Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden
Posted by Orrin Woodward on July 19, 2011
It is early Sunday morning and my thoughts are upon God’s love and his sovereign works. Recently, I read the best spiritual biography of my life, Jonathan Edwards by George Marsden. Edwards, an 18th century pastor, theologian, and philosopher, was, in my opinion, America’s greatest Christian philosopher. Reading this book was a humbling, but yet an uplifting and encouraging spiritual exercise. Marsden is simply a master of his craft. The way he delved into Edward’s writings, placing them within the intellectual currents of the 18th century, resulted in a masterpiece of biographical literature. No one, neither Christian nor non-Christian, can walk away from a thorough reading of this book and be the same person. I cannot recommend this book enough! But rather than describe the book point by point, I will let Marsden speak for himself as he sums up Edward’s philosophy:
“Edwards thus addressed one of the greatest mysteries facing traditional theism in the post-Newtonian universe: how can the creator of such an unimaginably vast universe be in intimate communication with the creatures so infinitely inferior to himself? How can it be that God hears their prayers and responds by caring not only about their eternal souls but even about the details of their temporal lives? To answer such questions one would have to face more starkly than is usually done the immensity of the distance between God and humans and between God’s ways and our understandings. At the same time, Edwards insisted, if God is meaningfully related to us, God must be intimately involved with the governance of all the universe in its detail. Further, God must be governing it in some way that also grants the maximum possible autonomy to created beings. Whether Edwards, or anyone else, adequately explains how this mystery may be resolved is a matter of some debate.
Yet Edward’s solution – a post-Newtonian statement of classic Augustinian themes – can be breathtaking. God’s trinitarian essence is love. God’s purpose in creating a universe in which sin is permitted must be to communicate that love to creatures. The highest or most beautiful love is sacrificial love for the undeserving. Those – ultimately the vast majority of humans – who are given eyes to see that ineffable beauty will be enthralled by it. They will see the beauty of a universe in which unsentimental love triumphs over real evil. They will not be able to view Christ’s love dispassionately but rather will respond to it with their deepest affections. Truly seeing such good, they will have no choice but to love it. Glimpsing such love, they will be drawn away from preoccupations with the gratifications of their most immediate sensations. They will be drawn from their self-centered universes. Seeing the beauty of redemptive love of Christ as the true center of reality, they will love God and all that he has created.”
God Bless, Orrin Woodward