Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pericope for the Week

Today marks the 307th birthday of the person who has often been identified as "America's greatest theologian," Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758).

So it is fitting that Edwards provides us with this week's pericope:

...and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God, and be rapt up to God in heaven, and be as it were swallowed up in him. I kept saying, and as it were singing over these words of Scripture (First Timothy 1:17) to myself; and went to prayer, to pray to God that I might enjoy him; and prayed in a manner quite different from what I used to do; with a new sort of affection. But it never came into my thought, that there was anything spiritual, or of a saving nature in this.

From about that time, I began to have a new kind of apprehensions and ideas of Christ, and the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him. I had an inward, sweet sense of these things, that at times came into my heart; and my soul was led away in pleasant views and contemplations of them. And my mind was greatly engaged, to spend my time in reading and meditating on Christ; and the beauty and excellency of his person, and the lovely way of salvation, by free grace in him. I found no books so delightful to me, as those that treated of these subjects. Those words (Cant. 2:1) used to be abundantly with me: I am the rose of Sharon, and the lilly of the valleys. The words seemed to me, sweetly to represent, the loveliness and beauty of Jesus Christ. The whole book of Canticles used to be pleasant to me; and I used to be much in reading it, about that time; And found, from time to time, an inward sweetness, that used, as it were, to carry me away in my contemplations; in what I know not how to express otherwise, than by a calm, sweet abstraction of soul from all the concerns of this world; and a kind of vision, or fixed ideas and imaginations, of being alone in the mountains, or some solitary wilderness, far from all mankind, sweetly conversing with Christ, and wrapt and swallowed up in God. The sense I had of divine things, would often of a sudden as it were, kindle up a sweet burning in my heart; an ardor of soul, that I know not how to express.

--Jonathan Edwards, "Personal Narrative," in Letters and Personal Writings, ed. George S. Claghorn, vol. 16 of the Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Harry S. Stout (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 792-93.

For exegesis of the passage, I recommend George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), esp. 45-46, 53-58, and 99-112. This book is now the single best resource for the life and theology of Edwards.

A good place to start the study of Edwards is the smaller work by Marsden, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008). For those who like their Edwards with cartoons, there is James P. Byrd, Jonathan Edwards for Armchair Theologians (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2008). Another work that has been a helpful resource for my own lectures on Edwards is Robert Jenson, American's Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards (Oxford Univ. Press, 1988).

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