Revealed ReligionMiscellanies by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
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979. Revealed Religion. The wisest of heathens confessed that the very first and most necessary thing of all, the nature and attributes of God himself, were, notwithstanding all the general helps of reason, very difficult to them to find out in particular and still more difficult to explain, it being much more easy to say what God was not, than what he was (as Plato and Cicero confess). And finally, that method of instructing men effectually and making them truly wise and good was a thing very obscure and dark and difficult to be found out (as Plato says). In a word, Socrates himself always openly professed that he pretended to be wiser than other men only in this one thing: that he was sensible of his own ignorance. And particularly, they were entirely ignorant of the manner in which God ought to be worshipped. Accordingly, the very best of them complied with the outward religion of their country and advised other to do the same. Plato, after having delivered very noble and almost divine truths concerning the nature and attributes of the Supreme God, weakly advises men to worship likewise inferior gods, demons and spirits, and he dared not to condemn the worshipping even of statues and images dedicated according to the laws of their country….
From a general notion that prevailed in the first ages among all nations that religion was to be taught by a revelation from the gods, all such as gave institutions and rules for religion, pretended to have received them from the gods by divine revelation, as Romulus, Numa, Lycurgus, and Syphis, king of Egypt. If reason only had been the first guide in matters of religion, rulers would neither have thought of, nor have wanted the pretense of, revelation to give credit to their institutions. Whereas on the other hand, revelation being generally esteemed in all nations to be the only true foundation of religion, kings and rulers, when they thought fit to add inventions of their own to the religion of their ancestors, were obliged to make use of that disposition which they knew their people to have, to receive what came recommended to them under the name of revelation. (This from Shuckford’s history.)
986. Revealed Religion. The only way, says Mr. Locke (as quoted by Mr. Shuckford in the Present State of the Republick of Letters, vol.5, p. 114), that reason can teach men to know God must be from considering his works, and if so, his works must be first known and considered before they can teach men to know the author of them. It seems to be but a wild fancy that man was at first raised up in this world and left entirely to himself, to find out by his own natural powers and faculties what was to be his duty and his business in it. If we could imagine the first men brought into the world in this manner, we must, with Diodorus Siculus, conceive them for many ages to be but very poor, sorry creatures. The invisible things of God are indeed to be understood by the things that are made. But men, in this state, would be for many generations considering the things of the world in lower views, in order to provide themselves the conveniences of life from them, before they would reflect upon them in such a manner as should awaken up in their minds any thoughts of a God. And when they should come to consider things in such a light as to discover by them that there was a God, yet how long must it be before they can be imagined to have arrived to such a thorough knowledge of the things of the world as to have just and true notions of him? We see, in fact, that when men first began to speculate and reason about the things of the world, they reasoned and speculated very wrong. In Egypt, in Chaldea, in Persia, and in all other countries, false and ill-grounded notions of the things which God had made induced them to worship the creatures instead of the Creator, and that at times when other persons who had less philosophy were professors of a truer theology. The descendants of Abraham were worshipers of the God of Heaven when other nations, whose great and wise men pretended to reason about the works of the creation, did in no wise rightly apprehend or acknowledge the workmaster, but deemed either fire or the wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars, or the violent water, or the lights of heaven, to be the gods which govern the world. Being delighted with their beauty or astonished at their power, they took them for gods. In a word, if we look over all the accounts we have of the several nations of the earth, and consider everything that has been advanced by any or all the philosophers, we can meet with nothing to induce us to think that the first religion of the world was introduced by the use and direction of mere natural reason. But on the other hand, all history, both sacred and profane, offers us various arguments to prove that God revealed to men in the first ages how he would be worshipped, but that when men, instead of adhering to what had been revealed, came to have their own understandings and to set up what they thought to be right in the room of what God himself had directed, they lost and bewildered themselves in endless errors. This, I am sensible, is a subject that should be examined to the bottom, and I am persuaded, if it were, the result of the inquiry would be this: that he that thinks to prove that the world ever did, in fact, by wisdom know God, that any nation upon earth or any set of men ever did, from the principles of reason only without any assistance from revelation, find out the true nature and the true worship of the deity, must find out some history of the world entirely different from all the accounts which the present sacred and profane writers do give us, or his opinion must appear to be a mere guess and conjecture of what is barely possible, but what all history assures us never was really done in the world.
1239. Revealed Religion. One thing wherein the deficiency of natural light appears is this: that men without revelation should suppose that they should be forgiven on repentance and reformation, and also that there is a future state. Yet the light of nature alone never could be sufficient to ascertain the limits of their day of probation, and satisfy them on sure grounds that repentance shall never be accepted in some future state, or whether ever the time would come when the case of sinners would be hopeless or past remedy by repentance.
1304. Revealed Religion and Relationship. Satisfaction for Sin. The religion that is required of us, consists in the disposition and affections of mind which we ought to have towards God, and our behavior with respect to him. Therefore, in order to know what is that religion that becomes us, we must know that God is, and what manner of Being he is; what perfections he has, and what concern we have with him; or what notice he takes of us; what relation we stand in to him; and what dependence we have upon him. Not only is it necessary that we should know that God is, and what he is, in order to know what that religion is, which is our duty, but also it is requisite that we should know those other things mentioned, viz. what concern we have with him, etc. If we have no concern with him, nor he with us, if he has not relation to us, and we have no dependence upon him, and he takes no notice of us, then, surely, all will allow that the foundation of religion, consisting in the regard of our minds and exercise of our hearts, and in acts of respect or service towards him, does, at least in a very great measure, cease….
As it is of so great importance that we should exercise that religion that is our duty, so we must suppose that our Creator looks upon it as such, and that it is proportionably agreeable to his will, or in other words, it is a thing proportionably fit and amiable in his eye, that we should do so. That God has regard to men’s doing their duty, and is not careless about it, is evident from these considerations: It is evident that God is not negligent of the world he has made. He has made it for his use, and therefore, doubtless, he uses it, which implies that he takes care of it, and orders and governs it that it may be directed to the ends for which he has made it. If God regards the state of the world, he will especially regard the state of the intelligent part of the world, which is transcendently the most important, and that for which all the rest is evidently made, and without which all the rest is nothing.
God regards the moral state of the intelligent world, as the well-being and preservation of the world depends upon its moral state. Wickedness tends, above all things, to ruin it. If let alone, it tends to its greatest confusion, disorder and utter destruction, as a fire that will wholly consume it. And its beauty and excellency, above all things, and indeed summarily, consists in virtue. We see that God takes care of the well-being, good state, regularity and beauty of those parts of the world that are infinitely of less importance. Therefore, surely he is not careless about these things in the intelligent world, the highest part of creation, the head of all, that is next to himself…. It is evident that as God has made man an intelligent creature, capable of knowing his Creator, and discerning God’s aims in creation, and particularly in creating himself, by seeing the nature and tendency of things. He has made him a volitive and active creature, capable of willing and actively falling in with his aims, and promoting them. So it must be that he has made him so serve him, and consequently, to have respect to him, and love him.
From these things, it must needs happen, according to what was before laid down, that God looks upon it of great importance, that men have and exercise that religion that becomes them, and that he greatly insists upon it…. Seeing God insists that we should have and exercise that religion towards him, we may well conclude that he will not deny mankind the means necessary to render them capable of this, and therefore will not deny them the necessary means of some clear, evident, and distinct knowledge, not only of his existence and perfections, but also of the relations he stands in to us, and of the things wherein we are dependent on him…. As for instance, we may conclude that he will not deny mankind sufficiently clear and evident knowledge of his concern with them as their Creator and Preserver, and the Author of all their outward good things, and as their Judge to recompense their behavior. Or if there be any other relations that God stands in to them of like importance, then, doubtless, it is the will of God to give like clear and full evidence of them also. But now from these things I infer, that if there be any such thing as forgiveness of sin, and salvation from sin and its evil consequences, then God has certainly given a revelation to mankind, to make this clearly and distinctly known, together with the terms, method, and means of it. Because if so, these things will follow:
1. That then God sustains a relation entirely new and distinct from the natural relation of a Creator, Preserver, etc. viz. that of a Savior. And we have a new concern with God, and a new dependence on him, entirely distinct from that which is by nature, but no less important, which renders a new kind of regard to God, and so a new sort of religion, proper and becoming in man, corresponding with this new relation, and these his new concerns with God.
2. That we cannot have any clear, certain, and distinct knowledge of this new relation, etc. any other way than by divine revelation. I shall show each of these in their order.
First. If there be any forgiveness of the sins we are guilty of, and deliverance from sin and its consequences, then God stands in a new relation to us, even that of Savior, and we have new concerns with him founded upon it. [This] new relation is no less important than that of the Author and Preserver of our nature, and the Bestower of natural enjoyments. And consequently, new regards to God, and new duties founded on this new relation, become us, which are not less important than the duties of natural religion. That the relation of a Savior from our sin and its consequences, is no less important than the other, will appear from the following considerations. It is evident that mankind in general has forsaken and renounced the Author and Preserver of their beings, and the Fountain of all that pertains to their well-being, i.e. their hearts have forsaken him, in that they do not love God so much as they do other things. Therefore, they have taken away their hearts from God, have set up other things in the throne of God. They have subjected God in their hearts to things that are infinitely mean, and worthless and vile, in comparison of God. This is attended unavoidably with enmity to God. As rebelling against a lawful prince, and setting up another in his stead, is turning enemy to the lawful prince, so men naturally disregard God’s glory and supreme dominion. They have truly no sincere consent of heart to that glory, or delight in any such thing, but rather are against it, and have naturally no relish for the infinite supreme beauty of the divine nature, nor any proper gratitude to him, as the Fountain of all good that belongs to our being. And this certainly is rebellion and revolt, and a renouncing and casting off the Supreme Being, as to his infinite excellency and dignity, and as to that supreme dominion of his, founded on that dignity, and the relation of a Creator, Preserver, and Fountain of all good. Now it is pretty manifest that by forsaking and renouncing the Author of our being, and of all good, and thus turning enemy to him, we must forfeit his favor and friendship, and the benefits we derive from this Fountain of good. And that implies that our conduct deserves that we should be totally undone. A casting off the Author of our being, deserves plainly that he should cast us off, and that he should cause that our being should not be for our good. Our becoming his enemies deserves that he should be and act as our enemy, and that he should cause our being to be the means of our misery. And if we have deserved these things, then unless we are forgiven, at least in part, these things will certainly come upon us.
From these things it appears that if we are ever forgiven and restored from this utterly ruined and undone state, it will be as great a thing as our creation, and equivalent to a new creation from nothing, in order to a new preservation, and new enjoyment of the benefits of being. So that hereby God stands in a new relation to us, even that of a Savior, and we have a new concern with him, and dependence upon him, of equal importance with that of our Creator, Preserver, etc. And if the misery that we deserve, be worse than a state of non-existence, as it would be easy to prove that it must be infinitely worse, then this new relation of a Savior is infinitely more important that the other.
From whence it follows that new duties arise, new regards towards God, and a new religion becomes us, which is no less important than natural religion. And it will further follow from things before shown that it must be agreeable to the Word of God that we should have means of clear, full and distinct notice of this new relation that God stands in to us as our Savior, and his concern with us, and the manner of our dependence on him in that matter, and consequently that we have sufficient means for a certain knowledge that God is willing to forgive us, and of the nature of salvation, and the terms on which it may be obtained…. And therefore, from what has been before observed, it is doubtless agreeable to the will of God that we should have a revelation, i.e. if there be any such thing as forgiveness and salvation for us. And this is what I would now proceed to show,
Second. That we cannot have any certain and distinct knowledge of these things concerning our restoration and salvation with a revelation. It is said by some that the light of nature and reason is sufficient to teach us that a good God stands ready to forgive sinners on their hearty repentance.
But I think it plain that our reason alone never could give a clear and evident notice of this. A wise governor, in governing, will not be influenced wholly and only by goodness and pity. Wisdom, on many accounts, and in many cases, may prevent his forgiving offenders. And who could tell in what manner of wisdom might influence and determine the Supreme Ruler of the world in this matter…. It is natural to suppose that other things become the Supreme Governor of the world, besides pity and goodness, and particularly, that justice and hatred of sin becomes him. It is not natural to suppose that he cannot be provoked or offended by injuriousness and an unreasonable spirit and treatment, and particularly, by and injurious disposition and behavior towards Himself, in ingratitude, enmity, and contempt. At least, we cannot be certain from the light of nature, that he may not be provoked by these things. If we may judge by what seems to be dictated by the hearts of the generality of mankind through the face of the earth, and in all ages, it is natural for the mind of man to suppose that the Deity is greatly provoked by such things. And if he is provoked by sin, and does greatly abhor and resent it, it is natural to suppose that he is disposed to punish it, and that with severity. This also agrees with the notions of mankind in all ages and nations.
And if other perfections besides goodness, such as justice, holiness, hatred of sin, and wisdom as it regards the most perfect state of the universal system in the whole series of events, I say, if such other perfections must have their ends regarded, and so have a hand in determining, with respect to offenders, rebels and enemies, whether they shall be forgiven and received into favor…. How shall it be determined, without a revelation, how great a hand those other perfections, besides goodness, may have in this affair, and how great a regard will be paid to other ends besides the ends of mere pity and goodness….Will not reason say that if God be perfectly wise, he will order the methods of his proceeding in the moral government of the world, so as to make provision for the obtaining of the best ends in the best manner (meaning by best, that which is so on an universal and perfect view of all things), in their utmost extent, and utmost duration? And how can reason alone fully and clearly determine and satisfy those, who are so infinitely far from being capable of such a view, what is best in this sense?
So if we suppose that it were known and determined that it is God’s will that there should be some way of salvation, reason will determine that the method and means, terms and degrees, etc. shall be such as are wisest and best in the foregoing sense, viz. with regard to the influence of each part of the scheme or method of salvation, on the whole extent and duration of existences, comprehending that infinite variety of particular beings, circumstances and events. But who will say that men’s reason alone is sufficient to determine what method of salvation is wisest in this sense? What degree of mercy, what deliverance and happiness, what means of salvation, what terms of enjoying the benefits of it, will have the best and most perfect influence in such a sense? Will any say that men’s understanding and reason alone make it certain that the infinitely wise, holy and righteous Governor of the world, stands ready to forgive all offenders, how great soever their offense, and how far soever they proceed in acting upon their enmity and contempt? If not, then who shall set the bounds? Can man’s reason fix the limits, and say that men may go so far in offending, and yet find mercy, and no farther?
Reason alone cannot certainly determine that God will not insist on some satisfaction for injuries he receives. If we consider what have in fact been the general notions of mankind, we shall see cause to think that the dictates of men’s minds, who have been without revelation, have been contrariwise, viz. that the Deity will insist on some satisfaction. Repentance makes some satisfaction for many injuries that men are guilty of one towards another, because it bears some proportion to the degree of injury. But reason will not certainly determine that it is proper for God to accept of repentance as some satisfaction for an offense, when that repentance is infinitely disproportionate to the heinousness of the offense, or the degree of injuriousness that is offered. And reason will not certainly determine that the offense of forsaking and renouncing God in heart, and treating him with such indignity and contempt, as to set him below the meanest and vilest things, is not immensely greater, and more heinous, than any injury offered to men, and that therefore all our repentance and sorrow fall infinitely short of proportion in measure and degree. If it be said that we may reasonably conclude, and be fully satisfied in it, that a good God will forgive our sin on repentance, then I ask, what can be meant by repentance in the case of them that have no love nor true gratitude to God in their hearts, but who discover such an habitual disregard and contempt of God in their conduct, as to treat created things, of the lowest value, with greater respect than him? If it be said that thereby is meant being sorry for the offense, then I ask, whether that sorrow is worthy to be accepted as true repentance, that does not rise from any change of heart, or from a better mind, a mind more disposed to love God, and honor him, being now so changed as to have less disregard and contempt? Whether or not the sorrow which arises only from fear and self-love, with a heart still in rebellion against God, be such as we can be certain will be accepted? If not, then how shall a man, who at present has no better heart, but yet is greatly concerned for himself through fear, know how to obtain a better heart? How does it appear that he, if he tries only from fear and self-love, can make himself better, and make himself love God? What proper tendency can there be in the heart to make itself better, until it sincerely repents of its present badness? And how can the heart have sincerity of repentance of its present badness, until it begins to be better, and so begins to forsake its badness, by truly disapproving it, from a good disposition, or a better tendency arising in it? If the disposition remain just the same, then no sincere disapprobation arises, but the reigning disposition, instead of destroying, on the contrary approves and confirms itself. The heart can have no tendency to make itself better, until it begins to have a better tendency. For therein consists its badness, viz. having no good tendency or inclination. And to begin to have a good tendency, or which is the same thing, to begin to have a sincere inclination to be better, is the same thing as to begin already to be better. So that it seems that they that are now under the reigning power of an evil heart, can have no ability to help themselves, how sensible soever they may be of their misery, and concerned through fear and self-love to be delivered. But they need this from God as part of their salvation, viz. that God should give them sincere repentance, as well as pardon and deliverance from the evil consequences of sin. And how shall they know, without revelation, that God will give sinners a better heart, to enable them truly to repent, or in what way they can have any hope to obtain it of him? And if men could obtain some sincere repentance of their being wholly without that love of God that they ought to have, yet how can reason determine that God will forgive their sin, until they wholly forsake it? Or until their repentance is perfect? Until they relinquish all their sinful contempt, ingratitude, and regardlessness of God? Or, which is the same thing, until they fully return to their duty, i.e. to that degree of love, honor, gratitude, and devotedness to God, that is their duty? If they have robbed God, who can certainly say that God will forgive them, until they restore all that they have robbed him of, and give him the whole that he claims by the most absolute right? But where is any man that repents with such a perfect repentance? And if there be ever any instances of it in this world, who will say that it is in every man’s power to obtain it? Or that there certainly are no lower terms of forgiveness? And if there are, who can tell certainly where to set the bounds, and say precisely to what degree a man must repent? How great must his sorrow be in proportion to his offenses, etc.? Or who can say how long a man’s day of probation shall last? Will reason alone certainly determine that if a man goes on for a long time presumptuously in his contempt, rebellion, and affronts, presuming on God’s goodness, depending that though he does thus abuse his grace as long as he pleases, yet if he repents at any time, God will forgive him, and receive him to favor, forgiving all his presumptuous aggravated rebellion, ingratitude, and provocation, and will receive him into the arms of his love? Will reason alone fully satisfy the mind that God stands ready to pardon and receive to favor such a sinner, after long continuance in such horrid presumption and most vile ingratitude? Or will reason fully determine for a certainty that God will do it, if men thus presumptuously spend their youth, the best part of their lives, in obstinate and ungrateful wickedness, depending that God will stand ready to pardon afterwards? And, in short, how can reason alone be sufficient to set the bounds, and say how long God will bear with and wait upon presumptuous sinners? How many acts of such ingratitude and presumption he will be ready to forgive, and on what terms, etc.? I say, how can reason fix these limits, with any clear evidence that shall give the mind a fixed establishment and satisfaction?
Therefore, if there be any such thing as the forgiveness and salvation of sinful men, new relations of God to men, concerns of God with men, and a new dependence of men on God will arise, no less, probably much more important than those which are between God as man’s Creator, and the Author of his natural good. And as God must manifest his perfections in a new work of redemption or salvation, contrived and ordered by his infinite wisdom, and executed by his power — in a perfect consistence with his justice and holiness, and a greater manifestation of his goodness, than is made in his works as the Author of nature — so these things must be the foundation of new regards to God, new duties, and a new religion, founded on those displays of his perfections in the work of salvation, and on the new relations God sustains towards men, and the new dependence of men on God, and new obligations laid on men in that work, which may be called revealed religion, different from that natural religion which is founded on the works of God, as the Creator and the Author of nature, and our concerns with God in that work; though not at all contrary to it.
The light of nature teaches that religion which is necessary to continue in the favor of the God that made us, but it cannot teach us that religion which is necessary to our being restored to the favor of God, after we have forfeited it.
1341. Distinguishing Pretenses to Revelation. “The question is asked, ‘How shall we distinguish between the pretenses to revelation which are so many and various, all which have an equal right to be heard, so that it is endless to look for religion in such a crowd of pretenders to it and difficult to determine the merit of the several claims?’ So that the only fair way is to take up with natural religion, which is everywhere the same, and in which there is no danger of being deluded and misled by imposture, for natural religion admits of no counterfeit.
Now to form a true judgment upon this case, it will be necessary first to state the question right, upon the foot of this objection, and then to examine what weight of reason there is in it.
First, then the question must relate to revelation, considered only as a rule and measure of religion. For the dispute betwixt nature and revelation is confined to this one point: which is the best and safest guide in religion? It is absurd, therefore, to bring instances of any revelation in this case, which do not pretend to this property, that were never given, or pretended to be given, as a rule of religion. For when men talk of the various revelations that have been in the world, and the difficulty of determining which they ought to obey, they cannot take into their consideration the answer of the oracle to Croefus, or the several answers on particular occasions, recorded in the Greek and Roman histories.
These are out of the present question, and have no relation to the inquiry concerning a rule or measure of religion.
On this view, there are not many revelations that come into competition. In the heathen world I know of none. For though there were sundry pretenses to revelation, yet none was set up as a common standard for the religion of mankind. The religion of Rome was chiefly introduced by Numa, who pretended a revelation for the foundation of his authority. But it is plain he aimed at nothing farther than modeling the religion of his city, and had no thought of the rest of the world in what he did, nor had the Romans any idea that their religion concerned any but themselves. And, therefore, when they extended their conquests, religion was their least concern. They left the world, in that respect, as they found it, and men were not so much as invited to take their religion. Now it is evident that no law, either human or divine, extends farther than the lawgiver intends. Suppose then, if you please, Numa’s religion to be a revelation, yet since it was given and declared only to the people of Rome, the rest of the world can have no concern in it. That no system of religion in the heathen world claimed regard as a general law is evident from the answer returned from the oracle, when the inquiry was: which religion was the best? The answer was that every man should worship according to the custom of the country where he was. So that all religion were esteemed equally good, and the most any religion pretended to was a local authority, which reached no farther than the laws of the country did. And unless men are for giving more to the pretended heathen revelations than ever they claimed for themselves, or was claimed for them by those who introduced them and lived under them, they cannot be brought into this question, since they have no relation to us, any more than the many civil law and constitutions of the same countries had. And men may as reasonably complain of the great variety of civil and municipal laws that distract their obedience, and then instance in the laws of the Medes and Persians, as they now complain of the variety of revelations, instancing in such as, even were they true, concern them as little as the laws of Persia do.
But perhaps it will be said that though these religions do not oblige us, yet nevertheless, if any of them were true, they effectually overthrow all others. For God cannot contradict himself, whether he speaks to one nation or to all the world, and upon this foot these several pretenses come within our inquiry. This reasoning may be good, but then not one of all these pretended revelations in the heathen world, within the period mentioned, pretends to the essentials necessary to constitute a law either human or divine. Where was it published and declared? By whom, and how qualified? Can you name the persons and produce the gospel of such a religion? Take the instance of Rome. What was Numa? A king and therefore submitted to in the innovations of religion, but what one mark of a divine commission can you produce? And yet without such marks, even a true revelation could be of no authority. Try all other instances, and you will see how weakly the objection against revelation is supported by any pretenses of the heathen world.” Dr. Sherlock’s Disc. Preached at the Temple Church, p. 184, etc.
1426. Revelation in Scripture. God may reveal things in Scripture, which way he pleases. If by what he there reveals the thing is any way clearly discovered to the understanding or eye of the mind, it is our duty to receive it as his revelation….
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.