18th Century Theology
Prof. D. Westblade
December 15, 2000
Jonathan Edwards: The Peace and Joy in Jesus Christ
"The fountain of his comfort shall never be diminished, and the stream shall never be dried. His comfort and joy is a living spring in the soul, a well of water springing up to everlasting life."
The Puritans, in establishing themselves in America, aimed to be a "light upon a hill." For this reason, preachers had much influence on lay people. Preachers spoke not only in regards to church issues, but also on political issues. As regards to spirituality, the Puritans are well known for constantly checking their "spiritual temperature." This, however, is probably not a practice limited to the Puritans, but an issue that has been a part of the church, in one sense or another. It would be appropriate to consider what Jonathan Edwards, who is "regarded by scholars today as the most important American theologian of the eighteenth century," has to say as regards to assurance. Christians ought to have assurance, Edwards argues. The purpose of this paper is to show how, in Edwards's theology, the "work of redemption," borrowing Edwards's words, purchased an assurance, resulting in peace and joy, to anyone who trusts in Jesus Christ.
Yes, there is an assurance in Christianity. In fact, the gospel--good news--brings "comfort," "joy," and "hope" to a saved sinner. Christ came to give peace and joy. At his birth, an angel proclaimed to some shepherds, "I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people." Angels also proclaimed at His birth, singing: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased." Furthermore, Christ Himself said in a parable, "enter into the joy of your master." The Bible states clearly that there ought to be joy in placing Jesus as the master of a Christian, but why is the Christian life supposedly joyful, peaceful, and comforting?
It is crucial, in Edwards's theology, that God be the foundation of one's faith; that He be the object of his affections. In, and only in Him as the foundation, can one have true comfort, joy, peace, and assurance in this life and in the next life. How amazing it would be to have a God of infinite power---the Lord of heaven and earth---as one's God; a glorious, mighty, faithful, perfect, unchanging, good, kind, loving, merciful God! This merciful God, however, is also just and holy. Thus, the sinfulness of man created a gap between him and God. Just as He has infinite goodness, consequently, He also has infinite wrath. In His love and mercy for man and also because of His abhorrence of sin, God the Father sent His own Son to purchase the fallen world, even to the point of the Son's death on the cross.
There is an assurance in Jesus Christ as one's savior and redeemer because He alone qualifies to reconcile man to God and God to man. He qualifies in accomplishing such a task because of who He is---the "Lion" and the "Lamb." Because Jesus is both fully God and fully man, He is able to bridge the gap between man and God. Jesus Christ is divine and has all the attributes of God. Although He is God, He is humble enough not only to take the form of man, but He also befriends them and even placed Himself in subjection to them, temporarily. Furthermore, as God, He has all worthiness, yet He is patient to suffer and become a curse and sin, though He Himself is sinless. "All authority in heaven and earth" has been given to Jesus by His Father, and, therefore, He has dominion over the heaven and the earth, yet He is obedient to follow all the commandments of the Father even under great difficulty and suffering the worst death. Christ was so humble that He would even take wicked man to be His spiritual bride.
Not only is there an assurance in Christ because He qualifies to redeem the world, but also there is an assurance in Him because His death and resurrection is sufficient. Because of the infinite worth of Christ, His death and resurrection satisfied the infinite wrath of the Father. Now that Christ has fully paid for the infinite sin of man, the Father can now pardon sinners without dishonoring His precious and holy name. In what seems to some a weakness in Christ, He is actually most victorious over Satan. Christ's sufficiency manifests how glorious and powerful His blood is; indeed, how worthy is the Lamb that was slain? A sinful person who unites himself with Christ, regardless of how "black" his sins are, need not worry that, perhaps, some or all of his sins would not be forgiven, for the worth of Christ's blood is more than enough to wash away the sins of all the people in this world. Edwards would say to sinners who are reluctant to come to Christ:
If you had as much guilt lying on each of your souls as all the wicked men in the world, and all the damned souls in hell; yet if you come to God for mercy, sensible of your own vileness, and seeking pardon only through the free mercy of God in Christ, you would not need to be afraid; the greatness of your sins would be no impediment to your pardon.
Not only is there an assurance in Christ because He, first, qualifies to redeem the world and, second, because His death and resurrection is sufficient and victorious over Satan, but also there is comfort because He is a gentle, humble Lamb, knocking and waiting at the door of anyone who desires to receive Him. In addition to the love that He has for man, Christ's willingness to suffer and die because of man's sins manifests how much regard He has for the Father's justice and honor. He became incarnate to relieve man from his misery in sin. For this reason, one who sincerely wants to be in union with Christ and, consequently, posses all the benefits in Christ, no matter how dark his sins are, need not worry that Christ might reject him. Christ, because of His worthiness, is glorified in saving a sinner. It brings Him honor to save the greatest sinner, like a doctor who is honored to heal a patient suffering the worst decease. The greater the sin, the more of Christ's power and worthiness is manifested in saving a sinner. And if saving a sinner brings Christ glory, He would not be at all backwards not to do the very thing that would give Him glory.
Because of the stability of Christ's work, His graciousness in welcoming repentant sinners, and, furthermore, His sure promises, Christ, indeed, brings comfort to His bride. If the faithful, perfect, and unchanging God is the foundation of one's faith, then one can take comfort in God's words, knowing that He will be true to His words. Christ gives much encouragement for those who are in Him. It is comforting that in a sinner's union with Christ, he gains access to eternal life. Because Christ lives, he lives also. What great news it is for a sinner to know that his sins are forgiven and that God has imputed to him the righteousness of Christ! That a sinner is saved from the wrath of God, even this alone, ought to give much joy, peace, and comfort to a hell-deserving sinner.
Salvation from hell, however, is not the only promise that Christ makes to His spiritual bride. A person united with Him will inherit the kingdom appointed to him by the Father. He says, "and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Furthermore, the bride will reign on His throne, as John writes of Christ in the book of Revelation: "He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne."
Not only does Christ promises the bride an access to eternal life and inheritance of the kingdom and title to sit on the throne with Christ, but, moreover, He promises her adoption as a child of the Father, and that she will become the Father's delight. Edwards states it this way: "And being not only forgiven, but accepted to favour, you become the objects of God's complacency and delight; being taken into God's family and made his children."
In addition to the bride's adoption and receiving favor from the Father, her future inheritance of Christ's kingdom and sitting with Him on His throne, Christ also promises the bride many things that are to her benefit even in this life. "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you," He says, "ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you." Christ gives comfort to His bride by promising victory over the world. He declares: "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." So in Christ, the bride not only has benefits in the world to come, but also while on earth.
In Edwards's writing about faith and justification, he includes phrases such as "perseverance of the saints." At first glance, the word "perseverance" as regards to the gospel, might not be the most comforting word to hear for a person who struggles with purity and consistency in his walk with the Lord. What happens to the peace that Christ supposedly leaves His bride? He might ask. Though Edwards uses the phrase "perseverance of the saints," he does not mean to take away from the assurance found in Christ. This is so because Christ Himself gives His bride grace that she would bear holy fruits. "You did not choose Me," Christ says to His Bride, "but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain." The bride is not left to persevere on her own "feeble," and "broken strength." Christ guaranteed this perseverance through His persevering faith, Edwards argues. "And therefore when God in mercy has given us . . . a surety that might stand and persevere, and one that has actually persevered through the greatest imaginable trials; doubtless we shall stand and persevere in him." So the bride perseveres in Christ's strength and not on her own weak and insufficient strength.
Knowing that there are many temptations in the world, Christ even prays for the perseverance of the bride's faith. He comforts: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when one you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." The bride is kept by the power of God through faith. Even the bride's being kept is a gift from God.
God does not leave the bride deficient from her needs in fighting temptation and her supplies in becoming holy and in conforming to the image of Christ. God gives the bride grace that seeks to the peace and quietness of the soul. Edwards articulates on the grace that Christ gives His bride:
Besides, he has bequeathed peace to the souls of his people, as he has procured for them and made over to them the spirit of grace and true holiness; which has a natural tendency to the peace and quietness of the soul. It implies a discovery and relish of a suitable and sufficient good. It brings a person into a view of divine beauty, and to a relish of that good which is a man's proper happiness; and so it brings the soul to its true centre. The soul by his means is brought to rest, and ceases from restlessly inquiring, as others do, who will show us any good; and wandering to and fro, like lost sheep seeking rest, and finding none . . . Grace tends to tranquillity, as it mortifies tumultuous desires and passions, subdues the eager and insatiable appetites of the sensual nature and greediness after the vanities of the world . . . It also tends to peace, as it fixes the aim of the soul to a certain end; so that the soul is no longer distracted and drawn by opposite ends to be sought, and opposite portions to be obtained, and many masters of contrary wills and commands to be served; but the heart is fixed in the choice of one certain, sufficient, and unfailing good: and the soul's aim at this, and hope of it, is like an anchor that keeps it stedfast, that it should no more be driven to and fro by every wind."
The "perseverance of the faith" is a promise; it is a benefit. The bride acquires peace in the sure promises of Christ.
Although Christ showers the bride with benefits and sure promises, these, however, do not imply passivity on the bride's part. Christ is the paradigm of what it is to be in the image of God. Though Christ knew the promises and their certainty, He did not stay passive. As Edwards observes of Christ: "He laboured, took care, denied himself, and suffered for the salvation of sincerely good men; which yet had been before abundantly promised to him, and promised to men in the Old Testament; and Christ himself had promised it." Therefore, as an imitator of Christ, it would be proper for the bride to use means to obtain what is promised to her; besides, Christ provided grace for her that naturally seeks divine things.
Since the bride has all these benefits in Christ, in the present life and even in the life to come, and since Christ is a solid rock, the question arises whether the bride will always be joyful, peaceful, and assured in this life? No. The peace that Christ gives to the bride or the peace the bride shares with Him, although the bride has it in this life, is for the moment imperfect. This is so not because there is something lacking in the promise nor the giver of the promise, but because of the "sin," "imperfection," and "darkness" of man. Man, while still on earth, Edwards argues, partly cleaves to the
world and seeks out peace from this place and partly cleaves to Christ. When one doubts Christ and in sin, he then lacks the peace with God and is less assured, if at all. In this unassured state, one would not rise up from such a state if he would keep looking at himself. One ought to look at Christ because He is the assurance.
Christ purchased for the bride an assurance that results in peace, joy, and comfort. There is comfort because Christ supplies His bride abundantly with everything that is good on earth that would lead to her purity. She not only has benefits while here on earth, but also unimaginable honor in heaven being with the Son and the Father. There is assurance in Christ because his death and resurrection is sufficient. Moreover, there is an assurance in Christ because He qualifies to be the savior and redeemer. There is assurance in God, as the foundation of one's faith, because of who He is---holy, good, perfect, unchanging, just, merciful, loving, kind, and faithful.
In Christ, there is an assurance that results in the joy, comfort, and peace of the bride because, in Him, the bride is built on a solid rock. Edwards encourages others with confidence:
There is surer comfort and more durable peace: comfort that you may enjoy in a state of safety, and on a sure foundation; a peace and rest that you may enjoy with reason, and with your eyes open. You may have all you sins forgiven, your greatest and most aggravated transgressions blotted out as a cloud, and buried as in the depths of the sea, that they may never be found more. And being not only forgiven, but accepted to favour, you become the objects of God's complacency and delight; being taken into God's family and made his children, you may have good evidence that your names were written on the heart of Christ before the world was made, and that you have an interest in that covenant of grace that is well ordered in all things and sure; wherein is promised no less than life and immortality, an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, a crown of glory that fades not away. Being in such circumstances, nothing shall be able to prevent your being happy to all eternity; having for the foundation of your hope, that love of God which is from eternity to eternity; and his promised and oath, and his omnipotent power, things infinitely firmer than mountains of brass.