The Personal Narrative of Jonathan Edwards - Part V
Do you love holiness? Is the word sweet and precious to you? Or does it conjure up images of a stern and inflexible God and a strict and joyless life?
During the 19th century the National Holiness Movement labored for a return to the vibrancy and passion of John Wesley and the depth of commitment so evident in the original Methodist movement. Sadly, they were not always successful. Their version of “Holiness” often degenerated into a hideous form of legalism in which one's maturity was measured by the number of activities from which one abstained. Whereas many in the holiness movement were godly and yearned for Christ-like righteousness, others defined holiness as abstinence. On their list of taboos: the theater, ball games, playing cards, dancing, lipstick, tobacco, alcohol, all forms of female makeup, the curling or coloring of one's hair, neckties for men, Coca Cola, chewing gum, rings, bracelets, or any form of worldly "ornamentation," etc. One was prohibited from attending a county fair, lodge meetings, or being involved in political parties or labor unions. Life insurance was seen as a lack of faith in God and medicine was generally viewed as poison. How tragic!
Jonathan Edwards’ perspective on holiness is stunning. It shouldn’t be. It says something about how far removed we are from the biblical vision of holiness that we are surprised by his comments, that we find them so rare and unique and refreshing. Like the psalmist, he cherished the laws and precepts and commandments of God more than silver and gold (see Psalm 119). He speaks of a “longing” and “eager thirsting” and “earnest pressing after” the “blessed rules of the gospel.”
Why do we find it odd that someone would feel such passion for authentic holiness? Edwards speaks of continual self-examination and “diligence” and “earnestness” in the pursuit of a holiness that he envisioned as “ravishingly lovely” and “amiable”. Why? For one simple reason: He knew that God would never command or require or exhort or prohibit anything that was harmful to his children. He knew that God’s rules were the expression of a heart that sought nothing but good for those who fear him.
God’s aim in all his commandments is our joy in Jesus. He prohibits nothing except what tends to diminish that joy. He commands nothing save what enhances that joy. Biblical laws and requirements and warnings exist solely to protect us from what will ultimately undermine our satisfaction in God’s Son. They have been given not to deprive us of joy but to deepen it, not to inhibit our souls from experiencing eternal pleasures but to intensify and expand our capacity to see and taste and feel and sense the beauty and splendor of Jesus.
So, read Edwards below. But read him with a prayer that such passion for purity would be yours, that God might awaken in your soul a hunger for holiness and a desire, as Edwards says, to be “conformed to the blessed image of Christ.”
“My sense of divine things seemed gradually to increase, until I went to preach at New York, which was about a year and a half after they began; and while I was there, I felt them, very sensibly, in a much higher degree than I had done before. My longings after God and holiness, were much increased. Pure and humble, holy and heavenly Christianity, appeared exceedingly amiable to me. I felt a burning desire to be in every thing a complete Christian; and conformed to the blessed image of Christ; and that I might live, in all things, according to the pure, sweet and blessed rules of the gospel. I had an eager thirsting after progress in these things; which put me upon pursuing and pressing after them. It was my continual strife day and night, and constant inquiry, how I should be more holy, and live more holily, and more becoming a child of God, and a disciple of Christ. I now sought an increase of grace and holiness, and a holy life, with much more earnestness, than ever I sought grace before I had it. I used to be continually examining myself, and studying and contriving for likely ways and means, how I should live holily, with far greater diligence and earnestness, than ever I pursued any thing in my life; but yet with too great a dependence on my own strength; which afterwards proved a great damage to me. My experience had not then taught me, as it has done since, my extreme feebleness and impotence, every manner of way; and the bottomless depths of secret corruption and deceit there was in my heart. However, I went on with my eager pursuit after more holiness, and conformity to Christ.”
“I remember the thoughts I used then to have of holiness; and said sometimes to myself, ‘I do certainly know that I love holiness, such as the gospel prescribes.’ It appeared to me that there was nothing in it but what was ravishingly lovely; and highest beauty and amiableness, a divine beauty; far purer than any thing here upon earth; and that every thing else was like mire and defilement, in comparison with it.
Holiness, as I then wrote down some of my contemplations on it, appeared to me to be of a sweet, pleasant, charming, serene, calm nature; which brought an inexpressible purity, brightness, peacefulness and ravishment to the soul. In other words, that it made the soul like a field or garden of God, with all manner of pleasant flowers; all pleasant, delightful, and undisturbed: enjoying a sweet calm, and the gently vivifying beams of the sun. The soul of a true Christian, as I then wrote my meditations, appeared like such a little white flower as we see in the spring of the years; low and humble on the ground, opening its bosom to receive the pleasant beams of the sun's glory; rejoicing as it were in a calm rapture; diffusing around a sweet fragrance; standing peacefully and lovingly, in the midst of other flowers round about; all in like manner opening their bosoms, to drink in the light of the sun. There was no part of creature holiness that I had so great a sense of its loveliness, as humility, brokenness of heart and poverty of spirit; and there was nothing that I so earnestly longed for. My heart panted after this, to lie low before God, as in the dust; that I might be nothing, and that God might be all, that I might become as a little child.”