In my opinion, the best way to wade into Edwards’s writing is through his sermons. I never get bogged down in them the way I have in some of his longer works. There are numerous collections of his sermons available. I return to them for refreshers from time to time and always find them inspiring. Some of my favorites are “God Glorified in Man’s Dependence”; “Jesus Christ the Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever”; and “A Divine and Supernatural Light.”
I do realize that many people in our day and age think of Edwards only through the lens of his most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” I think this is rather unfortunate, because that particular sermon is dramatically unlike most, if not all, his other sermons and most of his longer writings. It’s certainly not one of his better sermons. I’ll even go so far as to say it’s not as biblically sound as most of his other sermons. I suspect that non-Christians like to hold up that particular sermon as a caricature of what it means to be a Christian. Why else is it, and it alone, a required reading in many secular high school English class curricula? I detect a straw man.
One image from Edwards’s sermon “A Divine and Supernatural Light” serves as a gateway for all his other works, elaborated magnificently in The Religious Affections. It is the memorable illustration of tasting honey. Edwards wrote, “There is a difference between having an opinion, that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness.”9
Edwards’s writings, which most often feel like extended meditations on a single truth from Scripture, help me know, with all my being — intellect, emotions, and will — that God is good, His grace is amazing, His nature is holy, His word is delightful, His love is beautiful, and His salvation is breathtaking. They’ve even changed my experience of slowly savoring a teaspoonful of honey!
For more information about Jonathan Edwards, see “Profiles in Faith: Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)”, by Art Lindsley, published in the Spring 2001 issue of Knowing & Doing (which was then called the C.S. Lewis Institute Report).
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Notes: 1 Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections: A Christian’s Character before God, ed. James M. Houston (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1984), 5. 2 Ibid., 8. 3 Ibid., 10. 4 Ibid., 21. 5 Ibid., 105. 6 Ibid., 129. 7 Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections (1746; repr., Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), 7–8. 8The Essential Edwards Collection, ed. Owen Strachen and Douglas Sweeney (Chicago: Moody Press, 2010). 9Sermons of Jonathan Edwards (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005), 93.
Randy Newman is Senior Teaching Fellow for Apologetics and Evangelism at the C.S. Lewis Institute. He is also an adjunct faculty member for Talbot School of Theology and Patrick Henry College. He received his M.Div. and Ph.D. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. After serving for over 30 years with Campus Crusade for Christ, he established Connection Points, a ministry to help Christians engage people’s hearts the way Jesus did. He has written four books and numerous articles about evangelism and other ways our lives intertwine with God’s creation. He and his wife Pam live in Annandale, VA and have three grown sons. Randy blogs at www.connectionpoints.us.
Recommended Reading: Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections: A Christian’s Character Before God, abridged and edited by James M. Houston, introductory essay by Charles Colson (Regent College Publishing, 2003)
In the wake of recent revival movements, Christians need Jonathan Edwards’ classic Religious Affections more than ever. Edwards, the central figure in New England’s first Great Awakening, offers here his most detailed description of the signs false and true of revival, while highlighting the role truly balanced emotions play within the Christian life. An engaging introductory essay by Charles Colson details the impact of Religious Affections on his own life and its implications for today’s church.
Dane C. Ortlund, Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God (Crossway, 2014)
Jonathan Edwards is widely hailed as the greatest theologian in American history. In Edwards on the Christian Life, Dane Ortlund invites us to explore the great eighteenth-century pastor’s central passion: God’s resplendent beauty. Whether the topic was the nature of love, the preeminence of Scripture, or the glory of the natural world, the concept of beauty stood at the heart of Edwards’s theology and permeated his portrait of the Christian life. Clear and engaging, this accessible volume will inspire you to embrace Edwards’s magnificent vision of what it means to be a Christian: enjoying and reflecting of the beauty of God in all things. This book is part of Crossway’s Theologians on the Christian Life series.
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