Karen Johnson

Prof. Westblade

18th Century Theology



Edwards’ Typological Writings:

Nature’s Inevitable Images of Christ


Jonathan Edwards’ taste for God developed after reading 1 Timothy 1:17 and he recalled, “there came into my soul, and was as it were diffused through it, a sense of the glory of the divine being; a new sense, quite different from anything I ever experienced before.” Intellectual barriers had previously prevented him from seeing the glory of God until the Holy Spirit at last penetrated his heart. The resolutions he composed in his diaries demonstrate the change that God wrought in him: “Resolved, That I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it….”[1] His mind became exactly that: fixed upon religion and thoughts of God. He began to not only think highly of God, but he saw God in the visible workings of nature. Edwards noted the change following his conversion:

After this, my sense of divine things gradually increased, and became more and more lively, and had more of that inward sweetness. The appearance of everything was altered: there seemed to be, as it were, a calm, sweet cast, or appearance of divine glory, in almost everything. God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in everything; in the sun, moon and stars; in the clouds, and blue sky; in the grass flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature.[2]


Many theologians, however, think Edwards took natural and Biblical imagery too far in his studies of the types of Christ, that they were mere fictions of a vast imagination. Edwards’ personal letters and diaries, demonstrate his desire for increasing awareness of Christ in every daily activity and historical event. He then came to express, “I thought to myself, how excellent a Being that was; and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God, and be wrapped up to God in heaven, and be as it were swallowed up in him.”[3] Edwards did become “swallowed up in” God and viewed the redemption of Christ as central to all of creation- past, present, and future- and it consumed his every thought and being; therefore, he became so conscious of Christ that he couldn’t help but see him in all aspects of creation and in the workings of history, seen especially in his Images of Divine Things and Types of the Messiah.

            Edwards bases the thesis for his typological writings on the assumption “that all objects of nature consist of representations of spiritual things.”[4] All of creation divides into two parts, “the typical world and the antitypical world.” The antitype is the substance that the type images or shadows. Inferior things are always typical of superior things, according to Edwards—the physical and natural are inferior to and typical of the metaphysical or spiritual, just as the “ordinances of the external worship of the Christian church are typical of things belonging to its heavenly state.”[5] Edwards viewed the types themselves, as “a certain sort of language, as it were, in which God is wont to speak to us.”[6] God uses nature itself as a language with which he communicates His majesty. His eighth component in Images of Divine Things addresses the argument behind his typological writings:

Again, it is apparent and allowed that there is a great and remarkable analogy in God’s works. There is a wonderful resemblance in the effects which God produces, and consentaneity in his manner of working in one thing and another, throughout all nature. It is very observable in the visible world. Therefore ‘tis allowed that God does purposely make and order one thing to be in agreeableness and harmony with another. And if so, why should not we suppose that he makes the inferior in imitation of the superior, the material of the spiritual, on purpose to have resemblance and shadow of them? We see that even in the material world God makes one part of it strangely to agree with another; and why is it not reasonable to suppose he makes the whole as a shadow of the spiritual world?[7]


            Christ is that ultimate antitype toward which all of creation points. In order to demonstrate this, Edwards employs the apostle Paul’s analogy in 1 Cor.15:36, in which he draws a connection between the resurrection of the body and a farmer’s sowing of grain, “Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die.”[8] Edwards believs that this analogy validates his conclusions.

            His Images of Divine Things begins on a solemn note, but addressed an everyday, common reality to the Puritans: Death. He was much in tune with illness and death and often used it as a means of motivation for people to seek Christ. Here he uses vivid imagery and fear-producing language:

Death temporal is a shadow of eternal death. The agonies, pains and groans and gasps of death, the pale, horrid, ghastly appearance of the corpse, its being laid in the dark and silent grave, there putrifying and rotting and becoming exceeding loathsome, and being eaten with worms (Is. 66:24), is an image of the misery of hell. And the body’s continuing in the grave and never rising more in this world, is to shadow forth the eternity of the misery of hell.[9]


Edwards had a Lutheran view of man’s knowledge of himself in relation to his knowledge of God. According to Luther, the more man becomes familiar with himself and admits his own shortcomings, he can’t help but see God’s majesty and holiness. It is a reciprocal knowledge, for in reverse, as man comes to know God he is made more aware of his sin. Edwards drove this point home in his use of Davidic language: “Children’s coming into the world naked and filthy, and in their blood, and crying and impotent, is to signify the spiritual nakedness, pollution of nature and wretchedness of condition with which they are born.”[10] Another instance of a shadow of man’s depravity lies in the filthiness of the human body in general, filled with refuse and waste, signifying the true state of man’s heart. He doesn’t merely stop there, however. He pursues that image further into the very inwards and biological components of man: “So as there are any folding and turnings in the bowels, it denotes the great and manifold intricacies, secret windings and turnings, shifts, wiles and deceits that are in their heart.”[11]

            The very physical body of man does evidence itself, in contrast, as also created in the image of God. Man’s posture, with his eyes upward, shadows the purpose in the creation of man that he is to have mind fixed on God and heavenly things.[12] The position of the human head, for example, also has its spiritual parallel, for it is “the seat of the soul, though the soul be also in the whole body. So the Godhead dwells in the man Christ Jesus bodily. He dwells also in believers, by way of participation with the Head.”[13] The human heart is another example, for as blood circulates out, so from the spiritual heart flow the “issues of life” as taken from Prov. 4:23.[14]

In the creation of humanity Edwards perceived other numerous examples of types or images of Christ, most directly referring to Christ’s relationship to the church. One of his entries addresses childbirth as a representation of “the great persecutions and sufferings of the church in bringing forth Christ and in increasing the number of his children; and a type of those spiritual pains that are in the soul when bringing forth Christ.”[15] More significantly, Edwards’ view of marriage correlated directly to Christ and the church, as is often noted in Scripture:

We are told that marriage is a great mystery, as representing the relation between Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32). By “mystery” can be meant nothing but a type of what is spiritual. And if God designed this for a type of what is spiritual, why not many other things in the constitution and ordinary state of human society, and the world of mankind?[16]


Edwards believed Biblical imagery of marriage supported his typological arguments. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament refer to Israel as the bride and Christ the bridegroom. Again He refers to the love Christ has for the church as a man’s love for his wife:

It is ordered so that there should be, in man’s nature, a foundation laid for so strong and dear a love towards a woman, if a suitable object and occasion presents, to represent the exceeding love of Christ to his church; and that man’s jealousy of unchastity in the woman beloved should be so violent and cruel a passion, to represent the jealousy of Christ towards his people, when he sees they give that to other lovers which belongs to him alone.[17]


Another topic that his essay addresses concerns types of Christ directly observed in the realm of nature. Edwards had many opportunities in his converted life to observe nature in its prime. He often rode horseback solely through the woods, meditating on predetermined subjects, forgetting not his pen and paper with which to record any revelations he might have. He would dismount and walk when desired in order to ponder the Holy Spirit’s convictions. Once married, Sarah accompanied Jonathan on these journeys and they rode horses together for refreshment and conversation. Thus, a majority of Edwards’ types of Christ appear in nature. Many people think Edwards neared pantheism in his analogies in nature, but his use of direct Scriptural examples seem valid: “That the works of nature are intended and contrived of God to signify and indigitate spiritual things is particularly evident, concerning the rainbow by God’s own express revelation.”[18] Edwards not only used Scripture to support his case, but he used the very reason with which God endowed him. If that which is typical in nature imitates another reality, “Why is it not rational to suppose that the corporeal and visible world should be designedly made and constituted in analogy to the more spiritual, noble and real world? ‘Tis certainly agreeable to what is apparently the method of God’s working.”[19]

Examples of the types of Christ he observed in nature occur in the large components of the universe, such as the sun, which shines forth the mercy of God: “The sun’s so perpetually, for so many ages, sending forth his rays in such vast profusion, without any diminution of his light and heat, is a bright image of the all-sufficiency and everlastingness of God’s bounty and goodness.”[20] The sun and the heavenly spheres ought to be daily reminders to man of God’s goodness in creation, his faithfulness in the trustworthy rising of the sun, but so often man fails to take notice; these did not escape Edwards’ attention, however. Even the unfading blue sky reveals God’s immutability, the unfading heavenly realms.[21]

Since Edwards distinguished the “types” of Christ from mere analogies or allegories used in Scripture, Wallace E. Anderson explains, “Edwards’ types were eternal, not temporal, and the seeming tension of his typological theory never resulted in his allegorizing of nature. He showed that types, unlike mere natural symbols, participated in the scheme of adumbration and fulfillment.”[22] Entry no. 50 refers to the sun as a “type of the death and resurrection of Christ,” in that it rises and sets each day. Thus, often God’s workings in nature foreshadow future events as well, such as the second coming of Christ. He demonstrates this in another symbol he derives from the sun:

The changes that pass on the face of the earth by the gradual approach of the sun is a remarkable type of what will come to pass in the visible church of God and world of mankind, in the approach of the church’s latter-day glory. The latter will be gradual, as the former is.[23]


            Just as Edwards perceives God in the daily reminders of His creation, through the sun, moon and stars, so also God is visible in the smaller works of creation, such as insects or flowers in a field. He discovers a remarkable analogy to Christ in a simple thing as a silkworm. The silkworm demonstrates a type of Christ so as to represent Christ’s death for sinners and His rise to glory:

Its greatest work is weaving something for our beautiful clothing, and it dies in this work. It spends its life in it, it finishes it in death, as Christ was obedient unto death; his righteousness was chiefly wrought out in dying. And then it rises again, a worm, as Christ was in his state of humiliation, but a more glorious creature. When it rises, it leaves its web for our glorious clothing behind, and rises a perfectly white [butterfly], denoting the purity from imputed grace with which He rose as our surety, for in His resurrection He was justified.


In his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Edwards also compares repugnant man to a spider held over a flame by the merciful hand of God, who could at anytime let go of the thread at his own pleasure:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.


Unlike humans who often think nothing of killing a fearful insect, God doesn’t take lightly His omnipotent hand that gives us our very life and breath, but mercifully upholds us despite our repeated offenses against him. He again demonstrates all forms of creation as pointing to the work of God in Christ.

            Historical events are one final realm wherein lies these “types” of Christ. Edwards addresses the invention of the telescope and increasing trade in America as forerunners of increasing spiritual knowledge. Also the success of the Roman Empire imaged forth the resurrection of Christ:

The general of the Roman armies was sent forth from Rome, that glorious city and metropolis of the world, by the supreme Roman authority, into remote parts ad the enemies’ country… And on obtaining some very signal and great victory, he returned in triumph to the city whence he came out; entered the city in a very glorious manner. So Christ, having gone through the terrible conflict and obtained a complete and glorious victory, returned again to Heaven, the city whence he came, in a glorious triumphant manner.[24]


Often, Edwards also employs his analogies not only as types of Christ, but also in relation to the Christian walk in life, which he demonstrates in his perception of a rosebush:

Roses grow upon briers, which is to signify that all temporal sweets are mixed with bitter. But what seems more especially to be meant by it, is that true happiness, the crown of glory, is to be come at in no other way than by bearing Christ’s cross by a life of morification, self-denial and labor, and bearing all things for Christ. The rose, the chief of all flowers, is the last thing that comes out. The briery prickly bush grows before, but the end and crown of all is the beautiful and fragrant rose.[25]


In a similar context, Edwards relates the Christian walk to the activity of climbing a hill. Without a doubt the Christian life is full of mountains and valleys, it is a struggle with hardships, whether they be physical tribulations or spiritual wildernesses that must be patiently endured; yet, as perseverance up a steep hill brings a sweet reward to those that accomplish such a great feat, a the peace in Christ will reward those who remain steadfast in Him.[26]

            As many theologians would contend with Edwards’ perceptions of nature, Reformers in particular, believed sin marred the mind’s capacity to comprehend God in either creation or history; Edwards, in disputation, used reason in many cases to make connections between Biblical imagery and the signs in nature:

If we may use our own understanding and invention not at all in interpreting types, and must not conclude anything at all to be types but what is expressly said to be and explained in Scripture, then the church under the Old [Testament], when the types were given, were secluded from ever using their understanding to search into the meaning of the types given to ’em; for God did, when he gave ’em, give no interpretation.[27]


The Christian is to love the Lord with all his mind, as well as heart and strength, thus Edwards used his mind to understand God more fully. He did, however, recognize the necessity for caution when interpreting nature: “persons ought to be exceeding careful in interpreting of types, that they don’t give way to a wild fancy; not to fix an interpretation unless warranted by some hint in the New Testament of its being the true interpretation, or a lively figure and representation contained or warranted by an analogy to other types that we interpret on sure grounds.”[28] Edwards acknowledged that his own reasoning was not infallible, yet he risked that possibility in order to better appreciate the Creator.

A simple stream of water, a thunderstorm, a loaf of bread, the human tongue, a burrowing mole, etc. all come to life for Edwards as shadows of divine things. Once converted, Edwards’s eyes were incapable of focusing solely on the material value of an object, but rather perceived the spiritual implications of every work of creation. As Genesis 1:26 says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” so all of creation portrays an image of Christ that may not be recognizable to any but the redeemed. And yet they are not mere symbols or analogies, but many of these images or “types” reveal prophecies that have already proven true, and even foreshadow future events pertaining to Christ. Edwards presents a challenge to all Christians, that their eyes may be opened to a constant awareness of God, and see Christ in all of creation as he did. A greater love for the things of God, and a greater love for Christ, ought to produce these things; therefore, Christians will recognize the glory of God all the more and give their Father in Heaven the praise due His Name.



Marsden, George M. Jonathan Edwards: A Life. New Haven & London: Yale UP, 2003.

The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Vol. 1. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003.

The Works of Jonathan Edwards: Typological Writings. Vol. 11. Ed. Wallace E. Anderson.

New Haven & London: Yale UP, 1993.




[1] The Works of Jonathan Edwards, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003) vol.1, p. lxiv.

[2] George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven & London: Yale UP, 2003) p. 44.

[3] Marsden, 41.

[4] The Works of Jonathan Edwards: Typological Writings. Ed. Wallace E. Anderson. (New Haven & London: Yale UP, 1993) vol. 11, p. 13.

[5] Ibid., p. 191-192.

[6] Ibid., p. 150.

[7] Ibid., p. 53.

[8] Ibid., p. 53, no. 7.

[9] Ibid., p. 51-51.

[10] Ibid., p. 54, no. 10.

[11] Ibid., p. 94, no. 115.

[12] Ibid., p. 88, no. 98.

[13] Ibid., p. 57, no. 24.

[14] Ibid., p. 53, no. 6.

[15] Ibid., p. 55, no. 18.

[16] Ibid., p. 54, no. 12.

[17] Ibid., p. 59, no. 32.

[18] Ibid., p. 66, no. 55.

[19] Ibid., p. 69-70, no. 59.

[20] Ibid., p. 54, no. 14.

[21] Ibid., p. 87, no. 93.

[22] Ibid., p. 161.

[23] Ibid., p. 103, no. 152.

[24] Ibid., p. 82, no. 81.

[25] Ibid., p. 52, no. 3.

[26] Ibid., p. 73, no. 67.

[27] Ibid., p. 150.

[28] Ibid., p. 168.