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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Means of God

If I were to ask well read Christians, "Who would have been the greatest Christian philosopher in the history of America?" I imagine I would get a small range of candidates. If I were to ask "Who would be the single most influential instrument of God for the salvation of souls in America?" the candidates would, I expect, be a few more. However, the person who would fulfill the qualification for both questions would undoubtedly be Jonathon Edwards.

Jonathon Edwards, instrumental as he was, in the Eighteenth Century Christian 'Awakening' in America maintained an influence for several generations after his time. Yet, the means by which God brought Jonathon Edwards to salvation is somewhat different to the experience of other instruments used of God in both America and England around the same time such as George Whitefield and John Wesley. For Whitefield and the Wesley brothers, conversion came through an overwhelming expression of grace in their heart for their sins being forgiven in Jesus Christ. Such, it must be said, was something in the order of the experience of the majority of those who were received into the Kingdom of God in the Eighteenth Century 'Awakening' - not entirely, though, some were converted on their way to a place where the Word of God was to be preached and other means, of which I am not aware, may well have been used.

The circumstance of Jonathon Edwards is described by himself in the following manner:

"The first instance that I remember of that sort of inward, secret delight in God and divine things, that I have lived much in since, was, on reading those words, 1 Tim. 1.17, 'Now, unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.' As I read these words, there came into my soul, and was as it were diffused through it, a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from any thing I ever experienced before. Never any words of Scripture seemed to me as those words did. I thought with myself how excellent a Being that was, and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God, and be rapt up to him in heaven, and be as it were swallowed up in him for ever. ... From 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. An inward, sweet sense of these things, at times, came into my heart; and my soul was led away in pleasant views and contemplations of them. After this, my sense of divine things gradually increased, and became more and more lively, and had more of that inward sweetness. The appearance of every thing was altered. There seemed to be, as it were, a calm, sweet cast or appearance of divine glory, in almost every thing. God's excellency. His wisdom. His purity, and His love seemed to appear in every thing."

In speaking of Edwards' conversion experience, Archibald Alexander, founder and First Professor of Princeton Theological College, said some 100 years later:

"The difference between this and many other cases of incipient piety, is very striking. And yet these views and exercises do not come up to the standard which some set up in regard to Christian experience, because they are so abstract, and have such casual reference to Christ, through whom alone God is revealed to man as an object of saving faith. And if there be a fault in the writings of this great and good man on the subject of experimental religion, it is, that they seem to represent renewed persons as at the first, occupied with the contemplation of the attributes of God with delight, without ever thinking of a Mediator. But few men ever attained, as we think, higher degrees of holiness, or had made more accurate observations on the exercises of others."

The example of Jonathon Edwards' conversion stands as a criticism of those who 'out of hand' reject any notion of God using something of Natural Theology to introduce people to the truth of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Note that I am not saying that a person need not come to the point of recognizing the need of Jesus Christ as Saviour. What I am saying is that the means by which the heart is opened or 'warmed' to the glory and reality of God, thus being receptive to the full expression of the gospel, is not and has not been of one means alone. Natural Theology of the Eighteenth Century was accompanied by a Deistic view of God which lacked the true and Personal Nature of God. Revelation must present a Personal God revealed in all the glorious fullness of Jesus Christ - Creator, Sustainer, Lord and Saviour.

To reject Natural Theology 'out of hand', as many graduates of Moore Theological College, Sydney, are want to do, is to quench the Spirit of God in the means of bringing people to the feet of our Lord.

Sam Drucker

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