The Personal Narrative of Jonathan Edwards - Part XI
John Piper once said, “Sometimes what we need from the Bible is not the fulfillment of our dream[s], but the swallowing up of our failed dream[s] in the all-satisfying glory of Christ.” I’m convinced that the reason this doesn’t resonate with many souls or sound very encouraging is because few really believe that Jesus Christ is all-satisfying in such a way that they confidently trust in him on a daily basis to do what sin can’t.
Merely testifying that Jesus is our all-consuming passion, or declaring “I have no good apart from you” (Psalm 16:2), often doesn’t translate into sin-killing confidence in his goodness and beauty and power and presence. We need more than verbal profession of Christ’s glory. We need what Edwards repeatedly referred to as “the new sense of the heart” in which his glory appears ineffably sweet and pleasant to the soul and does so with such intensity that all rival pleasures are soiled and sullied by comparison.
But savoring the Son of God comes only as we see the Son of God, not with physical eyes but with the eyes of faith (Eph. 1:18), as we concentrate our focus on him in Scripture and the majesty of his creative handiwork in the world around us. This is not a one-off experience, a passing glance cast his way intermittently in hopes of a radical change that will turn sin sour in our souls. This sort of spiritually flippant, casual acquaintance with Jesus will prove powerless in the face of the magnetic and alluring appeal of sin.
What I have in mind is a life-long, daily determination to “set the Lord always before me” (Psalm 16:8). This is the resolve of the will, empowered by grace, to plead with God that he “turn my eyes from looking at worthless things” (Psalm 119:37) and enable me to rivet my soul, mind, and will on the splendor of his Son. [By the way, this prayer of the psalmist is only as good as the practical steps we take actually to rid our homes and cars and lives and leisure hours of whatever “worthless things” now fill them.]
I don’t have any easy answers or ready-made formulas on how to do it successfully. But when I read Edwards I’m encouraged once again that yes, perhaps it can be done, with God’s help. On two occasions in his Personal Narrative, Edwards describes his experience of the beauty of Christ. As you read, remember that these are the words of a man who labored to find time alone with God, a man whose mind was saturated with Scripture, a man who, at an early age, prioritized his life and the use of his time so as to eliminate, as much as is humanly possible, distractions and diversions and those soul-sapping, spiritually enervating activities that threaten to anesthetize our minds and cloud our spiritual vision.
I should let you read it now with no more comment from me.
“It has often appeared to me delightful,” wrote Edwards, “to be united to Christ; to have him for my head, and to be a member of his body; also to have Christ for my teacher and prophet. I very often think with sweetness, and longings, and pantings of soul, of being a little child, taking hold of Christ, to be led by him through the wilderness of this world. That text, Matt. 18:3, has often been sweet to me, except ye be converted and become as little children, etc. I love to think of coming to Christ, to receive salvation of him, poor in spirit, and quite empty of self, humbly exalting him alone; cut off entirely from my own root, in order to grow into, and out of Christ; to have God in Christ to be all in all; and to live by faith in the Son of God, a life of humble, unfeigned confidence in him. That scripture has often been sweet to me, Ps. 95:1, Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth's sake. And those words of Christ, Luke 10:21, In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight. That sovereignty of God which Christ rejoiced in, seemed to me worthy of such joy; and that rejoicing seemed to show the excellency of Christ, and of what spirit he was.”
I have sometimes had a sense of the excellent fullness of Christ, and his meekness and suitableness as a Savior; whereby he has appeared to me, far above all, the chief of ten thousands. His blood and atonement have appeared sweet, and his righteousness sweet; which was always accompanied with ardency of spirit; and inward strugglings and breathings, and groanings that cannot be uttered, to be emptied of myself, and swallowed up in Christ.
Once, as I rode out into the woods for my health, in 1737, having alighted from my horse in a retired place, as my manner commonly has been, to walk for divine contemplation and prayer, I had a view that for me was extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God, as Mediator between God and man, and his wonderful, great, full, pure and sweet grace and love, and meek and gentle condescension. This grace that appeared so calm and sweet, appeared also great above the heavens. The person of Christ appeared ineffably excellent with an excellency great enough to swallow up all thought and conception, which continued as near as I can judge, about an hour; which kept me the greater part of the time in a flood of tears, and weeping aloud. I felt an ardency of soul to be, what I know not otherwise how to express, emptied and annihilated; to lie in the dust, and to be full of Christ alone; to love him with a holy and pure love; to trust in him; to live upon him; to serve and follow him; and to be perfectly sanctified and made pure, with a divine and heavenly purity. I have, several other times, had views very much of the same nature, and which have had the same effects.