“Since I came to this town [i.e. Northampton],” wrote Edwards, “I have often had sweet complacency in God, in views of his glorious perfections and the excellency of Jesus Christ. God has appeared to me a glorious and lovely Being, chiefly on account of his holiness. The holiness of God has always appeared to me the most lovely of all his attributes. The doctrines of God's absolute sovereignty, and free grace, in showing mercy to whom he would show mercy; and man's absolute dependence on the operations of God's Holy Spirit, have very often appeared to me as sweet and glorious doctrines. These doctrines have been much my delight. God's sovereignty has ever appeared to me [to be a] great part of his glory. It has often been my delight to approach God, and adore him as a sovereign God, and ask sovereign mercy of him.
I have loved the doctrines of the gospel; they have been to my soul like green pastures. The gospel has seemed to me the richest treasure; the treasure that I have most desired, and longed that it might dwell richly in me. The way of salvation by Christ has appeared, in a general way, glorious and excellent, most pleasant and most beautiful. It has often seemed to me, that it would in a great measure spoil heaven, to receive it in any other way.”
There is one primary lesson I hope we can all see in what Edwards writes here. It is that the revelation of God in Scripture and in the person and work of his Son, Jesus Christ, is more than something to be acknowledged as “truth”. True it is, for what hope can we find in falsehood? But it is not enough merely to say, “I believe the gospel is true.” Demons believe the gospel is true and their destiny is the lake of fire.
What we see in this passage from Edwards is once again his emphasis on the “new sense of the heart” in which the “truths” of Scripture, particularly the “truths” about God, are perceived as lovely, as sweet, as glorious and excellent. There is a “sense” in the soul that relishes their truth rather than merely conceding it. There is a “sense” in the soul that enjoys the beauty of God’s holiness rather than merely acknowledging it as an attribute of his character.
Edwards’ language is carefully chosen. The doctrine of God has been his “delight”. These are “sweet and glorious doctrines”. Such truths are more than merely rational, reasonable, such that correspond to reality and are consistent with Scripture. They are “the richest treasure; the treasure that I have most desired, and longed that it might dwell richly in me.” The way God saves people by sovereign mercy in Christ strikes Edwards as “glorious and excellent, most pleasant and most beautiful.”
For Edwards, conversion is certainly not less than belief. But it is a kind of belief in which the transcendent and glorious and beautiful quality of what is believed takes root in the soul. Saving faith is such that the soul “feels” and “senses” the beauty in what God has done. There is a holistic response in which the redeemed heart is drawn by strong desire and affection and longing for the “amiableness” of truth and then rests satisfied in the radiant brilliance of the light of the gospel. All other competing “lights” are dim by comparison. All other competing “pleasures” are vain and unfulfilling when measured against those that endure “forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).