7 Things We Can Learn from the Life of Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan-EdwardsI just finished reading Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word by Douglas A. Sweeney.  If you are looking for an introduction to Edwards' life and thought I highly recommend you pick this book up.  It is a easily readable biographical and theological summary of his life.  Jonathan Edwards has been an object of intense personal study the past year, and I am planning on taking a course on his theology this summer.  He has been hugely influential not only in his day but in ours also. At the very end of the book Sweeney lists seven theses for discussion on what we can learn from Edwards' life and ministry.  I list those seven theses here to encourage you to pick up the book and to stir your mind about what we can learn from Jonathan Edwards.

  1. Edwards shows us the importance of working to help people gain a vivid sense, an urgent impression, of God's activity in our world. 
  2. Edwards shows us that true religion is primarily a matter of holy affections.
  3. Edwards shows us the advantages of keeping an eschatological perspective on our lives.
  4. Edwards shows us how God uses those who lose their lives for Christ.
  5. Edwards shows us that theology can and should be done primarily in the church, by pastors, for the sake of the people of God.
  6. Edwards shows us that even the strongest Christians need support from others.
  7. Edwards shows us the necessity of remaining in God's word.

You can pick up this book here.

Other great books on Jonathan Edwards are:

Pastoral Lessons from the Life of Martin Luther

128756_imagno Martin Luther was a a German Monk whom God used to start the Reformation.  Martin Luther is remembered for many things such as his famous 95 thesis published on October 31, 1517 that went viral.  He is remembered for translating the New Testament into German, the language of his people.  However, one of the most dramatic events in Luther's life was the Diet of Worms.  It was at this meeting that Luther was asked by the Catholic Church leaders to recant all his beliefs such as the justification by faith alone.  It is here that Luther faced with excommunication and possible execution as a heretic, he would have to make his choice.  Luther asked for a night to think about whether he would recant or stand firm on his beliefs.  The turmoil in Luther's soul was fierce that night, and when he arrived the next morning his mind was made up.  Here is what the german monk said:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason- for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves - I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one's conscience is neither safe nor sound.  God help me. Amen.

For those who prefer the movie version of this historic scene you can watch the clip from the 2003 movie Luther. (In the movie version they skip the night he takes to dwell on it)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5P7QkHCfaI

What lessons can Pastors today learn from the life of Martin Luther?  Well there are more than can be written in this blog post, but let me suggest to you one primary one.

Just like Martin Luther, pastors today must unapologetically stand on the Word of God for all things regarding faith and practice.  There is a temptation for ministers today to let tradition or culture dictate how the church must be.  Pastors must boldly stand on the Word of God, even in the face of incredible opposition.

The Bible will continue to be more and more controversial as our western culture continues to secularize.  Soon, and to some extent even now, faithful pastors will be marginalized for their commitment to the truth of the Scriptures.  Sooner than we think we too must make our stand.  When that time comes we, just as Luther, must make our conscience captive to the Word of God.  We must stand firm on the sufficiency of Scripture and we must do so unapologetically.  God help us.  Amen.

The Key to Christian Growth: The Spirit or Self-Discipline?

I'm always disgusted by my own desire for the things of this world at the expense of the things of God.  As I am reading a biography of Jonathan Edwards, one of the things that has really challenged me is Edward's relentless discipline in keeping his mind and heart focused on Spiritual things.  In fact, he was a man just like any other who experienced spiritual highs and spiritual lows.  In describing one week of Edward's journaled highs and lows, Biographer George Marsden wrote the following:

 In his diary he also kept track of his spiritual highs and lows. On Saturday, December 22, 1722, he noted that he was particularly "affected with the sense of the excellency of holiness" and that he "felt more exercise of love to Christ than usual." On Monday the twenty-fourth he had "higher thoughts than usual of the excellency of Jesus Christ and his kingdom." The next day he "was hindered by the headache all day." By Saturday sunset, the time when the Sabbath began, he was "dull and lifeless." The next Tuesday the dullness persisted, despite the fact that he could not think of any "negligence" of which he was guilty. On Wednesday he reflected how without the Spirit of God, no amount of resolution could help him. Nevertheless, he also believed the inverse. Without the firmest resolution, he would not find the Spirit. So when finding that the tally of his "weekly account" had fallen low, he "Resolved, that I have been negligent in two things: in not striving enough in duty; and in not forcing myself upon religious thoughts."

The thing that challenges me about Edwards is his undying pursuit to ignite his affections for Jesus, all the while knowing that they would not ignite apart from the spirit.  When seeking to ignite the fires of our own spirituality we would do well to follow Edwards in his example.  The temptation so many of us have is to dichotomize our sanctification.  We either overemphasize God's sole sanctifying effort and become lazy and undisciplined Christians or we overemphasize discipline and diligence and try to sanctify ourselves in our own strength.

I am finding in my own life that the words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 2:12-13 is true when he writes, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act for his good pleasure."  These verses so often puzzled me.  Am I responsible to work out my own salvation or is it God who works through me?  The answer is yes.  We are sanctified by the power of the Spirit alone, but at the same time we are given the responsibility to discipline ourselves and pursue Christ with rigorous dedication and relentless pursuit. Even Edwards, a strict Calvinist, understood the balance between the two.

So what does this mean for us in our own Christian maturity?  It means that we must  be relentless in our pursuit of Christ.  We must resolve to seek Christ above all worldly things. All the while we must remember, just as Edwards had, that without the sanctifying power of the Spirit, even the firmest resolution will fall.  In my own experience, I have found that when I feel dry spiritually, I stop and pray until I sense the Spirit's power.  Discipline yourself to read the Scriptures when your flesh is weak, and it is through those efforts that the Spirit works to sanctify us and make us like Jesus Christ.  Just as God has spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart." (Jer 29:13)

Have you found this to be true in your own life? What disciplines has the spirit worked through to ignite your affections for Jesus?  Share your thoughts in the comments! I'd love to hear your thoughts!

The Fight Against Abortion is Nothing New

The issue of abortion is a huge moral debate in our culture.  Since Roe v. Wade in 1973, abortions have risen from 775,000 to 1.6 million annually.  Abortion has increased to the point that abortion is the second most common surgical procedure in the US.  In the United States, one in four pregnancies are terminated by abortion.  That means 1/4 of the next generation is being destroyed in the womb.  In response to this, many Christians have rallied to fight the decision of Roe vs Wade arguing that life is precious, even in the womb.  Christians argue that all of humanity is created in the image of God and that as a result human life should not be killed, even in the womb.  For Christians, abortion is murder.  Now my goal in this blog isn't to argue for the pro life position from the Bible, but to show that Christians fighting for the cause of life is nothing new.  Even from the beginning of Christianity, Christians were known for protecting the defenseless and helping the helpless.  
When Christians first arrived on the scene, the culture of the day had a hard time figuring them out.  They were so counter cultural that the Roman Empire thought that they were just bizarre.  The culture just thought they were weird.  Here is an excerpt from a testimony of a Roman writing about what the Christians were like in the 2nd century:
"They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring. They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed....They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven....They love all men, and by all men are persecuted....To put in simply: What the soul is in the body, Christians are in the world.”—Letter to Diognetus (2nd century).
In the Roman era, there was a common practice of casting out unwanted children after birth.  If you had a child and you didn't want the responsibility of taking care of the child, you would simply toss them out with the rest of the garbage.  It was no big deal and culturally acceptable.  You can see in this excerpt that the early Christians were known for not casting out their children.  The culture thought they were weird for not committing infanticide.  In fact the early Christians were often called "Baby Lovers", because the early Christians would actually go to garbage heaps, get the cast out infants, take them into their homes, and care for them.  Throughout church history it was the Christians who would take care of the orphans and provide a voice for the voiceless.  
You see, the issue of abortion is not a new issue that Christians are facing.  Christians have been fighting for the cause of life since their beginning.  The question for us is this: Are we going to stand in the long line of historical Christianity and defend life?  You see Jesus himself came to save the forgotten and despised of this world.  That includes those of us who have been saved by grace through faith.  In response to the amazing grace we have been shown, we must be compelled to imitate our savior and defend the cause of the unborn.  The fight will be difficult and persecution is sure to follow, but just like the early Christians may we seem bizarre to our culture because of our love and concern for the unwanted.  May we be the ones who support ministries like the Wilson Pregnancy Center.  May we be the ones who volunteer to adopt these children rejected by the world.  May we be the ones who help the helpless and provide a voice for the voiceless.  This means fighting against the silent holocaust of abortion and being a voice for the 50 million souls in the US who had their lives taken in the womb.