Today is Jonathan Edwards’s 315th Birthday. Where is He Now?2
Jonathan Edwards was born on October 5, 1703. His influence on the global body of Christ, and on me personally, is incalculable. So where is he now? That may sound like a strange question, but I mean it seriously. His body lies in a cemetery near Princeton University. But his soul is by no means asleep or unconscious. So, where is he? What is he thinking, seeing, feeling, enjoying?
The question was raised in my mind as I read his funeral sermon for David Brainerd. Brainerd died in Edwards’s home on October 9, 1747. The sermon was preached three days later. Its title will provide you with the answer to my question: “True Saints, When Absent from the Body, are Present with the Lord.” Edwards’s text was 2 Corinthians 5:8 – “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” If you want to read it in its entirety, and I strongly urge you to do so, it may be found in volume 25 of the Yale series of Edwards’s works (pp. 225-256).
I wish I could reproduce for you everything Edwards says, but the following will have to suffice. Here, then, is where Edwards is, right now. Here is what he’s thinking, feeling, and enjoying. If you know Jesus, this awaits you as well!
“And when the souls of the saints leave their bodies, to go to be with Christ, they behold the marvelous glory of that great work of his, the work of redemption, and of the glorious way of salvation by him; which the angels desire to look into. They have a most clear view of the unfathomable depths of the manifold wisdom and knowledge of God; and the most bright displays of the infinite purity and holiness of God, that do appear in that way and work; and see in [another sort or kind], than the saints do here, what is the breadth and length and depth and height of the grace and love of Christ, appearing in his redemption. And as they see the unspeakable riches and glory of the attribute of God’s grace, so they most clearly behold and understand Christ’s eternal and unmeasurable dying love to them in particular. And in short they see everything in Christ that tends to kindle and enflame love, and everything that tends to gratify love, and everything that tends to satisfy them: and that in the most clear and glorious manner, without any darkness or delusion, without any impediment or interruption. Now the saints, while in the body, see something of Christ’s glory and love; as we, in the dawning of the morning, see something of the reflected light of the sun mingled with darkness: but when separated from the body, they see their glorious and loving Redeemer, as we see the sun when risen, and showing his whole disk above the horizon, by his direct beams, in a clear hemisphere, and with perfect day” (230).
Ah, there is yet more! What happens when believers set their sight on the risen and glorified Christ in heaven? Says Edwards:
“That perfect sight will abolish all remains of deformity, disagreement and sinful unlikeness; as all darkness is abolished before the full blaze of the sun’s meridian light: it is impossible that the least degree of obscurity should remain before such light. So it is impossible the least degree of sin and spiritual deformity should remain, in such a view of the spiritual beauty and glory of Christ, as the saints enjoy in heaven when they see that Sun of righteousness without a cloud” (231).
When the saints go to heaven at death,
“they are exalted and glorified with him; and shall not be kept at a more awful distance from Christ, but shall be admitted nearer, and to a greater intimacy. For they shall be unspeakably more fit for it, and Christ in more fit circumstances to bestow on them this blessedness. Their seeing the great glory of their friend and Redeemer, will not awe them to a distance, and make them afraid of a near approach; but on the contrary, will most powerfully draw them near; and encourage and engage them to holy freedom” (232).
There is so much more that Edwards unpacks for us in this sermon, but I’ll close with one final observation.
“And accordingly the souls of departed saints with Christ in heaven, shall have Christ as it were unbosomed unto them, manifesting those infinite riches of love towards them, that have been there from eternity: and they shall be enabled to express their love to him, in an infinitely better manner than ever they could while in the body. Thus they shall eat and drink abundantly, and swim in the ocean of love, and be eternally swallowed up in the infinitely bright, and infinitely mild and sweet beams of divine love; eternally receiving that light, eternally full of it, and eternally compassed round with it, and everlastingly reflecting it back again to the fountain of it” (233).
No wonder, then, that the Apostle Paul could confidently and sincerely declare: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” for “to be with Christ” is “far better” (Phil. 1:21, 23).