The longer I live, the more clearly I see my dependence on those who have gone before. The more I know of what others have thought, the less original my thinking appears. I am content to have it so. For, at least in the realm of truth, the ancient Preacher does not overstate the case when he says: “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
This book is witness to my calling as a secondary teacher, not a primary one. Jonathan Edwards is a primary teacher in the Christian church; I am secondary. The difference was described by Mortimer Adler in 1939:
[The secondary teacher] should regard himself as learning from the masters along with his [students]. He should not act as if he were a primary teacher, using a great book as if it were just another textbook of the sort one of his colleagues might write. He should not masquerade as one who knows and can teach by virtue of his original discoveries. . . . The primary sources of his own knowledge should be the primary sources of learning for his students, and such a teacher functions honestly only if he does not aggrandize himself by coming between the great books and their . . . readers. He should not “come between” as a nonconductor, but he should come between as a mediator—as one who helps the less competent make more effective contacts with the best minds.1
This is the role I want to play in relation to Jonathan Edwards and his book,2 The End for Which God Created the World. Jonathan Edwards is in a class by himself in American history, perhaps in the history of Christendom. This will become plain in the pages that follow. Paul Ramsey, the editor of Edwards’s Ethical Writings in the Yale critical edition, agrees: “One studies the time and backgrounds of some men in order to understand them. Others have such rare greatness that one studies them in order to understand their times, or even to comprehend the deepest meaning of the intellectual and other influences that were effectual upon them. Jonathan Edwards was such an original.”3 It is not so much that Edwards dealt with new reality but, as Vergilius Ferm said, he “seemed to have had the powers and the drive to set his own stamp upon anything which came to his purview.”4
But even more important than making all things his own in unique ways was his riveted focus on God, and his unwavering passion to see all that could be seen of God in this life. “To live with all my might, while I do live”5 was his resolution. He applied it mainly to the pursuit of God. Thus he resolved again, “When I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances do not hinder.” The channel where this passion for God flowed was the channel of unremitting, prayerful thinking on the truths of Scripture. Hence he resolved once more “to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive, myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.”
Which means in the end that Edwards too was a secondary teacher—as are all honest Christian pastors and theologians. “He was a man who put faithfulness to the Word of God before every other consideration.”6 Seeing the unlimited expanse of divine Reality that is really there in Scripture, not imagining new things, was his passion. Over every vast field of divine knowledge Edwards erected this banner: “I think the Word of God teaches us more things concerning it . . . than has been generally believed, and that it exhibits many things concerning it exceeding glorious and wonderful than have been taken notice of.”7 In simple modern English: we have scarcely begun to see all of God that the Scriptures give us to see, and what we have not yet seen is exceedingly glorious.
Thus, in the most profound sense we are all secondary teachers and secondary beings. Only One is Primary. Why he created us, and how to join him in fulfilling that end, are the most important questions in the world. Only he can reveal the answer. That is why Jonathan Edwards gave himself to the Word of God and wrote The End for Which God Created the World (printed as Part Two of this book), and that is why I take my stand on his shoulders and write about God’s Passion for His Glory.
For over thirty years I have been trying to see and savor this God-centered, soul-satisfying, sin-destroying vision of reality. Part One of this book is a focused glimpse into the roots of this vision as I have come to see it in the life and thought of Jonathan Edwards. In the vein of other concerned evangelicals in our day,8 Chapter One argues that modern evangelicalism is being doctrinally hollowed out by its love affair with pragmatism and numerical success. Edwards’s relentless God-centeredness and devotion to the Biblical contours of doctrine are profoundly needed in our day. In the second half of that chapter I offer fifteen summary statements of the implications of Edwards’s vision for Christian thought and life.
In Chapter Two the reader is given a mini-biography of Edwards. It’s a story that enables the reader to enjoy the man, and see his theology in the flow of his life and ministry. It puts flesh on the theological bones. Here you may meet “one of the most holy, humble and heavenly-minded men, that the world has seen, since the apostolic age” (Ashbel Green, President of the College of New Jersey, 1829), but also “the profoundest reasoner, and the greatest divine . . . that America ever produced” (Samuel Davies, 1759)—a man who was “greatest in his attribute of regnant permeating, irradiating spirituality” (John De Witt, 1912).9
In Chapter Three I take the reader on a personal tour along my thirty-year path of discovering the major writings of Jonathan Edwards. In this way I try to combine my own personal story with the life and writings of Edwards to show their meaning and relevance for at least one modern evangelical. My hope is that you will see at work in this chapter not just one, but two illustrations—one living and one dead—of “A Mind in Love with God.”
Finally, in Chapter Four, I take up Edwards’s radically God-centered view of virtue—which is, in fact, the end for which God created the world—and apply its scathing relevance to cultural transformation and world evangelization. The rediscovery of Edwards’s God-centered moral vision in The End for Which God Created the World is my aim. And I pray that this endeavor will serve the purpose of God in our day to fill the hollow sounds of our God-neglect and its fatal successes. May the Lord restore a passion for truth and a passion for his glory, which has largely “disappeared from the modern evangelical world.”10
1 Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1940), p. 60.
2 Strictly speaking, The End for Which God Created the World is half a book, since it was originally published in 1765 (seven years after Edwards’s death) as the first of a pair of treatises entitled Two Dissertations. The other of the two was The Nature of True Virtue. Edwards saw the two as a pair and envisioned them published together. See Part One, Chapter One, footnote 3, p. 22 for why I believe publishing The End for Which God Created the World alone is warranted.
3 Paul Ramsey, “Editor’s Introduction” to The Ethical Writings, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 8 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), p. 12.
4 Vergilius Ferm, Puritan Sage (New York: Library Publishers, 1953), p. xiv.
5 The seventy resolutions of the young Edwards are found in Sereno Dwight, Memoirs of Jonathan Edwards, in: The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), pp. xx-xxi.
6 Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards, A New Biography (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987) p. 471. If the reader desires a good starting point in the study of the life and ministry of Jonathan Edwards, I recommend this biography very highly.
7 Jonathan Edwards, An Essay on the Trinity, in: Treatise on Grace and Other Posthumously Published Writings, ed. by Paul Helm (Cambridge: James Clarke and Co. Ltd., 1971), pp. 127-128.
8 For example, Os Guinness, Fit Bodies Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do About It (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994); Os Guinness and John Seel, eds., No God But God: Breaking with the Idols of Our Age (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992); Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994); David Wells, No Place for Truth: or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993); God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994); Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision (Grand Rapids: William
B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), p. 26. The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), pp. vx-vxii.
10 “It is this God, majestic and holy in his being, this God whose love knows no bounds because his holiness knows no limits, who has disappeared from the modern evangelical world” (David Wells, No Place for Truth, p. 300).