Observations on "A Divine and Supernatural Light" (Edwards' doctrine of the "New Sens
[The reader is encouraged to read Edwards’ sermon before working through these short observations.]
What the “divine and supernatural light” is not:
1) It is not to be identified with the conviction of sin that unregenerate people experience. The Spirit can act upon the soul of the unregenerate without communicating himself to or uniting himself with that person.
2) It is not to be identified with “impressions” made upon the “imagination”. It has nothing to do with seeing anything with one’s physical eyes.
3) The divine and supernatural light does not suggest or impart new truths or ideas not already found in the written word of God. It “only gives a due apprehension of those things that are taught in the Word of God” (110).
4) It is not to be identified with those occasions when the unregenerate are deeply and profoundly affected by religious ideas. One may be moved or stirred or emotionally impacted by a religious phenomenon without believing it to be true (cf. popular reaction to “The Passion”).
What the “divine and supernatural light” is:
“a true sense of the divine excellency of the things revealed in the Word of God, and a conviction of the truth and reality of them, thence arising” (111).
“sense”, “apprehension of the divine excellency of things revealed”, “a true sense of the divine and superlative excellency”
The person “don’t merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but he has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart” (111)
Note: what is the difference between “rationally” believing that God is glorious and having a “sense of the excellency” of God’s glory?
It is the difference between knowing that God is holy and having a “sense of the loveliness” of God’s holiness.
It is not only a “speculatively judging that God is gracious” but also “a sense how amiable God is upon that account” or sensing the “beauty” of God’s grace and holiness.
Edwards bases this distinction on the difference between two ways of knowing: (1) merely speculative, notional, a mere cognitive awareness of some truth; and (2) “the sense of the heart” in which one recognizes the beauty or amiableness or sweetness of that truth and feels pleasure and delight in it. It is the difference between knowing or believing that God is holy and having a “sense” of or enjoying his holiness. “There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness” (112).
“When the heart is sensible of the beauty and amiableness of a thing, it necessarily feels pleasure in the apprehension” (112).
How does this “new sense” come about?
(1) Indirectly: (a) when the divine excellency and beauty of God is revealed to him it “destroys the enmity, removes those prejudices, and sanctifies the reason, and causes it to lie open to the force of arguments for their truth” (112). (b) it not only removes hindrances but positively helps reason; it causes the notion to be more lively and enables the mind to focus and think and concentrate with more intensity on what is known.
(2) Directly: this divine and supernatural light enables the mind and heart, by “a kind of intuitive and immediate evidence”, to be convinced of the truth of the superlative excellency of such things.
This light is given directly by God and not by means of natural phenomena. Key:
“the notions that are the subject matter of this light, are conveyed to the mind by the Word of God; but that due sense of the heart, wherein this light formally consists, is immediately by the Spirit of God” (115).
This is why unregenerate people can have the truths of the Word of God in their heads but find no pleasure or delight or beauty in them.
Improvement / Application
“Men have a great deal of pleasure in human knowledge, in studies of natural things; but this is nothing to that joy which arises from this divine light shining into the soul. This light gives a view of those things that are immensely the most exquisitely beautiful, and capable of delighting the eye of the understanding. This spiritual light is the dawning of the light of glory in the heart” (123).
McClymond (Encounters with God) argues that there are three aspects in Edwards’ doctrine of spiritual perception: content, mode, sensibility.
(1) Content = the excellency of God, i.e., his holiness or beauty or amiableness. What is it about the excellency of God that the believer “sees” that the unbeliever does not? They both “see” God, in a manner of speaking, but only the believer sees a new “quality” in God. They perceive God’s holiness to be beautiful and excellent and superlative.
(2) Mode = the divine and supernatural and immediate light of the Spirit that (a) shines on the quality of God, showing or disclosing it to be what it truly is, (b) shines on the mind of the regenerate, overcoming prejudice and hindrances and granting a conviction of its truth, and (c) becomes one with regenerate in a sort of mystical union. That this light shines “in” and “on” only some is a function of JE’s doctrine of election.
(3) Sensibility = refers to the impact of this divine and supernatural light, which = enjoyment, delight, sense of the sweetness of God! Only the elect, only the regenerate have imparted to them that spiritual sense or new sense that consists in delight and enjoyment and an intuitive awareness or apprehension of the sweetness of God’s beauty.