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Spiritual Knowledge

Miscellanies by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

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Edwards talks about faith, spiritual sight, the Trinity, conversion, and the Spirit’s operation in helping us “see” these spiritual things.

aa. Faith. There may undoubtedly be such a thing as is called the testimony of faith, that is, a sort of certainty of faith that is different from reason, that is, is different from discourse by a chain of arguments a certainty that is given by the Holy Spirit. And yet such a belief may be altogether agreeable to reason, agreeable to the exactest rules of philosophy. Such ideas of religion may be in the mind, and a man may feel divinity in them and so may know they are from God, that our religion is of divine origin, that is, it is divine truth. This faith may be to that degree of certainty, for he may certainly, intuitively see God and feel him in those ideas, that is, he may certainly see that notion he has of God in them. This notion of God, or idea I have of him, is that complex idea of such power, holiness, purity, majesty, excellency, beauty, loveliness, and ten thousand other things. Now when a man is certain he sees those things, he is certain he sees that which he calls divine. He is certain he feels those things to which he annexes the term “God,” that is, he is certain that when he sees and feels, he sees and feels. And he knows that what he thus sees and feels is the same thing he used to call God. There is such an idea of religion in his mind when he knows he sees and feels that power, that holiness, that purity, that majesty, that love, that excellency, that beauty and loveliness, that amounts to his idea of God. Now no man can say such a thing cannot be. A man may see a beauty, a charmingness, and feel a power that he can no way in the world describe. It is so in corporeal beauties, in beautiful charming airs, etc., but even in those ideas that are very much abstracted from body. Then this is granted that he may feel such an excellency that may amount to his idea of God. But then you’ll say, God and religion are the same. I say so much, that religion is tinged with a divine color, and of his air. And that is all the question, whether it has divine excellencies or no. That is, a certain property is seen and felt in religious faith that is altogether ineffable and cannot be called either powers of harmony or majesty, because neither of these half imply it, but rather divinity, which strongly certifies the mind that it is divine. Now no man can deny but that such an idea of religion may possibly be wrought by the Holy Spirit. It is not unphilosophical to think so, and if there actually is such a thing, as we have shown may be, it may very significantly be called the testimony of the Spirit. This way of knowing or believing is very differing from all other kinds of knowledge or belief. It is not by discourse, neither is it by intuition as other intuitions, neither can this kind of faith or this sort of knowledge be exercised in any common objects. For there are no such distinguishing, amiable properties of such a force as to draw the mind at such a rate as the divine properties.

123. Spiritual Sight. When we explain spiritual things that consist in mental motions, energies, and operations, though we give the most accurate descriptions possible, we do not fully explain them, no, not so much as to give any manner of notion of them to one that never felt them, any more than we can fully explain the rainbow to one that never saw, though a rainbow is a very easy thing to give a definition of. Thus, for instance, there is a certain sweet motion of the mind that I call benevolence. It is easily explained by general terms, circumstances, effects, and observations. But yet, the complex idea I have of benevolence consists chiefly of some simple ones that are got only by the internal feeling and sense of the mind. Yea, those spiritual ideas are of such a nature that even if a person has once had them in the mind, having obtained them by actual sense, yet it may be impossible for him to bring the idea into his mind again distinctly, or indeed at all. We cannot renew them when we please, as we can our idea of colors and figures, but only at some times when mind is particularly adapted to the reception of that idea. I cannot have in my mind the idea of benevolence except the disposition of my mind is something benevolent or agreeable to that idea. At other times I have only a general idea of it by the effects of it, to wit, that it is an inclination to another’s happiness, etc. But those simple spiritual ideas that are most essential and considerable in it, my mind is destitute of, and I have no more an idea of benevolence than a man has of a rainbow that has lost the idea of the colors. So it is in the more complex spiritual ideas, such as holiness, humility, charity, which include many of those simple spirituals that are to the mind, as colors to the eye, not to be obtained by description. It is thus in all virtues, so that it is no wonder the wicked man sees not the amiableness of holiness: for he has not that idea that is expressed by the holy by the name of holiness. It is not because their minds are not as apt to be delighted with harmony and proportion as others, but because they have not these ideas in which the sweet harmony consists. And it’s impossible they should, because they never obtained them by internal sense and experience. The godly man’s idea of God consists very much of these spiritual ideas, that are complicated of those simple ones of which the natural man is destitute. But as soon as ever he comes to have the disposition of his mind changed, and to feel some of those operations of mind by means of which he gets those simple ideas, so that he sees the beauty of them, so he gets the sight of the excellency of holiness and of God — though after this, when his mind is again indisposed, he will not be able to repeat those ideas. And at some times, according as God makes the internal disposition of his mind more or less agreeable thereto, will he have ideas more or less clear.

Corollary 1. Hence we have the reason why regeneration is so often in Scripture compared to opening the eyes of the mind, to calling out of darkness into marvelous light, enlightening the dark understanding, etc.

Corollary 2. Why the things of the gospel seem all so tasteless and insipid to the natural men — they are a parcel of words to which they, in their own minds, have no correspondent ideas. It is like a strange language or a dead letter, that is, sounds and letters without any signification. This is the reason they commonly account religion such a foolish thing, and the saints fools. This is the reason the Scripture is not sweet to them, and why the godly are called by the name of fanatics, and the like.

Corollary 3. Why spiritual knowledge is increased only by the practice of virtue and holiness — for we cannot have the idea without the adapted disposition of mind. And the more suitable the disposition, the more clear and intense the idea, but the more we practice the more is the disposition increased.

Corollary 4. From hence it necessarily follows that the best and most able men in the world, with their greatest diligence and laboriousness, most eloquent speaking, clearest illustrations, and convincing arguments, can do nothing towards causing the knowledge of the things of the gospel. For the disposition, as we have shown, must necessarily be changed first.

201. Faith. There is such a thing as an appearing real, that is, a conviction of that quality of a thing that is incommunicable, that cannot be drawn out into formal arguments or be expressed in words, which is yet the strongest and most certain conviction. We know how things appear that are real, with what an air. We know how those things appear which we behold with waking eyes. They appear real because we have a clear idea of them in all their various mutual relations and concurring circumstances, modes, and dispositions — the consent of the simple ideas among themselves, and with the congery of beings, and the whole train of ideas in our minds, and with the nature and constitution of our minds themselves, which consent and harmony consists in ten thousand little relations and mutual agreements that are ineffable. Such is the idea of religion (which is so exceedingly complex) in the minds of those who are taught by the Spirit of God. The idea appears so real to them and brings so many strong yet ineffable marks of truth, that it is a sort of intuitive evidence and an evidence that the nature of the soul will not allow it to reject. This is the testimony of the Spirit, and is a sort of seeing rather than reasoning the truth of religion, which the unlearned are as capable of as the learned, and which all the learning in the world can never overthrow.

238. Trinity. Those ideas which we call ideas of reflection, all ideas of the acts of the mind (as the ideas of thought, of choice, love, fear, etc.) — if we diligently attend to our own minds we shall find they are not properly representations but are, indeed, repetitions of these very things, either more fully or more faintly. They, therefore, are not properly ideas. Thus, it is impossible to have an idea of thought or of an idea, but it will be that same idea repeated. So if we think of love, either of our past love that is now vanished, or of the love of others which we have not, we either so frame things in our imagination that we have for a moment a love to that thing or to something we make represent it, or we excite for a moment that love which we have, and suppose it in another place. Or we have only an idea of the antecedents, concomitants, and effects of loving and suppose something unseen, and govern our thoughts about it as we have learned how by experience and habit. Let anyone try himself in a particular instance and diligently observe. So if we have an idea of a judgment, not our own, we have the same ideas that are the terms of the proposition repeated in our own minds, and as being something in our own minds that is really our judgment, and suppose it there: that is, we govern our thought about it as if it were there, if we have a distinct idea of that judgment, or else we have only an idea of the attendants and effects of that judgment, and supply the name and our actions about it as we have habituated ourselves. And so, certainly, it is in all our spiritual ideas. They are the very same things repeated, perhaps very faintly and obscurely, and very quick and momentaneously, and with many new references, suppositions, and translations. But if the idea be perfect, it is only the same thing absolutely over again.

Now if this be certain, as it seems to me to be, then it’s quite clear that if God does think of himself and understand himself with perfect clearness, fullness, and distinctness, that idea he has of himself is absolutely himself again, and is God perfectly to all intents and purposes. That which God knows of the divine nature and essence is really and fully the divine nature and essence again. So that by God’s thinking of himself, the deity must certainly be generated. This seems exceeding clear to me. God doubtless understands himself in the most perfect sense, for therein his infinite understanding chiefly consists. And he understands himself at all times perfectly, without intermission or succession in his thought.

When we have the idea of another’s love to a thing, if it be the love of a man to a woman that we are unconcerned about, we neither love in such cases nor have generally any proper idea at all of his love. We only have an idea of his actions that are the effects of love, as we have found by experience, and of those external things which belong to love and which appear in case of love. Or if we have any idea of it, it is either by forming our ideas so of persons and things, as we suppose they appear to them, that we have a faint vanishing notion of that affection. Or if the thing be a thing that we so hate that this cannot be, we have our love to something else faintly, at least, excited, and so in the mind, as it were, referred to that place. We think this is like that.

239. Spiritual Knowledge. From what has been said under the foregoing head, we know wherein spiritual knowledge consists. For seeing, in order to the knowledge of spiritual things, there must be those things in the mind (at least in order to a knowledge anything clear and adequate), sinners must be destitute even of the ideas of many spiritual and heavenly things and of divine excellencies, because they do not experience them. It is impossible for them so much as to have the idea of faith, trust in God, holy resignation, divine love, Christian charity, because his mind is not possessed of those things, and therefore cannot have an idea of the excellencies and beauties of God and Christ, of which those things are the image. He knows not the things of the Spirit of God.

248. Spiritual Knowledge. It need not be at all strange that sin should so blind the mind, seeing our particular natural temper oftentimes very much blinds us in similar affairs, as when our natural temper is melancholy, or jealous, cowardly, and the like.

397. Conversion. Spiritual Knowledge. Hence we learn that the prime alteration that is made in conversion, that which is first and the foundation of all, is the alteration of the temper and disposition and spirit of the mind. For what is done in conversion is nothing but conferring the Spirit of God, which dwells in the soul and becomes there a principle of life and action. It is this is the new nature, and the divine nature; and the nature of the soul being thus changed, it admits divine light. Divine things now appear excellent, beautiful, glorious, which did not when the soul was of another spirit. Indeed, the first act of the Spirit of God, or the first that this divine temper exerts itself in, is in spiritual understanding or in the sense of the mind, its perception of glory and excellency, etc. — in the ideas it has of divine things. And this is before any proper acts of the will. Indeed, the inclination of the soul, as immediately exercised in that sense of the mind which is called spiritual understanding or the intellect’s love, is not only mere presence of ideas in the mind, but it is the mind’s sense of their excellency, glory, and delightfulness. By this sense or taste of the mind, especially if it be lively, the mind distinguishes truth from falsehood.

408. Spiritual Knowledge. When the ideas themselves appear more lively and with greater strength and impression, as the ideas of spiritual things do to one that is spiritually enlightened, their circumstances and various relations and connections between themselves and with other ideas appear more. There are more of those habitudes and respects taken notice of, and they also are more clearly discerned. And therefore, hereby a man sees the harmony between spiritual things, and so comes to be convinced of their truth. Ratiocination, without this spiritual light, never will give one such an advantage to see things in their true relations and respects to other things, and to things in general. A mind, not spiritually enlightened, beholds spiritual things faintly, like fainting, fading shadows that make no lively impression on his mind — like a man that beholds the trees and things abroad in the night. The ideas ben’t strong and lively and are very faint, and therefore he has but a little notion of the beauty of the face of the earth. But when the light comes to shine upon them, then the ideas appear with strength and distinctness. And he has that sense of the beauty of the trees and fields given him in a moment which he would not have obtained, by going about amongst them in the dark, in a long time. A man that sets himself to reason without divine light is like a man that goes in the dark into a garden full of the most beautiful plants, and most art fully ordered, and compares things together by going from one thing to another to feel of them all, to perceive their beauty. But he that sees by divine light is like a man that views the garden when the sunlight shines upon it. There is, as it were, a light cast upon the ideas of spiritual things in the mind of the believer which makes them appear clear and real, which before were but faint, obscure representations.

540. Spiritual Understanding. Remember, when speaking of the creation of man and the state and nature with which he was created, to distinguish between mere speculative and rational understanding and that which it implies — a sense of heart — or which arises from it, wherein is exercised not merely the faculty of understanding but the other faculty of will or inclination in the heart. And to make a distinction between the speculative faculty and the heart, and then to show how many principles of heart God created man with, viz., natural and supernatural principles.

541. Spirit’s Operation. In the order of beings in the natural world, the more excellent and noble any being is, the more visible and immediate the hand of God is there in bringing them into being. And the most noble of all, and that which is most akin to the nature of God, viz., the soul of man, is most immediately and directly from him, so that here second causes have no causal influence at all. Second causes have something to do in bringing the body into being, but they have no influence here, but the soul is directly breathed from God. Heb. 12:9; Ecc. 12:7; Zec. 12:1. And so it is in this moral and spiritual world that the most noble and excellent gift and qualification (wherein is the glory and happiness of that most noble creature, the soul of man) is immediately from God. This is the excellency and dignity of this excellent and noble being, the soul, of which God is the immediate Father. All rational knowledge and outward virtue without this is but the body without the spirit. It is the soul of all virtue and religious knowledge.

628. Spiritual Knowledge. Faith. That spiritual light that is let into the soul by the Spirit of God discovering the excellency and glory of divine things. It not only directly evidences the truth of religion to the mind — as this divine glory is an evident stamp of divinity and truth — but it sanctifies the reasoning faculty and assists it to see the clear evidence there is of the truth of religion in rational arguments, and that two ways, viz., as it removes prejudices and so lays the mind more open to the force of arguments, and also secondly, as it positively enlightens and assists it to see the force of rational arguments, not only by removing prejudices but by adding greater light, clearness, and strength to the judgment in this matter. See how one way, M 408.

1162. Inspiration. It may be worthy of consideration whether or no some of the heathen philosophers had not with regard to some things, some degree of inspiration of the Spirit of God, which led them to say such wonderful things concerning the Trinity, the Messiah, etc. Inspiration is not so high an honor and privilege as some are ready to think. It is no peculiar privilege of God’s special favorites; many very bad men have been the subjects of it, yea some that were idolaters. Balaam was an idolater, and a great sorcerer, or wizard, and yet he was the subject of inspiration, and that even when in the practice of his witchcraft, when he went to seek by enchantments. Yea, the devils themselves, seem sometimes to have been immediately actuated by God, and forced to speak the truth in honor to Christ and his religion. So the devil at the oracle of Delphi was probably actuated by God, and compelled to confess Christ, and own that the Hebrew child to be above him, and had sent him to hell, and forbidden him to give forth any more oracles.

Why might not Socrates and Plato, and some others of the wise men of Greece have some degree of inspiration, as well as the wise men from the east, whom came to see Christ when an infant. Those wise men dwelt among the heathen, as much as the wise men of Greece, and were in like manner Gentiles, born of heathens, and brought up among them, and we have no reason to think that they were themselves less of heathens than several of the Grecian philosophers: at least before they were the subjects of that inspiration that moved them to follow the star that led them to Christ.

Pharaoh and his chief butler and baker were the subjects of a sort of inspiration in the dreams they had, for it is evident those dreams were divine revelations, as were Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams. He, though a heathen, and a very wicked man, and a great idolater, yet had a revelation concerning the Messiah, and his future Kingdom. In his dream of the great image, and the stone cut out of the mountain without hands.

If it be objected that if we suppose some of the heathen philosophers to have truths suggested to them by the inspiration of the Spirit of God, we must suppose that God gave those revelations without giving with them any certain evidences by which others, to whom they declared them might determine them to be such, or by which they might be obliged to regard and receive them as such: allowing this to be the case, yet a good end might be answered in giving those revelations nevertheless. Though they could be no rule to the heathen, among whom they lived, yet they might be of use these three ways.

1. They might dispose the heathen nations, as they had occasion, to converse with the Jews, and to be informed of the revelations and prophecies that they had among them, to attend the more to them, and to inquire into them, and their evidences.

2. They might prepare the Gentile nations, that had among them the records of those sayings of their most noted and famous wise men, to receive the gospel when God’s time came for its promulgation among those nations, by disposing them the more diligently and impartially to attend to it.

3. They may be of great benefit to the Christian church, ages after they were delivered: as they serve as a confirmation of the great truths of Christianity.

4. We know not what evidence God might give to the men themselves that were the subjects of these inspirations, that they were divine, and were true (as we know not what evidence was given to the wise men of the east of the divinity of their revelations). And so we know not of how great benefit the truths suggested might be to their own souls.

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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