Archives For Jonathan Edwards

Bible-Saturated vs. Bible-Based

Greg Strand – June 28, 2013 Leave a comment

When John Piper was asked in an interview which theologian of the past he would like to visit, it is no surprise he stated Jonathan Edwards. This explanation, which was part of his response, is compelling.

Edwards’ mind was uncommonly capable of holding complexities of reasoning long enough to sort them into threads that he could then weave into compelling arguments for great biblical truth. But what gave explosive power to this use of reasoning was how Bible saturated it was, not just that it was Bible-based. Many scholars say their work is based on biblical truth. But you will look in vain for any clear evidence of that. It is as if the contemporary thinkers feel the need to hide the Bible lest they be accused of proof-texting. Edwards was not so insecure. He had more respect and confidence in the Word of God.

Though not many have been blessed with the mind of Edwards (or Piper for that matter), it does explain why those of us not so blessed need to read people like Edwards. They help us to think long, hard and deep about the Bible, God and biblical truth.

I am also taken with how Edwards was Bible-saturated, not just Bible-based. The difference can be subtle, but profound. And anyone who is Bible-saturated can quickly discern the difference. The former is a result of being immersed in the text of Scripture, praying over, pondering, studying, reflecting. It approaches it as a primary source. The latter is a result of knowing Scripture, more often theology and theological systems (which are important, but as a second step from the Scriptures, which can only be faithfully articulated from spending time in the Scriptures). It often approaches Scripture as a secondary source.

In looking at these two points, read the Bible first, not Edwards. Read Edwards after you have read the Bible. And read people like Edwards because they will cause you to go back to the Bible, not away from it.

Finally, it is an exhortation to many who are insecure or doubt the sufficiency of the Scriptures. It is the Word of God that is inspired, inerrant, complete, final and sufficient (Ps. 119:160; Prov. 30:5; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). It is living and active (Heb. 4:12). It is the hammer that breaks into pieces the rocks thrown against it (Jer. 23:29). God’s Word does not need an apology. It is our life (Dt. 32:47; Matt. 4:4)! Therefore, it must be humbly believed, faithfully submitted to and boldly proclaimed.


Emotions and Affections

Greg Strand – May 15, 2013 Leave a comment

Last week we looked at the intersection between music, singing and emotions. Today we look at the difference between emotions and affections. Is there a difference between the two? If so, what is the difference? Does it matter?

Gerald McDermott, a Jonathan Edwards scholar, notes that Edwards understood affections as “strong inclinations of the soul that are manifested in thinking, feeling and acting” (Seeing God: Jonathan Edwards and Spiritual Discernment (2000), 31). To clear away the fog that often exists between affections and emotions, McDermott summarizes the differences in an extremely illuminating chart (p. 40).

Affections Emotions
Long-lasting Fleeting
Deep Superficial
Consistent with beliefs Sometimes overpowering
Always result in action Often fail to produce action
Involve mind, will, feelings Feelings (often) disconnected from the mind and will

To explain these differences, he notes the following (32-33):

Emotions (feelings) are often involved in affections, but the affections are not defined by emotional feeling. Some emotions are disconnected from our strongest inclinations.

For instance, a student who goes off to college for the first time may feel doubtful and fearful. She will probably miss her friends and family at home. A part of her may even try to convince her to go back home. But she will discount these fleeting emotions as simply that—feelings that are not produced by her basic conviction that now it is time to start a new chapter in life.

The affections are something like that girl’s basic conviction that she should go to college, despite fleeting emotions that would keep her at home. They are strong inclination that may at times conflict with more fleeting and superficial emotions.

A few questions:

1. What are the problems of equating the two?
2. What are the problems of denying “religious affections” (to use the title of Edwards’ book)?
3. How does this sharpen your thinking on this important theological matter, and how might you use this to instruct others?

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Part Two: Sinclair Ferguson’s “A Preacher’s Decalogue”

6. Speak Much of Sin and Grace

Spiritual surgery must be done within the context of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Only by seeing our sin do we come to see the need for and wonder of grace. But exposing sin is not the same thing as unveiling and applying grace. We must be familiar with and exponents of its multifaceted power, and know how to apply it to a variety of spiritual conditions.

Truth to tell, exposing sin is easier than applying grace; for, alas, we are more intimate with the former than we sometimes are with the latter. Therein lies our weakness.

7. Use “the Plain Style”

C. S. Lewis’s counsel on writing applies equally to preaching:

Use language that makes clear what you really mean; prefer plain words that are direct to long words that are vague. Avoid abstract words when you can use concrete. Don’t use adjectives to tell us how you want us to feel—make us feel that by what you say! Don’t use words that are too big for their subject. Don’t use “infinitely” when you mean “very,” otherwise you will have no word left when you really do mean infinite!

In a similar vein, here is J. C. Ryle’s counsel: “Have a clear knowledge of what you want to say. Use simple words. Employ a simple sentence structure. Preach as though you had asthma! Be direct. Make sure you illustrate what you are talking about.”

Of course, there are exceptions to these principles. But why would I think I am one? A brilliant surgeon may be able to perform his operation with poor instruments; so can the Holy Spirit. But since in preaching we are nurses in the operating room, our basic responsibility is to have clean, sharp, sterile scalpels for the Spirit to do his surgery.

8. Find Your Own Voice

Yes, we may—must—learn from others, positively and negatively. Further, it is always important when others preach to listen to them with both ears open: one for personal nourishment through the ministry of the word, but the other to try to detect the principles that make this preaching helpful to people. . . . We ought not to become clones. Some men never grow as preachers because the “preaching suit” they have borrowed does not actually fit them or their gifts. . . . The marriage of our personality with another’s preaching style can be a recipe for being dull and lifeless. So it is worth taking the time in an ongoing way to try to assess who and what we really are as preachers in terms of strengths and weaknesses.

9. Learn How to Transition

How do we do this? To begin with by expounding the Scriptures in a way that makes clear that the indicatives of grace ground the imperatives of faith and obedience and also effect them. This we must learn to do in a way that brings out of the text how the text itself teaches how transformation takes place and how the power of the truth itself sanctifies (cf. John 17:17).

Do we—far less our congregations—know “how to”? Have we told them they need to do it, but left them to their own devices rather than model it in our preaching?

Some years ago, at the end of a church conference, the local minister, whom I knew from his student days, said to me, “Just before I let you go tonight, will you do one last thing? Will you take me through the steps that are involved so that we learn to mortify sin?”

I was touched—that he would broach what was obviously a personal as well as pastoral concern with me, but perhaps even more so by his assumption that I would be able to help. (How often we who struggle are asked questions we ourselves need to answer!) He died not long afterwards, and I think of his question as his legacy to me, causing me again and again to see that we need to exhibit what John “Rabbi” Duncan of New College said was true of Jonathan Edwards’s preaching: “His doctrine was all application, and his application was all doctrine.”

10. Love Your People

John Newton wrote that his congregation would take almost anything from him, however painful, because they knew “I mean to do them good.”

This is a litmus test for our ministry. It means that my preparation is a more sacred enterprise than simply satisfying my own love of study; it means that my preaching will have characteristics about it, difficult to define but nevertheless sensed by my hearers, that reflect the apostolic principle:

What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Cor 4:5)

We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thess 2:8)

In Jesus Christ, the church’s One True Preacher, message and messenger are one. He is the Preacher, and also the message. That is not true of us. But, in union with Christ (and we preach “in Christ” as well as live and die “in Christ”), a coalescence of a lesser sort takes place: the truth of the message is conveyed by the preacher whose spirit is conformed to the grace of God in the message. How can it be otherwise when preaching involves “God making his appeal through us” (2 Cor 5:20)? “A preacher’s life,” wrote Thomas Brooks, “should be a commentary upon his doctrine; his practice should be the counterpane [counterpart] of his sermons. Heavenly doctrines should always be adorned with a heavenly life.”

My challenge – This whole article was helpful and challenging. I appreciated three key quotes from faithful pastors/preachers/theologians:

  • I must not be an illiterate. But I do need to be a homo unius libri – a man of one Book.
  • We need to exhibit what John “Rabbi” Duncan of New College said was true of Jonathan Edwards’ preaching: “His doctrine was all application, and his application was all doctrine.”
  • A preacher’s life, wrote Thomas Brooks, should be a commentary upon his doctrine; his practice should be the counterpane [counterpart] of his sermons. Heavenly doctrines should always be adorned with a heavenly life.

A reminder – one is never too old to learn these important components of faithful and fruitful ministry of the gospel.

A nudge – these are the kinds of helps that are important to pass on to those beginning in ministry as they establish the habits, patterns and disciplines of ministry that will, by God’s grace, serve them and God’s people well for a lifetime of ministry. Where we are now, what are the things we had wished a godly mentor would have imparted to us as we began a ministry of preaching? Make sure you pass those on to younger pastors and leaders today!

One of the marks of a Christian is gratitude or thankfulness (Ps. 118:1; 1 Thess. 5:16-18); one of the marks of a non-Christian is being ungrateful or not thankful (Rom. 1:21; 2 Tim. 3:2). This contrast is made sharp and clear by the Psalmist. When God’s works in their lives are pondered, “the upright see and rejoice, but all the wicked shut their mouths” (Ps. 107:42).

Christians, almost without exception, give thanks when things are going well (granted, there are those who live with expectations with little sense of gratitude, but I am not thinking of those here). But often those same Christians do not know how to respond or process the pain when things are not going well. Worse, they process issues no differently than a non-Christian.

The way in which we respond during these time speaks volumes about the gospel and our understanding and living of it. Paul reminds us, “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. . . . always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies . . . so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our moral flesh” (2 Cor. 4:7-12). The life we live in union with Christ displays the gospel in our lives which we also affirm with our lips.

I find that often those who affirm a strong sense of the sovereignty of God do so almost from a Christian Scientist perspective. What I mean by that is that the bad, hurt and pain is merely an illusion. But this is far from true! This denies biblical truth that states we live in a fallen world. We do not “grin and bear it.” Yes, we are redeemed and some day in the future there will be a new heaven and a new earth. But not yet, and until that day we groan (Rom. 8:23). We give thanks in all things, not for all things (1 Thess. 5:18), knowing that the true miracle is that God, in His sovereignty, causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).

In light of this, I found Chuck Colson’s Breakpoint Commentary helpful: “Radical Gratitude: Grateful for God in Tough Times.”  He refers to Jonathan Edwards’ helpful distinction between “natural gratitude” and “gracious gratitude.”

While they often mingle together in the life of a follower of Christ, there are actually two types of thankfulness. One is secondary, the other primary.

The secondary sort is thankfulness for blessings received. Life, health, home, family, freedom, a tall, cold lemonade on a summer day — it’s a mindset of active appreciation for all good gifts.

The great preacher and American theologian Jonathan Edwards called thanks for such blessings “natural gratitude.” It’s a good thing, but this gratitude doesn’t come naturally — if at all — when things go badly. It can’t buoy us in difficult times. Nor, by itself, does it truly please God. And, to paraphrase Jesus, even pagans can give thanks when things are going well.

Edwards calls the deeper, primary form of thankfulness “gracious gratitude.” It gives thanks not for goods received, but for who God is: for His character — His goodness, love, power, excellencies — regardless of favors received. And it’s real evidence of the Holy Spirit working in a person’s life.

This gracious gratitude for who God is also goes to the heart of who we are in Christ. It is relational, rather than conditional. Though our world may shatter, we are secure in Him. The fount of our joy, the love of the God who made us and saved us, cannot be quenched by any power that exists (Romans 8:28-39). People who are filled with such radical gratitude are unstoppable, irrepressible, overflowing with what C. S. Lewis called “the good infection” — the supernatural, refreshing love of God that draws others to Him.

And that, more than any words we might utter, is a powerful witness to our neighbors that God’s power is real, and His presence very relevant, even in a world full of brokenness as well as blessings.

As Christians evidencing God’s transforming grace in our lives, may we be people of both natural and gracious gratitude, especially during this season of Thanksgiving!