Reflections on the Life & Writings of Edwards
In reading the thoughts that transpired in Edwards’ heart and mind as he was converted as a young adult I find myself pleased with the confirmation of what I have experienced, what others have testified to, and what God’s word teaches about what happens to us when we are truly born again. Mainly, that when someone is truly saved by the grace of Christ there is a common and necessary shift that occurs that impacts us on a spiritual and intellectual level. Those that have truly perceived the nature of their salvation have become aware of certain and distinct glories of God that are hidden from those that are perishing and are yet in the dominion of darkness with a veil imposed by Satan and a futile, darkened nature inherited from Adam.
What I am speaking of is not an instant apprehension of all spiritual mysteries or any sort of immediate perfection, but of an immediate exaltation in the heart and mind of God and his Gospel. This is a posture of the soul towards God that is present in the elect, those for whom Christ pled to the Father “that they may behold my glory”, from the moment of new birth. In fact, unless this fundamental shift, awakening, or enlightening occurs no one may be saved. From the dawning of the first morning of the “new creation” there is a continual growing and forming but it all stems from the event in which the Creator declared “Let there be light”. Thus the creation of the universe by the Almighty stands as an allegory of the Gospel.
If person has not been enlightened or made alive in Christ yet he claims to be a Christian he will in two fashions approach the Gospel. The one will see the Gospel and the obedience that God expects of his children and he will work very hard to fulfill the demands of the law and thus have the appearance of one who has been sanctified. He will accept these acts of human sovereignty and will-power as a proof of his right standing and will speak false peace into his darkened heart while disbelieving the state of his soul and the nature of the Gospel. The other is perhaps more dangerous and the most prevalent in this day. This one will see the call to only believe, to say a prayer, to go to church and thus know he is saved. There is no vexation in his soul over his sin for all is of grace in his mind and he believes that God accepts who he is. After all (I speak facetiously) he has said a prayer and now God must save him. His view of God is low, perhaps even blasphemously so, and he believes that the center of the Gospel is himself. Both have read the Word and both have come to darkened conclusions of what is being said.
The shift that occurs when one goes from darkness to light, from death to life is one that occurs when God looks into the inky void of a darkened, lifeless heart and says, “Let there be light!” (II Cor 4:6). As light breaks into the darkness and a young, tender creation begins he is unable to make any boast in his own effort or intelligence. Now the question is of what does this burst of light and this new breath make the child of God aware? What shift occurs that allows someone to come to faith in Christ and to be sanctified, that is conformed into the image of Christ? II Corinthians 4:6 teaches us that what we are made to see is the “glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. It is in considering this that we find the distinction between those that are dead and those that have been made alive. So now we will consider with the help of Edwards’ testimony what happens when we behold “the glory of God in the face of Christ”.
1. Beholding the Glory of God in Christ makes us aware of our sin and depravity
Many assume the Gospel and are never saved because they never come to a place where they weep like Peter or plead like the Philippian jailer “what must I do to be saved?” Many a so-called saint cannot identify with the great Apostle Paul when he declares “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” If we behold the glory of God in the face of Christ the result is the same as Isaiah who when God displayed his glory to him in the temple he declared “Woe is me! For I am lost!”. Isaiah did not need a seminary lecture on depravity to become devastatingly aware of his sinfulness; he only needed to get a glimpse of the glory of God. Those that have had their eyes opened have beheld the glory of God by the Holy Spirit through the word of Christ.
2. Beholding the Glory of God in Christ causes us to see magnitude of God’s mercy in Christ to satisfy his just wrath towards us
The same aspect of having our eyes opened that causes us to see our depravity causes us to begin to comprehend the magnitude of God’s mercy. I say “begin” because we see through a glass darkly now and only in eternity when we behold perfectly God’s glory will we understand the incalculable magnitude of what God accomplished in the cross. As we are made to sense the majesty and holiness of God and to behold it in the narrative of Scripture we come full circle to the cross. This is where we behold the “Gospel of the glory of Christ”. We see at this time the graciousness of our adoption and election which was “to the praise of his (Christ’s) glorious grace” (Eph 1:6). In this we avoid presuming upon God’s grace but learn to live in humble amazement of God’s mercy towards us.
3. Beholding the Glory of God in Christ is the means of our sanctification
As we behold the glory of God we begin to reflect that glory from one degree of glory to the next (II Cor 3:18). It is by this that sanctification is realized in our lives without descending into the Christ-belittling swamp of legalism and dead works. It is impossible not to persevere in holiness once one has been enlightened. In fact the effect of this beholding is of such magnitude that if one were to turn away in a final state of apostasy once being enlightened it would be impossible to again turn that person to repentance so reprobate they would have to be (Heb 6:4).
Finally, our sanctification is part of our glorification. Romans teaches us that those whom God called “he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” Rom 8:30. Our sanctification is part of our glorification, because God alone is glorious then we must become like him. The apex of our glorification will be when we see Christ for “we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is”(1 John 3:2). This becoming like Christ starts now as we reflect what we behold of him in the Gospel and it will be complete when we behold him fully after the resurrection. We are being sanctified by degrees as we behold with unveiled face the glory of God in the Gospel (II Cor 3:18).
The next aspect of beholding the glory of God in Christ is also part of our glorification via sanctification. Christ declared that the road is narrow and so sanctification would be joyless were it not for this next aspect which is that….
4. Beholding the Glory of God in Christ makes us see Christ as more beautiful and valuable than anything in this life
This practical effect of beholding the glory of God in the Gospel is what separates obedience from legalism. This is perhaps one of the greatest proofs of our salvation in this life while we are yet in these corrupt bodies and yet it is the very thing that should set us apart from the world.
This is one of the intangibles about those that have been called. In spite of our struggles and our battle with sin we press on because we know not with our minds but with our entire being that there is nothing more valuable than Jesus Christ. Those that have beheld the glory of God in Christ do not recoil when they hear hard truths from God’s word or are called to leave comfort for the sake of the Gospel. If they have beheld Christ as more beautiful than anything then they have no problem with him having the preeminent place in all things. When their young ears hear the Gospel preached in a way that glorifies God their hearts soar within them. These are the ones that uphold scripture even if it calls them to a life of suffering. How few I have met who have experienced this! It is a silent gravity within that points you to Christ again and again as the source of all joy. This is what Edwards experienced when he was saved and he puts it well:
“I began to have new kind of apprehension and ideas of Christ, and of the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him. I had an inward sweet sense of these things…. My mind was greatly engaged… reading and meditating on Christ; and the beauty and excellency of his person, and the lovely way of salvation of free grace in him” (Works 16)
And he had:
“A real sense of the excellency of God and Jesus Christ, and of the work of redemption, and the ways and works of God revealed in the Gospel. There is a divine and superlative glory in these things; an excellency that is of a vastly higher kind, and more sublime nature than in other things; a glory greatly distinguishing them from all that is earthly and temporal. He that is spiritually enlightened truly apprehends it and sees it, or has a sense of it. He does not merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but he has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart. There is not only a rational belief that God is holy… but there is a sense of the loveliness of God’s holiness. There is not only speculative judging that God is gracious, but a sense of how amiable God is upon that account, or a sense of the beauty of this divine attribute.” (Works 17)
5. Beholding the Glory of God in Christ makes us long for heaven
Finally in this short writing is the fact that those that have beheld the glory of God in Christ long to behold it more fully, namely face-to-face. Those that are beholding the glory of Christ feel less and less attached to their life here and more focused on things that are eternal, which also plays a role in their sanctification. The Puritan preacher, John Owen, in his work The Glory of Christ says, “No man shall ever behold the glory of Christ by sight in heaven who does not, in some measure, behold it by faith in this world…. Many will say with confidence that they desire to be with Christ and behold his glory. But when asked, they can give no reason for this desire, except that it would be better than going to hell…. So it is only as we behold the glory of Christ by faith here in this world that our hearts will be drawn more and more to Christ and to the full enjoyment of the sight of his glory hereafter.”
Paul had beheld the glory of Christ and this is why he could truly say that it is far better to depart and be with Christ (Phil 1:23). If that is not our ultimate desire then we should tremble and ponder if we have ever had our eyes enlightened. Is what we think we have seen really that beautiful priceless pearl which is the glory of God?
I have been encouraged greatly to meditate on these things. It causes an unsurpassed joy and excitement to well up in me. I am poor, needy and so full of sin and self, but I have seen something that is worth everything! I have not seen it in my own wisdom or intelligence but because God according to his glorious mercy looked into the inky blackness of my heart and said “Let there be light!” Now all that I know, amidst my brokenness, is that all I want is to see more of him!