Yes, I like celebrating birthdays of some of my favorite pastor-theologians, even if they are dead. I even had a friend once make me a birthday cake for Edwards a few years ago …
October 5th, 1703 in Windsor, CT Jonathan Edwards was born. He is considered by many the greatest mind America has ever produced. I’m not sure I’m smart enough to be able to confirm or deny that, but I do know God used (and uses) him to shape a lot of my Biblical-Theological framework, and I’m indebted to him for that. So, on this his 312th birthday I’ll offer one of the most important things Edwards taught me.
It’s Never Just Information
Understanding starts with truth, but for understanding to get translated into willful action it has to go through the soul. I’ll explain that further in a minute, but to stop here and say how foolish it is (and I’ve been) to think that merely convincing someone of truth actually changes how they live. To understand something as true and to live obediently based on that understanding are two very different things. Many a person will attest to the validity of a particular fact, but that fact doesn’t effect how they live. When it comes to Biblical data or the Gospel commands of Scripture, we can never be content to merely making sure the information is rightly conveyed and understood, because most of the time it’s not an information problem, it’s a worship problem. We need truth, amen and amen. But something can be true, affirmed as true, and not obeyed … that’s a heart problem.
It’s About the Inclination of the Soul
This is where Edwards helped me immensely, listen, “The other faculty is that by which the soul does not merely perceive and view things (the understanding), but is in some way inclined toward the things it views or considers. It is either inclined to them or disinclined and averse from them. The soul, because of this faculty, does not want to see things as an indifferent, unaffected spectator. It either likes or dislikes, is pleased or is displeased, approves or rejects. This faculty is called the inclination” (Religious Affections, pg. 6). Truth understood does not translate into truth obeyed unless it is truth liked/pleased/approved, and that is an act of the inclination of the soul.
Edwards in My Everyday
This is how I’ve often tried to illustrate this reality. It’s one thing for me to say – “This is a cup of coffee” (Understanding), but that doesn’t get me to drink it. It’s quite another thing for me to say, “I like coffee and find it delightful to drink” (Inclination). And going a step further to say, “This coffee is the best ever and drinking it brings me immense joy and pleasure” … Edwards calls those the Affections. Now, coffee schmoffee … but the things of the Gospel, this is where it matters. I can agree with a passage of Scripture I read in the morning, but do nothing to put it into practice. This doesn’t honor God, even if I rightly understand the text of Scripture. What I need is my affections stirred by the Spirit of God such that I delight in His truth, who He is, and the joy I get in serving Him with my life … now that honors God, because that’s WORSHIP. And worship is what God has redeemed me for … in drinking coffee? Yes. But even more by glorying in the work of the cross and the freedom that was purchased for me as His child.
Thanks Jonathan for yet another gift given to me on your birthday!