Saturday, February 11, 2012

Jonathan Edwards' The Excellency of Christ

One sermon that I think would be beneficial for everyone to read is Jonathan Edwards' "The Excellency of Christ." You can read it here or get an audio reading here.

Jonathan Edwards is probably best, or perhaps infamously, known for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” He is so caricatured that some have remarked that interpretations of Edwards and the Puritans are “Jonathan Edwards in the hands of angry sinners.” Jonathan Edwards emphasized the glory and power of God in accomplishing salvation. His sermons were doctrinal and applicational. If all you know of Jonathan Edwards is his "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" you do not get a picture of who he is. Go read his "Heaven is a World of Love," "God Glorified in the Work of Redemption" or "The Excellency of Christ."

He was enraptured by the power and majesty of God. His theology & preaching, like Puritan theology & preaching as a whole, was ‘experimental’--we would say “experiential”. Edwards, like the Puritans, believed that truth entered through the mind, would change the heart creating new ‘affections’ and this would change the will and lead to proper behavior.

The text that "The Excellency of Christ" is from is Revelation 5:5-6.

His main point is: “There is an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ.” Edwards unpacks how Christ is both the Lion and the Lamb. He is the Lion in his infinite majesty. He is the Lamb in his infinite condescension. It is a powerful image to picture two aspects within Christ's person and His works.
The lion and the lamb, though very diverse kinds of creatures, yet have each their peculiar excellencies. The lion excels in strength, and in the majesty of his appearance and voice: the lamb excels in meekness and patience, besides the excellent nature of the creature as good for food, and yielding that which is fit for our clothing and being suitable to be offered in sacrifice to God. But we see that Christ is in the text compared to both, because the diverse excellencies of both wonderfully meet in him,
While Edwards never mentions it directly, he clearly is operating out of an orthodox Christology of Nicea and Chalcedon--of course this is part and parcel of Edwards' Reformed theology. The point would be that Edwards' sermon is a remarkable example of orthodoxy leading to orthopraxy. 

Consider some highlights from Edwards' sermon:

To the point that "There do meet in Jesus Christ, infinite highness, and infinite condescension." Edwards writes:
Christ, as he is God, is infinitely great and high above all. He is higher than the kings of the earth; for he is King of kings, and Lord of lords. He is higher than the heavens, and higher than the highest angels of heaven. So great is he, that all men, all kings and princes, are as worms of the dust before him; all nations are as the drop of the bucket, and the light dust of the balance; yea, and angels themselves are as nothing before him. He is so high, that he is infinitely above any need of us; above our reach, that we cannot be profitable to him; and above our conceptions, that we cannot comprehend him.”
But also consider his infinite condescension:
And yet he is one of infinite condescension. None are so low or inferior, but Christ's condescension is sufficient to take a gracious notice of them. He condescends not only to the angels, humbling himself to behold the things that are done in heaven, but he also condescends to such poor creatures as men; and that not only so as to take notice of princes and great men, but of those that are of meanest rank and degree, "the poor of the world," ...
Yea, so great is his condescension, that it is not only sufficient to take some gracious notice of such as these, but sufficient for every thing that is an act of condescension. His condescension is great enough to become their friend, to become their companion, to unite their souls to him in spiritual marriage. It is enough to take their nature upon him, to become one of them, that he may be one with them.
In Christ there is both infinite justice and infinite grace.
Though his justice be so strict with respect to all sin, and every breach of the law, yet he has grace sufficient for every sinner, and even the chief of sinners. And it is not only sufficient for the most unworthy to show them mercy, and bestow some good upon them, but to bestow the greatest good; yea, it is sufficient to bestow all good upon them, and to do all things for them. There is no benefit or blessing that they can receive, so great but the grace of Christ is sufficient to bestow it on the greatest sinner that ever lived.
In Christ's exaltation, Christ is the Lion who has triumphed over sin. Yet, Edwards turns our attention to the mediatorial office of Christ. Cheer up believer, he still is a lamb towards you in kindness and gentleness.
Indeed, in his exalted state, he most eminently appears in manifestation of those excellencies, on the account of which he is compared to a lion; but still he appears as a lamb;...Though Christ be now at the right-hand of God, exalted as King of heaven, and Lord of the universe; yet as he still is in the human nature, he still excels in humility. Though the man Christ Jesus be the highest of all creatures in heaven, yet he as much excels them all in humility as he doth in glory and dignity, for none sees so much of the distance between God and him as he does. And though he now appears in such glorious majesty and dominion in heaven, yet he appears as a lamb in his condescending, mild, and sweet treatment of his saints there, for he is a Lamb still, even amidst the throne of his exaltation, and he that is the Shepherd of the whole flock is himself a Lamb, and goes before them in heaven as such...And in his acts towards the saints on earth, he still appears as a lamb, manifesting exceeding love and tenderness in his intercession for them, as one that has had experience of affliction and temptation. He has not forgot what these things are, nor has he forgot how to pity those that are subject to them. And he still manifests his lamb-like excellencies, in his dealings with his saints on earth, in admirable forbearance, love, gentleness, and compassion. Behold him instructing, supplying, supporting, and comforting them; often coming to them, and manifesting himself to them by his Spirit, that he may sup with them, and they with him. Behold him admitting them to sweet communion, enabling them with boldness and confidence to come to him, and solacing their hearts. And in heaven Christ still appears, as it were, with the marks of his wounds upon him, and so appears as a Lamb as it had been slain, as he was represented in vision to St John, in the text, when he appeared to open the book sealed with seven seals, which is part of the glory of his exaltation.
Most powerfully in Edwards' sermon, he turns the listeners attention to Christ. That Christ is worthy of our faith and trust. He addresses the person who may have a spiritual burden. "Here let me a little expostulate with the poor, burdened, distressed soul."
What are you afraid of, that you dare not venture your soul upon Christ? Are you afraid that he cannot save you, that he is not strong enough to conquer the enemies of your soul? But how can you desire one stronger than "the almighty God"? as Christ is called, Isa. 9:6. Is there need of greater than infinite strength? Are you afraid that he will not be willing to stoop so low as to take any gracious notice of you? But then, look on him, as he stood in the ring of soldiers, exposing his blessed face to be buffeted and spit upon by them! Behold him bound with his back uncovered to those that smote him! And behold him hanging on the cross! Do you think that he that had condescension enough to stoop to these things, and that for his crucifiers, will be unwilling to accept of you, if you come to him?...
What is there that you can desire should be in a Savior, that is not in Christ? Or, wherein should you desire a Savior should be otherwise than Christ is? What excellency is there wanting? What is there that is great or good; what is there that is venerable or winning; what is there that is adorable or endearing; or, what can you think of that would be encouraging, which is not to be found in the person of Christ?...
“How much Christ appears as the Lamb of God in his invitations to you to come to him and trust in him. With what sweet grace and kindness does he, from time to time, call and invite you... 

What is the purpose of our redemption? That God might be all in and that we might have communion with God. There is an implicit Trinitarian structure to Edwards' thinking (although admittedly he focusses primarily on the Father and the Son).
One design of God in the gospel is to bring us to make God the object of our undivided respect, that he may engross our regard every way, that whatever natural inclination there is in our souls, he may be the centre of it; that God may be all in all. But there is an inclination in the creature, not only to the adoration of a Lord and Sovereign, but to complacence in some one as a friend, to love and delight in some one that may be conversed with as a companion... 
And thus is the affair of our redemption ordered, that thereby we are brought to an immensely more exalted kind of union with God, and enjoyment of him, both the Father and the Son, than otherwise could have been... 
This was the design of Christ, that he, and his Father, and his people, might all be united in one (John 17:21,23)...Christ has brought it to pass, that those whom the Father has given him should be brought into the household of God, that he and his Father, and his people, should be as one society, one family; that the church should be as it were admitted into the society of the blessed Trinity.
This sermon makes you want to worship Christ more. It makes your rejoice in the wonder of fellowship that we have with the Triune God. It makes you marvel at the diverse excellencies of Christ. Please go and read this sermon because Edwards unpacks the diversity of these excellencies in numerous ways both in the person and works of Christ. But is a model of a robust orthodoxy leading to a robust orthopraxy in worship and delight in God.

One final thought: Edwards' sermon is evangelistic in a way that is rarely witnessed today. All of the rich doctrine becomes a reason for the sinner to trust Christ. What more can one find in Christ? If one is afraid Christ is not strong enough: Behold He is a Lion. He can save. If one is afraid Christ is not compassionate enough: Behold He is a Lamb. Edwards seeks to capture the majesty of God in all its infinite greatness but then we equal ponder just how far "down" Christ has come. Of course, Christ never sets aside his divinity--not these two 'dialectic' excellencies stand side by side in one person.

This sermon makes me wonder, when we evangelize--do we set out the excellency and majesty of Christ as Edwards' does? How often do we rush through creation, fall, redemption to press home a decision: 'choose Christ'. Edwards does press the listening to trust Christ and to find Christ sufficient. He liters his sermon with Scripture to make these points. But only after Edwards seeks to display the majesty and glory of Christ in His person and His work does he press the listener to respond. His sermon gives ample tools for the Holy Spirit to use as Edwards lays out solid Biblical exposition.

Again, I encourage you to read or listen to this sermon. Meditate on it and the Biblical doctrines contained therein. May it be of spiritual benefit to you beyond just a mere intellectual enterprise.

You can read it here or get an audio reading here.

Cross posted at "Christians in Context"

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