Category Archives: The Enlightenment
The history of the church from the end of the Religious Wars (1688) to the beginning of the modern era (1789).
George Whitefield was born December 16, 1714. My how the times have changed! Yet, the same Gospel he preached still remains true. He was a revivalist preacher with a voice that could be heard by anyone! He often preached an open air sermon to crowds gathering between 20,000 and 30,000 people. That is why I find it most fitting to quote one of his sermons on his birthday:
All hail, (I must again repeat it) thou Lamb’s bride! For thou art all glorious within, and comely, through the comeliness thy heavenly bridegroom hath put upon thee. Thy garment is indeed of wrought gold; and, ere long, the King shall bring thee forth with a raiment of needle-work, and present thee blameless before his Father, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. In the mean while, well shall it be with you, and happy shall you be, who are married to Jesus Christ: for all that Christ has, is yours. “He is made of God to you, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and eternal redemption.” “Whether Paul, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours.” All his attributes are engaged for your preservation, and all things shall work together for your good, who love God, and, by being thus married to the Lord Jesus, give an evident proof that you are called according to his purpose. What say you? When you meditate on these things, are you not frequently ready to cry out, What shall we render unto the Lord for all these mercies, which, of his free unmerited grace, he hath been pleased to bestow upon us? For, though you are dead to the law, as a covenant of works, yet you are alive to the law as a rule of life, and are in, or under the law (for either expression seems to denote the same thing) to your glorious husband, Jesus Christ….
Moreover, it is required of wives, that they not only love and reverence their
husbands, but that they also love and respect their husband’s friends. And if we are married to Jesus Christ, we shall not only reverence the bridegroom, but we shall also love and honor the bridegroom’s friends. “By this, shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another.” “By this we know, (says the beloved disciple) that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren.” Observe, the brethren, indefinitely; of whatever denomination. And this love must be “without dissimulation, and with a pure heart fervently.” This was the case of the primitive Christians. They were all of one heart, and of one mind. It was said of them (O that it could be said of us!) “See how these Christians love one another!” They were of the same spirit as a good woman of Scotland was, who, when she saw a great multitude, as is customary in the country, coming from various parts to receive the blessed sacrament, saluted them with a “Come in, ye blessed of the Lord, I have an house that will hold an hundred of you, and a heart that will hold ten thousand.” Let us go and do likewise….
“I have espoused you (saysSt. Paul) as a chaste virgin to Jesus Christ.” O that you may say, We will go with the man; then will I bow my head, as Abraham’s servant did, and go with joy and tell my Master, that he has not left his poor servant destitute this day: then shall I rejoice in your felicity. For I know, my Master will take you into the banqueting-house of his ordinances, and his banner over you shall be love. That this may be the happy case of you all, may the glorious God grant, for the sake of Jesus his dearly beloved Son, the glorious bridegroom of his church, to whom, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, now and for evermore. Amen, and Amen.
[Jonathan Edwards birthday was last week (Oct 5), so today’s A Prayer for Sunday comes from him. But, instead of posting one of Edwards’ prayers. Here is an excerpt from his sermon “The Most High a Prayer Hearing God,” a reflection on Psalm 65:2.]
First, because he is a God of infinite grace and mercy. It is indeed a very wonderful thing, that so great a God should be so ready to hear our prayers, though we are so despicable and unworthy. That he should give free access at all times to everyone, should allow us to be importunate without esteeming it an indecent boldness, [and] should be so rich in mercy to them that call upon him: that worms of the dust should have such power with God by prayer, that he should do such great things in answer to their prayers, and should show himself, as it were, overcome by them. This is very wonderful, when we consider the distance between God and us, and how we have provoked him by our sins, and how unworthy we are of the least gracious notice. It cannot be from any need that God stands in of us, for our goodness extends not to him. Neither can it be from anything in us to incline the heart of God to us. It cannot be from any worthiness in our prayers, which are in themselves polluted things. But it is because God delights in mercy and condescension. He is herein infinitely distinguished from all other Gods. He is the great fountain of all good, from whom goodness flows as light from the sun.
Second, we have a glorious Mediator, who has prepared the way, that our prayers may he heard consistently with the honor of God’s justice and majesty. Not only has God in himself mercy sufficient for this, but the Mediator has provided that this mercy may be exercised consistently with the divine honor. Through him we may come to God for mercy. He is the way, the truth, and the life. No man can come to the Father but by him. This Mediator hath done three things to make way for the hearing of our prayers.
1. He hath by his blood made atonement for sin, so that our guilt need not stand in the way, as a separating wall between God and us, and that our sins might not be a cloud through which our prayers cannot pass….
2. Christ, by his obedience, has purchased this privilege, viz. that the prayers of those who believe in him should be heard. He has not only removed the obstacles to our prayers, but has merited a hearing of them….
3. Christ enforces the prayers of his people, by his intercession at the right hand of God in heaven. He hath entered for us into the holy of holies, with the incense which he hath provided, and there he makes continual intercession for all that come to God in his name, so that their prayers come to God the Father through his hands….
The students from my Jonathan Edwards seminar last semester have compiled an annotated bibliography of books and articles they read for the class. It’s far from being a comprehensive resource, since the bibliography largely follows the students’ particular research interests. But, they did a very nice job summarizing an impressive amount of information, and they agreed to make it available on the blog for everyone else to use.
So, here you go: A Jonathan Edwards Annotated Bibliography
Please feel free to let us know if any corrections need to be made. One of these days, I hope to set up a page on this blog for annotated bibliographies to make these a little more accessible. But, for now, you’ll have to download the file.
[This is a guest post by Ron Kimmel. Ron is a new Th.M. student at Western Seminary and a pastor at Bethany Church in Canby, OR. Ron is participating in this summer’sTh.M. seminar on Jonathan Edwards.]
Why did God create? That’s the question Jonathan Edwards wrestles with in The End for which God Created the World. In the process, he makes an important distinction between the proximate means of creation and the Ultimate End of creation. It’s a distinction that drives him toward an interesting conclusion.
Edwards deals quite extensively with the end for God is presumed (based upon human reasoning) to have created, and surprisingly JE does not cast these ends (consequences of creation) in a negative light. Instead, he looks on them as ‘means’ that God would use to communicate his Ultimate End. And, although he appreciates the value of the means, he warns strongly against equating them with the End itself.
It may be reasonable to argue that God created in order that He might show His love to creation, display His power, establish fellowship, or that it was a natural outflow of is character and nature. JE argues that it is quite a bewildered notion that God should have ever created for the purpose of receiving anything from His creation. He also argues that God did not create because it is merely in His nature and character to do so, even though that nature and character does exist within God.
JE argues that God is His own Ultimate End in creation. He delights in His own perfections and His delight can only be found in Himself. God makes His own perfections His end. In other words, God created out of the love for His own perfection, and creation is a witness to His own greatness. He created so that He might see His own virtues on display in what He had made. It begins and ends with Him. All other ‘means’ are merely consequences of creating.
Though God has created for Himself and He is His own Ultimate End, the concept of God being benevolent toward His creation cannot be a completely separate matter. JE argues that God’s goodness toward His creation is a way of gratifying His own desire and ‘general inclination.’ Set in this mode, God’s acts toward His creation (means) are directly related to God bringing Himself glory. Therefore, these are not seen as separate acts, but rather as coinciding and implied one within the other.
JE argues that this is at least partly because God does not see in past, present and future tenses, but rather He views all at once. Thus, JE links John 17:21 & 23 with the idea that’ redeemed’ are being brought home to God and are being swallowed up in Him so that there is no differentiation between the redeemed and God. This is not to suggest that the redeemed become God but that they are so united with Him that they become one. Thus, God’s benevolent acts toward creation are always linked to his acting on behalf of his own glory.
This has significant implications for life and ministry, particularly in JE’s view of communion. The concept of the redeemed being one with God would lead to all sorts of personal internal struggle toward those who participated in communion but could not give a testimony as to the nature of the conversion. If the redeemed really are expressions of God’s most holy perfections then pretending to reflect those perfections without having actualized the light would certainly lead to one’s condemnation and cast a dark shadow over the church.
Nonetheless, I think JE struggled mightily to find an appropriate balance between these two elements in this dissertation. He wrestled between God’s gracious treatment of creation and His eternal purpose of creation. The tension seems to have become a ‘both and’ type of agreement, but he places the horse before the cart in that God created for His own delight and all else is consequence.
One disturbing thing almost from the outset of reading JE’s work was that of the wrath of God. Where is it? Who’s under it? He talks little about this here and he limits the “consequences” largely to good things that God does toward man. Wrath is spoken of sparingly. While leaving the reader somewhat in want, he points to God being glorified in judging the wicked: glorified, in that He judges the wicked for the sake of the redeemed, creating in the redeemed a greater dependence upon Him and trust in His mercies that would lead to strengthening the union between God and His chosen. His point being that your neighbor is damned so you will glorify God. Though one may feel misery over the damned, it is not for misery itself that one is to delight because misery is a consequence of creation that should find its final realization in giving glory to God. Why? Because man is not to be concerned with his own feelings or emotions and recognize that God is just.
While the premise is excellent in that God’s wrath leads to His glorification, the struggle comes in accepting that God’s wrath is a consequence of creation. Wrath has its beginning and ending with God. Meaning, wrath has always existed in God. It was not just done for the sake of the redeemed but has always existed in God’s virtues and characteristic perfections.
As seems to be the case with JE’s works, this is a humbling and challenging study by a great mind and philosopher of his day. To witness his personal struggles and journey toward putting into words what he believed to the most accurate descriptions of why God would bother with man leaves one questioning the pettiness of his own daily considerations. To have such a great challenge in this day and age of materialism and selfishness is to be found worth its weight in gold if one will pause long enough from his blog post to be mentored by those who have gone before. Thank you JE for pushing your readers on toward glorifying Him.
[This is a guest post by Daniel Fender. Daniel is a Th.M. student at Western Seminary and a pastor at The Gathering Community Church in Portland, OR. Daniel is participating in this summer’sTh.M. seminar on Jonathan Edwards.]
Is the Trinity best left a Mystery? Is it foolish to consider the inner workings of the Eternal God? Many evangelicals believe it is at least a bit arrogant. Mystery and Trinity go hand in hand in most peoples Christian experiences. We can capture how the average evangelical understands the Trinity in a simple mathematic formula. The Trinity = A Mystery. The contemporary trend is increasingly to leave Mysteries to fend for themselves. They fall out of our thinking because they are deemed out of our reach.
For Jonathan Edwards, the Trinity was far too valuable to leave as an unfathomable Mystery. After all it is Edwards who says in Religious Affections, “If the great things of religion are rightly understood, they will affect the heart.” And the Trinity for Edwards was arguably the greatest thing of religion. The Trinity provided the eternal foundation from which human nature and all of the created order derived its substance, form and purpose. Because God is the greatest thing of religion understanding the nature of the Trinity should affect the heart.
At the same time we must acknowledge that when Edwards plunges head long into An Unpublished Essay on the Trinity, he is both a man of his own time and a man grappling with the unchangeable nature of God. Let us not forget that he spoke and wrote to a different generation. The entire essay begins with what in Edwards’ day was common: “‘Tis common when speaking of the Divine happiness to say that God is infinitely happy in the enjoyment of Himself …” Yet today ‘tis not so common to think that way! God’s enjoyment of God is not so quickly contemplated (let alone understood) today.
For Edwards however, the relationships and inner workings of the Trinity are wrapped up in God enjoying God. “In the perfectly beholding and infinitely loving and rejoicing in, His own essence and perfections, and accordingly it must be supposed that God perpetually and eternally has a most perfect idea of Himself.” Throughout the entire essay Edwards pushes us to think on what is revealed concerning the Trinity. The chief reason for this is that Scripture reveals not only the fact that the nature of God is triune but that this triune nature is worthy of our contemplation because God has chosen to communicate something about it in the Bible.
However to Edwards following the train of thought that the revelation of Scripture details does not remove all mystery. Rather it focuses the wonder of the Mystery. As Edwards confesses toward the end of the Essay:
I think the Word of God teaches us more things concerning it to be believed by us than have been generally believed, and that it exhibits many things concerning it exceeding [i.e., more] glorious and wonderful than have been taken notice of; yea, that it reveals or exhibits many more wonderful mysteries than those which have been taken notice of; which mysteries that have been overvalued are incomprehensible things and yet have been exhibited in the Word of God tho they are an addition to the number of mysteries that are in it. No wonder that the more things we are told concerning that which is so infinitely above our reach, the number of visible mysteries increases. (Italics mine)
In other words, the more you see and understand about the nature of God the more amazed you will be and the more the mysteries will increase. Edwards notes that it is this way also in the natural world when we use a microscope. “…[Y]et the number of things that are wonderful and mysterious in them that appear to him are much more than before, and, if he views them with a microscope, the number of the wonders that he sees will be increased still but yet the microscope gives him more a true knowledge concerning them.” Thus the more you look into the Trinity the more you will understand. And the more you understand the more your understanding will multiply the sense of wonder, awe and mystery.
This is a very different understanding to Mystery than many take today. We are far to easily satisfied with the quick (and lazy) label of Mystery. Yet as a form of literature a Mystery demands our attention and a constant organizing and reorganizing of the clues until the Mystery is solved. In fact, until it is solved we are troubled and distracted. Yet when the Mystery is solved, even partially, we then enjoy each section of the story and clue with more appreciation and depth. In many ways the Trinity is a mystery; but a mystery that demands our enjoyment, and for that reason, demands our attention and thought. Yet as Edwards exhibits the thought demanded of us it is not speculative philosophical ponderings unfettered by any authority. No; the thoughts that we must think are derivative. We have a conception of the Trinity because the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. And the Son has sent his promised Spirit. And the Father, Son and Spirit seem to be enjoying one another more than we ever thought God would. God is really happy about God! And we are called into this joy!
After Edwards shows text after text of Scripture which inform his understanding he then briefly summarizes his conception of the Trinity:
And this I suppose to be that blessed Trinity that we read of in the Holy Scriptures. The Father is the Deity subsisting in the prime, un-originated and most absolute manner, or the Deity in its direct existence. The Son is the Deity generated by God’s understanding, or having an idea of Himself and subsisting in that idea. The Holy Ghost is the Deity subsisting in act, or the Divine essence flowing out and breathed forth in God’s Infinite love to and delight in Himself. And I believe the whole Divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the Divine idea and Divine love, and that each of them are properly distinct Persons.
Thus Edwards understood the Son to perfectly embody the Idea (or thoughts) of God and the Spirit to embody the Emotions of God (Or God’s enjoyment of God). If this seems like a rash or quick resolution to a great Mystery, understand that it is his conclusion and summary not his Scriptural reason or logic for getting to this point. (You’ll have to read An Unpublished Essay on the Trinity!)
Yet despite how conclusive all of this sounds, Edwards gladly admits:
But I don’t pretend fully to explain how these things are and I am sensible a hundred other objections may be made and puzzling doubts and questions raised that I can’t solve. I am far from pretending to explaining the Trinity so as to render it no longer a mystery. I think it to be the highest and deepest of all Divine mysteries still, notwithstanding anything that I have said or conceived about it. I don’t intend to explain the Trinity. But Scripture with reason may lead to say something further of it than has been wont to be said, tho there are still left many things pertaining to it incomprehensible.
How much can we understand about the Trinity? How much does the Word of God reveal? How much time and energy should we give to contemplating the Mystery of the Trinity? What do you think? And why?
[This is a guest post by Pat Roach. Pat is a Th.M. student at Western Seminary and pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church in Portland, OR. Pat is participating in this summer’sTh.M. seminar on Jonathan Edwards.]
We are just on the other side of the of the annual posting of college commencement speeches, but if you find yourself still needing to scratch that itch, then friends I give to you Jonathan Edwards. In particular, his commencement address at Yale College in 1741 entitled The Distinguishing Marks of the Work of the Spirit of God (hereafter TDM). And in case you were wondering, the graduation speaker at Yale in the year of our Lord 2011 was Tom Hanks. Moving on…
In TDM, Edwards sets out to give a rational and Biblical defense of the revivals that had recently occurred throughout New England. He begins with an explanation of nine things that can not necessarily disqualify (or qualify for that matter) an event as a work of God’s Spirit. For example, he writes, “What we have been used to, or what the church of God has been used to, is not a rule by which we are to judge whether a work be the work of God, because there may be new and extraordinary works of God.” Edwards is saying that it is not enough to point out “we’ve never done it like that before,” and then consider the issue closed. God is free and not always “traditional” in the way He operates. Likewise, and these follow from his first point, just because a congregation gets emotionally worked up, has “great impressions on their imagination,” and copy one another’s behavior, doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit is not working. He might very well be producing those exact effects. You have to explore deeper to discern Spiritual substance. I have to say this portion of the address was a pleasure to read, if for no other reason than seeing Edwards mind work on paper through the issues and counterarguments he anticipates. Edwards’ writing weaves together pastoral wisdom, Scriptural reasoning, and starchy Puritan tendentiousness.
He then goes on to outline positive markers of the Spirit’s work in reviving His people. The people’s esteem of Jesus is raised, they experience revulsion against personal sin, give greater attention to Scriptural teaching, and they have deeper love for others. On this last positive marker of love, Edwards addresses a false kind of affinity that is possible in revivals, and he perceptively writes, “There is commonly in the wildest enthusiasms a kind of union and affection that appears in them one towards another, arising from self-love, occasioned by their agreeing with one another in those things wherein they greatly differ from all others, and for which they are the objects of the ridicule of all the rest of mankind; which naturally will cause them so much the more to prize the esteem they observe in each other, …” This kind of love, he concludes, is not Christian love and “no true benevolence, any more than the union and friendship which may be among a company of pirates that are at war with all the rest of the world.” Edwards has not mindlessly drunk the Kool-Aid. He recognizes the abuses and false signifiers of spiritual renewal that can emerge, and wants to uproot them and cast them off.
Yet, one thing does he lack…a sense of mystery about history. In TDM Edwards categorizes the New England revivals as redemptive-historical works, and as precursors to Christ’s Second Advent. Describing the unusual features of the recent revivals, he says, “we have reason from Scripture prophecy to suppose, that at the commencement of that last and great outpouring of the Spirit of God…the manner of the work will be very extraordinary.” In short, “Our revivals have weird stuff. Weird stuff will be happening at the end of the age. This must be the end of the age.” From there, he goes on to warn those who oppose revivals that in so doing they hinder the work of the Spirit. He compares them to the first-century Jews who opposed Christ, and finally warns dissenters that they are in danger of being guilty of the unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit. He is that sure that the revivals are heaven sent.
And this is where Edwards’ overreaches. Or, he should at least be willing for the revivals to be measured by the same stick as the redemptive-historical events of the 1st century, to which he links them. Did the revivals produce long-term righteousness in the lives of the participants? Edwards himself despaired of this, as time wore on. Did the Spirit cobble together thriving (renewed) ecclesial communities as a result of the revivals, as at Pentecost? Sadly, Unitarianism soon weakened the churches in New England. Did Edwards Himself attribute to the Holy Spirit works that were not His? That would be claiming too much. That would be too Edwardsean.
In TDM Edwards apparently had no reservations about seeing in the current events of history – and his congregation’s collective life – the immediate, and discernible activities of a very busy, and present God. Yet today, for the most part, similar claims by Christians would be viewed with no small amount of suspicion. Are we are too conditioned to understanding history, and our the events daily lives, materially? Or is this reluctance to “interpret” actually a function of faith, not presuming to give definitive readings of the Spirit’s sovereign moving? What do you think?
Remember the context in which Edwards writes. In the wake of the revivalism of the Great Awakening, Edwards felt compelled to articulate the distinction between true and false religion in a much more thorough and pointed way than he had done in his previous works, such as in The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God. In his Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, Edwards outlines twelve signs that indicate genuine religious affections, those signs that indicate genuine conversion. Not only do they serve as tests or standards of genuine piety, but they are themselves the very substance of the religious life. Affections serve as a kind of sign post indicating the direction of one’s soul, whether it is toward God in love or away from God toward the world. These are as follows.
First, affections that are truly spiritual and gracious, do arise from those influences and operations on the heart, which are spiritual, supernatural and divine. Second, the objective ground of gracious affections, is the transcendently excellent and amiable nature of divine things, as they are in themselves; and not any conceived relation they bear to self, or self-interest. Third, those affections that are truly holy, are primarily founded on the loveliness of the moral excellency of divine things. Or (to express it otherwise), a love to divine things for the beauty and sweetness of their moral excellency, is the first beginning and spring of all holy affections. Fourth, gracious affections do arise from the mind’s being enlightened, rightly and spiritually to understand or apprehend divine things. Fifth, truly gracious affections are attended with a reasonable and spiritual conviction of the judgment, of the reality and certainty of divine things. Sixth, gracious affections are attended with evangelical humiliation. Evangelical humiliation is a sense that a Christian has of his own utter insufficiency, despicableness, and odiousness, with an answerable frame of heart. Seventh, gracious affections are attended with a change of nature. Eighth, truly gracious affections tend to, and are attended with, the lamblike, dovelike spirit and temper of Jesus Christ; or in other words, they naturally beget and promote such a spirit of love, meekness, quietness, forgiveness and mercy, as appeared in Christ. Ninth, gracious affections soften the heart, and are attended and followed with a Christian tenderness of spirit. Tenth, truly gracious and holy affections are beautiful in symmetry and proportion. In the truly holy affections of the saints is found that proportion which is the natural consequence of the universality of their sanctification. Eleventh, gracious affections, the higher they are raised, the more is a spiritual appetite and longing of soul after spiritual attainments increased. Twelfth, gracious and holy affections have their exercise and fruit in Christian practice. Their lives are universally conformed to and directed by Christian rules.
Edwards’ purpose in outlining these twelve signs is to test affections within one’s self, not to distinguish true from false affections in others. Further, he is primarily concerned with those operations of the Spirit which are saving in the heart of the individual.
One of the difficulties that I have encountered while reading Edwards is maintaining a clear understanding of what he means by his distinctions between such things as understanding, inclinations, will, heart, affections, etc. In all of his ability to maintain sharp distinctions between such concepts, it seems that he might run the risk of losing the unity and integrity of the human soul, or the self. This might not be that major of a point, however, considering the fact that throughout his argumentation these distinctions often times lose their sharpness.
Critical observations of Edwards aside, I am more interested in what you guys believe to be the signs of genuine “gracious affections.” In my paper, after I consider the twelve signs of genuine religious affections, I plan to describe them and then move to articulate what I believe to be the fundamental signs of a genuine believer. To begin our discussion, What do you believe to be the fundamental marks of a true believer? How would you answer the overarching question that Edwards sought to answer, “What is true religion?”
“Governments should protect the people,” John declared, pounding the table for emphasis. “I’m tired of hearing about Americans struggling to make ends meet. I wish there were enough jobs and money for the whole world, but that’s a pipe dream. The hard reality is that we need a government that will protect Americans and American jobs. That’s what government is for.”
Alex was already shaking his head. “You just don’t get it. That kind of protectionism will destroy us.”
He pointed out the window to the small store across the street. “You see that? That’s a great little business. What if we could create four more? Or ten? Or a hundred? Think about all the jobs that would mean. We need to do more than protect existing jobs, we need to create more jobs. And to do that, we have to be fully and freely involved in the global economy.”
He hesitated briefly and then said, “And, we need to support the banks so we have enough money to invest in these new businesses.”
John and Alex both jumped slightly at this outburst from the third person at the table. Visibly agitated, Tom glared at Alex. “You want to give even more power to government and the banks? That’s insane! They’re the ones who got us into this mess to begin with.”
He took a deep breath before continuing, “You’re both missing the point anyway,” he said. “Our problem is that we’re too focused on money and jobs in the first place. It’s not a question of how many jobs we need, but what kind of people we should be. Jobs, governments, banks, all of that is secondary. We need them, of course. But they can distract from the real task of living fully human lives.”
He looked sadly out the window at the bustling city street. “We need to get back to simpler ways: less government, less busyness, more humanity.”
What is government for? What does government have to do with business? And, how does any of this matter for life and ministry today?
These are some of the questions that I’ve been chewing on since attending John Pinheiro‘s paper at Acton University on “The Political Economy of the American Founding.” The point of Dr. Pinheiro’s paper was that economic realities lay at the heart of early American history. And, I was fascinated to see how economic factors drove so much of the story. You really can’t understand the American Revolution, the development of the Constitution, or the factors leading up to the American Civil War, without understanding the economic dynamics at work.
But, as I listened to the lecture, I was struck by how competing views on government and economics are really competing views of human flourishing. That is, they are really arguments about what true human living looks like, what factors are necessary to sustain it, and what role (if any) government has in promoting those factors.
3 Views on Politics, Economics, and Human Flourishing
Consider the fictional conversation above. One one level, it was a discussion of government and economic policy. But, as Tom argued, these should be means to a greater end. So, their perspectives were really just different views of the goal, the means, and the proper relation between them. And, these three views have been with us for a while.
John (John Adams) argued for a form of mercantilism, the dominant economic model of the British Empire. On this view, wealth is a relatively fixed commodity, and everyone (individuals and nations) compete over this finite wealth. So, the role of government is to establish economic policies that will keep as much wealth as possible within the nation to promote the well-being of its own citizens. So, in this model, human flourishing requires wealth, and the government promotes human flourishing by increasing their share of the world’s limited resources.
Alex (Alexander Hamilton) offers a perspective more influenced by Adam Smith, who argued for economic policy based on creating wealth through the astute investment of capital. For Smith, wealth is not finite, but can be increased through economic policy. As in mercantilism, this approach believes that human flourishing requires wealth and that governments should, therefore, work to increase the wealth of its citizens. But, it has a different view of how governments should do this. Rather than establishing protectionistic policies aimed at retaining wealth, this view promotes open policies aimed at creating wealth.
Tom (Thomas Jefferson) represented the approach of the French physiocrats. They were much less concerned with creating or even retaining wealth. Instead, they focused on promoting the kind of living that would produce free and virtuous citizens, their view of human flourishing. And, for many of these thinkers, the best way to do this was through simple, agrarian, productive living. The growth of urban industrialism and wealth-oriented business practices were problems to be countered, not positive developments to be protected or (heaven forbid) increased. So, on this view, human flourishing does not require wealth creation. Instead, human flourishing requires stable, productive living. The role of government, then, is to make whatever policies necessary to facilitate such living, and nothing more. .
Idealism, Greed, and Human Flourishing
I don’t want to go into which of these is right, or even what it means for an economic system to be “right.” But, to each of these systems I want to say “yes” and “no.” On the one hand, I’m deeply sympathetic with Jefferson’s notion of a simple life that focuses more on becoming the right kind of person than on creating and/or protecting the right amount of wealth. Jefferson’s ideal appeals to me: the simple farmer, intimately tied to the land, unencumbered by governments, banks, and big businesses, and growing into human flourishing in small, local communities. But, at the same time, Jefferson’s ideal seems overly idealized. Most of the “simple farmers” I know work far too hard and rarely know if they’re going to have enough money to make it to the end of the season. And, that’s just in America. Move outside this country, and the life of the simple farmer is even more difficult. When you spend all day just trying to get enough food to survive, it’s difficult to find much time for human flourishing. Jefferson’s view of the simple life was probably colored by his experience as a wealthy plantation owner. It’s easy to say that wealth-creation is unnecessary when you already have more than you need. And it’s easy to tell government to get out of the way, when you already have the resources necessary to do what you want.
So, on the other hand, I also appreciate the goal of wealth creation promoted by the other two views. “Wealth” and “greed” are not synonymous. If we define “wealth” as the material goods that promote and sustain human flourishing, then we can see that wealth itself is not the problem, and promoting wealth can be helpful, even necessary, for promoting human flourishing. But, there are problems here as well. First, both of these systems can easily make wealth an end in itself. This isn’t necessary to these systems, but so much attention gets paid to increasing the wealth of a country and its citizens, that the broader questions of human flourishing easily get lost. If asked, I’m sure they would say, “Well, of course all of this wealth is for human flourishing.” But, by sidelining human flourishing and focusing on wealth creation, they’ve made a fundamental mistake that disorients the entire system. And, when that happens, both end up promoting greed. As I said earlier, wealth and greed are not the same. But, a system focused on wealth creation as an end in itself can only encourage greed as the system strives for “more,” either by taking from others (mercantilism) or by creating more (Smith). Either way, separated from a higher goal, wealth-creation lapses into a constant drive for more that can never be satisfied. And, as a result, both tend to promote competition over cooperation. Rather than highlighting human flourishing as the cooperative production of human communities, wealth-creation untethered from a higher goal creates the perfect context for the most destructive forms of economic competition.
All three of these systems, then, have something valuable to say about how government, economics, and human flourishing relate to one another. But, each manifests some limitations as well. And, they’ve been competing for primacy in American identity from the very beginning. There was no “winner” in the debate among the Founding Fathers. Instead, they compromised by including elements of each in our founding documents and policies. So, like me, many Americans have a conflicted, and possibly contradictory, view of these issues.
Two Fundamental Questions
In the end, I found this all to be very helpful in highlighting the need to press beyond discussions of economics and governmental practices to more fundamental questions:
- What is human flourishing?
- What factors are necessary to promote and sustain human flourishing?
These are core questions that should interest any human, but especially those of us involved in Christian ministry, because they’re the same questions that we’re asking. Only when we’ve offered our answers to these questions will we be in any position to have meaningful discussions about the best economic and political policies and practices for fostering them.
Jonathan Edwards’ Charity and its Fruits is a collection of manuscript adapted for publication by Edwards on the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. Jonathan Edwards first delivered these lectures as a series of sermons to his church in Northhampton in 1738, and were first published in 1852. Shortly, after it was published, The New Englander, a journal founded at Yale College, described Edwards’ work as a volume that reflected “the childlike simplicity of his tastes, his strength of intellect, his acute and searching discrimination, and the warmth and earnestness of his piety.”1 Charity takes a simple tone and clear logic that reflects the nature of a work design to be delivered to those in his flock in Northhampton. Each lecture functions as its own independent unit, and therefore lacks a structured progression, even though Edwards works through each verse in succession. I would group each lecture under several headings.
The first heading could be titled, the primacy & nature of love. The title of this volume uses the term, charity. Even though, Edwards uses charity throughout this work, it is somewhat misleading. At first glance, any modern reader would assume that when Edward uses the word “charity”, he means to discuss the voluntary giving of help, usually expressed in the giving of money. However, Edward simply adopts this word due to its use in his translation of the Bible. He points out that in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13, the word “which is here translated ‘charity,’ might better have been rendered ‘love’.” Edwards defines love as “that disposition or affection whereby one is dear to another;” and is expressed as it is “exercised towards God or our fellow-creatures.” Despite the object of its expression, Edwards argues that Christian love is always the same because it comes from God by God motivated by God’s loving nature. When Christian love is active in an individual, we find that we possess the greatest ingredient of the Christian faith. For Christian love reflects “the sum of all the virtue and duty that God requires of us, and therefore must undoubtedly be the most essential thing.” And without it, there can be no real exercise of true religion. Edwards also argues that Christian love is to be prized above all virtues, as well as all supernatural gifts of the Spirit. In Edwards estimation, supernatural gifts of the Spirit are granted temporarily by God for a purpose, however love is inherent in a Christian’s nature & continues through to eternity. Edward describes those extraordinary gifts as “a beautiful garment, which does not alter the nature of the man that wears it.” However, love is that “fruit of the Spirit that never fails or ceases in the church of Christ.”
The second heading could be titled, the visible effects of love. Edwards argues, “All true grace in the heart tends to holy practice in the life.” Therefore, it must be visible and there must be fruit. If we desire to know that Christian love is real, it is most clearly evidenced in a individuals seeking and doing it—“for whatever we truly desire, we do thus seek.” This is most clearly seen in our redemption. “He has reconciled them to God by his death, to save them from wicked works, that they might be holy and unblamable in their lives.” Edwards continues by showing the effects, or fruits, of love. This is reflected in a Christian’s ability to endure all sufferings of all degrees. Edwards argues that Christian love enables Christians to willingly undergo “the fiercest and most cruel sufferings in degree, they are willing to undergo for Christ”; for they “are like pure gold, that will bear the trial of the hottest furnace.” Christian love is also visible in Christian humility. Edwards argues that if we have God’s condescending love, and we understand & love God who is infinitely greater than we are, and we love our humble Lord who was crucified for our sake; then the fruits of love will be a humble spirit.
The final heading I would use to organize Edwards thoughts in this volume is the opposing spirits of love. Edwards first address the spirit of envy, which is opposed to Christian love. He states, “The nature of charity or Christian love to men is directly contrary to envy; for love does not grudge, but rejoices at the good of those who are loved.” Edwards also points out that selfishness is at opposite of Christian love for “those that are possessed of the spirit of Christian charity are of a more enlarged spirit still; for they are concerned not only for the thrift of the community, but for the welfare of the Church of God.” Finally, Edwards argues that the spirits of anger and censoriousness are at complete odds with love.
Charity and its Fruits possess tremendous strengths, which should be noted. Compared to many of the writings of Jonathan Edwards, the language is extremely clear and easy to read. His arguments have a powerful straightforwardness about them that is well supported by Biblical evidence. This volume is possesses a practicality unlike any of his other works. Most lectures in this volume end with valuable considerations of the application of arguments made by Edwards. My biggest concerns in this work were largely peripheral concerns. With this volume, they begin with the lack of exposition, due to my fondness of preaching, and end on Edwards’ heavy emphasis on personal examination. Though Edwards does recognize that when discussing love and “a life of Christian practice…the meaning is not, that the life is a perfect and sinless life.” There is significant emphasis on demands of love and our failings to meet them. This would not be as problematic had there been countered with significant devotion to the Gospel, and Christ’s perfect and sinless life. In the end, Edwards’ exploration into the nature and fruits of love helps uncover true Christian love, how it is identified, and practiced.