A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards
Edited by Nathan A. Finn and Jeremy M. Kimble
This collection of essays edited by Finn and Kimble draws together some of the finest Edwards scholars around and delves into the deep parameters of Edwards’ thought. From his theology, ethics, and revivalist writings, by reading these chapters one can get a sure grasp on this greater thinker and pastor of the Christian faith. Much like having sturdy handrails as you ascend and descend the heights and depth of a trail, these authors give us literary and theological handholds to understand and guide us as we read the voluminous work of Jonathan Edwards. What can at first light be an immense and daunting task, with help from this team of Edwards experts the believer can navigate the work of Edwards with confidence.
I really got to see a vision of the importance of the writing of Jonathan Edwards in the first chapter on how to read Edwards by Dane Ortlund. Getting to the heart of the matter, Dane writes, “But Jonathan Edwards lived and saw and preached and penned a vision of God and of walking with him that will be foreign to someone who has not begun to taste the same thing. He exhaled the air of eternity. When you read Jonathan Edwards as an unbeliever, you find yourself bewildered, perhaps even amused. When you read him as a believer, you find yourself enjoying the scent of something high and deep and beautiful that is beyond you, to which you are irresistibly drawn but find yourself unable to contain or domesticate (26).” There is high and lofty vision in the words of Edwards about the God of the Universe as Creator and Redeemer. Yet, as Dane points out, Edwards never saw God in the light of an enclosed study but lived and preached this vision of God, his faith was as vibrant as ever. There really was no other profession than the ministry that Edwards could apply his hand at, for his aim was shepherding souls and in doing so he was a ‘miner of the Word of God’ (28). This first chapter paints the picture of Edwards as lover of God, his Word, and the gospel in a marvelous and deep way.
My favorite work of Edwards that brings delight when I read it again is his Religious Affections. Scholar Gerald McDermott delves into this work with a razor sharp focus on the nuances of Edwards’ thought. One misunderstood aspect of his thought was his understanding of what ‘affections’ are and how they are different than emotions. McDermott writes, Both sides then, and many scholars since, have wrongly assumed that Edwards’s affections are the same thing as “emotions.” But emotions for Edwards are only one dimension of human experience shaped by affections, along with thinking and choosing. Furthermore, Edwards always links affections to an object, while emotions may or may not have an object (99).” For Edwards, affections certainly included the mind and will, but emotions are only part of the story. The affections always have an object, a person, an end purpose for which arise. Emotions are prone to volatility and often are not in keeping with the things of God. Another aspect of McDermott’s chapter is his focus on positive signs of true religion. Concerning the chief article of true religion, Christian behavior, McDermott writes, “He wrote eighty pages on this sign, more than four times as many as for any of the other signs. Practice does not mean perfection but commitment over time to the lordship of Christ. What someone does in her life is finally more illustrative of grace than what she says (106).” Edwards was so concerned that one’s life be an overflow of the divine grace given in salvation, he did not want there to be an end to the way one lived in praise and thanksgiving for the mighty work that God did to save wretched sinners.
The remaining chapters in this book are worth the effort to read and digest as well. Crossway has put together a wonderful collection of faithful men to write about one of the finest believers and writers of the Christian faith.
Thanks to Crossway Publishers for the review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.