Posted at Ligonier Ministries
I recently suggested three reasons why you should read Jonathan Edwards. To further encourage you, here are four paragraphs that, I submit to you, capture the beauty and brilliance of Edwards’ work as a pastor-theologian.
Note that I’ve chosen from a range of his writings to give you a sense for what he sounded like in different contexts. I appreciate him not only as a preacher, but as a theologian, an aesthetician, and a letter-writer (I’ll explain below). I think, if you give him a chance, you will too.
The first paragraph comes from one of Edwards’ earliest sermons. The young pastor-to-be preached “God’s Excellencies” in 1720, setting out at the outset of his ministry the starting point for his life and thought: the transcendent beauty and greatness of God.
The beauty of trees, plants, and flowers, with which God has bespangled the face of the earth, is delightful; the beautiful frame of the body of man, especially in its perfection, is astonishing; the beauty of the moon and stars is wonderful; the beauty of [the] highest heavens is transcendent; the excellency of angels and the saints in light is very glorious: but it is all deformity and darkness in comparison of the brighter glories and beauties of the Creator of all, for “behold even to the moon, and it shineth not” (Job 25:5); that is, think of the excellency of God and the moon will not seem to shine to you, God’s excellency so much outshines [it]. And the stars are not pure in his sight, and so we know that at the great day when God appears, the sun shall be turned into darkness, shall hide his face as if he were ashamed to see himself so much outshined; and the very angels, they hide their faces before him; the highest heavens are not clean in his sight, and he charges his angels with folly. (Works 10, 421)
This is a fitting place at which to begin, because it shows in luminous detail the aesthetic theology of the young Edwards. He recognized early on what the sinful man cannot see: that the natural order is not an end unto itself, but is a channel that leads to worship of the maker of all things. All things pale in comparison to God, who looms magnificently large in this passage and so many other passages in the Edwardsean corpus.