The Personal Narrative of Jonathan Edwards - Part XVI
Before reading this short paragraph, it might be a good idea to go back to the previous installment and take a closer look at Edwards’ sense of his own depravity. As I said in that lesson, he wasn’t driven to despair by the reality of his own sin, but was compelled to depend ever more urgently on the strong grace and sovereign good pleasure of God. He writes:
“I have a much greater sense of my universal, exceeding dependence on God's grace and strength, and mere good pleasure, of late, than I used formerly to have; and have experienced more of an abhorrence of my own righteousness. The very thought of any joy arising in me, on any consideration of my own amiableness, performances, or experiences, or any goodness of heart or life, is nauseous and detestable to me. And yet I am greatly afflicted with a proud and self-righteous spirit, much more sensibly than I used to be formerly. I see that serpent rising and putting forth its head continually, everywhere, all around me.”
How strange such words sound in modern ears! When people today consider their deeds and what they imagine is their “goodness of heart or life,” they strut. They strain to ensure that others take note of their achievements. For many, such joy is the aim of life. For Edwards, such joy is detestable, the source of a spiritual smugness that made him sick to his stomach.
Are we as aware as he of our “universal, exceeding dependence on God’s grace and strength, and mere good pleasure”? I doubt it. When I read Edwards’ words I’m reminded of 2 Corinthians 1:8-11 where Paul describes how he was “so utterly burdened beyond . . . strength that [he] despaired of life itself” (v. 8b). He felt as if the “sentence of death” had been pronounced over him (v. 9a). But all this, he says, “was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (v. 9b).
"It is natural . . . for us to trust in ourselves,” wrote James Denney. “It is so natural, and so confirmed by the habits of a lifetime, that no ordinary difficulties or perplexities avail to break us of it. It takes all God can do to root up our self-confidence. He must reduce us to despair; He must bring us to such an extremity that the one voice we have in our hearts, the one voice that cries to us wherever we look round for help, is death, death, death. It is out of this despair that the superhuman hope is born. It is out of this abject helplessness that the soul learns to look up with new trust to God. . . . How do most of us attain to any faith in Providence? Is it not by proving, through numberless experiments, that it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps? Is it not by coming, again and again, to the limit of our resources, and being compelled to feel that unless there is a wisdom and a love at work on our behalf, immeasurably wiser and more benign than our own, life is a moral chaos? . . . Only desperation opens our eyes to God's love" (James Denney).