Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758): His majesty is infinitely awful… and yet he is one of infinite condescension

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“There do meet in Jesus Christ, infinite highness, and infinite condescension. Christ, as he is God, is infinitely great and high above all. He is higher than the kings of the earth; for he is King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. He is higher than the heavens, and higher than the highest angels of heaven. So great is he, that all men, all kings and princes, are as worms of the dust before him, all nations are as the drop of the bucket, and the light dust of the balance; yea, and angels themselves are as nothing before him. He is so high, that he is infinitely above any need of us; above our reach, that we cannot be profitable to him, and above our conceptions, that we cannot comprehend him. Proverbs 30:4, “What is his name, and what is his Son’s name, if thou canst tell?” Our understandings, if we stretch them never so far, can’t reach up to his divine glory. Job 11:8, “It is high as heaven, what canst thou do?” Christ is the Creator, and great possessor of heaven and earth: he is sovereign lord of all: he rules over the whole universe, and doth whatsoever pleaseth him: his knowledge is without bound: his wisdom is perfect, and what none can circumvent: his power is infinite, and none can resist him: his riches are immense and inexhaustible: his majesty is infinitely awful.

And yet he is one of infinite condescension. None are so low, or inferior, but Christ’s condescension is sufficient to take a gracious notice of them. He condescends not only to the angels, humbling himself to behold the things that are done in heaven, but he also condescends to such poor creatures as men; and that not only so as to take notice of princes and great men, but of those that are of meanest rank and degree, “the poor of the world” (James 2:5). Such as are commonly despised by their fellow creatures, Christ don’t despise. 1 Corinthians 1:28, “Base things of the world, and things that are despised, hath God chosen.” Christ condescends to take notice of beggars (Luke 16:22) and of servants, and people of the most despised nations: in Christ Jesus is neither “Barbarian, Scythian, bond, nor free” (Colossians 3:11). He that is thus high, condescends to take a gracious notice of little children. Matthew 19:14, “Suffer little children to come unto me.” Yea, which is much more, his condescension is sufficient to take a gracious notice of the most unworthy, sinful creatures, those that have no good deservings, and those that have infinite ill deservings.

Yea, so great is his condescension, that it is not only sufficient to take some gracious notice of such as these, but sufficient for everything that is an act of condescension. His condescension is great enough to become their friend: ’tis great enough to become their companion, to unite their souls to him in spiritual marriage: ’tis great enough to take their nature upon him, to become one of them, that he may be one with them: yea, it is great enough to abase himself yet lower for them, even to expose himself to shame and spitting; yea, to yield up himself to an ignominious death for them. And what act of condescension can be conceived of greater? Yet such an act as this, has his condescension yielded to, for those that are so low and mean, despicable and unworthy!”

– Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), “The Excellency of Christ,” Works of Jonathan Edwards Online, vol. 19, p. 565-566

Last night’s nightmare, and Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) on the final overthrow of Islam

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I seldom get nightmares. Well, at least I seldom wake up remembering them. But this morning I woke up from a nightmare about as vivid as I’ve ever experienced.

With the ever-increasing rise of Islam and the inevitable threats which accompany it (despite what liberals and several Muslims have told me, even a transitory glance at the history of Islam reveals that from the beginning it was spread by the sword – contrary to Christianity, which was spread by the preaching of the Gospel), it has perhaps crept into my subconscious. Despite political propaganda trying to convince us that groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram are not truly Islamic, a comparison of the actions of such groups to the texts and history of Islam reveals great continuity. We all know of the mass slaughters of “infidels” in the Middle East which is happening even as you read this – all attended with the cry of “Allahu Akbar!”

Having been involved with several evangelism trips to the Indian community in Phoenix, Durban, many of whom are Muslims, and having spoken about these matters to a number of them, as well as to two Imams (one in Chatsworth, Durban, the other in Kimberley), few of them denied that a vital goal of Islam is, in the words of the Imam in Kimberley which I distinctly remember, “that the whole world submit to Allah, in whichever way this may be accomplished.”

I realize that not all Muslims are radical Jihadists, and my criticism of Islam does not, as Ben Affleck would have it, constitute racism. My desire is that Muslims around the world would come to a saving knowledge of Christ, as many have done despite hell itself rising up against them through persecution from their own people. The critique is against Islam as a system, which even some secular liberals acknowledge is a “motherload of bad ideas” (see link above).

I guess all the news of Islamic terrorism and mass-slaughters, as well as the ever-increasing Muslim populations in Europe and the rest of the western world through immigration and industrious reproduction (long gone are the days of Charles Martel!), has had some effect on my psyche, and hence the nightmare I woke up to this morning:

I dreamed that the Muslim population in the world had become so numerous, that almost all nations were now under Islamic control. The various Islamic terrorist groups all united in the cause of Jihad, and were plundering every city they came across to force “infidels” to convert, or pay the ultimate price: death. And so I dreamt that they burst into one of our church services, and lead us all to line up outside, kneeling on the ground. One by one they shot us in the back of the head, similar to the horrific scenes in the videos which have been circling the internet in recent years. As the gunman approached me, I recall calmly praying that the Lord’s will be done, that He may forgive my sins as well as the sins of those persecuting us, and that He may receive my spirit. Then came my turn, and I felt the cold steel tip of the rifle against the back of my head, heard the shot go off, and faded away into blackness, expecting to wake up in eternity. To my astonishment and, indeed, my disappointment, I woke up in my bed and realized that it was only a dream. My disappointment, of course, did not relate to the fact that I woke up in the real world where Islam does not dominate the whole world, but rather because in my dream I felt so ready to leave this world and be with the Lord.

I find it interesting that I should dream of such things when I only recently read in Jonathan Edwards’ (1703-1758) A History of the Work of Redemption about the overthrow of Islam, or, as he and many others called it back then, Mahometanism, as part of the eschatology which is yet to be fulfilled. While I do not agree with all of Edwards’ eschatology (he’s postmillennial, whereas I’m of amillenial persuasion), his discussion of Islam and its final overthrow reminded me that there is great comfort and hope in Christ, in the face of this threat.

Edwards speaks of two kingdoms that rose up against Christ after the days of Constantine the Great: the kingdom of Antichrist (a reference to the Roman Catholic Church), and the Mahometan kingdom (Islam). Edwards says that

“the remains of the Christians that are in those parts of the world, who are mostly of the Greek (i.e. Orthodox) Church, are in miserable slavery under these Turks, [and] treated with a great deal of barbarity and cruelty…” (p. 329)

He later goes on:

“Satan has ever had a dread of having his kingdom overthrown, and he had been apposing it ever since the day of Constantine the Great. To this end he has set up two mighty kingdoms of Antichrist and Mahomet, and brought in all the heresies, superstitions and corruptions, which there are in the world. But when he sees all begin to fail, it will rouse him up exceedingly. If Satan dreaded being cast out of the Roman Empire, how much more does he dread being cast out of the whole world!

It seems as though in this last great opposition which shall be made against the church to defend the kingdom of Satan, all the forces of Antichrist and Mahometanism and heathenism will be united: all the forces of Satan’s visible kingdom through the whole world of mankind. And therefore it is said, that ‘spirits of devils… [shall] go forth unto the kings of the earth, and of the whole world, to gather them together to the battle of that great day of God Almighty’ (Rev. 16:14). And these spirits are said to come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet; that is, there shall be the spirit of Popery, and the spirit of Mahometanism, and the spirit of heathenism, all united. By the beast is meant Antichrist; by the dragon, in this book, is commonly meant the devil, as he reigns over his heathen kingdom; by the false prophet, in this book, is sometimes meant the Pope and his clergy, but here an eye seems to be had to Mahomet, whom his followers call the great prophet of God. This will be as it were the dying struggles of the old serpent, a battle wherein he will fight as one that is almost desperate.” (p. 375-376)

“But Christ and his church shall in this battle obtain a complete and entire victory over their enemies…” (p. 377)

“In this victory, the seventh vial shall be poured out. It is said of the great army that should be gathered together against Christ, ‘And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon’, and then it is said, ‘And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done’ (Rev. 16:16-17). Now the business is done for Satan and his adherents. When this victory is obtained, all is in effect done. Satan’s last and greatest opposition is conquered; all his measures are defeated; the pillars of his kingdom broken asunder, and will fall of course. The devil is utterly baffled and confounded, and knows not what else to do. He now sees his Antichristian, and Mahometan, and heathenish kingdoms through the world all tumbling about his ears. He and his most powerful instruments are taken captive. Now that is in effect done which the church of God had been so long waiting and hoping for, and so earnestly crying to God for, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true!’ Now the time is come.” (p. 377-378)

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) on Joseph as a foreshadowing of Christ

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I am currently working through Jonathan Edwards’ (1703-1758) A History of the Work of Redemption – a book I should have already read a long time ago – and finding it a delightful read. Originally a series of 30 lecture-sermons preached to his congregation at Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1739, these sermons were later edited to take the form of a coherent treatise, and this is the form in which we find the work under its present title.

Edwards’ work traces God’s redemptive dealings with man throughout history, and in his treatment of Old Testament redemptive history he constantly shows how God’s redemptive works in the Old Testament foreshadowed and pointed to the redemption in Christ which was to come. I particularly appreciated his brief exposition of Joseph as a type of Christ. This is from p. 68-69 in the Banner of Truth edition:

“The next thing I would like to observe, is God’s remarkably preserving the family of which Christ was to proceed from perishing by famine by the instrumentality of Joseph. When there was seven years’ famine approaching, God was pleased, by a wonderful providence, to send Joseph into Egypt, there to provide for and feed Jacob and his family, and to keep the holy seed alive, which otherwise would have perished. Joseph was sent to Egypt for that end, as he observes (Gen. 50:20): ‘But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to save much people alive.’ How often had this holy root that had the future branch of righteousness, the glorious Redeemer, in it been in danger of being destroyed! But God wonderfully preserved it.

This salvation of the house of Israel by the hand of Joseph, was upon some accounts very much a resemblance of the salvation of Christ. The children of Israel were saved by Joseph their kinsman and brother, from perishing by famine; as he that saves the souls of the spiritual Israel from spiritual famine is their near kinsman, and one that is not ashamed to call them brethren, Joseph was a brother that they had hated, and sold and as it were killed; for they had designed to kill him. So Christ is one that we naturally hate and, by our wicked lives, have sold for the vain things of the world, and by our sins have slain. Joseph was first in a state of humiliation. He was a servant, as Christ appeared in the form of a servant. Then he was cast into a dungeon, as Christ descended into the grave; and then when he rose out of the dungeon he was in a state of great exaltation, at the king’s right hand as his deputy, to reign over all his kingdom, to provide food, to preserve life. And being in this state of exaltation, he dispenses food to his brethren, and so gives them life; as Christ was exalted at God’s right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour to his brethren, and received gifts for men, even for the rebellious, and for them that hated and had sold him.”

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) on the great comfort to be found in Christ’s Gethsemane prayer

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“The godly may take great comfort in this, that Christ has as their high priest offered up such strong cries to God. You that have good evidence of your being believers in Christ, and his true followers and servants, may comfort yourselves in this, that Christ Jesus is your high priest, that that blood, which Christ shed in his agony, fell down to the ground for you, and that those earnest cries were sent up to God for you, for the success of his labours and sufferings in all that good you stood in need of in this world, and in your everlasting happiness in the world to come. This may be a comfort to you in all losses, and under all difficulties, that you may encourage your faith, and strengthen your hope, and cause you greatly to rejoice. If you were under any remarkable difficulties, it would be a great comfort to you to have the prayers of some man that you looked upon to be a man of eminent piety, and one that had a great interest at the throne of grace, and especially if you knew that he was very earnest and greatly engaged in prayer for you. But how much more may you be comforted in it, that you have an interest in the prayers and cries of the only-begotten and infinitely worthy Son of God, and that he was so earnest in his prayers for you, as you have heard!”

– Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), Christ’s Agony (Sermon on Luke 22:44)

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

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) on the obedience of Christ

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“The obedience of Christ excels all others, because,

1. It was perfect with a sinless perfection, and so exceeds all fallen men’s obedience.

2. It was perfect with a legal perfection. It was a finished righteousness, Christ continuing perfectly obedient to the end of the time of his probation, and so it exceeded Adam’s righteousness, that he had before the fall.

3. It was a person infinitely worthy, and infinitely valued and loved of God that obeyed.

4. The works or acts [that] was required of him by the law that he was under, and that he performed, were superlatively excellent, for it was a work of the highest love to God and love to creatures, and he in this work exercised a love to both immensely excelling all others, which gave an exceeding value to the work in the eyes of the Father.

5. It was a perfectly free gift to God, and not a debt; that is, it was not what he owed in his original circumstances.

6. Never was there so great and difficult a work required of any other, as Christ performed in obedience to God.

7. Never was so much good done by any work of righteousness, both of glory to God and good to fellow creatures. In these five last things, Christ’s obedience immensely exceeds the angels.”

– Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), Miscellanies, 841

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758): It is God’s revealed will for all Christians to excel in the knowledge of divine things – Series on why all Christians must endeavour to become proficient in theology (part 12 of 12)

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This is the final part of a 12-post series from Jonathan Edwards’ (1703-1758) sermon on Hebrews 5:12, titled The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth.  The first part covered Edwards’ definition of divinity (theology), the second focused on what kind of knowledge is included in divinity, the third considered the usefulness and necessity of knowing divinity, the fourth discussed knowledge in divinity as the chief end of man’s faculty of understanding, the fifth asserted that there is nothing more worthy to be studied than divinity, the sixth declared why divinity is of infinite importance to all people, the seventh argued for the infinite worth of divinity based on God’s great works of revelation, the eighth asserted that God gave us the Bible to be studied, the ninth declared that the subject matter of divinity is inexhaustible, the tenth focused on knowledge of divinity as an essential part of our high calling, and the eleventh discussed God’s appointment of teachers to help us grow in knowledge of divinity. Now we finally turn to his discussion of God’s revealed will for all Christians to excel in the knowledge of divine things:

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It is God’s revealed will for all Christians to excel in the knowledge of divine things.

God hath in the Scriptures plainly revealed it to be his will, that all Christians should diligently endeavor to excel in the knowledge of divine things. It is the revealed will of God, that Christians should not only have some knowledge of things of this nature, but that they should be enriched with all knowledge1 Corinthians 1:4-05, “I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God that is given you by Jesus Christ; that in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge.” So the Apostle earnestly prayed, that the Christian Philippians might abound more and more, not only in love, but in Christian knowledge. Philippians 1:9, “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge, and in all judgment.” So the apostle Peter advises to “give all diligence to add to faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge” (2 Peter 1:5). And the apostle Paul, in the next chapter to that wherein is the text, counsels the Christian Hebrews, leaving the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, to go on to perfection. He would by no means have them always to rest only in those fundamental doctrines of repentance, and faith, and the resurrection from the dead, and the eternal judgment, in which they were indoctrinated when they were first baptized, and had the Apostle’s hands laid on them, at their first initiation in Christianity.