So you want to read Jonathan Edwards? So do I, which sent me on a quest to determine the best place to begin reading. Why? Because the writings of Jonathan Edwards are so vast and the secondary literature is very healthy too. By God's providence, I was led to find wonderful resources advising me where to start reading, compiled by people who had already wandered down the path I was seeking to tread. I share here some of those resources.
Listen to 357 sermons by Jonathan Edwards!
Listen to 357 sermons by Jonathan Edwards!
Jonathan Edwards’ writings fill twenty-five imposing volumes in the Yale Works. The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University, a beacon of unfiltered light in American academe, has plans to disseminate many more online. Did you catch that, or did your eyes skip over it? 25 volumes! And they’re not boring or meandering. If you just open them, and start reading, you find yourself face-to-face with America’s greatest preacher, theologian, philosopher, and mystic.
Why read Jonathan Edwards? Let me quickly try to capture the essence of what makes Edwards so, well, great.
First, the Northampton pastor was a breathtakingly imaginative thinker, by which I do not mean “harmfully extra-textual” as it might sound (though he did love creativity), but rather that Edwards was able to capture biblical teaching in all its glory and nuance and breadth. Your average superhero movie is fantastic on a normal screen; when you watch it on IMAX, though, it’s a whole other ballgame. So it is with Edwards and his work. The biblical mind and imagination lives and breathes. The Bible seems living and active in Edwards’ hands. Of course, as historian George Marsden has pointed out, Edwards became an excellent writer over the course of his life, and so to read him is to read a marvelously gifted stylist, which is pleasurable in any field.
Second, Edwards consistently pointed up the power of God in Christ. This isn’t, interestingly, to say that he consistently gave the kind of quick biblical-theological summary of redemption now common in evangelical preaching. Jesus, however, was the ideal, the apex, and the key of Scripture. Not only Scripture, though—all of nature. When you read all the way through Edwards’ Miscellanies you’ll discover the man found Christ in moths. Beat that.
Third, it is positively breathtaking how swiftly Edwards, especially in his sermons, can travel from the farthest reaches of the theological cosmos to the day-to-day life of the sin-fighting Christian. The application sections of the pastor’s sermons are regularly remarkable. They’re not pure application by a long shot, but rather what you could call theological spirituality, or heavily theological application. Warning: you may read these sermons and weep, so rich is the diet of Edwards’ preaching compared to many modern pulpits.
Permit me a quick detour: if you haven’t read Edwards’ sermons, you’re missing out tremendously. Many people will never read Edwards; some will read “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”; a chosen few will read a couple of his major works (maybe the poleaxing Diary of David Brainerd or the shrewdly edifying Religious Affections); a super-minority will read some of his sermons, probably by felicitous happenstance—wandering through a library, picking a book off a shelf, and so on.
Let me encourage you, dear reader: if you want to go deep in theology-driven spirituality, read Edwards’ sermons. There are many, many undiscovered gems. You could read a page each day on your lunch break and be happy for the rest of your life.
I must credit John Piper with a form of this reading program. I heard Piper detail it in a Copernican “Henry Lecture” while I was an intern at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C. (during my internship Mark Dever re-preached the entirety of “Sinners”). Piper spoke of how he read his wife Noel a page of Edwards’ philosophical writings a day while a doctoral student. It immediately started me on a one-page-a-day plan. I started with the “Excellency of Christ,” a sermon as true as it is eloquent.
Now from David Filson over at The Christward Collective on "5 Reasons You Should Read Jonathan Edwards":Hopefully this can serve to pique the interest of readers hungry for outstanding biblical material. In a future post I’ll suggest four great paragraphs from Edwards’ writings.
A few years ago, I allowed a friend to talk me into running in a 5k. (Now, I realize some of you are snickering even as you proudly remind yourself of that 26.2 sticker on your back windshield; but, prior to that, all I had ever run was my mouth! So, if you mighty marathoners can humor a mere mortal for a moment, I will proceed.) The day of the race, I warmed up and stretched with a myriad of participants. Most of them appeared to be experienced runners. I literally prayed that the Lord would let me do two things: 1) Finish; and 2) Finish ahead of the senior saints mall-walking club that had signed up for the race. As the announcer called the runners to ready, I was consigned to the group that was to start running with the third section--and, by “third section,” I mean back with the mall-walking club. However, as the race ensued, I actually found myself keeping about a 9 minute pace. I was feeling pretty good about myself, until some guy in a one-piece gold lame´ jump suit ran by me--as though I was sitting still. To make matters more humiliating, he was literally juggling tennis balls as he easily passed me. I have to admit, at that moment, I wondered why I had even entered the race. It was hard to keep running. In the end, I pulled ahead of the mall-walking ladies and finished that race.
Now, you are probably wondering, "Unless the guy in the jumpsuit was wearing a powdered wig, what in the world does this tragicomedy possibly have to do with why we should read Jonathan Edwards today?" Well, perhaps you have felt “talked into” reading Edwards. Maybe a friend or minister has sung the Northampton pastor’s praises. Perhaps, you were persuaded by John Piper’s passion for this Puritan preacher-theologian. Whatever the case, you find yourself amid myriad fans of Edwards, yet you are not even sure if you should jump in. Maybe, you lined up at the starting line with the first section runners in A Dissertation on the Nature of True Virtue, when you probably would have been better advised to join some of us back here in the sermon section. You find yourself bogged down, looking for a reason to keep reading. Whether you are an Edwards marathoner or a mere mortal, I would like to suggest a few reasons why we should read him, today. Others have offered their own excellent suggestions as to why we should read the Puritans, in general. Some have laid out compelling reasons why Edwards should be at the top of our list. I want to limit myself to a handful of personal reasons I have found Edwards to be so rewarding, frankly, essential to my life, ministry, and academics. While I am sure some of you could add your own, very helpful reasons to this list, here’s what I am thinking about why we should read Edwards:
1) JE was intoxicated with God's majestic Triunity. Like Augustine, Calvin, and Owen before him, JE’s theological and homiletical programs were shot through with the majesty of the Trinity. When speaking of any one member of the Godhead, he always seems to be honoring and honing in on the other two. He makes you believe there is a Trinity! He makes you believe that the Father loved and sent the Son, the Son loved and obeyed the Father, and the Spirit is their love personified, in the true sense of the word. The Trinity suffuses his sermons and Miscellanies, as well as, treatises, such as Nature of True Virtue, and Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World. As is widely known, JE warned faithfully of the reality of hell. But, the fact is he also wooed persuasively to heaven. Strikingly, he describes heaven as a “world of love,” in which saints will forever bask in the deluge river of love that flows between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Who thinks like that, these days?!?!? There are times, especially when reading his sermons, that I feel I have been lifted in to the very presence of the Triune God. Edwards was enamored, enflamed with love to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He can help you burn with passion for the Trinity, too!
2) JE was properly doctrinal in his preaching. W.T.G. Shedd once spoke of “boned preaching.” He lamented sermons that have had their theological sub-structure removed. What was left was a flabby façade of true preaching. One needs only read a selection of JE’s sermons, to see the undeniable doctrinal sturdiness. You could take your pick of a handful of preachments, from across his sermonic corpus, and find consistency of doctrinal conviction. In fact, I think JE may be the exemplar of how straightforward doctrine is to be woven into the body of a sermon. The theology explicates the biblical text and excites biblical application. Indeed, his use/application/improvement sections always naturally flow from his doctrinal sections. JE also shows us how a doctrinally rich homiletic serves apologetic (i.e., Deism, Islam) and polemic (i.e., Arminian) purposes.3) JE was Redemptive-Historical before Redemptive History was popular. JE’s theological and homiletic program pulsates with tri-covenantal, Christ- centered, redemptive-historical method and content. Even before Vos, JE was doing some of the most thoroughgoing Biblical Theology in the context of regular preaching ministry. The great thing about JE’s BT is that it was never forced, never strained. It seemed to come easily to him. I am truly amazed at how often and how naturally JE wove a tri-covenantalism (redemption, works, grace) into his preaching. Whether you want to tackle the whole History of the Work of Redemption series, or the single sermon/lecture, East of Eden, you will find JE to be a masterful Biblical Theologian. He set the history of God’s redemptive purposes against the dawn of Enlightenment historia humana. JE’s thoroughgoing redemptive historical preaching lies at heart of the podcast East of Eden: The Biblical and Systematic Theology of Jonathan Edwards that Dr. Jeffrey C. Waddington, Rev. Nick Batzig, and I started--in which we seek to offer in-depth discussion of all things JE.
4) JE makes Christology a preeminent and pastoral matter. A Ph.D. student from the divinity department of a major university once asked me, “Does JE even have a Christology?”Sadly, much scholarship, following the train of Perry Miller since 1949, saw JE through the lens of his philosophical writings. Today, with the Yale publications of so many of his sermons, Miscellanies, Notes on Scripture and the Blank Bible, more attention is being paid to JE’s homiletic, exegetical and meditative writings on Scripture. While most are familiar with Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, we need to marinate in sermons, like Jesus Christ, the Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever, or Safety, Rest, and Sweet Refreshment to be Found in Christ, or The Agony of Christ, or Christ Exalted. For rich, Christocentric exposition, his explication and application of the person and work of Christ rival Owen, in my opinion. He waxes Calvinian on the threefold office of Christ in The Excellencies of Christ. Interestingly, what is one of my three or four favorite sermons, The Most High, a Prayer-hearing God, JE assures us our prayers are heard, as Christ has merited a hearing for them. Our prayers, are, as it were, delivered to the Father in the hands of Jesus.
And again, David Filson at The Christward Collective with "5 More Reasons to Read Jonathan Edwards":5) JE was relentlessly biblical without being a bald Biblicist. I often wonder how men like Calvin, Owen, and JE did what they did without programs like Accordance or Logos! Their encyclopedic knowledge of and facility with the Bible is staggering to me. Owen’s assessment of the Bibline bleeding Bunyan, was just as true of JE. This manifests itself in a couple of ways that I especially appreciate. First, JE’s worldview was totally shaped and governed by the Bible. His epistemology necessitated special revelation, as in his sermon on Christian Knowledge. Charity and Its Fruits and The Nature of True Virtue offer a thoroughgoing biblical ethic. A History of the Work of Redemption sermon series, show how the Bible, for JE, was the only lens through which one could make sense of history. His sermons follow the standard Puritan plain style, with its tri-partite Exposition, Doctrine, and Application format. His exposition sections, while brief relative to the other two sermon sections, are, nonetheless, models of exegetical and hermeneutical sophistication. His sensitivity to literary, historical, canonical, and theological contexts prove that JE was not naively biblicist in his approach. And, while one might expect his sermons to be rich repositories of biblical material, he devoted an overwhelming number of Miscellanies to, often, very detailed and thoughtful reflection on Scripture. Toward the end of his life and ministry, in his initial letter to the Trustees of the College of New Jersey, he listed as contributing to his hesitancy to accept their invitation to the office of President, his desire to revise and complete The History of the Work of Redemption series and A Harmony of the Old and New Testaments, both of which show his enduring desire to make the Bible the center of his theological and pastoral program. I once heard J.I. Packer say that he wanted to be, like Luther and Calvin before him, simply a “Bible teacher.” I tend to think, at the end of the day, JE saw himself as just that – a Bible teacher/preacher. In our next post, we will continue our consideration of why we should read JE today. I’ll give you a hint: my remaining reasons have to do with things, like fitness, sweetness, difficulty, famous faithful pastors and the not-so-famous faithful pastors.
In the last post I sought to whet your appetite for appreciating the theological greatness and understanding the worthiness of studying Jonathan Edwards. We considered his love for the Trinity, how lively was his doctrine in his preaching, that he was innovative with Redemptive History, that his homiletic was suffused with a beautiful Christology and that he was deeply biblical--yet not naively biblicist.In keeping with the opening illustration from that first post, my desire is for this post to be a cup of water to keep you in the race. Maybe, you considered the reasons in the last post and began to tackle something in JE, but are starting to feel the intellectual burn. As you come around the turn try to lay hold of 5 more reasons why we should marinate in JE today:6) JE was a fit preacher. I don’t mean that he ran 5k’s (would’ve been hard to keep a powered wig in place). When we think of the homiletic of a particular preacher, we want to get at the central structures, the programmatic elements. While I’m sure much could and should be said about this in regards to JE, it is clear that he followed the typically Puritan Plain Style with its tripartite Exposition, Doctrine, Application/Use/Improvement sections. However, the idea of "fitness" permeates his sermons. In his 1731/32 sermon, The Warnings of Scripture Are in the Best Manner Adapted to the Awakening and Conversion of Sinners, JE explains:“But God, who knows our nature and circumstances knows what is most adapted to them. He who made the faculties of our souls, knows what will have the greatest tendency to move them, and to work upon them. He who is striving with us to bring us to repentance and salvation uses the fittest and best means.”
For JE there was a fit, meet or suitable relation between the proper preaching of the Word and the working of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, this concept of fitness or “fit relations,” as he often called it, transcended his homiletic program and found a structural place in his soteriology (i.e. doctrine of salvation), as he spoke of the fit relations that exist, for instance, between union with Christ, faith, justification, and good works, or what he called, “evangelical obedience.” There is a necessary, non-causal conditionality or fitness that exists between justification and evangelical obedience. Likewise, there is a fitness that exists between the Word preached and the Spirit working in the hearers by giving them the “new sense of the heart,” whereby they can taste the sweetness of that Word. JE, while thoroughgoing in his application of this, was not being innovative, as we see similar convictions about the relationship between preaching and pneumatology in Puritans, such as Thomas Goodwin (1600-79). A casual survey of JE’s catalogue of reading reveals among his voluminous bookshelves, old Puritan William Perkins (1558-1602), who taught generations of Puritan preachers “Then let the gospel be preached in such a way that the Holy Spirit effectively works salvation” (The Art of Prophesying, 58). JE’s entire ministry of preaching was a loud “Amen!” to that.
7) JE had tasted and seen that the Lord was good. One of the true beauties of reading many of the giants upon whose shoulders we stand is the unmistakable language of intimacy, wonder, affection, and desire with which they would often speak of God. Just take a look at the opening pages of Augustine’s Confessions, or Calvin’s sections on Christology in the Institutes, or Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, or Rutherford’s Letters, or Sibbes Works, and you will see what I am talking about. JE, was no exception. His was the “rhetoric of sensation,” as Perry Miller called it. Redeeming a Lockean philosophical category, JE preached in such a way that, even though his was not a commanding oratorical vocal style, people would, on the basis of his wordsmithing and imagery, truly feel, truly see, truly taste. No one speaks better, more compellingly of the “sweetness, the “loveliness,” and the “beauty” of Christ. John Piper has called a generation of YYR to delight in Jesus. But, he would be the first to tell you that JE is where this whole emphasis on delighting in the Lord, as Ps 37:4 would say, found such pervasive expression in, both treatise and sermon. In Religious Affections, in the second sign of truly gracious affections, JE speaks of the believers delight in the things of God, “True saints have their minds, in the first place, inexpressibly pleased and delighted with the sweet ideas of the glorious and amiable nature of the things of God. And this is the spring of all their delights, and the cream of all their pleasures: it is the joy of their joy (Yale Works of JE, 2.250). This has long been one of my vary favorite Edwardsianisms – "the cream of all their pleasures." Who says these kind of things?! Oh, may the triune God be the cream of all our pleasures in the Church today.
8) Because JE is hard to read. Yes, that’s what I meant to say. I praise God for the constant stream of books of popularized Reformed theology and the Christian life that come from publishers over the last many years. I really do! That said, like C.S. Lewis, I find my heart often singing with a pipe in my mouth, pencil in hand, working through a tough bit of theology (see his introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation). J.I. Packer called John Owen “elephantine,” and admited that he liked to read him aloud, as this helps with the sometimes Latinesque density that makes the English sometimes cumbersome. I think the beauty often lies in the difficulty. It forces us to slow down, to engage, to think, to reread a line or a paragraph. It helps make better theologians of us all when we read stiff stuff think this; it's sort of like reading a Marilynn Robinson novel to make one a better writer. This has been the case for me whenever I read Calvin, Warfield, Vos and Van Til--to name a scant few. However, having read so very many pages of JE over the years, I have come to deeply appreciate how the complexity of his writing comports so well with the earnestness of his preaching and the abandon with which he lived toward God.
9) Because some of the most well-known and theologically faithful pastors and theologians have urged us to read JE. Where do I begin? How many of us started reading JE because we first read Gerstner, or Sproul, or Piper, or Storms, or lately, Nichols, Lucas, Ortlund, and the like. The year was 1991, yet I still remember it like yesterday. I filled out an order form from a Ligonier catalogue, slipped a check into an envelope, and drove to the Nashville post office. Thus began about a three week wait for the first volume of The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards. These were the days that made me love that mailman. I could quote a plethora of beloved theologians and pastors on the greatness of Edwards; however, I’ll offer one of my favorite encouragements to read JE from the good doctor, himself. The necessity of constant study for the work of the ministry remained one of Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ deepest convictions and was one of the main features of his own daily living. Next to his Bible it was probably Jonathan Edwards’ Works which provided the greatest stimulus to him at this date. While still in London he had asked a Welsh Presbyterian Minister for the name of books which would help him prepare for the ministry. One recommendation he received was Protestant Thought Before Kant, written by A.C. McGiffert. Although the book did not live up to his expectation, while reading it he came across the name of Jonathan Edwards for the first time. His interest aroused, Dr. Lloyd-Jones relates:‘I then questioned my ministerial adviser on Edwards, but he knew nothing about him. After much searching I at length called at John Evans’ bookshop in Cardiff in 1929, having time available as I waited for a train. There, down on my knees in my overcoat in a corner of the shop, I found the two-volume 1834 edition of Edwards which I bought for five shillings. I devoured these volumes and literally just read and read them. It is certainly true that they helped me more than anything else’” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years 1899-1939, 253-54).
That should just about do it for any of us! Save up your five shillings, or whatever it takes, and get yourself the Works of JE.
10) Because not-so-well-known faithful pastors and theologians are saying we should read JE. Could it be that, if you love reading JE, there was probably a faithful pastor, laboring in a small church, doing the ordinary work of the ministry, who first let you borrow his two volume Hickman edition (with the promise that would bring it back unscathed!)? Or, perhaps, a seminary professor, who, though he will never be on the conference circuit, enflamed a love for Edwardsian sweetness and delight in you? Was it the preaching of your RUF campus minister, who kept quoting JE in big group, who made you want to go read the Northampton Puritan for yourself? These are the pastors and teachers who know you, and want so much for you to go deep. I wonder how many ordinary pastors have found fuel for faith and courage for the calling by pulling down a trusted volume of JE. For some twenty-five years, he has been for me a faithful traveling partner through the pleasures and pains of life and ministry. Years ago, I started a little JE sermon reading group in my home – Jonathan and Java. We met every two weeks, read three JE sermons between gatherings, and discussed his preaching, as we drank Starbucks. Those were some of the sweetest times of learning, growth, and fellowship. Come to think of it, you can pour a cup and listen to some faithful brothers discussing JE sermons at East of Eden: The Biblical and Systematic Theology of Jonathan Edwards. There are so many reasons to read JE today. I am sure many of you reading this could add your own thoughtful experiences and encouragements in reading him. Hopefully, what I have suggested sparks a desire, which can, in time, enflame full delight! May Augustine not be the last one to hear the call, Tolle lege!
Sean Lucas, author of God's Grand Design: The Theological Vision of Jonathan Edwards, writes about four things that are important about the theological vision of Edwards (which he articulates in his book):
Trinity and covenant: While theologian Amy Pauw has written a marvelous book on Edwards’ Trinitarianism and while Conrad Cherry’s classic work on Edwards’ theology highlighted the covenant idea, I try to show how foundational these theological ideas were for Edwards’ larger goal of showing how the end for which God created the world and purposed redemption was to bring himself glory.
Self-deception: Many, many people have written about Edwards and religious affections. But only one—historian Ava Chamberlain—noted how the theme of self-deception actually represented a darker side of Edwards’ work on the affections. To me, this theme is pastorally important because it helps to explain life in the church, where some appear to follow Christ for a time but turn out to be self-deceived.
Means of grace: For all of his “modern” sensibilities, Edwards was a fairly traditional Reformed theologian. As a result, he believed that the “ordinary means of grace”—the ministry of the Word, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and prayer—were used by God to enable people to persevere. I am not aware of another book that talks about the means of grace for the Christian life like this one does.
Christian life as a journey: Again, Edwards was a eighteenth-century inheritor of the Puritan tradition. As such, he favored the theme of the Christian life as a journey and focused his ministry on preparing his people in each stage of life to die well. The final chapter, which links the first part on redemptive history with the second part on redemption applied, shows how believers who die well participate in God’s grand design: being drawn up into heaven in order to enjoy the fullness of God’s glorious love forever.Jeffrey C. Waddington over at the Reformed Forum writes about "7 Must Read Books on Jonathan Edwards":
Keeping up with books, articles, blog posts, and podcasts-not to mention conferences- about New England pastor-theologian Jonathan Edwards seems like a nearly impossible task. The noted Edwards annotated bibliographer M. X. Lesser cataloged over 4,000 titles through 2005. That was 9 years ago! New items appear regularly. However, to get the would-be Edwards reader started, I list here 7 titles that I would recommend.
Jonathan Edwards: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought — Stephen J. Nichols. This book is the first book I would read if I have never read Edwards or anything about him. It is clearly written, easily understood, and covers all the essentials. Stephen is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, so it has to be good, right?!
A God-Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards — John Piper and Justin Taylor, editors. This book is the result of one of the Desiring God Ministries pastor’s conferences and the various essays are critically appreciative of Edwards.
God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards — John Piper and Jonathan Edwards. This is one excellent book! Really. I mean it. Nick Batzig, my compadre, thinks this is top notch. John Piper offers a biographical account of how he came to appreciate Edwards and then provides extremely helpful annotated notes to Edwards’ The End for Which God Created the World.
The Preaching of Jonathan Edwards — John Carrick. This is a very helpful analysis of Edwards’ Puritan plain style preaching.
Charity and Its Fruits: Living in the Light of God’s Love — Kyle Strobel, editor. This is an annotated version of Edwards’ series of sermons on 1st Corinthians 13 which culminated in his “Heaven is a World of Love” sermon. Kyle Strobel is a new and up and coming Edwards scholar.
The Theology of Jonathan Edwards — Michael McClymond and Gerlad McDermott. This is now the standard treatment of Edwards’ thought. It is, frankly, a mixed bag. It gets Edwards right on some things and wrong on others. The authors take me to task in a few footnotes, so I am not unbiased.
There are many other excellent books I could recommend. Many of them are the more heavy academic type and if there is interest, let me know and I will be happy to plug some of those.
Jeffrey C. Waddington then gives us an excellent list of "14 Recommended Scholarly Jonathan Edwards Books:"
As promised, I now offer a list of several scholarly works on Jonathan Edwards that I think are must reads. Please remember that there are now over 4,000 items of secondary literature and I am offering here my opinion. That means these are books that have struck me as significant.
Reading Jonathan Edwards: An Annotated Bibliography in Three Parts, 1729-2005 – M. X. Lesser. Lesser is the dean of Edwards bibliographers and this is the source to turn to if you intend to study Edwards in depth. Annotations provide a synopsis of the articles or books in question.
The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards – John Gerstner. Dr. Gerstner produced this three volume set shortly before his death and it is a virtual encyclopedia of Edwardsiana. I produced my PhD dissertation critiquing one point of Gerstner’s understanding of Edwards, but I want it on the record that in most things, Gerstner was right on target. Gerstner was one of the original sermon volume editors for the Yale University edition of Edwards’ Works.
The Infinite Merit of Christ: The Glory of Christ’s Obedience in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards – Craig Biehl. When my friend Craig asked me to read through his dissertation on Edwards’ understanding of God’s unchanging rule of righteousness, I was more than happy to do so. In fact, as I read it I was led to wonder at and worship our great Triune God anew. Edwards has a way of capturing us up into the glory of God and Craig caught the essence of that.
Jonathan Edwards and the Covenant of Grace – Carl Bogue. The doyen of Edwards scholars Perry Miller significantly misunderstand Edwards at a most basic point. He argued that Edwards was not a Reformed covenant theologian. Carl Bogue, student of John Gerstner, wrote the seminal study that overturned Miller’s thesis. I should like to note that the recent publication of Edwards’ biblical notebooks has confirmed Bogue’s argument.
Jonathan Edwards’ Moral Thought and Its British Context – Norman Fiering. Fiering wrote a groundbreaking study on Edwards’ Christian ethics in the context of transatlantic theological influences. Edwards has often been portrayed as a lone prodigy in the colonial wilderness. Fiering shows that he was an active participant in the republic of letters involving theology, philosophy, history, and natural science.
God of Grace and God of Glory: An Account of the Theology of Jonathan Edwards – Stephen R. Holmes. Holmes is a bright light in historical theological circles from the UK and his account of Edwards is spot on for the most part. Holmes has what strike me as Barthian leanings. But what I appreciate about Holmes is that he is up front about that. He does not try to attribute his own views to Edwards. This is refreshing. Holmes also offered one of the first serious considerations of Edwards’ contribution to Trinitarian theological formulations.
The Philosophical Theology of Jonathan Edwards – Sang Hyun Lee. It cannot be said of every Edwards scholar that he sets the agenda for future studies. But this is certainly true of Lee. Lee discusses his understanding of Edwards’ dispositional ontology involving virtual and actual habits or dispositions. Lee has even established what is typically called the Korean American school of Edwards studies. I had the privilege of studying with Dr. Lee in his Edwards seminar at Princeton Theological Seminary. It was also my honor to assist him with the editing of The Princeton Companion to Jonathan Edwards.
The Young Jonathan Edwards: A Reconstruction – William Sparkes Morris. This is the book to read about Edwards’ education at what later came to be called Yale University. It is a big tome, but worth the read.
An Absolute Sort of Certainty: The Holy Spirit and the Apologetics of Jonathan Edwards – Stephen J. Nichols. Nichols has provided a thorough discussion of the role of the Holy Spirit in the apologetic encounter, with a significant emphasis on the new sense.
Tragedy in Eden: Original Sin in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards – C. Samuel Storms. Storms has produced the seminal work on Edwards’ treatment of the fall of Adam and the doctrine of original sin. It would be great if this could be brought back into print or perhaps Sam Storms could write an updated and expanded edition. Hint, hint.
Jonathan Edwards and Justification by Faith – Michael McClenahan. If you wonder what the application of the Richard Muller method of church history/historical theology to Edwards would look like, this is the work. Superb scholarship.
Jonathan Edwards’ Social Augustinian Trinitarianism in Historical and Contemporary Perspectives – Stephen Studebaker. Studebaker has written one of the best studies of Edwards’ Trinitarian theology and in the process challenges an inappropriate pitting of the eastern church against the western church.
Jonathan Edwards’s Theology: A Reinterpretation – Kyle Strobel. Strobel offers an intriguing new assessment of Edwards. Strobel was interviewed on the East of Eden podcast last year. You can find that at Reformed Forum.
God is a Communicative Being: Divine Communicativeness and Harmony in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards – William Schweitzer. Schweitzer provides a solid treatment of God as inherently communicative and he shows how the three arenas of communication in Scripture, history, and nature cohere.
Owen Strachan gives one a nice little taste of Edwards in his Ligonier post titled "Jonathan Edwards: 4 Great Paragraphs":This is not a complete list of the many excellent studies of Edwards. For instance, I have not included any journal articles. Also note that I do not necessarily agree with everything in each of these books. But all of them have contributed to my understanding of and appreciation for Jonathan Edwards. More importantly, they have helped me to appreciate the Triune God of Jonathan Edwards and that is much more important.
I recently suggested three reasons why you should read Jonathan Edwards. To further encourage you, here are four paragraphs that, I submit to you, capture the beauty and brilliance of Edwards’ work as a pastor-theologian.
Note that I’ve chosen from a range of his writings to give you a sense for what he sounded like in different contexts. I appreciate him not only as a preacher, but as a theologian, an aesthetician, and a letter-writer (I’ll explain below). I think, if you give him a chance, you will too.
The first paragraph comes from one of Edwards’ earliest sermons. The young pastor-to-be preached “God’s Excellencies” in 1720, setting out at the outset of his ministry the starting point for his life and thought: the transcendent beauty and greatness of God.
The beauty of trees, plants, and flowers, with which God has bespangled the face of the earth, is delightful; the beautiful frame of the body of man, especially in its perfection, is astonishing; the beauty of the moon and stars is wonderful; the beauty of [the] highest heavens is transcendent; the excellency of angels and the saints in light is very glorious: but it is all deformity and darkness in comparison of the brighter glories and beauties of the Creator of all, for “behold even to the moon, and it shineth not” (Job 25:5); that is, think of the excellency of God and the moon will not seem to shine to you, God’s excellency so much outshines [it]. And the stars are not pure in his sight, and so we know that at the great day when God appears, the sun shall be turned into darkness, shall hide his face as if he were ashamed to see himself so much outshined; and the very angels, they hide their faces before him; the highest heavens are not clean in his sight, and he charges his angels with folly. (Works 10, 421)
This is a fitting place at which to begin, because it shows in luminous detail the aesthetic theology of the young Edwards. He recognized early on what the sinful man cannot see: that the natural order is not an end unto itself, but is a channel that leads to worship of the maker of all things. All things pale in comparison to God, who looms magnificently large in this passage and so many other passages in the Edwardsean corpus.
On to our second paragraph. In my study of great leaders and thinkers, I find special enjoyment perusing the letters of the same. In letters to friends and family members, we see the worldview of the historical figure boiled down, and the personality on display. This is valuable in the case of Edwards, for true to his regional roots, he did not write a great deal about himself.
In Edwards’ interaction with his family, we gain a sense for his spiritual seriousness, but also for his tender love of his children. In a letter to his daughter Esther, dated May 27, 1755, we see both of these qualities on display:
Though you are a great way off from us, yet you are not out of our minds: I am full of concern for you, often think of you, and often pray for you. Though you are at so great a distance from us, and from all your relations, yet this is a comfort to us, that the same God that is here, is also at Onohquaga; and that though you are out of our sight and out of our reach, you are always in God’s hands, who is infinitely gracious; and we can go to him, and commit you to his care and mercy. Take heed that you don’t forget or neglect him. Always set God before your eyes, and live in his fear, and seek him every day with all diligence: for ‘tis he, and he only can make you happy or miserable, as he pleases; and your life and health, and the eternal salvation of your soul, and your all in this life and that which is to come, depends on his will and pleasure.
The week before last, on Thursday, David died; whom you knew and used to play with, and who used to live at our house. His soul is gone into the eternal world. Whether he was prepared for death, we don’t know. This is a loud call of God to you to prepare for death. You see that they that are young die, as well as those that are old: David was not very much older than you. Remember what Christ has said, that you must be born again, or you never can see the kingdom of God. Never give yourself any rest, unless you have good evidence that you are converted and become a new creature. We hope that God will preserve your life and health, and return you to Stockbridge again in safety; but always remember that life is uncertain: you know not how soon you must die, and therefore had need to be always ready.
Your tender and affectionate father, Jonathan Edwards. (Works 16, 666-67)
I realize that I have contravened the rules of the game and cited not one but two paragraphs. You must excuse me. I did so because this section shows what a godly father Jonathan Edwards was. If we only encounter the thundering Edwards of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” we will miss the fatherly side of the man. What a strong spiritual guide he was—speaking plainly but winsomely to his children to lead them to Christ. There is sobriety in these words, but also, in eighteenth-century form, deep affection and love.
In the third paragraph, we see that coming to faith, while our duty, is also our chief delight. In a little-known sermon called “The Spiritual Blessings of the Gospel Represented by a Feast,” Edwards unfolds the “glorious objects” of our spiritual focus:
There is every kind of thing dispensed in Christ that tends to make us excellent and amiable, and every kind of thing that tends to make us happy. There is that which shall fill every faculty of the soul and in a great variety. What a glorious variety is there for the entertainment of the understanding! How many glorious objects set forth, most worthy to be meditated upon and understood! There are all the glorious attributes of God and the beauties of Jesus Christ, and manifold wonders to be seen in the way of salvation, the glories of heaven and the excellency of Christian graces. And there is a glorious variety for the satisfying the will: there are pleasures, riches and honors; there are all things desirable or lovely. There is various entertainment for the affections, for love, for joy, for desire and hope. The blessings are innumerable. (Works 14, 285-86)
This is, simply put, a marvelous section on which to meditate. It shows us that pleasure is not meant primarily for sinners, but for believers. This was a subject of major inquiry for Edwards, and his collective thought on it renders him the best thinker in the Christian tradition on pleasure. Edwards shows us here (and in many other places) that humanity was made for delight. We did not receive affections in the fall, but the creation.
It is not wrong, then, for Christians to enjoy life; it is profoundly appropriate. If we are known for being anti-pleasure people, it is not Edwards’ fault, and it is certainly not God’s, as texts like Psalm 16:11 show. There is much to think about here, and to apply. In Edwards’ exposition of Godward pleasure, we unearth a promising apologetic in a pleasure-obsessed world. More than that, we discover a way of life.
In our fourth and final paragraph, we turn to Edwards’ meditation on heaven in his unforgettable sermon “Heaven Is a World of Love.” Few subjects are more poorly conceived by Christians than heaven. Edwards offers a biblical vision of the life to come in God. The chief point the pastor-theologian makes is this: love is the currency of heaven.
But here the spring shall become a river, and an ocean. All shall stand about the God of glory, the fountain of love, as it were opening their bosoms to be filled with those effusions of love which are poured forth from thence, as the flowers on the earth in a pleasant spring day open their bosoms to the sun to be filled with his warmth and light, and to flourish in beauty and fragrancy by his rays. Every saint is as a flower in the garden of God, and holy love is the fragrancy and sweet odor which they all send forth, and with which they fill that paradise. Every saint there is as a note in a concert of music which sweetly harmonizes with every other note, and all together employed wholly in praising God and the Lamb; and so all helping one another to their utmost to express their love of the whole society to the glorious Father and Head of it, and to pour backlove into the fountain of love, whence they are supplied and filled with love and with glory. And thus they will live and thus they will reign in love, and in that godlike joy which is the blessed fruit of it, such as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath ever entered into the heart of any in this world to conceive [cf. 1 Corinthians 2:9]. And thus they will live and reign forever and ever. (Works 8, 385-86)
Tolle lege!There is little we can or should add to this. It is a truly great paragraph, and a fitting one on which to close. Here, Edwards points us beyond our shallow visions of the ideal life, showing us what we are meant for: the unfettered experience of the love of God, flowing from the holy Trinity into our lives, rushing over us and consuming us for all eternity.
BONUS! If all this reading about Edwards get's you fired up to take a trip, don't miss Tony Reinke's Edwards trip and let it guide your own.