The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Edwards

Review: “Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers”

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Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers
Dane C. Ortlund
Crossway, 2020
224pp., hardback, $19.99

ISBN 978-1-4335-6613-4

Some assured me that it was the greatest book they had read in years. Others warned me that it was profoundly dangerous. Reviewers have largely fallen over themselves to commend it. It is a topic which I need to grasp personally and pastorally. So I took it up and read it. The book is from Dane Ortlund, is called Gentle and Lowly, and is—more or less—an attempt to rework Goodwin on the heart of Christ (available as a Puritan Paperback from the Banner of Truth) for a modern audience, with primary assistance from Sibbes, Owen, Flavel, and Bunyan, and occasional contributions from Edwards, Warfield, and one or two others.

In style, it is interesting, at times combining Blairite sentence fragments with complex and lengthy sentences that would make a Puritan blush. It is generally accessible, but some of those heavier sentences are like steamrollers. I wonder if people are so persuaded that the seventeenth-century authors are unreadable that they never bother finding out if they are at least as clear as some of our more modern writers? That is true, not just of Ortlund’s style, but also in his substance.

So what of the substance? ‘This book,’ says the author, ‘is written for the discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty.’ Its message is ‘that we tend to project our natural expectations about who God is onto [sic] him instead of fighting to let the Bible surprise us into what God himself says’ (13, 155). If the message so stated seems to fall a little short of the target audience, then we need to dig a little deeper.

Ortlund is addressing a genuine and proper pastoral concern, and one which may well be more pressing in his circles than in those of some readers. Most pastors will recognise the malady when he writes that ‘many of us tend to believe [that God’s love in Christ] is a love infected with disappointment’ (189). Ministers wrestle with men and women, believers and otherwise, persuaded that they are utterly unloveable and entirely beyond love. In part, like Ortlund, I am persuaded that this probably reflects a failure properly to appreciate and appropriate the incomparable depths of God’s love toward us in Christ Jesus, and—perhaps, therefore—further reflects a fear of preaching the heart of Christ in all its fulness of love. After all, what if people got the wrong impression and thought that they could sin and get away with it? But, on the other hand, what if people concluded that, because they had sinned, they were helplessly and hopelessly done for, because Christ would quickly become frustrated with us and leave us to our own wretched devices? It may be that Ortlund is conscious of an excessive intellectualism in his own circles, a technical grasp of what Christ is and does without an experimental acquaintance with our Lord’s heart toward us that spills over in our lives and from our lips. Whatever the case, he is quite right to quote Jeremiah 31:20 about the yearning of God’s heart, and challenge us, ‘Does your doctrine of God have room for him speaking like that?’ (164).

In the course of the book there are moments of penetrating insight into the Scriptures (such as the developed parallel between God’s self-revelation to Moses on the mountain and the actions of our Lord Jesus with his disciples), or points at which his apposite quotation of the Puritans, or communication of their sense, leaves the heart singing.

The book as a whole consists of twenty-three reasonably brief chapters, with an introduction and an epilogue. It concentrates more on the character of Christ, although his nature as the God-man is used to elaborate on the depths and demonstrations of his heart toward us. While the first chapter picks up the language of Matthew 11:29, which supplies the title, every chapter takes a verse, or more often a phrase, as its point of departure. The author wants us to understand the depths of Christ’s sympathy for and with sinners, his readiness to receive the penitent wanderer returning home, his patience and gentleness with his erring people, his intercession and advocacy for us in his glory, his perfect emotions in his dealings with us, his persevering affection, and the way in which his heart beats in time with the Father and the Spirit, revealing the Father’s heart and exemplified in the Spirit’s presence and operations. Ortlund labours constantly to overcome our sinful suspicions of the Lord, the twisted pride that assumes we are actually too bad to be saved, or the fear that we have messed up and have put ourselves if not beyond the power then perhaps beyond the patience of a loving Saviour. Some chapters rely more heavily on his source material. Goodwin ties the whole together, but specific chapters owe more or less to other authors, and one or two—such as the chapter on the emotional life of our Lord—are largely summaries of longer pieces by older authors.

As a whole, the theme is wonderfully sweet and absolutely vital. Ortlund’s emphases are sadly missing in too many churches. (It is worth remembering that not everything that he sees as missing has been or is being missed in every church and by every preacher.) For many a battered and bruised soul, either wondering if God could ever love them or keep loving them, there is much truth here to instruct and to comfort, truth presented with a necessarily emphatic edge. Sinners coming to Christ for the first time need not only to be persuaded of their own emptiness and weakness, but also persuaded that the Redeemer is not only absolutely able but eminently willing to save them—he delights to glorify God in receiving the most wretched of sinners. Further, saints need to enter ever more fully into the depths of Christ’s love, never despairing of him and therefore over themselves, but confident (without carelessness) that this fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness will ever be accessible to them, that their Lord and Saviour is more willing to forgive their sins than they might be to come to him for forgiveness. It is a truth that is intended to draw us to Christ and keep us near Christ, and should we ever drift away from him, to bring us back, more fully persuaded of his abounding and enduring love.

So persuaded am I of the need for more such preaching and teaching that I am borderline desperate to be able to commend this book without reservation as a remedy for some of the spiritual ills that afflict far too many doctrinally-sound but experientially-shrivelled Christians and congregations.

I cannot do that. I cannot commend it without reservation, despite my appreciation of the overarching thrust and intent, because I have three particular areas of significant concern. The first has to do with the overstatements that unbalance the book, including some false absolutes and false dichotomies; the second has to do with what seem to be certain subtle misrepresentations or reworkings of the Puritans and their emphases; the third has to do with a lack of clarity in theology proper and Christology.

With regard to overstatement, I mean a tendency—all too frequent both in books and pulpits—to make a point by absolutising one’s statement, or by seeking to throw truth into sharpest relief by setting it in contrast to other statements. This is proper when the other statements are false, but when it leads to the presentation of false absolutes or false dichotomies it undoes itself. I fundamentally agree with Dr Ortlund when he asserts that ‘it is impossible for the affectionate heart of Christ to be overcelebrated, made too much of, exaggerated’ (29, original emphasis). That does not in itself remove the danger of subtly misrepresenting Christ and his heart, even with the best of intentions. I am not sufficiently familiar with Dr Ortlund’s writings to know whether or not other books or articles offer further perspectives that together provide a more complete and balanced presentation of the points he makes here. Neither am I demanding a constant stream of deadening nuance, in which every writer or preacher must identify the seventeen things he does not mean before he says what he does. If we deal every absolute statement the death of a thousand qualifying cuts we are likely to undo our usefulness. That does not, though, suspend the duty for careful precision in the statements themselves. I would not try to cripple any communicator of truth, but we are most free when truly precise, working within the carefully-defined limits of our whole theology and the analogy of Scripture. There are moments at which I think Dr Ortlund either goes beyond himself in his understandable enthusiasm, or fails to be as careful as he might need to be when dealing with some details. Virtuosity is still jarring when in the wrong key.

Lest I seem to tilt at windmills, let me offer a concrete example from the opening lines of Chapter 20: “There are two ways to live the Christian life. You can live it either for the heart of Christ or from the heart of Christ. You can live for the smile of God or from it. For a new identity as a son or daughter of God or from it. For your union with Christ or from it.” On the surface it reads well, and sounds deeply ‘spiritual.’ But put those phrases in parallel and there are some category confusions: are the heart of Christ, the smile of God, a new identity, and union with Christ all precisely identical under all circumstances? What do the prepositions ‘for’ and ‘from’ mean in connection with those particular phrases? Does it make any difference if you are already a believer or not? Ortlund makes clear he is talking about the Christian life. So, for example, if you had asked the apostle Paul whether or not he first obtains union with Christ and a new life by his own efforts, he would have denied it from his soul. However, had you asked Paul if, as a Christian, he lived for the smile of God or from it, he would cheerfully have answered, “Yes!” (based on 2 Corinthians 5:9–11, Galatians 2:17–21, and Philippians 3:7–14, to take three prominent examples). Paul might also have insisted, using careful language, that—having begun in the Spirit, but not now being made perfect by the flesh (Gal 3:3)—we nevertheless go on demonstrating our union with Christ and enjoying the smile of our heavenly Father by way of a life of principled obedience.

On another occasion, in order to make a point, Ortlund insists that “justification is largely a doctrine about what Christ has done in the past, rooted centrally in his death and resurrection” (78), quoting the first half of Romans 5:1, emphasising thus: “we have been justified” (ESV). However, the whole verse reads tells us that since we have been justified by faith, we have a thoroughly present and enduring peace with God as justified men and women, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Ortlund’s characterisation of justification allows him then to insist that ‘intercession is the constant hitting “refresh” of our justification in the court of heaven’ (80). It is not that all this is entirely wrong; it is, though, unbalanced or incomplete in its presentation. Such overstatements can become unhelpful. Should we insist that ‘the Christian life is simply the process of bringing my sense of self … into alignment with the more fundamental truth’ of how Christ feels about us (187)? If I make that my working definition of the Christian life I think I am likely to leave people confused and misdirected.

This isolation of justification comes out in another curious way, and in another direction. Anyone who reads the mainstream Puritans will appreciate their emphasis on the application of truth to the heart. There is distinction but no distance, let alone divorce, between the elements of their soteriology. But, in his epilogue, Ortlund hammers home that his book is about the heart of Christ and of God, and then asks and answers the question, ‘But what are we to do with this? The main answer is, nothing.’ According to Ortlund, to ask, ‘Now how do I apply this to my life?’ would be ‘a trivialization of the point of this study. If an Eskimo wins a vacation to a sunny place, he doesn’t arrive in his hotel room, step out onto the balcony, and wonder how to apply that to his life. He just enjoys it. He just basks.’ The only thing we need to do is go to Jesus, and ‘all that means is, open yourself up to him. Let him love you. The Christian life boils down to two steps: 1. Go to Jesus. 2. See #1.’ All of this is supported with a quotation from Goodwin that, slightly disingenuously, does not actually come from the book, The Heart of Christ. What Ortlund does not say is that Goodwin actually finishes his work on Christ’s heart with four uses (the Puritan language of application). I acknowledge that this is slightly shoddy from Goodwin; if he were on form, we might expect a good forty or so! Also, taking into account the applications and exhortations sown by Goodwin throughout the whole, let us note that it is not just unlike the Puritans, but unlike Goodwin himself, to suggest that our only response is to bask in this truth. Goodwin, in keeping with the emphasis of the best of Puritanism, includes stirring exhortations alongside sweet encouragements. His third use is that, ‘As the doctrine delivered is a comfort, so the greatest motive against sin and persuasive unto obedience, to consider that Christ’s heart, if it be not afflicted with—and how far it may suffer with us we know not—yet for certain hath less joy in us, as we are more or less sinful, or obedient’ (Goodwin, 4:150). At this point you might appreciate why Ortlund sometimes paraphrases Goodwin, so let me do the same. Goodwin is simply pressing home the fact that Christ grieves over our sin and rejoices over our obedience, and that should make a difference to our pursuit of godliness. ‘Take this,’ says Goodwin, ‘as one incentive to obedience, that if he retained the same heart and mind for mercy towards you which he had here on earth, then to answer his love, endeavour you to have the same heart towards him on earth which you hope to have in heaven.’ The proper response to Christ’s heart is not simply basking in his love, but also responding to it with a love of our own that manifests itself in cheerful obedience.

Sometimes, Ortlund simply needs to be more careful with his language. For example, he asks, ‘Do you know what Jesus does with those who squander his mercy? He pours out more mercy. God is rich in mercy. That’s the whole point’ (179). One understands what he is trying to say, but there will be many on the day of judgment who are cast into the Pit precisely because they have squandered (recklessly wasted and cast away) the real and offered mercies of the Lord Jesus. Such imprecision opens the door to potentially dangerous misunderstandings.

Such examples could be repeated several times over. Many such sweeping statements sound clever and are catchy. Digging deeper, though, one finds that they are not properly compelling, and some effectively downplay other necessary or complementary emphases. All this is fine when we are carried along on the wave, less satisfying should we be only temporarily lifted up by the froth. While we do want people to grasp the heart of Christ for sinners and sufferers, that must be a well-grounded and accurate grasp. Overstatement for effect will ultimately hinder or even cripple our efforts to communicate the truth.

This concern bleeds, second, into the way in which Ortlund handles and riffs off the Puritans and others. To be fair, his selection of their quotations is typically judicious, and there are several moments at which one reads a few lines from Goodwin or Bunyan and wants to shout, ‘Nailed it!’ When our author gets it right, he often gets it delightfully right (aspects of his treatment of Warfield on the emotional life of our Lord, for example). However, as we have said, he is making a selection, and selection is often, by definition, interpretation. Sometimes Ortlund takes it upon himself to explain or develop what these other authors have said. In doing so, he seems sometimes to leave out important elements, or to go beyond his sources, or to rephrase them to say something slightly more, less or different. What you have here is essentially Goodwin mediated by Ortlund, not unlike the way in which many read Edwards as mediated by Piper. There is a selective emphasis that necessarily reflects the convictions and priorities of the mediator, and may—inadvertently or otherwise—skew the force of the original to some extent. As so often, it is important to listen to what is not being said, as well as the things that are being said. See, for example, the comments above about the way in which Goodwin applies these truths to God’s people, which is largely missing from Ortlund’s treatment.

Some of this is a matter of vocabulary. Ortlund tends to default to the language of love for the disposition of Christ toward us. It becomes a catch-all cognate for the disposition and all the affections of Christ as they are manifested towards us. While that is sometimes equally true of the Puritans he quotes, they are typically a little more precise. For example, even in the quotations he selects, the Puritans upon whom he relies often use the notions of pity or mercy not as simple synonyms for love, but as functions of love, love responding in certain ways to certain situations. Would it be better, rather than simply to say that Christ loves us all the more, the more we sin, to say that—because of the great love with which he loves us—our sin only draws out the more pity and mercy from his loving heart? Ortlund often hits that sweet spot, as when he assures us that ‘as [God’s] love rises, mercy descends. Great love fills his heart; rich mercy flows out of his heart’ (174). On other occasions, one wonders if a more careful definition of love and its manifestations might have been helpful, rather than assuming that we all instinctively grasp what love is and ought to be, and how it ought to act.

This leaves us sometimes reading Ortlund’s elucidation of Puritan teaching and finding it less clear or crisp than the Puritans themselves. At one or two points he lacks the happy ruthlessness of Puritan logic or precision of language, and, on occasion, the consistent and comprehensive grasp of truth that keeps them from going too far or not far enough in making a certain point. To be fair, there are times when Goodwin and company make assertions that take the breath away, and leave you feeling as if you are teetering on the edge of heresy, so bold are their declarations of the readiness of Christ to receive and go on receiving sinners. However, I do not recall reading the men and works that Ortlund quotes with quite so many questions or niggles. Again, I am not pushing for endless qualification (if that were so, this book would be three times as long as the weightiest Puritan tome!), but for precision and carefulness in the foundational statements. Perhaps I am just more conscious of the issues of the modern day, better attuned to the current issues and the way they are framed, but I don’t recall raising these issues with Goodwin, Owen, Sibbes, or Bunyan. These men seemed better able to address the ‘yes, buts’ or pre-empt the ‘what ifs’ of their magisterial declarations. Some of that breadth and balance is missing in Ortlund’s recapitulation of Goodwin.

Finally, there is the concern of his theology proper and his Christology. I do not envy Ortlund here, and I am deeply conscious that I am picking holes in a game effort to accomplish something at which I constantly fail. He is sailing deep waters, and makes a good fist of seeking to take account of the fact that he cannot deal with the incarnate Son without addressing the persons of the Father and the Spirit, and that the incarnate Son himself is indeed the God-man, two distinct natures in one person forever. I applaud the preacher or writer who manages a lifetime of addressing such things without a moment’s deviation or confusion!

Ortlund is himself deeply aware of that danger. He reminds us that J. I. Packer ‘once wrote that “a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.” This is an especially sensitive point when we are talking about the Bible’s revelation of Christ’ (28). Shortly after, he warns that ‘we should beware a one-dimensional portrait of Christ that elevates one [dimension] to the neglect of others’ (35). Awareness of the trap does not prevent one slipping into it, if not quite becoming entirely caught up in it. Again, some of this may be a function of Ortlund’s enthusiasm, his working assumption that some things cannot be over-exaggerated. He is also trying to push back at some common misconceptions, such as the sense of some believers that ‘the Son of God came down from heaven in incarnate form, spent three decades or so as a human, and then returned to heaven to revert back to his preincarnate state’ (103). To be fair, across the book there are attempts to ensure that a properly scriptural balance is maintained, but balance is not necessarily the same as correctness and correction.

As the book’s own title makes plain, the focus is on the heart of Christ. There are, then, particular dangers in setting, or seeming to set, the heart of the person of the Son apart from the other persons of the Godhead, and so potentially disrupting the Trinity, or the heart of Christ-as-God apart from the heart of Christ-as-man, and so potentially disrupting the person of Messiah. There are challenges both in positively presenting all that, and in preventing or countering potential confusion about it.

For some, the difficulty might lie in the fact that Ortlund appears to go quite readily down Rob Lister’s route on anthropopathism (God’s ascription of human affection or emotion to himself as a way of accommodating himself to our understanding in making himself known). Ortlund seems quite dismissive of any attempt to discern between emotions or affections in our speaking of God, and perhaps feels that this book is not the proper place to explore fully the ways in which the God-man has sinless human emotions as well as divine affections (his chapter on Warfield is good in this respect). Again, the book is not a contribution to recent debates on divine impassibility (which Ortlund refers to, in connection with Lister as a helpful resource to ‘explore the way God is both impassible and yet capable of emotion’, in a substantial footnote on page 73). However, it is obviously not an issue that can be side-stepped when dealing with the heart of our Lord. Ortlund takes pains later in the book to make clear that Christ’s heart is not apart from the Father’s, still less against it, in his disposition toward us; this can feel more of a balancing act than a correction. We are still left with a danger at earlier points of not so much dividing as isolating the heart of Christ from the heart of the Father. Confusion on impassibility may lie behind statements such as the assertion that God ‘is—if I can put it this way without questioning his divine perfections—conflicted within himself when he sends affliction into our lives’ (138). Is that the safest way of putting it? Does that qualification keep us clear about whether or not the God of all the earth can be self-conflicted?

Again, Ortlund himself warns against the danger of being carried too far in seeking to go far enough. No preacher would begrudge him a proper enthusiasm, but not at the price of necessary precision. In an attempt to show us something great in Christ, there is that constant danger of presenting a one-dimensional Christ. I am not sure that he always stayed on the right side of that line. There are nuances and qualifications, for example, about Christ’s holy hatred of sin, but perhaps not sufficient, or sufficiently clear, to keep some from concluding that we are free to squander present mercies with the confidence that more mercies will come. In Sinclair Ferguson’s language, we need to preach a whole Christ. We cannot always (ever!) say everything, but we might need to say enough, in context or over time, manifestly to keep from preaching less or other than a whole Christ.

Anyone who raise such concerns needs to be aware of at least two dangers for themselves. The first is that, in attempting to keep from error, we will not state the whole truth with the fulness and freeness of the Scriptures themselves. So fearful might we be of legalism that we become antinomians, so fearful of antinomianism that we become legalists, or seek to counter the one with a dash of the other. In the same vein, men constantly on the lookout for even the most minute error in speaking of divine affections might find themselves unable or even unwilling to give free rein to Scriptural language or proper vent to their own souls in seeking to communicate the sweet wonders of the heart of God in Christ toward his beloved people. We cannot afford to be ashamed of or to draw back from biblical truth presented in biblical language.

To conclude, and without wishing to overstate it myself, I am persuaded that this theme is often and tragically overlooked or undercooked. For whatever reasons, the heart of Christ is too often clouded to us and by us. Lost sinners need to be confident that a saving Christ will receive them with infinite readiness and tenderness. Christians need to know Christ’s disposition of love toward us, and to feel it, and to understand the ways in which it is manifested toward us. Because of my delight in the topic, I wanted to love this book, and at points I did. Nevertheless, I too often felt I needed subtly, internally, to rework a phrase, to introduce a nuance, to press further a point, or to adjust an assertion. I still think that for some whose spiritual diet has been lacking this emphasis, Gentle and Lowly could be like a cup of cold water to the soul. For some who preach a known Christ competently, this book might help to preach a felt one earnestly. We need all that is true in this book. Even so, I think there is a danger that it might not so much correct certain imbalances as introduce different ones. I understand why some recommended it with almost no reserve, while some were so reserved they felt that they could not recommend it. That might depend on their circumstances and the people to whom they minister. I am quite confident that, if I preached Christ in all his fulness, I might eventually be accused both of antinomianism and legalism, depending on which truth I happen to be emphasising. That is why a bit more Puritan precision without any loss of Puritan passion (emotion? affection?) would be welcome. That carefulness needs to become second nature to the theologian, so that our language more instinctively, regularly and carefully reflects the whole truth of the whole Christ. I write all this not to be wilfully contrarian, or simply pernickety, but because I think that there are not so much flaws in the diamond itself, but rather genuine concerns about its presentation.

Much good will have been done if this book drives us back to the Puritans. In many modern editions, the Puritans are at least as accessible as this book, or become so for those willing to put in a little effort. Those Puritans also tend to be, I think, more complete and careful. For many, one of the better responses to this book will be to read Goodwin for themselves. However, more will have been done if Gentle and Lowly, with the men upon whose shoulders it stands, drive us back to our Bibles to search out and see these things in Christ for ourselves. If nothing else, it should remind us of the need to grasp these truths in our souls, and to tell them to others, even if we believe that we could and should tell them better. The great tragedy would be to conclude that we have nothing to learn in this matter. If so, it might either be because we have advanced beyond many of our contemporaries in our exceeding zeal for the honour of Christ and the good of his people, or—more likely—because we have not grasped the greatness of this theme, the glory of God revealed in it, or the good that comes to God’s people from a firmer grasp on the loving heart of the Altogether Lovely One.

The Westminster Conference 2015: “The Power of God for Salvation”

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Brochure 2015The Westminster Conference will take place later this year, God willing, in central London at Regent Hall on Oxford Street. As usual, there are two days of lectures and discussion, Tuesday 8th and Wednesday 9th December. The outline for the two days is below, and the brochure can be downloaded to obtain the booking form. More information can be found at the conference website.

Sin and sanctification in John Owen (Sinclair Ferguson ~ Elder at St. Peter’s Free Church, Dundee). John Owen is one of the monumental figures of the seventeenth century. His profound scriptural sensitivity to sin and understanding of sanctification form some of the deepest currents of his work both as a theologian and as a pastor. This paper will explore these complementary and contradictory elements of Christian experience through the lens of Owen’s wrestling with the issues.

“On the side of God”: Andrew Fuller’s pastoral theology (Jeremy Walker ~ Pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley). Andrew Fuller is recognised as a theologian and for his friendship with and support of William Carey. However, these labours cannot be divorced from his principles and practices as a pastor and a preacher. This was his primary calling. It informed and was expressed in everything else in which he was involved. This paper will draw together some of the convictions recorded, conclusions reached and counsels expressed by Andrew Fuller in the realm of pastoral theology.

The atonement and evangelistic preaching in John Owen (David Pfeiffer ~ Minister of Cheltenham Evangelical Free Church). Apparent tensions between convictions about the definite extent of the atonement joined with commitments to the freeness of the gospel offer are perennial issues in Christ’s church. Few men have contended for the former more effectively than John Owen and his works breathe a lively and transparent concern that lost men should trust in the only Saviour of sinners. David Pfeiffer will help us to see these elements of Owen’s labour in healthy parallel.

Erasmus and the Greek New Testament (Peter Hallihan ~ retired from pastoral ministry; Editorial Consultant for TBS). Erasmus of Rotterdam (1469–1536) was the genius sometimes described as the prince of the humanists. Perhaps his most enduring contribution to learning and religion was his edition of the Greek New Testament of 1516, which became the basis of most vernacular translations of the Scriptures for the next three centuries. Peter Hallihan will give us insights into the man and his work, tracing some of his influences and influence.

Jonathan Edwards and the religious affections (Paul Helm ~ formerly Professor of the History and Philosophy of Religion, King’s College, London). The name of Jonathan Edwards, together with select elements of his theology, have become more prominent in the thinking and practice of Reformed evangelicals in recent years. Ready reference is made to well-known but not always well-understood works such as Edwards’ study of the religious affections. Paul Helm will take a fresh look at this book, emphasising its setting and its sources, helping us grasp the substance and application of Edwards’ work.

Isaac Watts and the gift of prayer (Benedict Bird ~ ThM Student and Greek Teacher at London Theological Seminary). Best known for his hymnody, Isaac Watts was also an influential theologian. He considered prayer to be not only a duty but a precious privilege, and he wrote to assist the saints in learning to pray. He showed that prayer is a gift, but one that can be developed. Prayer is not always high on the agenda in the church of Christ, and not often developed to a high degree when it is. In his Guide to Prayer, Watts directs us still to cultivate “this holy skill of conversation with God.”

“Jonathan Edwards for the Church”

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Jonathan-Edwards-flyer-725x1024For those who may be interested, there is a two day Jonathan Edwards conference coming up in Durham next February. The schedule includes John J. Murray on “The influence of Edwards on the Church in Britain” and Gerald McDermott on “Directing Souls: What Pastors Today Can Learn from Edwards’ Ministry”; William Schweitzer takes “Communicate, Interpret and Clarify: Edwards’ Vision for the Ministry”, Nick Batzig addresses “Edwards’ Preaching of Christ in the Song of Songs” and Jon D. Payne “Jonathan Edwards: Calvinist Missionary to the Mohicans”. Douglas Sweeney will teach on “Edwards on the Divinity, Necessity, and Power of the Word of God in the World”, Michael Bräutigam on “Our God is an Awesome God: Sharing Jonathan Edwards’ Vision of God’s Excellencies” and David Filson on “Edwards’ Redemptive Historical Preaching”. William Macleod will be preaching.

More information is available here, where bookings can be made. The price for whole conference (over two days, including all meals but without accommodation) is £75.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 31 October 2013 at 10:14

Posted in Conferences

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“The infinite Jehovah is become their God”

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Spendid and beautiful:

The true followers of Christ have not only ground of rest and peace of soul, by reason of their safety from evil, but on account of their sure title and certain enjoyment of all that good which they stand in need of, living, dying, and through all eternity. They are on a sure foundation for happiness, are built on a rock that can never he moved, and have a fountain that is sufficient, and can never be exhausted. The covenant is ordered in all things and sure, and God has passed his word and oath, “That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us.” The infinite Jehovah is become their God, who can do every thing for them. He is their portion who has an infinite fulness of good in himself. “He is their shield and exceeding great reward.” As great a good is made over to them as they can desire or conceive of; and is made as sure as they can desire: therefore they have reason to put their hearts at rest, and be at peace in their minds.

Jonathan Edwards via The Old Guys.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 3 September 2012 at 09:14

Posted in While wandering . . .

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Assurance

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Having recently preached on the topic of assurance, I found this article from the Jollyblogger interesting. He concludes:

So, what do you think? Have I just completely misunderstood Edwards? Am I making excuses for myself? Or is there in truth, as I suspect, a better means of assurance and a better way of spirituality than we have been offered in the religious affections – the way of objectivity as embodied in the teachings of Luther and Calvin, as opposed to the subjectivity embodied in Edwardean religious affections?

For those wrestling – personally or pastorally – with issues of assurance, I think this article raises some excellent questions. As I see it, there is an objective foundation for assurance, and there are some objective indications for the existence of saving faith, but many of those objective indications have a subjective element, in the sense that they are part of our experience. To swerve toward the objective alone, stripped entirely of the subjective, leaves us with a religion that could consist only in mental assent rather than genuine faith; but to abandon the objective in order to rest on the subjective can leave us subject to every whim of soul, every assault of Satan, every tremor of feeling, every trouble of body.

The Jollyblogger is not suggesting that Edwards made the latter error, but I think some of those who follow Edwards might have gone further in that direction than he would have done.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 2 May 2012 at 07:57

The spirit of preaching

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Jonathan Edwards:

I go out to preach with two propositions in mind. First, everyone ought to give his life to Christ. Second, whether or not anyone gives Him his life, I will give Him mine.

And you?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 21 April 2012 at 20:44

Posted in Pastoral theology

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The cheerful giver

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Are you and I afraid to give of our substance to those in need, to invest money, time and energy in the needy? Do we feel that it is foolish, risky, or pointless? Here is an answer from Jonathan Edwards to such unfounded fears:

When men give to the needy, they do as it were sow seed for a crop. When men sow their seed, they seem to throw it away. Yet they do not look upon it as thrown away because, though they expect not the same again, yet they expect much more as the fruit of it. And if it be not certain that they shall have a crop, yet they are willing to run the venture of it; for that is the ordinary way wherein men obtain increase. So it is when persons give to the poor. Though the promises of gaining thereby, in our outward circumstances, perhaps are not absolute; yet it is as much the ordinary consequence of it, as increase is of sowing seed. Giving to the poor is in this respect compared to sowing seed, in Ecc. 11:6, “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.” By withholding the hand, the wise man means not giving to the poor (see verse 1, 2). It intimates, that giving to the poor is as likely a way to obtain prosperity and increase, as sowing seed in a field.

The husbandman doth not look upon his seed as lost, but is glad that he has opportunity to sow it. It grieves him not that he has land to be sown, but he rejoices in it. For the like reason we should not be grieved that we find needy people to bestow our charity upon. For this is as much an opportunity to obtain increase as the other.

Some may think this is strange doctrine; and it is to be feared, that not many will so far believe it as to give to the poor with as much cheerfulness as they sow their ground. However, it is the very doctrine of the Word of God, 2 Cor. 9:6, 7, 8, “But this I say, He which soweth sparingly, shall reap also sparingly: and he which soweth bountifully, shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound towards you; that ye always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.”

It is easy with God to make up to men what they give in charity. Many but little consider how their prosperity or ill success in their outward affairs depends upon Providence. There are a thousand turns of Providence, to which their affairs are liable, whereby God may either add to their outward substance, or diminish from it, a great deal more than they are ordinarily called to give to their neighbors. How easy is it with God to diminish what they possess by sickness in their families, by drought, or frost, or mildew, or vermin; by unfortunate accidents, by entanglements in their affairs, or disappointments in their business! And how easy is it with God to increase their substance, by suitable seasons, or by health and strength; by giving them fair opportunities for promoting their interest in their dealings with men; by conducting them in his providence, so that they attain their designs; and by innumerable other ways which might be mentioned! How often is it, that only one act of providence in a man’s affairs either adds to his estate, or diminishes from it, more than he would need to give to the poor in a whole year.

God hath told us that this is the way to have his blessing attending our affairs. Thus, in the text, Deu. 15:10, “Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him; because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and all that thou puttest thine hand unto.” And Pro. 22:9, “He that hath a bountiful eye, shall be blessed.” It is a remarkable evidence how little many men realize the things of religion, whatever they pretend; how little they realize that the Scripture is the Word of God, or if it be, that he speaks true; that notwithstanding all the promises made in the Scripture to bounty to the poor, yet they are so backward to this duty, and are so afraid to trust God with a little of their estates. Observation may confirm the same thing which the Word of God teaches on this head. God, in his providence, generally smiles upon and prospers those men who are of a liberal, charitable, bountiful spirit.

From Jonathan Edwards on Christian Charity

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 10 November 2010 at 11:45

New discoveries of Christ

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From Ray Ortlund:

One new discovery of the glory of Christ’s face and the fountain of his sweet grace and love will do more towards scattering clouds of darkness and doubting in one minute than examining old experiences by the best mark that can be given a whole year.

Jonathan Edwards, quoted in George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, 2003), page 226.

May every child of God enjoy new discoveries of Christ in worshipping him tomorrow on the day he has set apart to meet with his people.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 30 January 2010 at 19:23

Jonathan Edwards the parent

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Z tells us about someone else enjoying Marsden’s biography of Jonathan Edwards, quoting from chapter 20 on aspects of his family life:

The first impression a visitor would have upon arriving at the Edwards home was that there were a lot of children. The second impression would be that they were very well disciplined. Jonathan aided Sarah in disciplining the children from an early age. ‘When they first discovered any considerable degree of will and stubbornness,’ wrote biographer Samuel Hopkins, ‘he would attend to them till he had thoroughly subdued them and brought them to submit with the greatest calmness, and commonly without striking a blow, effectively establishing his parental authority and producing a cheerful obedience ever after.

Care for his children’s souls was his preeminent concern. In morning devotions he quizzed them on Scripture with questions appropriate to their ages. On Saturday evenings, the beginning of the Sabbath, he taught them the Westminster Shorter Catechism, making sure they understood as well as memorized the answers.

Edwards also believed in not holding back the terrors of hell from his children. ‘As innocent as children seem to us,’ he wrote, ‘if they are out of Christ, they are not so in God’s sight, but are young vipers….’ At the judgment day unregenerate children would hardly thank their parents for sentimental tenderness that protected them from knowing the true dangers of their estate. Always looking for opportunities to awaken the young to their condition, he had taken the children to view the remains of the Lyman house fire that claimed two girls’ lives.

By far the greater burden of childrearing fell to Sarah….On one occasion, when she was out of town in 1748, Jonathan was soon near his wits’ end. Children of almost every age needed to be cared for. ‘We have been without you,’ Jonathan lamented in a letter, ‘almost as long as we know how to be!’ (George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, 321-323)

How I should love to sit down and ask Edwards for practical advice as to how a father goes about securing such a spirit among his children as is described in the first paragraph.  I admit that I do not recognise much of that in myself.  I recognise a little more of the next two paragraphs, though I need more of a servant spirit in seeking to cultivate such an environment in my home.  The final paragraph is the one where I think, “Ah! I am like Jonathan Edwards.”

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 7 August 2009 at 08:57

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True boldness

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lion roaringThe righteous are bold as a lion (Proverbs 28:1)

Two things urgently needed in ministers, if they would attempt great advances for the kingdom of Christ, are zeal and resolve. Their influence and power for impact are greater than we think. A man of ordinary abilities will accomplish more with zeal and resolve than a man ten times more gifted without zeal and resolve. . . . Men who are possessed by these qualities commonly carry the day in almost all affairs. Most of the great things that have been done in the world, the great revolutions that have been accomplished in the kingdoms and empires of the earth, have been primarily owing to zeal and resolve. The very appearance of a intensely engaged spirit, together with a fearless courage and unyielding resolve, in any person that has undertaken leadership in any human affair goes a long way toward accomplishing the intended outcome. . . . When people see a high degree of zeal and resolve in a person, it awes them and has a commanding influence upon them. . . . But while we are cold and heartless and only go on in a dull manner, in an old formal round, we will never accomplish anything great. Our efforts, when they display such coldness and irresolution, will not even make people think of yielding. . . . The appearance of such indifference and cowardice does, as it were, call for and provoke opposition. Our misery is lack of zeal and courage.

Jonathan Edwards, “Thoughts on the Revival,” in Works, I:424, paraphrased.

HT: Ray Ortlund.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 8 June 2009 at 08:50

The works of Jonathan Edwards online

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John Piper tells us that

jonathan-edwards-21The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University has fulfilled a dream I did not expect to see. With the 26 volumes of the Yale paper edition of the Works of Edwards selling for over $100 each, I never expected to see every word of Edwards freely available to read, search, and quote on line.

But there it is, like an ocean of hidden treasures and no fees for the diving gear. Amazing. This is a heartfelt thank you to everyone at Yale who dreamed and labored to make this happen.

The agony and the ecstasy of Jonathan Edwards is laid bare in this breathtaking availability of all of that remains of him. From the bill of sale for a slave named Venus (the agony) to 68 titles on Heaven in the Miscellanies (the ecstasy), you can find it with the search engine built into the website.

All the printed volumes are available with pagination keyed to the printed version. Besides the printed volumes there are 47 more volumes of material. These are searchable in various ways.

  • You can enter a scripture text or key words.
  • You can get your results in a concordance format or with contexts.
  • You can peruse the sermons by text or chronologically.
  • You can see the entire list of the Miscellanies and do a word search on the titles, for example, to find all the ones on “Christ’s righteousness.”

The reason all this matters is not merely that Edwards is the poster boy of intellectual American Historians, but, even more importantly, that, using the lens of Scripture, he saw and believed and described the greatest realities in the universe in ways that few of us would ever see on our own. He saw Jesus Christ through whom and for whom all things exist. And he saw the Gospel-that Christ died for our sins and rose again to be Lord of all.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 11 February 2009 at 15:04

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Reasons to fear, reasons to pray

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Paul Wallace quotes some sobering words from Isaac Watts and John Guyse, drawn from the preface to A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1:344):

There has been a great and just complaint for many years among the ministers and churches in Old England, and in New, (except about the time of the late earthquake there,) that the work of conversion goes on very slowly, that the Spirit of God in his saving influences is much withdrawn from the ministrations of his word, and there are few that receive the report of the gospel, with any eminent success upon their hearts. But as the gospel is the same divine instrument of grace still, as ever it was in the days of the apostles, so our ascended Saviour now and then takes a special occasion to manifest the divinity of this gospel by a plentiful effusion of his Spirit where it is preached: then sinners are turned into saints in numbers, and there is a new face of things spread over a town or a country. The wilderness and the solitary places are glad, the desert rejoices and blossoms as the rose ; and surely concerning this instance we may add, that they have seen the glory of the Lord there, and the excellency of our God;they have seenthe out-goings of God our King in his sanctuary. Certainly it becomes us, who profess the religion of Christ, to take notice of such astonishing exercises of his power and mercy, and give him the glory which is due, when he begins to accomplish any of his promises concerning the latter days: and it gives us further encouragement to pray, and wait, and hope for the like display of his power in the midst of us. The hand of God is not shortened that it cannot save, but we nave reason to fear that our iniquities, our coldness in religion, and the general carnality of our spirits, have raised a wall of separation between God and us: and we may add, the pride and perverse humour of infidelity, degeneracy, and apostacy from the Christian faith, which have of late years broken out amongst us, seem to have provoked the Spirit of Christ to absent himself much from our nation. “Return, O Lord, and visit thy churches, and revive thine own work in the midst of us.”

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 30 January 2009 at 12:38

Blog blizzard

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The following is not a series of recommendations in itself, more a bundle of interesting posts from the blogosphere over last few days: putting it here is for my own benefit as much as for anyone else

Christ manifested

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What is it to have Christ manifest himself to his people?  A sermon by John Ryland Jr addresses The nature and evidences of divine manifestations.  With echoes of Jonathan Edwards on the religious affections,  he provides negatives considerations, several concessions, and six assertions concerning the nature of divine manifestations, or Jesus showing himself to the believing soul.  He moves on to the effects and evidences of such demonstrations of the divine presence, before closing with some lessons.

Here is solid, Scriptural, experiential Calvinism of high order.  Ryland offers the following evidences and effects:

First: A deep conviction (proportioned to the manifestation) of the meanness, unworthiness, guilt, past and present sinfulness of the soul thus favoured; humbling its pride, and filling it with self-abasement.  This is exemplified in the language of Old-testament saints.  Thus Jacob, “I am less than the least of thy mercies.”  Job, “Now I repent and abhor myself.” David, “Who am I, and what is my father’s house?”  Isaiah, “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips.”  Daniel, “My comeliness is turned into corruption.”  And Jude, in the text, How is it, that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?

Secondly: A conviction of our entire dependence on Christ, both for righteousness and strength; thankfully falling in with the design of his redemption; resting with complacency in his plan of salvation; feeling our need of his mediation; and sensible of our weakness and insufficiency to follow the Lord, except continually upheld.

Thirdly: An assurance of the reality and excellence of the objects manifested; i.e. the person and grace of Christ.  They shine with such a divine glory, that, they needs must be realized.

Fourthly: A conviction that there is much more to be seen and admired in Christ, than has yet been manifested to the soul; and consequently an earnest increasing desire, to know, love, and enjoy more, which prevents resting in present attainments, and induces the soul to resolve never to stop its pursuit, till it shall enjoy all it wants, and awake in the complete likeness of Christ.

Fifthly: A glorying in this salvation, renouncing all other Saviours, and all other portions; as seeing that there is enough in him to satisfy, though in the want of all things; and that all other things are nothing without him.

Sixthly: A concern to honour and glorify, in all possible ways this blessed Redeemer; never thinking he can be exalted enough; longing that others may see, admire, love, and be devoted to him.

Seventhly: Tenderness of conscience, fearing the least sin, or rather looking on none as little; with a jealousy of our own hearts, and a holy fear of dishonouring God our Saviour.

Eighthly: Not only a spirit of devotion towards God, and peculiar complacency in his people; but universal benevolence, or a spirit of pure, gentle, humble, meek, patient, forgiving, disinterested love towards all mankind.

Ninthly: The transforming efficacy of these manifestations, producing universal holiness and love to all God’s commandments.

Tenthly: Preparation for heaven, anticipating both its enjoyments and employments; drawing off the affections from the world, and causing them to be set on things above.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 12 November 2008 at 18:03

Three things

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Three posts worth checking out:

Each of these requires significant and careful self-evaluation and self-examination.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 2 October 2008 at 14:05

“Young, Restless, Reformed”

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young-restless-reformedYoung, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists by Collin Hansen

Crossway Books, 2008 (156 pp, pbk)

Dever; Driscoll; Duncan; Challies; Harris; Horton; MacArthur; Mahaney; Mohler; Piper; Sproul: these are the meats sometimes uncomfortably sandwiched between the pages of this book, together drenched in “Reformed” mayonnaise. Young, Restless, Reformed is the exploration by Christianity Today editor-at-large Collin Hansen of the phenomenon of the new Calvinists, the so-called Reformed resurgence.

With the exception of a few scant references, the focus is entirely on the US. Nevertheless, most of the names will be familiar to those with an interest in Reformed doctrine and practice. Hansen begins with John Piper and “the Piper fiends” (Pipettes?), before surveying “Ground Zero” (Southern Baptist Seminary, Louisville, where Al Mohler holds sway), then considering the Mahaney/Harris axis at Covenant Life Church and the New Attitude conference, and ending up with Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill in Seattle. In between and helping us along the way are a multitude of other movers and shakers and bit-players. Hanging over it all is the far-from-spectral but somewhat ambivalent figure of Jonathan Edwards.

It is, in many respects, a joyous read. To see a substantial recovery of Biblical truth on such a large scale cannot be anything but exciting. To see the unity and co-labouring it prompts and promotes is delightful. To read of predominantly young men and women in the modern West giving themselves to prayer and the study of the Scriptures is thrilling and humbling.

Hansen does take time to consider the detractors and the devaluers, but there is a sympathetic tone that makes plain that Hansen is fundamentally ‘on-side’ with those of whom he writes. This perhaps contributes to the fact that the book can read more like an exercise in comprehension than in analysis: it provides a snapshot rather than a vigorous assessment.

Another weakness is that the whole scene can appear somewhat incestuous and self-referential. The book is about or refers to people who endorse it in the blurb, read by them, reviewed by them (often in the Web 2.0 environment). The same people are writing books from the same publishers and referring to one another’s blogs. Is there a danger of self-congratulation, of failing to recognise that this is a much bigger community than it was, but still not that big or effective a community? Might the mutual back-slapping hide the fact of how much work there still is to do?

Furthermore, there is – if not a confusion – at least a question of terminology. Most of the subjects welcome the Reformed label, but how accurately is it being applied? It seems that most of those involved in this movement share a Reformed (or, at least, a Calvinistic) soteriology. The question is raised even in the book as to whether this really constitutes “being Reformed,” as well as how much it matters. Do we need, for example, a Reformed ecclesiology, a Reformed pneumatology, or Reformed doxology (or all of the above) in order to call ourselves genuinely ‘Reformed’? In other words, would the patron saint of the new Calvinists, Jonathan Edwards, recognise all these individuals and groups as Reformed? One could argue that this very question may be redefined by weight of numbers involved in this movement who do not embrace what has traditionally been, and been accepted as, part of the Reformed package. On this basis, there may be many who will wonder whether or not they are a part of this movement, and whether they want to be, and – if so – to what extent. This is especially so where the question is being begged over the extent to which the church is reaching the culture as opposed to the culture assimilating the church.

Finally, and leading on from this, one must ask, So what? and, Who cares? We must understand what is the trajectory of this movement, and what its terminus (or termini, if it splinters). We must watch its effects. Will the somewhat insular nature of the new Calvinist community betray it into a failure to preach the very gospel it boasts of recovering to those in need of Jesus on our doorsteps? In some circles there seems to be a very real temptation to preach to the converted (in the essential sense of that word), gaining ‘converts’ from other Christian camps rather than from the world around us, to argue other believers into our camp far more than to proclaim a saving Christ to needy sinners. Surely if we are constrained by what Warfield defined as of the essence of genuine Calvinism (of Biblical Christianity) – “a profound apprehension of God in His majesty, with the inevitably accompanying poignant realization of the exact nature of the relation sustained to Him by the creature as such, and particularly as a sinful creature”[1] – then it will work itself out in a determination to have God glorified in salvation as well as among the saved, in both reaching the lost and teaching the reached.

There is much that is splendid about the movement described by Hansen, but it contains within it some fascinating and fearful tensions, as well as some wonderful prospects. Much depends on the legacy of the present leaders, and the readiness of those who follow to pursue a comprehensive Scripturalism that will govern head and heart and hands. Reading this book will help observers and participants to gauge both the trajectory and the likely terminus of this curious company, but should also challenge us about the extent to which our faith and our life are keeping pace.


[1] B. B, Warfield, Works, vol. 5, Calvin and Calvinism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1991), 354.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 10 May 2008 at 09:06

Sin in being and in doing

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Tim Challies has posted a thought-provoking and heart-penetrating piece – found here – reflecting on Jonathan Edwards’ insights into the freedom (or lack of it) of the will, and the awful reality of a sinful nature as well as the guilt of our sinful deeds. It is well worth a read, to pause and to ponder that sin lies not only in our doing but in our being. In the light of such truth, the glorious grace of God in Christ becomes all the more wonderful to the saved sinner.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 6 May 2008 at 18:31

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