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Miscellanies by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

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Edwards’ thoughts about how men are illuminated.

533. Law of Nature. The Apostle says (Rom. 2:14-15) that the Gentiles which have not the law do by nature the things contained in the law. Those having not the law are a law unto themselves, which shows the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness. In order to men’s having the law of God made known to them by the light of nature, two things are necessary: the light of nature must not only discover to them that these and these things are their duty, i.e., that they are right, that there is a justice and equality in them, and the contrary unjust, but it must discover to them also that it is the will of God that they should be done, and that they shall incur his displeasure by the contrary. For a law is a signification of the will of a lawgiver, with the danger of the effects of his displeasure in case of the breach of that law. The Gentiles had both these. Their natural consciences testified to the latter after this manner. Natural conscience suggests to every man the relation and agreement there is between that which is wrong or unjust and punishment. This naturally disposes man to expect it. To think of wrong and injustice, especially such as often is seen without any punishment to balance it, is shocking to men’s minds. Men, therefore, are naturally averse to thinking that there will be no punishments, especially when they themselves are great sufferers by injustice and have it not in their power to avenge themselves. And the same sense made guilty persons zealous lest they should meet with their deserved punishment. And this kept up in the world among all nations the doctrine of superior powers that would revenge iniquity. This sense of men’s consciences kept alive that tradition and made it easily and naturally received. The light of nature discovered the being of a deity otherwise, but this sense of conscience upheld this notion of him — that he was the avenger of evil. And it also made them the more easily believe the being of a deity itself. God also gave many evidences, in his providence amongst the heathen, that he was the revenger of iniquity. When the light of nature discovered to them that there was a God that governed the world, they the more easily believed him to be a just being, and so that he hated injustice because it appeared horrid to think of a supreme judge of the universe that was unjust. Gen. 18:25, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?”

626. Spirit’s Operation. Nature. Grace. Common Grace. Special Regeneration. (Vid. No. 471.) Natural men may have convictions from the Spirit of God, but it is from the Spirit of God only as assisting natural principles and not infusing any new and supernatural principle. That conviction of guilt which a natural man may have from the Spirit of God is only by the Spirit’s assisting natural conscience the better and more fully to do its office. Therein common grace differs from special. Common grace is only the assistance of natural principles, while special is the infusing and exciting supernatural principles. Or if these words are too abstruse, common grace only assists the faculties of the soul to do that more fully which they do by nature. Man’s natural conscience will, by mere nature, render him in a degree sensible of guilt. It will accuse a man and condemn him when he has done amiss. The Spirit of God, in those convictions which natural men sometimes have, assists conscience to do this in a further degree and helps the natural principles against those things that tend to stupefy it and to hinder its free exercise. But special grace causes the faculties to do that that they do not by nature; causes those things to be in the soul that are above nature and of which there is nothing of the like kind in the soul by nature; and causes them to be in the soul habitually and according to such a stated constitution or law that lays such a foundation for a continued course of exercises as is called a principle of nature — such as a principle of life in a plant or animal, or a principle of sensation or natural appetites, etc.

732. Common Illumination. The nature of the work of the Spirit may be learnt from the nature of his work in legal conviction. It is the same common enlightening assistance of both, but only one is of evil and the other of good. Those legal convictions that natural men have are from the common illumination of the Spirit of God concerning evil. Those pleasant religious affections and apprehensions that natural men sometimes have are from the common illuminations of the Spirit of God concerning good. The assistance given is of a like sort in both, but only the object is different. One respects good and the other evil, both of which natural men are equally capable of apprehending without any supernatural principle. The mind of man without a supernatural principle is capable of two things with respect to conviction of evil:

1. The judgment is capable of being convinced of evil. Man’s natural reason is capable of discerning force in those arguments that prove it, though sin greatly clouds the judgment concerning these things. A natural man’s reason, by common assistance of it against the clouding, prejudicing, and stupefying nature of sin, is capable of seeing the force of many arguments that prove God’s anger and future punishment, and the greatness of these things. And so a natural man is capable of being convinced how much there is in him contrary to God’s law, and to how great a degree it is contrary, and what connection there is between these faults and God’s anger and future punishment.

2. Besides a conviction of truth respecting evil in the judgment, a natural man, as such, is capable of a sense of heart of this evil, i.e., he is capable of a deeply impressed and lively and affecting idea and sense of these things which is something more than a mere conviction in the judgment concerning their truth. The mind of a natural man is capable of a sense of the heart of natural things, or of those things that are terrible to nature. And, therefore, what the Spirit of God does in legal conviction or, which is the same thing, common illuminations of evil is to assist those principles, viz., the natural reason or judgment, against the prejudicing, blinding tendency of sin, and to assist the sense of the heart against the stupefying nature of sin.

And it is the same kind of influence or assistance that is given in common convictions and illuminations of good, whereby the souls of natural men are affected with thoughts of God’s love and pity and kindness to them or others, of benefits offered or bestowed on them, of being beloved of God, of being delivered from calamity, of having honor put upon them of God, and the like. For the mind of man, without any supernatural principles, is in like manner capable of two things, viz., 1. Of a conviction of the judgment by reasons that evince the truth of the things of religion that respect natural good, and 2. Of a sense of heart of natural good. And so God assists these principles in common illumination. And it is to be noted that a conviction of evil abundantly makes way for such a conviction of good. A conviction of sin and guilt makes way for a conviction of the greatness of mercy held for them, and a conviction of danger of misery prepares for a more sensible, affecting idea of God’s pity appearing either in comfortable words of Scriptures, or in the great works of God in redemption, or in his particular providence towards the person affected.

Such a conviction and illumination of the mind or such an assistance of the soul to a sense of the good or evil things of religion is the proper work of the Spirit of God. For the Spirit of God is indeed the author of our capacity of discerning or having a sense of heart of natural good or evil. For this really differs not from the faculty of man’s will. And it was especially the work of the Spirit of God in creation, wherein the three persons of the Trinity were conjunct, to infuse this principle — this part of the natural image of God. For herein man is made in the image of God who has understanding and will, which will is the same with the Holy Ghost. And therefore the assisting this principle in its acting and in giving a sense of good and evil is proper to the Holy Ghost.

782. Ideas. Sense of the Heart. Spiritual Knowledge or Conviction. Faith. Great part of our thoughts and the discourse of our minds concerning things is without the actual ideas of those things of which we discourse and reason, but the mind makes use of signs instead of the ideas themselves. A little attentive reflection may be enough to convince anyone of this. Let any man, for his own satisfaction, take any book and read down one page of it as fast as he ordinarily is wont to read with understanding. He finishes perhaps the whole page in about a minute of time, wherein, it may be, were many such terms as God, man, angel, people, misery, happiness, salvation, distinction, consideration, perplexity, sanctification, and many more such like. And then let him consider whether he has had the actual ideas of all those things, and things signified by many other words in the whole page, in this short space of time. And particularly let him consider whether or no, when in the course of his reading he came upon the word “God” in such a line, which his mind dwelt not a moment upon, whether or no he had an actual idea of God, i.e., whether he had an actual idea, that moment, of those things that are principally essential in an idea of God: as whether he had an actual idea of supremacy, of supreme power, of supreme government, of supreme knowledge, of will, etc. I apprehend that diligent attention will convince him that he has no actual idea of one of these things when he understandingly reads, or hears, or speaks the word “God.” I will instance but in one thing that seems most found a notion of all [i.e., most commonly found] in the idea of God, viz., understanding or knowledge. He will find that in such cases he had no actual idea at all of this. For if he had an actual idea of understanding or knowledge, then he had an actual idea of ideas — of ideas of perception or consciousness; of judging or perceiving connections and relations between different ideas, and so had an actual idea of various ideas and relations between them. So when he read the word “people,” let him inquire whether he had any actual idea of that which was signified by this word. In order to this he must have an actual idea of man. I do not mean only a confused idea of an outer appearance like that of man, for if that was all, that was not an idea of man properly but only a sign made use of instead of an idea. But he must have an actual idea of those things wherein manhood most essentially consists, as an idea of reason, which contains many other actual ideas — as an actual idea of consciousness, an actual idea of a disposal of ideas in the mind, an actual idea of a consequent perception of relations and connections between them, etc. And so he must have an actual idea of will, which contains an actual idea of pleasure and pain, agreeableness and disagreeableness, and a consequent command or imperate act of the soul, etc. So when he read the word “perplexity,” let him consider whether he had an actual idea of that actual thing signified by that word which contained many actual ideas — as an actual idea of thought and an actual idea of intenseness of thought, and also earnestness of desire, an actual idea of disappointment or crassness to desire (which contains many other actual ideas), and an actual idea of manifoldness of troubles and crosses, etc. So when he read the word “sanctification,” the actual idea of which contains a great many actual ideas, viz., an actual idea of what is implied in the faculties of an intelligent voluntary being, and then an actual idea of holiness, which contains a great number of other actual ideas.
But I need not insist on more instances. I should think that these might be enough to convince anyone that there is very often no actual idea of those things when we are said to think of them, and that the thought is not employed about things themselves immediately, or immediately exercised in the idea itself, but only some sign that the mind habitually substitutes in the room of the idea. Our thoughts are oftentimes ten times swifter than our reading or speech. Men oftentimes think that in a few minutes which it would take them a long time to speak. And if there be no room to suppose that all the ideas signified by the words of a discourse can be actually excited in the mind in reading or speaking, much less can it be in such swift discourse of thought.
We thus, in the discourse of our minds, generally make use of signs instead of ideas, especially with respect to two kinds of subjects of our thoughts, viz., 1. With respect to general things, or kinds and sorts; such are kinds of substances and such also are what Mr. Locke calls “mixed modes.” When we, in the course of our thoughts, in reading or hearing or speaking or meditation, think of any sort of substance or distinct beings, as particularly of men, instead of going about with attention of mind actually to excite the ideas of those things that belong to the nature of man, that are essential to it, and that distinguish it from other creatures, and so having actually such an abstract idea as Mr. Locke speaks of, we have only an idea of something in our mind, either a name or some external sensible idea that we use as a sign to represent that idea: so when, in the discourse of our minds, there passes a thought of that sort of creatures called lions, or that sort of natural bodies called metal, or that called trees, and so in mixed modes such as compassion, decency, harmony, and the like.

2. It is commonly so in our discourses of those things that we can know only by reflection, which are of a spiritual nature, or things that consist in the ideas, acts, and exercises of minds. It has been shown elsewhere [See M 123, M 201, and especially M 238.] that there is no actual idea of those things but what consists in the actual existence of the same things, or like things, in our own minds. For instance, to excite the idea of an idea we must have that very idea in our minds, we must have the same idea. To have an actual idea of a thought is to have that thought, that we have an idea of, then in our minds. To have an actual idea of any pleasure or delight, there must be excited a degree of that delight. So to have an actual idea of any trouble or kind of pain, there must be excited a degree of that pain or trouble, and to have an idea of any affection of the mind, there must be then present a degree of that affection. This alone is sufficient to show that in great part of our discourses and reasonings on things, we are without the actual ideas of those things of which we discourse and reason. For most of our discourses and reasonings are about things that belong to minds or things that we know by reflection, or at least do involve some relation to them in some respect or other. But how far are we, when we speak or read or hear or think of those beings that have minds (or intelligent beings), or of their faculties and powers, or their dispositions, principles, and acts, and those mixed modes that involve relations to these things, from actually having present in our minds those mental things, those thoughts, and those mental acts that those spiritual things do consists in or are related to! Very commonly we discourse about them in our minds and argue and reason concerning them, without any idea at all of the things themselves in any degree, but only make use of the signs instead of the ideas. As for instance, how often do we think and speak of the pleasure and delight or pain and trouble that such have, or have had, in such and such things, or things that do in some respect involve pleasure or pain in their idea, without the presence of any degree of that pleasure or that trouble, or any real idea of those troublesome or pleasing sensations!
Those signs that we are wont to make use of in our thoughts for representations of things, and to substitute in the room of the actual ideas themselves, are either the ideas of the names by which we are wont to call them or the idea of some external sensible thing that some way belongs to the things — some sensible image or resemblance, or some sensible part, or some sensible effect, or sensible concomitant, or a few sensible circumstances. We have the ideas of some of those excited, which we substitute in the room of those things that are most essential, and use them as signs as we do words, and have respect to them no further in our discourse. Hence we do not stand at all on the clearness and distinctness of that external idea that we thus make use of, but commonly it is very dim and transient and exceeding confused and indistinct — as when in a course of meditations we think of man, angels, nations, conversion, conviction. If we have anything further in our thoughts to represent those things than only the words, we commonly have only some very confused, passing notion of something external, something we do not at all insist on the clearness and distinctness of. Nor do we find any need of it, because we make use of that external idea no otherwise than as a sign of the idea or something to stand in its stead. And the notion need not be distinct in order to that, because we may habitually understand the use of it as a sign without it. Whereas it would be of great consequence that it should be clear and distinct if we regarded it as an actual idea and proper representation of the thing itself. The signs that those that have the use of speech do principally make use of in their thoughts are words or names, which are indeed very frequently accompanied with some slight confused glance of some sensible idea that belongs to the thing named, but the name is the principal sign the mind makes use of. Others that are deaf and dumb do probably make use of the ideas of those signs which they have been accustomed to signify the thing by, or (if we may judge by what we find in things that we have no names for, and there are many such) they make use of some sensible effect, part, concomitant, or circumstance as the sign.
It is something external or sensible that we are wont to make use of for signs of the ideas of the things themselves. For they are much more ready at hand and more easily excited than ideas of spiritual or mental things, which for the most part cannot be without attentive reflection. And very often the force of the mind is not sufficient to excite them at all, because we are not able to excite in our minds those acts, exercises, or passions of the mind that we think of.

We are under a necessity of thus putting signs in our minds instead of the actual ideas of the things signified, on several accounts: partly by reason of the difficulty of exciting the actual ideas of things, especially in things that are not external and sensible, which are a kind of things that we are mainly concerned with; and also because, if we must have the actual ideas of everything that comes in our way in the course of our thought, this would render our thoughts so slow as to render our powers of thinking in a great measure useless, as may be seen in the instance mentioned of a man reading down a page. Now if we use signs instead of the actual ideas themselves, we can sufficiently understand what is contained in that page in a minute of time, and can express the same thoughts to another in as little time by our voices, and can think ten times as swiftly as we can read or speak. But if in order to an understanding of what was contained in that page, we must have an actual idea of everything signified by every word in that page, it would take us up many hours to go through with it. For taking in all the ideas that are either directly signified, or involved in relations that are signified by them, it would take us up a considerable time before we could be said to understand one word. But if our understandings were so slow, it would frustrate all use of reading or writing and all use of speech — yea, and all improvement of a faculty of thinking, too. And if all our thoughts must have proceeded after this slow manner from our infancy, we must have remained infants all the days of our lives, and seventy years would have been sufficient to have proceeded but a few steps in knowledge.

This way of thinking by signs, unless as it is abused to an indulgence of a slothful inattentive disposition, may well serve us to many of the common purposes of thinking. For in many respects we, without the actual presence of the idea, know how to use the sign as if it were the idea itself. Having learned by frequent experience, our minds in the presence of the sign being habitually led to the relations and connections with other things, the presence of the sign in the mind does by custom as naturally and spontaneously suggest many relations of the thing signified to others, as the hearing of such a certain sound or seeing such letters does by custom and habit spontaneously excite such a thought. But if we are at a loss concerning a connection or consequence, or have a new inference to draw, or would see the force of some new argument, then commonly we are put to the trouble of exciting the actual idea and making it as lively and clear as we can. And in this consists very much of that which we call attention of the mind in thinking. And the force or strength of a mind consists very much in an ability to excite actual ideas so as to have them lively and clear, and its comprehension, whereby it is able to excite several at once to that degree as to see their connections and relations.

Here, by the way, we may observe the exceeding imperfection of the human understanding and one thing wherein it appears immensely below God’s understanding, in that he understands himself and all other things by the actual and immediate presence of an idea of the things understood. All his understanding is not only by actual ideas of things without ever being put to it to make use of signs instead of ideas (either through an inability or difficulty of exciting those ideas, or to avoid a slow progress of thoughts that would arise by so manifold and exact an attention), but he has the actual ideas of things perfectly in his mind without the least defect of any part and with perfect clearness, and without the imperfection of that fleetingness or transitoriness that attends our ideas, and without any troublesome exertion of the mind to hold the idea there, and without the trouble we are at to have in view a number at once that we may see the relations. But he has the ideas of all things at once in his mind, and all in the highest possible perfection of clearness, and all permanently and invariably there without any transitoriness or fading in any part. Our understandings are not only subject to the imperfections that consist in those things which necessitates us to make use of such signs as we have been speaking of, but this is a source of innumerable errors that we are subject to. Though, as was said before, such a use of signs serves us well to many purposes, yet the want of the actual ideas, and making use only of the signs instead of them, causes mankind to run into a multitude of errors, the falsity of which would be manifest to them if the ideas themselves were present.

From what has been said, we see that there are two ways of thinking and understanding, especially of spiritual or mental things that we receive a notion of by reflection or consciousness: viz., 1. That wherein we do not directly view the things themselves by the actual presence of their ideas or (which is the same thing in mental matters) sensation of their resemblances, but apprehend them only indirectly in their signs, which is a kind of a mental reading wherein we do not look on the things themselves but only on those signs of them that are before our eyes. This is a mere cogitation without any proper apprehension of the things thought of. 2. There is that which is more properly called apprehension, wherein the mind has a direct ideal view or contemplation of the thing thought of.

This ideal apprehension or view of mental things is either: 1. Of things that pertain merely to the faculty of understanding, or what is figuratively called the head, including all the modes of mere discerning, judging, or speculation; or 2. Of things that appertain to the other faculty of the will, or what is figuratively called the heart, whereby things are pleasing or displeasing, including all agreeableness and disagreeableness, all beauty and deformity, all pleasure and pain, and all those sensations, exercises, and passions of the mind that arise from either of those. An ideal apprehension or view of things of this latter sort is what is vulgarly called a having a sense. It is commonly said, when a person has an ideal view of anything of this nature, that he has a sense of it in his mind, and it is very properly so expressed. For by what has been said already, persons cannot have actual ideas of mental things without having those very things in the mind. And seeing all of this latter sort of mental things that belong to the faculty of will or the heart do, in great part at least, consist in a sensation of agreeableness or disagreeableness, and a sense or feeling of the heart of pleasedness or displeasedness, therefore it will follow that everyone that has an ideal view of those things has therein some measure of that inward feeling or sense.
Hence arises another great distinction of the kinds of understanding of mental things, or those things that appertain or relate to spiritual beings, which is somewhat diverse from the former, viz., of speculative and sensible: or 1. That understanding which consists in mere speculation or the understanding of the head; and 2. That which consists in the sense of the heart. The former includes all that understanding that is without any proper ideal apprehension or view and all that understanding of mental things of either faculty that is only by signs. And also all ideal views of things that are merely intellectual or appertain only to the faculty of understanding, i.e., all that understanding of things that do not consist in or imply some motion of the will or, in other words (to speak figuratively) some feeling of the heart, is mere speculative knowledge, whether it be an ideal apprehension of them or no. But all that understanding of things that does consist in or involve such a sense or feeling is not merely speculative but sensible knowledge. So is all ideal apprehension of beauty and deformity, or loveliness and hatefulness; and all ideas of delight or comfort, or pleasure of body or mind, pain, trouble, or misery; and all ideal apprehensions of desires and longings, esteem, acquiescence, hope, fear, contempt, choosing, refusing, assenting, rejecting, loving, hating, anger, and the idea of all the affections of the mind, and all their motions and exercises; and all ideal views of dignity or excellency of any kind; and also all ideas of terrible greatness, or awful majesty, meanness, or contemptibleness, value and importance. All knowledge of this sort, as it is of things that concern the heart or the will and affections, so it all relates to the good or evil that the sensible knowledge of things of this nature involves. And nothing is called a sensible knowledge upon any other account but on the account of the sense or kind of inward tasting or feeling of sweetness or pleasure, bitterness or pains, that is implied in it or arises from it. Yet it is not only the mere ideal apprehension of that good or evil that is included in what is called “being sensible of,” but also that ideal apprehension of other things that appertain to the thing known, on which the goodness or evil that attends them depends. As for instance, some men are said to have a sense of the dreadfulness of God’s displeasure. This apprehension of God’s displeasure is called having a sense, and is to be looked upon as a part of sensible knowledge because of that evil or pain in the object of God’s displeasure, or that is connected with that displeasure — an idea of what God is supposed to feel in his own heart in having that displeasure. But yet, in a sense of the terribleness of God’s displeasure there is implied an ideal apprehension of more things than merely of that pain or misery, or sense of God’s heart. There is implied an ideal apprehension of the being of God and of some intellectual existence, and an ideal apprehension of his greatness and of the greatness of his power. An ideal apprehension or view of those things is, in vulgar speech, called an having a sense of them. And in proportion to the intensive degree of this ideal apprehension or the clearness and liveliness of the idea of them, so persons are said to have a greater or lesser sense of them. And according to the easiness or difficulty of persons receiving such a sense of things, especially things that it much concerns them to be sensible of, are they called either sensible or stupid.

This distribution of the human knowledge into speculative and sensible, though it seems to pertain to only one particular kind of the objects of our knowledge — viz., those things that appertain or relate to the will and affections — yet indeed may be extended to all the knowledge we have of all objects whatsoever. For there is no kind of thing that we know but what may be considered as in some respect or other concerning the wills or hearts of spiritual beings. And indeed we are concerned to know nothing on any other account. So that perhaps this distinction of the kinds of our knowledge into speculative and sensible, if duly weighed, will be found the most important of all. The distribution is with respect to those properties of our knowledge that immediately relate to the end of all our knowledge, and to that in the objects of our knowledge on the account of which alone they are worthy to be known, viz., their relation to our wills and affections and interest — as good or evil, important or otherwise — and the respect they have to our happiness or misery.

The will, in all its determinations whatsoever, is governed by its thoughts and apprehensions of things with regard to those properties of the objects of its thoughts wherein the degree of the sense of the heart has a main influence.
There is a twofold division or distribution that may be made of the kinds of sensible knowledge of things that men have.
The first is with respect to the ways we come by it. 1. There’s that which is purely natural: either such as men’s minds come to be impressed with by the objects that are about them by the laws of nature, or when they behold anything that is beautiful or deformed by a beauty and deformity that men by nature are sensible of, then they have sensible knowledge of that beauty or deformity — as when the ear hears a variety of sounds harmoniously proportioned, the soul has a sensible knowledge of the excellency of the sound. When it tastes any good or ill savor or odor, it has a sensible knowledge of the excellency or hatefulness of that savor or odor. So it may have a sensible knowledge of many things by memory and reflection. So a man may have a sensible apprehension of pleasure or sorrow that others are the subjects of, indirectly by reflection, either by exciting from the memory something that he has felt heretofore which he supposes is like it, or by placing himself in other’s circumstances, or by placing things about himself in his imagination and, from ideas so put together in his mind, exciting something of a like pleasure or pain transiently in himself. And if those ideas come so together into the mind by the senses, or by the relation of others, such a sensation will spontaneously arise in the mind. In like manner men may have a sense of their own happiness or misery conceived as future. So men may, by mere nature, come to have a sense of the importance or terribleness or desirableness of many things. 2. That sense of things which we do not receive without some immediate influence of the Spirit of God, impressing a sense of things that do concern our greatest interest on our minds. It is found very often a very difficult thing to excite a sense of temporal things in the mind, requiring great attention and close application of thought. And many times it is not in our power. And in many instances wherein we have a sense of temporal things that is purely natural, it depends not merely on the force of our thoughts but the circumstances we are in, or some special accidental situation and concurrence of things in the course of our thoughts and meditations, or some particular incident in providence that excites a sense of things or gives an ideal view of them in a way inexplicable. But the exciting a sense of things pertaining to our eternal interest is a thing that we are so far from and so unable to obtain of ourselves (by reason of the direction of the inclinations and natural dispositions of the soul away from those things as they are, and the sinking of our intellectual powers, and the great subjection of the soul in its fallen state to the external senses), that a due sense of those things is never attained without immediate divine assistance.
It is in this that the ordinary work of the Spirit of God in the hearts of men consists, viz., in giving a sense of spiritual and eternal things, or things that appertain to the business of religion and our eternal interest. The extraordinary influence of the Spirit of God in inspiration imparts speculative knowledge to the soul, but the ordinary influence of God’s Spirit communicates only a sensible knowledge of those things that the mind had a speculative knowledge of before. And an imagination that some have of speculative knowledge received from the Spirit of God in those that have no real inspiration is that wherein enthusiasm consists.
Secondly, the other distribution that may be made of the kinds of sensible knowledge is according to the different nature of the objects of it, into a sense of things with respect to the natural good or evil that is in them or that relates to them, or a sense of them with respect to spiritual good or evil. By spiritual good, I mean all true moral good, all real moral beauty and excellency, and all those acts of the will or that sense of the heart that relates to it and the idea of which involves it, and all sense of it, all relish and desire of it and delight in it, happiness consisting in it, etc. By natural good and evil, I mean all that good or evil which is agreeable or disagreeable to human nature as such, without regard to the moral disposition — as all natural beauty and deformity such as a visible, sensible proportion or disproportion in figures, sounds, and colors; any good or evil that is the object of the external senses; and all that good or evil which arises from gratifying or crossing any of the natural appetites; all that good and evil which consists in gratifying or crossing a principle of self-love and consisting in others’ esteem of us and love to us, or their hatred and contempt; and that desirableness or undesirableness of moral dispositions and actions so far as arising from hence; and all that importance, worth, or terribleness arising from a relation to this natural good or evil.

Persons are capable of sensible knowledge of things of religion of the former sort — viz., with respect to the natural good or evil that attends them — of themselves, with the same improvement of their natural powers that they have of that sensible knowledge of temporal things, because this good and evil consists in an agreeableness or disagreeableness to human nature as such; and therefore no principles are required in men beyond those that are contained in human nature to discern them. But yet by reason of the natural stupidity of the soul with respect to things so diverse from all the objects of sense and so opposite to the natural disposition of the heart, it is found by experience that men never will obtain any very considerable sense of them without the influence of the Spirit of God assisting the faculties of human nature and impressing a lively sense of them. But as to the other, viz., a sense of divine things with respect to spiritual good and evil, because these do not consist in any agreeableness or disagreeableness to human nature as such, or the mere human faculties and principles, therefore man, merely with the exercise of those faculties and his own natural strength, can do nothing towards getting such a sense of divine things. But it must be wholly and entirely a work of the Spirit of God, not merely as assisting and co-working with natural principles, but infusing something above nature.

By the things that have been said, we may see the difference between the influences of the Spirit of God on the minds of natural men in awakenings, common convictions, and illuminations, and his spiritual influences on the hearts of the saints at and after their conversion. 1. Natural men, while they are senseless and unawakened, have very little sensible knowledge of the things of religion, even with respect to the natural good and evil that is in them and attends them. And indeed, they have very little of any ideal apprehension of any sort of divine and eternal things, by reason of their being left to the stupefying influence of sin and the objects of sense. But when they are awakened and convinced, the Spirit of God, by assisting their natural powers, gives them an ideal apprehension of the things of religion with respect to what is natural in them, i.e., of that which is speculative in them, and that which pertains to a sensibleness of their natural good and evil, or all but only that which involves a sense of their spiritual excellency. The Spirit of God assists to an ideal view of God’s natural perfections wherein consists his greatness, and gives a view of this as manifested in his works that he has done and in the words that he has spoken, and so gives a sensible apprehension of the heinousness of sin and his wrath against it, and the guilt of it, and the terribleness of the sufferings denounced against it. And so they have a sense of the importance of things of religion in general. And herein consists what we commonly call conviction and a sense of the natural good that attends the things of religion, viz., the favor of so great a being, his mercy, as it relates to our natural good or deliverance from natural evil, the glory of heaven with respect to the natural good that is to be enjoyed there, and like wise those affecting, joyful common illuminations that natural men sometimes have. In thus assisting men’s faculties to an ideal apprehension of the natural things of religion, together with what assistance God may give men’s natural reason and judgment to see the force of natural arguments, consists the whole of the common work of the Spirit of God in man. It consists only in assisting natural principles without infusing anything supernatural. 2. The spiritual work of the Spirit of God, or that which is peculiar to the saints, consists in giving the sensible knowledge of the things of religion with respect to their spiritual good or evil, which indeed does all originally consist in a sense of the spiritual excellency, beauty, or sweetness of divine things. This is not by assisting natural principles but by infusing something supernatural.
The ideal apprehension and sensible knowledge of the things of religion will give that conviction of their truth or reality which can no otherwise be obtained, and is the principal source of that conviction of the truth of the things of religion that is given by the immediate influence of the Spirit of God on men’s hearts.
1. An ideal apprehension and sensible knowledge of the things of religion with respect to what is natural in them, such as natural men have that are under awakenings, will give some degree of conviction of the truth of divine things further than a mere notion of them in their signs, or only a speculative apprehension of them, because by this means men are enabled to see in many instances the agreement of the declarations and threatenings of the Word of God with the nature of things that, without an ideal and sensible knowledge of them, they could not have — as for instance, they that from the tokens of God’s greatness, his power, and awful majesty in his works and in his words, have an idea or sense of that greatness and power and awful majesty, and so see the agreement between such works and such words and such power and majesty, and therefore have a conviction of that truth that otherwise they could not have, viz., that it is a very great being that made those things and spoke those things. And so from a sense they may hence have of the dreadfulness of the wrath of such a being, they have a conviction of the truth of what the Scripture teaches about the dreadfulness of God’s wrath and of the punishment of hell. And from the sense they hereby have of the heinousness or dreadfulness of sin against such a God, and the natural agreement between affronts of such a majesty and the suffering of extreme misery, it appears much more credible to them that there is indeed an extreme misery to be suffered for sin. And so a sense of the natural good that there is in the things of religion, such as is given in common illuminations, makes what the Scriptures declare of the blessedness of heaven, etc. more credible.

2. An ideal and sensible apprehension of the spiritual excellency of divine things is the proper source of all spiritual conviction of the truth of divine things, or that belief of their truth that there is in saving faith. There can be no saving conviction without it, and it is the great thing that mainly distinguishes saving belief from all other. And the thing wherein its distinguishing essence does properly lie is that it has a sense of the divine or spiritual excellency of the things of religion as that which it arises from. All saving conviction of divine truth does most effectively arise from the spiritual sense of the excellency of divine things. Yet this sense of spiritual excellency is not the only kind of ideal apprehension or sense of divine things that is concerned in such a conviction, but it also partly depends on a sensible knowledge of what is natural in religion — as this may be needful to prepare the mind for a sense of its spiritual excellency and, as such, a sense of its spiritual excellency may depend upon it. For as the spiritual excellency of the things of religion itself does depend on and presuppose those things that are natural in religion, they being, as it were, the substratum of this spiritual excellency, so a sense or ideal apprehension of the one depends in some measure on the ideal apprehension of the other. Thus a sense of the excellency of God’s mercy in forgiving sin depends on a sense of the great guilt of sin, the great punishment it deserves. A sense of the beauty and wonderfulness of divine grace does in great measure depend on a sense of the greatness and majesty of that being whose grace it is, and so indeed a sense of the glory of God’s holiness and all his moral perfections. A sense of the excellency of Christ’s salvation depends on a sense of the misery and great guilt of those that are the subjects of this salvation. And so that saving conviction of the truths of things of religion does most directly and immediately depend on a sense of their spiritual excellency, yet it also, in some measure, more indirectly and remotely depends on an ideal apprehension of what is natural in religion, and is a common conviction.

Common conviction, or an ideal and sensible apprehension of what is natural in the things of religion, contributes to a saving conviction of the truth of the gospel, especially this way: men, by being made sensible of the great guilt of sin or the connection or natural agreeableness there is between that and a dreadful punishment, and how that the greatness and majesty of God seems to require and demand such a punishment, they are brought to see the great need of a satisfaction or something to intervene to make it honorable to that majesty to show them favor. And being for a while blind to the suitableness of Christ’s satisfaction in order to this, and then afterwards having a sense given them of Christ’s divine excellency and so of the glorious dignity of his person and what he did and suffered for sinners: hereby their eyes are, as it were, opened to see the perfect fitness there is in this to satisfy for sin or to render their being received into favor consistent with the honor of God’s offended majesty. The sight of this excellent congruity does very powerfully convince of the truth of the gospel. This way of satisfying for the sins, which now they see to be so congruous, is certainly a real way — not a mere figment but a divine contrivance — and convinces that there is indeed acceptance to be had with God in this. And so the soul savingly believes in Christ. The sight of this congruity convinces the more strongly when at last it is seen because, though the person was often told of it before, yet he could see nothing of it, which convinces that it was beyond the invention of men to discover it. For by experience they found themselves all their lifetime wholly blind to it, but now they see the perfect suitableness there is, which convinces them of the divine wisdom (that is beyond the wisdom of men) that contrived it.

The truth that the soul is most immediately convinced of in this case by a sense of the divine excellency of Christ, with a preparatory sense of the need of satisfaction for sin, is not that the gospel is the Word of God. But this is the truth the mind firstly and more directly falls under a conviction of, viz., that the way of salvation that the gospel reveals is a proper, suitable, and sufficient way, perfectly agreeable to reason and the nature of things, and that which tends to answer the ends proposed. And the mind being convinced of this truth, which is the great subject of the gospel, it then naturally and immediately infers from this fitness and sufficiency of this salvation, which the mind has experienced to be so much beyond the power of human reason of itself to discover, that it is certainly a contrivance of a superhuman excellent wisdom, holiness, and justice, and therefore God’s contrivance.

851. Illumination. It is becoming of him, who is infinite in understanding and has many things in full and perfect view at once, and when he speaks sees all things that have any manner of agreement with his words and knows how to adapt his words to many things and so to speak infinitely more comprehensively than others, and to speak so as naturally to point forth many things, I say it becomes such an one, when he speaks, to speak as to include a manifold instruction in his speech. The expression in the Old Testament “Out of Egypt have I called my Son” has respect to two distinct things, as is manifest beyond all contradiction in many other phrases in the Old Testament applied in the New.

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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Reformed Theology at A Puritan's Mind