Mysteries in ChristianityMiscellanies by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
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83. Theology: Abstractions and Apparent Contradictions. The things of Christianity are so spiritual, so refined, so high and abstracted, so much above the things we ordinarily converse with and our common affairs for which we adapt our words, and language not supplying of us with words completely adapted to these high and abstracted ideas, we are forced to use words which do no otherwise exhibit what we would than analogically — which words in their ordinary use do not in everything, but only in some part, exhibit what we intend they should when used in divinity. And therefore religion raises so many shadows and seeming contradictions. And it is for want of distinguishing that in the meaning of words in divinity from what is intended by them in their ordinary use that arise most of the jangles about religion in the world. And to one who is not much for elevated thought, many things that are in themselves as easy and natural as the things we every day converse with, seem like impossibility and confusion. It is so in every case — the more abstracted the science is, and by how much the higher the nature of those things are of which that science treats, and by so much the more our way of thinking and speaking of the things of that science be beside our way of thinking and speaking of ordinary things, by so much the more will that science abound in paradoxes and seeming contradictions.
184. Spiritual Union. What insight I have of the nature of minds, I am convinced that there is no guessing what kind of unions and mixions by consciousness or otherwise there may be between them. So that all difficulty is removed in believing what the Scripture declares about spiritual unions of the persons of the Trinity, of the two natures of Christ, of Christ and the minds of saints.
583. Mysteries in Christianity. It is very unreasonable to make it an objection against the Christian revelation, that it contains some things that are very mysterious and difficult to our understandings, and that seem to us impossible. If God will give us a revelation from heaven of the very truth concerning his own nature, acts, counsels, and ways, and of the spiritual and invisible world, it is unreasonable to expect any other than that there should be many things in such a revelation that should be utterly beyond our understanding and seem impossible. For when was there ever a time when, if there had been a revelation from heaven of the very truth in philosophical matters and concerning the nature of created things (which are of a vastly lower nature and must be supposed to be more proportioned to our understandings), there would not have been many things which would have appeared, not only to the vulgar but to the learned of that age, absurd and impossible? If those positions in philosophy, which are now received by the learned world as indubitable truths, had been revealed from heaven to be truths in past ages, they would be looked upon as great mysteries and difficult, and would have seemed as impossible as the most mysterious Christian doctrines do now. I believe that even now, if there should come a revelation from heaven of what is the very truth in these matters, without deviating at all to accommodate it to our received notions and principles, there would be many things in it that would seem to be absurd and contradictions. I do now receive principles as certain, which once, if they had been told me, I should have looked upon as difficult as any mystery in the Bible. Without doubt, much of the difficulty we have about the doctrines of Christianity arises from wrong principles that we receive. We find that those things that are received as principles in one age, and are never once questioned, concerning which it comes into nobody’s thought that they possibly may not be true, are yet exploded in another age as light increases. If God makes a revelation to us, he must reveal to us the truth as it is, without accommodating himself to our notions and principles, which would be indeed impossible. For those things which are our received notions in one age are contrary to what are so in another, and the Word of God was not given for any particular age but for all ages. It surely becomes us to receive what God reveals to be truth, and to look upon his Word as proof sufficient, whether what he reveals squares with our notions or not.
I rather wonder that the Word of God contains no more mysteries in it. And I believe it is because God is tender of us and considers the weakness of our sight, and reveals only such things as he sees that man (though so weak a creature), if of an humble and honest mind, can well enough bear. Such a kind of tenderness we see in Christ towards his disciples, who had many things to say, but forebore because they could not bear them yet. God does not depart from truth to accommodate his revelation to our manner of thinking. Yet I believe he accommodates himself to our understanding in this manner of expressing and representing things, as we are wont to do when we are teaching little children.
765. Illumination of Mysteries. When we seek for anything in the dark by so low a faculty of discerning as the sense of feeling, or by the sense of seeing with a dim light, sometimes we cannot find it: though it be there, it seems to us to be impossible that it should be. But yet, when a clear light comes to shine into the place, and we discern by a better faculty, or the same faculty in a clearer manner, the thing appears very plain to us. So doubtless, many truths will hereafter appear plain, when we come to look on them by the bright light of heaven, that now are involved in mystery and darkness.
770. Understanding Mysteries. How are we ready to trust to the determinations of one, universally reputed a man of great genius, of vast penetration and insight into things, if he be positive in anything that appears to us very mysterious, and is quite contrary to what we thought ourselves clear and certain in before! How are we ready in such a case to suspect ourselves, especially if it be a matter wherein he has been very much versed, has had much more occasion to look into it than we, and has been under greater advantages to know the truth! How much more still, if one should be positive in it, as a thing he had clearly and undoubtedly seen to be true, if he were still of ten times greater genius, and of a more penetrating insight into things, than any that ever have appeared? And, in matters of fact, if some person whom we had long known, one of great judgment and discretion, justice, integrity, and fidelity, and had always been universally so reputed by others, should declare to us that he had seen and known that to be true which appeared to us very strange and mysterious, and concerning which we could not see how it was possible. How, in such a case, should we be ready almost to suspect our own faculties and to give credit to such a testimony, in that which, if he had not positively asserted it and persisted in it, we should have looked upon as perfectly incredible, and absurd to be supposed!
839. Scripture Mysteries. From that text, John 3:12. “If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?” — several things are manifest concerning mysteries in religion. (1.) That there are things contained in those doctrines which Christ came into the world to teach, which are not only so far above human comprehension, that men cannot easily apprehend all that is to be understood concerning them, but which are difficult to be received by the judgment or belief: “How shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?” They are difficult, upon the same account that the doctrine of the new birth was difficult to Nicodemus, because it was so strange, and seemingly impossible. (2.) We may from the words infer that the more persons are in themselves and in their own nature above us, the more the doctrines or truths concerning them are mysterious to us, above our comprehension, and difficult to our belief, and the more do those things that are really true concerning them contain seeming inconsistencies and impossibilities. For Christ, in the preceding verses, had been speaking of something that is true concerning man, being of the same nature, an inhabitant of the same world with ourselves, which therefore, Christ calls an earthly thing. And this seemed very mysterious and impossible, and to contain great seeming inconsistencies. “How can a man be born when he is old?” This seemed to be a contradiction. And after Christ had somewhat explained himself, still the doctrine seemed strange and impossible, John 3:9, “How can these things be?” Nicodemus still looked upon it as incredible, and on that account, did not believe it at that time, as is implied in these words of Christ; “If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not.” But Christ here plainly signifies that he had other truths to teach that were not about man, an earthly inhabitant, but about a person vastly above men, even about himself who is from heaven and in heaven, as in the next verse: “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven; even the Son of man which is in heaven.” Which, therefore, it would be much more difficult to men’s understanding and judgment, seeming to contain greater impossibilities and inconsistencies, as he then proceeds immediately to declare him a heavenly thing, as he calls it, viz., that Christ, a heavenly and divine person should die, John 3:14-15. Such a mysterious doctrine, so strange and seemingly inconsistent and impossible, that a divine person should die, is more strange than that men should be born again. Hence, when divines argue from the mysterious nature of many things here below with which we are daily conversant: that it would be very unreasonable to suppose but that there should be things concerning God which are much more mysterious, and that, therefore, it is unreasonable to object against the truth of the doctrines of the Trinity, Incarnation, etc., they argue justly, because they argue as Christ argued.
964. Heathen Mysteries. The wiser heathens were sensible that the things of the gods are so high above us, that what appertains to them should appear exceedingly mysterious and wonderful to us, and that it is therefore unreasonable to disbelieve what we are taught concerning them on that account. This is fully expressed by Pythagoras, viz., “Concerning the gods, disbelieve nothing wonderful, nor yet concerning divine things. This, says Jamblicus, declareth the superlative excellency of God instructing us, and puts us in mind, that we ought not to estimate the divine power by our own judgment. The Pythagoreans stretched this rule beyond the line of divine revelation, to the belief of every oriental tradition.” Gale’s Court of the Gentiles, p. 2. b. 2. c. 8. 190.
1100. Understanding Mysterious Truths. It is not necessary that persons should have clear ideas of the subject of a proposition, in order to be rationally convinced of the truth of the proposition. There are many truths, of which mathematicians are convinced by strict demonstration, concerning many kinds of quantities, as surd quantities and fluxions, but concerning which they have no clear ideas.
1169. Limitations of Man’s Understanding. Supposing that mankind in general were a species of far less capacity than they are: so much less that when men are come to full ripeness of judgment and capacity, they arrived no higher than that degree to which children generally arrive at seven years of age; and supposing a revelation to be made to mankind, in such a state and degree of capacity, of many such propositions in philosophy as are now looked upon as undoubted truths; and let us suppose, at the same time, the same degree of pride and self-confidence as there is now, — what cavilling and objecting would there be! Or supposing a revelation of these philosophical truths had been made to mankind, with their present degree of natural capacity, in some ancient generation — suppose that which was in Joshua’s time — in that degree of acquired knowledge and learning which the world had arrived at then, how incredible would those truths have seemed!
1171. Mysteries. If things, which fact and experience make certain, such as the miseries infants are sometimes the subjects of in this world, had been exhibited only in a revelation of things in an unseen state, they would be as much disputed as the Trinity and other mysteries revealed in the Bible.
1233. Christ’s Incarnation: Its Plausibility. There is nothing impossible or absurd in the doctrine of the Incarnation of Christ. If God can join a body and a rational soul together, which are of natures so heterogeneous and opposite, that they cannot, of themselves, act one upon another; may he not be able to join two spirits together, which are of natures more similar? And, if so, he may, for ought we know to the contrary, join the soul or spirit of a man to himself. Had reason been so clear in it, that God cannot be incarnate, as many pretend, it could never have such a notion to gain ground and possess the minds of so many nations. Nay, and of Julian himself, who says, that “Jupiter begat Esculapius out of his own proper substance, and sent him down to Epidaurus, to heal the distempers of mankind.” Reason did not hinder Spinosa, Blount, and many other modern philosophers, from asserting that God may have a body, or rather that the universe, or the matter of the universe, is God. Many nations believed the incarnation of Jupiter himself. Reason, instead of being utterly averse to the notion of a divine incarnation, has easily enough admitted that notion and suffered it to pass, almost without contradiction, among the most philosophical nations of the world.
1234. Mysteries Concerning God’s Nature. “In thinking of God’s raising so many myriads of spirits, and such prodigious masses of matter, out of nothing, we are lost and astonished, as much as in the contemplation of the Trinity. We can follow God but one or two steps in his lowest and plainest works, till all becomes mystery and matter of amazement to us. How, then, shall we comprehend himself? How shall we understand
his nature, or account for his actions? In that he contains what is infinitely more inconceivable than all the wonders of his creation put together.” Deism Revealed, edit. 2. vol. 2. p. 93, 94.
Those who deny the Trinity, because of its mysteriousness and seeming inconsistency, yet, generally, own God’s certain prescience of men’s free actions, which they suppose to be free in such a sense, as not to be necessary. So that we may do, or
may not do, that which God certainly foresees. “They also hold that such a freedom without necessity, is necessary to morality, and that virtue and goodness consists in any one’s doing good when he might do evil. And yet they suppose that God acts by the eternal law of nature and reason, and that it is impossible that he should transgress that law, and do evil; because that would be a contradiction to his own nature, which is infinitely and unchangeably virtuous. Now this seems a flat contradiction. To say that the infinite goodness of God’s nature makes it utterly impossible for God to do evil, is exactly the same as to say, he is under a natural necessity not to do evil. And to say he is
morally free, is to say he may do evil. Therefore the necessity and freedom in this case being both moral, the contradiction is flat and plain and amounts to this: that God, in respect to good and evil actions, is both a necessary and free agent. Dr. Clark, in his
Treatise on the Attributes, labors to get clear of this contradiction upon these principles of liberty, but without success, and leaves it just where all men, who hold the same principles, must be forced to leave it. Therefore, they hold such mysteries, in respect to
Deity, that are even harder to be conceived of, or properly expressed and explained, than the doctrine of the Trinity.
When we talk of God, who is infinite and incomprehensible, it is natural to run into notions and terms which it is impossible for us to reconcile. And in lower matters, that are more within our knowledge and comprehension, we shall not be able to keep
ourselves clear of them. To say that a curve line, setting out from a point within a hair’s breadth of a right line, shall run towards that right line as swift as thought, and yet never be able to touch it, seems contrary to common sense; and were it not clearly
demonstrated in the conchoid of Nechomedes, could never be believed. Matter is infinitely divisible, and therefore, a cubical inch of gold may be divided into an infinity of parts, and there can be no number greater than that which contains an infinity. Yet
another cubical inch of gold may be infinitely divided also, and therefore, the parts of both cubes must be more numerous than the parts of one only. Here is a palpable contrariety of ideas, and a flat contradiction of terms. We are confounded and lost in the
consideration of infinites, and surely, most of all, in the consideration of that Infinite of infinites. We justly admire that saying of the philosopher, that God is a Being whose center is everywhere, and circumference nowhere, as one of the noblest and most exalted flights of human understanding And yet, not only the terms are absurd and contradictory, but the very ideas that constitute it, when considered attentively, are repugnant to one another. Space and duration are mysterious abysses, in which our thoughts are confounded with demonstrable propositions, to all sense and reason flatly contradictory
to one another. Any two points of time, though never so distant, are exactly in the middle of eternity. The remotest points of space that can be imagined or supposed, are each of them precisely in the centre of infinite space.” Deism Revealed, vol. 2. p. 109-111.
Here might have been added the mysteries of God’s eternal duration, it being without succession, present, before and after, all at once: Vitae interminabilis tota simul et perfecta possessio.
1303. Planets, the Uncertainty of Their Being Inhabited. That some of the planets are such huge things, so vastly bigger than the globe of the earth, is no certain sign of their being inhabited. This planet we dwell upon may nevertheless be, as it were, elected to infinitely greater and more important purposes. Such an election there is with regard to the seed of plants and animals: whereas one is used for the purposes for which they are fitted — to produce a future plant and animal — vast multitudes are lost and thrown away in divine providence. Those seeds are as great a work of God’s, perhaps, as the bodies of Saturn or Jupiter, notwithstanding their vast bulk — the greatness of the bulk is but a shadow of greatness or importance. Nevertheless they may, as it were, be rejected and neglected of God when a far lesser body may be chosen before them, as it is with divine election as exercised amongst mankind. A poor child may be infinitely more made of by God than some mighty potentate that rules over a large empire, though such a prince is like a vast huge body in comparison with the other, but truly his greatness is but the shadow of greatness.
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.