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Divine Revelation

Miscellanies by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

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Edwards talks about the need and reliability of Divine revelation.

350. Christian Religion. Divine Revelation. Were it not for divine revelation, I am persuaded that there is no one doctrine of that which we call natural religion, which, notwithstanding all philosophy and learning, would not be forever involved in darkness, doubts, endless disputes, and dreadful confusion. Many things, now they are revealed, seem very plain, and as if we could easily have arrived at a certainty concerning them, if we never had had a revelation of them. It is one thing to see that a truth is exceedingly agreeable to reason, after we have it explained to us and have been told of the reasons of it. [It is] another, to find it out and clearly and certainly explain it by mere reason. It is one thing to prove a thing after we are shown how, and another to find it out and prove it of ourselves.

If there never had been any revelation, I believe the world would have been full of endless disputes about the very being of a God: whether the world was from eternity or not, and whether the form and order of the world did not result from the mere nature of matter. Ten thousand different schemes there would have been about it. And if it were allowed that there was a first cause of all things, there would have been endless disputes and abundance of uncertainty, to determine what sort of a thing that first cause was. Some, it may be, would have thought that it was properly an intelligent mind and a voluntary agent. Others might say that it was some principle of things, of which we could have no kind of ideas. Some would have called it a voluntary agent [and] some a principle exerting itself by a natural necessity. There might have been many schemes contrived about this, and some would like one best and some another. Amongst those that held that the original of all things was superior intelligence and will, there probably would have been everlasting doubts and disputes, whether there was one only or more. Some perhaps would have said there was but one, some that there were two (the one the principle of good and the other the principle of evil), and others that there was a society or a world of them. And among those that held that there was but one mind, there would be abundance of uncertainty what sort of a being he was: whether he was good or evil, whether he was just or unjust, holy or wicked, gracious or cruel, or whether he was partly good and partly evil, and how far he concerned himself with the world after he had made it. [There would also be uncertainty] on how far things were owing to his providence or whether at all, how far he concerned himself with mankind (what was pleasing to him in them and what was displeasing, or whether he cared anything about it), whether he delighted in justice and order or not, and whether he would reward the one and punish the other, and how and when and where and to what degree. There would have been abundance of doubt and dispute concerning what this mind expected from us, and how we should behave towards him, or whether he expected we should anywise concern ourselves with him: whether we ever ought to apply ourselves to him any way; whether we ought to speak to him, as expecting that he would take any notice of us; how we should show our respect to him (whether we ought to praise and command him in our addresses [and] whether we ought to ask that of him which we need); whether or no he would forgive any after they had offended him, when they had reason to think they were forgiven, and what they should do that they might be forgiven; and whether it is ever worth the while for them that are so often offending, to try for it; whether there were not some sins so great, that God never would upon any terms forgive them, and how great they must be in order to that. Men would be exceedingly at a loss to know when they were in favor with him, and upon what terms they could be in his favor. They would be in a dreadful uncertainty about a future state: whether there be any, and if there be, whether it is a state of rewards and punishments. And if it is, what kind of state it is, and how men are to be rewarded and punished: to what degree and how long, whether man’s soul be eternal or not, and if it be, whether it is to remain in another world in a fixed state or change often.

It would be so also with respect to [the] abundance of moral duties which respect ourselves and one another. Every man would plead for the lawfulness of this or that practice, just as suited his fancy, and agreed with his interest and appetites. There would be room for a great deal of uncertainty and difference of opinion among those that were most speculative and impartial. There would be uncertainty in a multitude of instances: what was just and what unjust. It would be very uncertain how far self-interest should govern men and how far love to our neighbor, how far revenge would be right and whether or no a man might hate his neighbor and for what causes, and what degree of passion and ambition was justifiable and laudable. [It would also be uncertain] what sensual enjoyments were lawful and what not, how far we ought to honor, respect, and submit to our parents and other superiors, and how far it would be lawful to dissemble and deceive. It seems to me, there would be infinite confusion in these things, and that there would hardly be any such thing as conscience in the world.

The world has had a great deal of experience of the necessity of a revelation. We may see it in all ages that have been without a revelation. In what gross darkness and brutal stupidity have such places, in these matters, always been overwhelmed! And how many and how great and foolish mistakes, and what endless uncertainty and differences of opinion, have there been among the most learned and philosophical! Yet there never was a real trial [of] how it would be with mankind in this respect, without having anything from revelation. I believe that most of those parts of natural religion that were held by the heathens before Christ, were owing to tradition from those of their forefathers who had the light of revelation. And many of those being most evidently agreeable to reason, were more easily upheld and propagated. Many of their wise men who had influence and rule over them, saw their rectitude and agreeableness to reason better than others. Some of them traveled much and would gather up remains of truth, which they found scattered about in other parts of the world, preserved in the same manner by tradition… Those things among them which appeared most agreeable to their reason, they transplanted to their own country. Judea was a sort of light among the nations, though they did not know it. The practice and principles of that country had this influence, [in] that it kept the neighboring nations in remembrance of their traditions, which they had from their forefathers [who] professed the same truths, and so kept them from degenerating so much as otherwise they would have done.

In fact, the philosophers had the foundation of most of their truths from the ancients, or from the Phoenicians, or what they picked up here and there of the relics of revelation.

How came all the heathen nations to agree in the custom of sacrificing? The light of nature did not teach it them. Without doubt they had it from tradition, and therefore, it needs not seem strange that what of natural religion they had amongst them came the same way. And I suppose that most of the principles of justice and the right rules they had of behavior toward themselves were also by tradition… I am persuaded that mankind would have been like a herd of beasts, with respect to their knowledge in all important truths, if there never had been any such thing as revelation in the world, and that they never would have risen out of their brutality. We see that those who live at the greatest distance from revelation, as to time and place, are far the most brutish. The heathens in America and in some of the utmost parts of Asia and Africa, are far more barbarous than those who formerly lived in Rome, Greece, Egypt, Syria, and Chaldea. Their traditions are more worn out, and they are more distant from places enlightened with revelation. The Chinese, descended probably from the people of Noah, that holy man (being much separated from other nations), have held more by tradition from him than other nations and so have been a more civilized people. The increase of learning and philosophy in the Christian world, is owing to revelation. The doctrines of revealed religion are the foundation of all useful and excellent knowledge. The Word of God leads barbarous nations into the way of using their understandings. It brings their minds into a way of reflecting and abstracted reasoning and delivers from uncertainty in the first principles, such as, the being of God, the dependence of all things upon him, being subject to his influence and providence, and being ordered by his wisdom. Such principles as these are the basis of all true philosophy, as appears more and more as philosophy improves. Revelation delivers mankind from that distraction and confusion, which discourages all attempts to improve in knowledge. Revelation is that light in the world from whence has beamed forth not only the knowledge of religion, but all valuable truth. It is the fountain of that light which has enlightened the understandings of men with all sorts of knowledge. Revelation actually gives men a most rational account of religion and morality, and the highest philosophy, and all the greatest things that belong to learning concerning God, the world, human nature, spirits, providence, time, and eternity. Revelation brings nations to rational studious consideration, and there is nothing else [that] will do it. For nothing else will convince them that it is worth the while to be at the pains of it. Revelation not only gives us the foundation and first principles of all learning but it gives us the end, the only end, that would be sufficient to move man to the pursuit. If it were not for revelation, nations and public communities would see no reason to encourage such speculations and to uphold an order of men who should make speculation the business of their lives.

Revelation redeems nations from a vicious, sinful, and brutish way of living, which will effectually keep out learning. It is therefore unreasonable to suppose that philosophy might supply the defect of revelation. Without revelation, there would be no such thing as any good philosophy, that is, except now and then in some rare instances and those attended with abundance of darkness and imperfection.

We hardly can have a conception [of] how it would be if there never had been any revelation. For we are bred up in the light of revelation from our very infancy. If there was a nation of philosophers, where all were taught philosophy as soon as they came to be capable of understanding anything, and so they were bred up in it, they would be surprised at the ignorance, the thoughtlessness of a people that did not meddle in it. They would wonder that they could have so little reflection and that they should be so plain and easy to them. Knowledge is easy to us that understand by revelation, but we do not know what brutes we should have been, if there never had been any revelation.

382. Divine Revelation. If there be any such thing needful, or at all proper and suitable, that God should reveal himself to mankind, it is perhaps impossible that he should do it in any other way, or with any other kind of evidence, than he has done it. There are no other ways possible but these: either inspiration, or God’s appearing (causing some visible appearance and audible voice), or sending of his angels, or his own assuming a body and becoming incarnate. And there are all the kinds of evidence of this revelation, that it is possible [that] a revelation should have. There are all kinds of internal evidences from the majesty, holiness, sublimity, and harmony of the Scriptures, and there are all kinds of external evidences: prophecy and miracles. No kind of miracle can be thought of, that would be more evidential, than those by which Christianity has been confirmed.

519. Divine Revelation. If there must be a revelation, it is convincing that the Christian revelation is the true one: that it has been by means of this revelation, and this only, that the world has come to the knowledge of the one only true God. Till this came, all the world lay in ignorance of him. But when this came, it was successful to bring the world to the acknowledgment of him. It is from hence that all that part of the world that owns the only true God, whether Christians, Jews, Mahometans, or Deists, have received knowledge. If there be a true revelation in the world, it is not to be supposed that God would so order things that it should not be by that true revelation, but by a false one (an impostor), that the world should come to the knowledge of the true God.

And this is evidential, that the Christian revelation is that which God designed as the proper means to bring the world to the knowledge of himself, rather than any other revelation and rather than human reason. For it is unreasonable to suppose that God would so order it that another means, and that only, which God did not design as proper means for the obtaining this effect, should actually obtain it. If the Christian revelation be not the proper means to bring the world to the knowledge of the true God, it is strange that the world, which was before ignorant of him, should be brought to the knowledge of him by it, and no part of it ever be brought to the knowledge of him by any other means, which may be supposed to be the means which God designed for this end.

652. Divine Revelation. I once told a boy of about thirteen years of age that a piece of any matter two inches square was eight times as large as one of but one inch square, or that it might be cut into eight pieces, all of them as big as that of but one inch square. He seemed at first not to think me in earnest, and to suspect that I only meant to make game of him. But when I had taken considerable pains to convince him that I was in earnest and that I knew what I said to be true, he seemed to be astonished at my positiveness and exclaimed about the impossibility and absurdity of it, and would argue: how was it possible for two inches to be eight inches? And all that I could say did not prevail upon him, to make him believe it. I suppose it seemed to him as great a contradiction, that what was but just twice so long and twice so broad and twice so thick, should yet be eight times so big, as that twice one should make eight, or any other absurdity whatsoever. And when I afterwards showed him the truth of it, by cutting out two cubes, one an inch and another two inches square, and let him examine the measures and see that the measures were exact, and that there was no deceit. And [we] cut the two inch cube into eight equal parts, and he counted the parts over and over, and took the parts one by one and compared them with the one inch cube and spent some time in counting and comparing. He seemed to be astonished, as though there were some witchcraft in the case and hardly to believe it after all. For he did not yet at all see the reason of it. I believe it was a much more difficult mystery to him, than the Trinity ordinarily is to men; and seemed to him more evidently a contradiction, than any mystery of religion to a Socinian or deist. And why should not we suppose that there may be some things that are true that may be as much above our understandings and as difficult to them, as this truth was unto this boy? Doubtless there is a vastly greater difference between our understandings and God’s, than between this boy’s and that of the greatest philosopher or mathematician.

752. Divine Revelation. If there be a revelation from God to the world, it is most reasonable to suppose, and natural to expect, that he should therein make known not only what manner of being he is, but also that he should lead mankind to an understanding of his works of creation and providence (that he should give them some account how the world came into being, and some account of his works of providence), so that mankind may understand something of God’s scope and design in continuing the world in being for so many ages [with] the great changes and revolutions, and many strange things that are brought to pass in it, in the successive stages of it. [This is also] so men may know something of God’s scheme of providence, and so much of his scope and design, as to be able to see something of the wisdom and other perfections of God in the course of things, and that may be of some direction to them how to regulate themselves, so man may concur with and not contradict the holy and wise scheme of the Governor of the world.

These things the Christian revelation opens to us in such a manner as might be expected. This alone gives any tolerable account of the work of creation, and this reveals to us the scheme of providence, and what is God’s main design in the whole, a design worthy of himself. What great work that is, which is his main work, the main design of providence, to which all events and revolutions of providence are subordinate. What is the thing that God is doing? What contrivance is he accomplishing? What has God done in order to it, from the beginning of the world in the several ages of it? And we are shown how these events all point to this main work of power, wisdom, and grace, that is the hinge of all. We have been wrought in the fullness of time, as to those great acts which are the main ground of it; and how that was foretold in the several ages of the world. We have these prophecies still extant in this revelation. We have a history of the series of events down from the creation of the world and the time preparatory to it, and then after that the great events of God’s providence consequent to it, establishing the first fruits of it in the world, and then with a prophecy of the main events yet to be accomplished in the pursuance of the same great scheme and a description of the end of the world: an account of the winding up of all things, his great design and scheme consummated, and all things settled in their ultimate state to remain throughout all eternity.

These things are exceedingly agreeable to a most natural and rational supposition, in case God make a revelation to mankind. But if the Scriptures are not a revelation of God, then man, the principal creature God has made in this world, the only intelligent creature to whom he has subjected this lower part of the creation, is left wholly and entirely in the dark about God’s works both of creation and providence, and has nothing whereby to judge what God’s scheme is, in all the great changes he sees come to pass in the world, or what he aims to accomplish. Every thing lies in darkness and confusion before him, without any possibility of his determining anything, or to direct him what to think of God’s works which he beholds, or what affection he should exercise towards the supreme Governor, on occasion of them. How shall he, in the course of his practice, inform himself of God’s scope, admire and adore him, submit to him, serve him, and praise him as the supreme Lord of the world and orderer of all things, as becomes a rational and intelligent subject of his kingdom.

837. Divine Revelation. The whole of Christian divinity depends on divine revelation. For though there are many truths concerning God and our duty to him that are evident by the light of nature, yet no truth is taught by the light of nature in that manner in which it is necessary for us to know it. For the knowledge of no truth in divinity is of any significance to us, any otherwise, than as it some way or other belongs to the gospel scheme or has relation to Christ the Mediator. It signifies nothing for us to know anything of any one of God’s perfections, unless we know them as manifested in Christ. So it signifies nothing to us to know any part of our duty unless it bear some relation to Christ. It profits us not to have any knowledge of the law of God, unless it be either to fit us for the glad tidings of the gospel or to be a means of our sanctification in Christ Jesus, and to influence us to serve God through Christ by an evangelical obedience. And therefore, we stand in the greatest necessity of a divine revelation, and it was fit and proper that when God did give us a revelation, it should not only contain those peculiar truths, which purely and in every respect depend on revelation, as the doctrines of Christ’s mediation and justification through him, but that this revelation should contain everything that belongs to divinity, needful either to be known or to be practiced. For it all depends on revelation in the way in which it is necessary for us to know it.

1158. Divine Revelation. It is of itself a great proof of revealed religion that the Jews should, for so many ages, retain the knowledge of the true God and notions of him (his nature, attributes, works and worship), agreeable to the most refined reason, when all the other nations about them, and all the rest of the world, were enveloped in the grossest idolatry. It was not owing to anything peculiar in the genius of that people, any distinguishing taste they had for learning beyond other nations. They were unacquainted with the sciences that were in vogue in Greece and Rome and seemed to have been as prone to idolatry in themselves as other nations.

1170. Divine Revelation. The slow progress the world makes in the investigation of truth in things that seem pretty obvious, as in the instance of the roundness of the earth, may evince the necessity of a revelation to guide men into the knowledge of truth in divine things that are needful to be known in order to our being happy in the knowledge, favor and enjoyment of God.

Consider the following two works by Edwards that have been updated and republished for easy reading:

Ripe for Damnation: Sermons on the Book of Revelation – by Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758). Are you hungry for more of Edwards’ sermons? On the book of Revelation? These new works are not found anywhere on A Puritan’s Mind, and there are new ones not found in his large 2 volume works. 4 deal with the plight of the wicked, and 2 deal with the bliss of saints in heaven. These sermons are powerful, practical, and biblical, glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ, and contain 2 never before published sermons.

Justification by Faith Alone – by Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758). In this classic work, Edwards covers the intricacies of how believers are made righteous only through Christ’s merits, and that this justifying righteousness is equally imputed to all elect believers. This is accomplished by the condition of faith as an instrument.

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