. I am weak; I am unprofitable: yet in Christ He regards me as His dear child, and is well-pleased.” Oh, what a blessed privilege it is to be able to think, and not be afraid! I can well understand the mournful complaint of the prisoner in solitary confinement. He had warmth, and food, and clothing, and work, but he was not happy. And why? He said, “He was obliged to think.”

The true Christian is the only happy man, because he has sources of happiness entirely independent of this world. He has something which cannot be affected by sickness and by deaths, by private losses and public calamities–he has the “peace of God, which passeth all understanding.” He has a hope laid up for him in heaven; he has a treasure which moth and rust cannot corrupt; he has a house which can never be taken down. His loving wife may die, and his heart feel rent in twain; his darling children may be taken from him, and he may be left alone in this cold world; his earthly plans may be crossed; his health may fail; but all this time he has a portion which nothing can hurt. He has one Friend who never dies; he has possessions beyond the grave, of which nothing can deprive him: his nether springs may fail, but his upper springs are never dry. This is real happiness.

The true Christian is happy, because he is in his right position. All the powers of his being are directed to right ends. His affections are not set on things below, but on things above; his will is not bent on self-indulgence, but is submissive to the will of God; his mind is not absorbed in wretched perishable trifles. He desires useful employment: he enjoys the luxury of doing good. Who does not know the misery of disorder? Who has not tasted the discomfort of a house where everything and everybody are in their wrong places,– the last things first and the first things last? The heart of an unconverted man is just such a house. Grace puts everything in that heart in its right position. The things of the soul come first, and the things of the world come second. Anarchy and confusion cease: unruly passions no longer do each one what is right in his eyes. Christ reigns over the whole man, and each part of him does his proper work. The new heart is the only really light heart, for it is the only heart that is in order. The true Christian has found out his place. He has laid aside his pride and self-will; he sits at the feet of Jesus, and is in his right mind: he loves God and loves man, and so he is happy. In heaven all are happy because all do God’s will perfectly. The nearer a man gets to this standard the happier he will be.

The plain truth is that without Christ there is no happiness in this world. He alone can give the Comforter who abideth for ever. He is the sun; without Him men never feel warm. He is the light; without Him men are always in the dark. He is the bread; without Him men are always starving. He is the living water; without Him men are always athirst. Give them what you like– place them where you please–surround them with all the comforts you can imagine–it makes no difference. Separate from Christ, the Prince of Peace, a man cannot be happy.

Give a man a sensible interest in Christ, and he will be happy in spite of poverty. He will tell you that he wants nothing that is really good. He is provided for: he has riches in possession, and riches in reversion; he has meat to eat that the world knows not of; he has friends who never leave him nor forsake him. The Father and the Son come to him, and make their abode with him: the Lord Jesus Christ sups with him, and he with Christ (Revelation 3:20).

Give a man a sensible interest in Christ, and he will be happy in spite of sickness. His flesh may groan, and his body be worn out with pain, but his heart will rest and be at peace. One of the happiest people I ever saw was a young woman who had been hopelessly ill for many years with disease of the spine. She lay in a garret without a fire; the straw thatch was not two feet above her face. She had not the slightest hope of recovery. But she was always rejoicing in the Lord Jesus. The spirit triumphed mightily over the flesh. She was happy, because Christ was with her.

Give a man a sensible interest in Christ, and he will be happy in spite of abounding public calamities. The government of his country may be thrown into confusion, rebellion and disorder may turn everything upside down, laws may be trampled under foot; justice and equity may be outraged; liberty may be cast down to the ground; might may prevail over right: but still his heart will not fail. He will remember that the kingdom of Christ will one day be set up. He will say, like the old Scotch minister who lived unmoved throughout the turmoil of the first French revolution: “It is all right: it will be well with the righteous.”

I know well that Satan hates the doctrine which I am endeavouring to press upon you. I have no doubt he is filling your mind with objections and reasonings, and persuading you that I am wrong. I am not afraid to meet these objections face to face. Let us bring them forward and see what they are.

You may tell me that “you know many very religious people who are not happy at all.” You see them diligent in attending public worship. You know that they are never missing at the Sacrament of Lord’s Supper. But you see in them no marks of the peace which I have been describing.

But are you sure that these people you speak of are true believers in Christ? Are you sure that, with all their appearance of religion, they are born again and converted to God? Is it not very likely that they have nothing but the name of Christianity, without the reality; and a form of godliness, without the power? Alas! you have yet to learn that people may do many religious acts, and yet possess no saving religion! It is not a mere formal, ceremonial Christianity that will ever make people happy. We want something more than going to Church, and going to sacraments, to give us peace. There must be real, vital union with Christ. It is not the formal Christian, but the true Christian, that is the happy man.

You may tell me that “you know really spiritually-minded and converted people who do not seem happy.” You have heard them frequently complaining of their own hearts, and groaning over their own corruption. They seem to you all doubts, and anxieties, and fears; and you want to know where is the happiness in these people of which I have been saying so much.

I do not deny that there are many saints of God such as these whom you describe, and I am sorry for it. I allow that there are many believers who live far below their privileges, and seem to know nothing of the joy and peace in believing. But did you ever ask any of these people whether they would give up the position in religion they have reached, and go back to the world? Did you ever ask them, after all their groanings, and doubtings, and fearings, whether they think they would be happier if they ceased to follow hard after Christ? Did you ever ask those questions? I am certain if you did, that the weakest and lowest believers would all give you one answer. I am certain they would tell you that they would rather cling to their little scrap of hope in Christ, than possess the world. I am sure they would all answer, “Our faith is weak, if we have any; our grace is small, if we have any; our joy in Christ is next to nothing at all: but we cannot give up what we have got. Though the Lord slay us, we must cling to Him.” The root of happiness lies deep in many a poor weak believer’s heart, when neither leaves nor blossoms are to be seen!

But you will tell me, in the last place, that “you cannot believe most believers are happy, because they are so solemn and serious.” You think that they do not really possess this happiness I have been describing, because their countenances do not show it. You doubt the reality of their joy, because it is so little seen.

I might easily repeat what I told you at the beginning of this paper–that a merry face is no sure proof of a happy heart. But I will not do so. I will rather ask you whether you yourself may not be the cause why believers look grave and serious when you meet them? If you are not converted yourself, you surely cannot expect them to look at you without sorrow. They see you on the high road to destruction, and that alone is enough to give them pain: they see thousands like you, hurrying on to weeping and wailing and endless woe. Now, is it possible that such a daily sight should not give them grief? Your company, very likely, is one cause why they are grave. Wait till you are a converted man yourself, before you pass judgment on the gravity of converted people. See them in companies where all are of one heart, and all love Christ, and so far as my own experience goes, you will find no people so truly happy as true Christians.

I repeat my assertion in this part of my subject. I repeat it boldly, confidently, deliberately. I say that there is no happiness among men that will at all compare with that of the true Christian. All other happiness by the side of his is moonlight compared to sunshine, and brass by the side of gold. Boast, if you will, of the laughter and merriment of irreligious men; sneer, if you will, at the gravity and seriousness, which appear in the demeanour of many Christians. I have looked the whole subject in the face, and am not moved. I say that the true Christian alone is the truly happy man, and the way to be happy is to be a true Christian.

Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) on the effect of intercessory prayer

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“There was once in a village, where there had been a revival in religion, a man who was a confirmed infidel. Notwithstanding all the efforts of the minister and many Christian people, he had resisted all attempts, and appeared to be more and more confirmed in his sin. At length the people held a prayer meeting specially to intercede for his soul. Afterwards God put it into the heart of one of the elders of the church to spend a night in prayer in behalf of the poor infidel. In the morning the elder rose from his knees, saddled his horse, and rode down to the man’s smithy. He meant to say a great deal to him, but he simply went up to him, took him by the hand, and all he could say was, “O sir! I am deeply concerned for your salvation. I am deeply concerned for your salvation. I have been wrestling with God all this night for your salvation.” He could say no more, his heart was too full. He then mounted on his horse and rode away again. Down went the blacksmith’s hammer, and he went immediately to see his wife. She said, “What is the matter with you?” “Matter enough,” said the man, “I have been attacked with a new argument this time. There is elder B_______ has been here this morning; and he said,” I am concerned about your salvation.’ Why, now, if he is concerned about my salvation, it is a strange thing that I am not concerned about it.” The man’s heart was clean captured by that kind word from the elder; he took his own horse and rode to the elder’s house. When he arrived there the elder was in his parlor, still in prayer, and they knelt down together. God gave him a contrite spirit and a broken heart, and brought that poor sinner to the feet of the Saviour.”

- Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), Conversion, Sermon 45

Richard Sibbes (1577-1635): Truth is truth, whether men think so or not

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“Truth is truth, and error, error, and that which is unlawful is unlawful, whether men think so or not. God has put an eternal difference between light and darkness, good and ill, which no creature’s conceit can alter; and therefore no man’s judgment is the measure of things further than it agrees to truth stamped upon things themselves by God.”

- Richard Sibbes (1577-1635), The Bruised Reed, p. 84

 

Augustine (354-430) on why God makes sheep of some, and not others

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“But wherefore does God make these men sheep, and those not, since with Him there is no acceptance of persons? This is the very question which the blessed apostle thus answers to those who propose it with more curiosity than propriety, “O man, who are you that repliest against God? Does the thing formed say to him that formed it, Wherefore have you made me thus?” (Rom. 9:20). This is the very question which belongs to that depth desiring to look into which the same apostle was in a certain measure terrified, and exclaimed, “Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counsellor? Or who has first given to Him, that it should be recompensed to Him again? Because of Him, and through Him, and in Him, are all things: to Him be glory for ages of ages.” Let them not, then, dare to pry into that unsearchable question who defend merit before grace, and therefore even against grace, and wish first to give unto God, that it may be given to them again—first, of course, to give something of free will, that grace may be given them again as a reward; and let them wisely understand or faithfully believe that even what they think that they have first given, they have received from Him, from whom are all things, by whom are all things, in whom are all things. But why this man should receive, and that should not receive, when neither of them deserves to receive, and whichever of them receives, receives undeservingly,— let them measure their own strength, and not search into things too strong for them. Let it suffice them to know that there is no unrighteousness with God. For when the apostle could find no merits for which Jacob should take precedence of his twin-brother with God, he said, “What, then, shall we say? Is there unrighteousness with God? Away with the thought! For He says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will show compassion on whom I will show compassion. Therefore it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy.” Let, therefore, His free compassion be grateful to us, even although this profound question be still unsolved; which, nevertheless, is so far solved as the same apostle solves it, saying, “But if God, willing to show His wrath, and to demonstrate His power, endured in much patience the vessels of wrath which are fitted to destruction; and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He has prepared for glory” (Rom. 9:22-23). Certainly wrath is not repaid unless it is due, lest there be unrighteousness with God; but mercy, even when it is bestowed, and not due, is not unrighteousness with God. And hence, let the vessels of mercy understand how freely mercy is afforded to them, because to the vessels of wrath with whom they have common cause and measure of perdition, is repaid wrath, righteous and due. This is now enough in opposition to those who, by freedom of will, desire to destroy the liberality of grace.”

- Augustine (354-430), Against Two Letters of the Pelagians (Contra duas epistulas Pelagianorum), IV.16

Basil the Great (c. 329-379) and Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-395): We may know the attributes of God, but not His essence

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Basil the Great (c. 329-379), in Letter 234, argues that we cannot know God in his essence, as he is in himself, since he infinitely transcends us and dwells in light inapproachable. We can, however, know God by his revealed attributes. This is reminiscent of later distinctions between archetypal theology, or God’s perfect and infinite self-knowledge, and ectypal theology, or our finite knowledge of God derived from divine revelation. (See this previous post from Richard A. Muller):

“Do you worship what you know or what you do not know? If I answer, I worship what I know, they immediately reply, What is the essence of the object of worship? Then, if I confess that I am ignorant of the essence, they turn on me again and say, So you worship you know not what. I answer that the word to know has many meanings. We say that we know the greatness of God, His power, His wisdom, His goodness, His providence over us, and the justness of His judgment; but not His very essence. The question is, therefore, only put for the sake of dispute. For he who denies that he knows the essence does not confess himself to be ignorant of God, because our idea of God is gathered from all the attributes which I have enumerated. But God, he says, is simple, and whatever attribute of Him you have reckoned as knowable is of His essence. But the absurdities involved in this sophism are innumerable. When all these high attributes have been enumerated, are they all names of one essence? And is there the same mutual force in His awfulness and His loving-kindness, His justice and His creative power, His providence and His foreknowledge, and His bestowal of rewards and punishments, His majesty and His providence? In mentioning any one of these do we declare His essence? If they say, yes, let them not ask if we know the essence of God, but let them enquire of us whether we know God to be awful, or just, or merciful. These we confess that we know. If they say that essence is something distinct, let them not put us in the wrong on the score of simplicity. For they confess themselves that there is a distinction between the essence and each one of the attributes enumerated. The operations are various, and the essence simple, but we say that we know our God from His operations, but do not undertake to approach near to His essence. His operations come down to us, but His essence remains beyond our reach.”

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Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-395) argues along the same lines in Against Eunomius 2.3., while adding that, while not being able to comprehend the essence of God, the knowledge of God which has actually been bestowed upon us by divine revelation is sufficient for our salvation:

“And by this deliverance the Word seems to me to lay down for us this law, that we are to be persuaded that the Divine Essence is ineffable and incomprehensible: for it is plain that the title of Father does not present to us the Essence, but only indicates the relation to the Son. It follows, then, that if it were possible for human nature to be taught the essence of God, He “who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4) would not have suppressed the knowledge upon this matter. But as it is, by saying nothing concerning the Divine Essence, He showed that the knowledge thereof is beyond our power, while when we have learned that of which we are capable, we stand in no need of the knowledge beyond our capacity, as we have in the profession of faith in the doctrine delivered to us what suffices for our salvation.”

Random thought for the day

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By Jake Griesel

 

Just a random thought for the day:

If the study of theology does not lead to doxology, then there must be one of two defects, if not both:

1. A defective heart, unable to properly come to terms with the glorious truths under consideration.

2. A defective theology, which by its very nature does not have the ability to stir up true devotion.

True, solid theology, faithful to the Scriptures, when apprehended by a regenerate heart and mind, cannot do otherwise but to stir up, to use Edwards’ term, “gracious affections,” which lead to practice and doxology. After all, as the well-known Westminster Shorter Catechism’s Q/A 1 says:

Q.1. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God,and to enjoy him forever.