In order to remain faithful before marriage, two things must be certain in a person’s mind: the goodness of the betrothed, and the consummation of marriage to the betrothed. The more certain a person is of these two things, the more willing the person will be to save him or herself for the one he or she is engaged to be married. To give another example, ambitious people sacrifice immediate pleasures – drugs, girls, etc. – because they believe two things: the goodness of their desired object (e.g., the long-term prestige, security, fulfillment of a certain job), and the attainability of that object.
With these two illustrated principles in mind, it can be observed that people sin due to uncertainty of either God’s goodness, or the promise of “marriage” to God (Revelation 19:7; Revelation 21:2). Therefore the more certain a Christian is of these two things, the more willing he will be to abstain from giving himself to an idol. No person more strongly illustrates this truth perhaps than Jonathan Edwards. To prove the point, what follows is a brief biography of Edwards, a short description of his spiritual experiences of God’s goodness after his conversion, and some highlights from his sublime sermon, “Heaven is a world of love.”
According to Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield, “Jonathan Edwards, saint and metaphysician, revivalist and theologian, stands out as the one figure of real greatness in the intellectual life of colonial America.” After graduating from Yale at the top of his class in 1722, and after two years of divinity school, at age 24 he succeeded his grandfather to become pastor of the church in Northhampton, the most influential town in the province outside of Boston.
Preparation for his ministry at Northhampton, which lasted for 23 years, consisted on average of thirteen to fourteen hours daily of prayerful reading in his study. He often fasted meals as he found this to be conducive to clearer thinking for his Biblical studies. Further, his weekly habit was to review his spiritual progress in accordance with 70 resolutions.
A great awakening began in the church at the end of 1735, in which more than 300 converts were gathered in, and which extended throughout the churches of the Connecticut valley. With the visit of George Whitefield in 1740, a greater wave of awakening broke out through the whole land. At the height of Edwards’ ministry, church membership was 620, nearly the entire adult population of the town.
Amidst the revivals of The Great Awakening, criticism grew over the rise of “emotionalism.” Edwards above all others sought to distinguish between wheat from chaff, particularly with his treatise, “Religious Affections,” in which he masterfully addresses the question of how one knows whether a conversion is genuine or not. Indeed it was his efforts to separate wheat from chaff at his own church, when he sought to overturn his grandfather’s policy of allowing the unconverted to partake of the Lord’s Supper, that led to his dismissal from his pastorate on June 22, 1750.
At age 47, Edwards moved to a frontier hamlet of Stockbridge as missionary of the “Society in London for Propagating the Gospel in New England and the Parts Adjacent” to the Housatonic Indians, and as pastor of the twelve white families living there. Desiring solitude to write against the rampant Arminianism sweeping the country, Edwards nevertheless became “embroiled from the first in a trying struggle against the greed and corruption of the administrators of the funds designed for the benefit of the Indians.” (Warfield). Incidentally, his work as a missionary helped him write a biography on the missionary David Brainerd, which became the most influential book for missionaries of succeeding generations (e.g., John Wesley, William Carey, David Livingstone all testified to its profound affect on them). Even centuries later, Jim Eliot, who was martyred by the Aucas, entered in his diary, “Confession of pride – suggested by David Brainerd’s Diary yesterday – must become an hourly thing with me.”
But during his seven years at Stockbridge, Edwards did manage to complete the theological works that he wanted to write and that would secure his position, in the words of Yale historian Perry Miller, as the greatest philosopher America has ever produced. Specifically his treatise on the “Freedom of the Will” (which, according to Warfield, preserved in America a dying Calvinism for another hundred years) and his essay on “The End for which God created the World” remain unmatched on these topics in theological depth or brilliance.
In 1757, Edwards accepted an invitation to become president of what later became know as Princeton University. There he was inoculated for smallpox on February 13, and died of this disease on March 22 at age 55, leaving behind his wife Sarah and their 11 children. Upon news of her husband’s death, Sarah wrote to their daughter:
My very dear child!
What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness, that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left us! We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be.
Your affectionate mother,
Since the time of his conversion, Edwards testified to the following remarkable experiences of God’s goodness in his personal narrative:
“I spent most of my time in thinking of divine things, year after year; often walking alone in the woods, and solitary places, for meditation, soliloquy, and prayer, and converse with God. . . . Prayer seemed to be natural to me, as the breath by which the inward burnings of my heart had vent. . . .
I had then, and at other times, the greatest delight in the holy scriptures, of any book whatsoever. . . I seemed often to see so much light exhibited by every sentence, and such a refreshing food communicated, that I could not get along in reading; often dwelling long on one sentence, to see the wonders contained in it; and yet almost every sentence seemed to be full of wonders. . . . Sometimes, only mentioning a single word caused my heart to burn within me; or only seeing the name of Christ, or the name of some attribute of God. . . .
God has appeared to me a glorious and lovely Being, chiefly on account of his holiness. The holiness of God has always appeared to me the most lovely of all his attributes. The doctrines of God’s absolute sovereignty, and free grace, in strewing mercy to whom he would shew mercy; and man’s absolute dependence on the operations of God’s Holy Spirit, have very often appeared to me as sweet and glorious doctrines. . . It has often been my delight to approach God, and adore him as a sovereign God, and ask sovereign mercy of him. . . .
The person of Christ appeared ineffably excellent with an excellency great enough to swallow up all thought and conception … which continued as near as I can judge, about an hour; which kept me the greater part of the time in a flood of tears, and weeping aloud. I felt an ardency of soul to be, what I know not otherwise how to express, emptied and annihilated; to lie in the dust, and to be full of Christ alone; to love him with a holy and pure love; to trust in him; to live upon him; to serve and follow him; and to be perfectly sanctified and made pure, with a divine and heavenly purity. I have, several other times, had views very much of the same nature, and which have had the same effects. . . .”
Edwards’ preoccupation with the goodness of God was supplemented by his vision of what would take place in heaven, the wedding of the Lamb:
“My mind was very much taken up with contemplations on heaven, and the enjoyments there; and living there in perfect holiness, humility and love. . . . Heaven appeared exceedingly delightful, as a world of love; and that all happiness consisted in living in pure, humble, heavenly, divine love. . . .”
With heaven and God’s goodness uppermost in his mind, Edwards was enabled to save himself for God. He was able to reject the lures of academic prestige to be a pastor. He was able to depart the comfortable conditions of Northhampton to be a missionary to the Indians. He was able to discipline his mind and body through his strenuous resolutions to know and make known God more and more.
Because many Christians today have become uncertain as to the goodness of God and what awaits those that are faithful to Him, what follows are some highlights of Edwards’ sermon, “Heaven is a world of love.” For it is inspiring and life-changing to behold the vision of a man for whom heaven was more real than the world around him, as this sermon reveals.
Heaven is a world of love
Why heaven is a world of love
Heaven is a world of love, remarks Edwards, because God Who is love is its sun. “The glorious presence of God in heaven, fills heaven with love, as the sun, placed in the midst of the visible heavens in a clear day, fills the world with light.” (Rev. 21:23) Edwards further reflects that by the very nature of God, the fountain of love that fills heaven must be infinite, all-sufficient, unchangeable, and eternal:
“There this glorious God is manifested, and shines forth, in full glory, in beams of love. And there this glorious fountain forever flows forth in streams, yea, in rivers of love and delight, and these rivers swell, as it were, to an ocean of love, in which the souls of the ransomed may bathe with the sweetest enjoyment, and their hearts, as it were, be deluged with love!”
What is there to love about heaven
Edwards considers the fact that there are only perfectly lovely objects in heaven. Seriously imagine now a world where there was no sickness, pain, unhappiness, or disappointment. Instead “wherever the inhabitants of that blessed world shall turn their eyes, they shall see nothing but dignity, and beauty, and glory.” Further, Edwards observes that every fleeting moment of happiness, peace, and kindness enjoyed on earth are experienced as mere trickles of goodness flowing on their way into heaven:
“As the streams tend to the ocean, so all these are tending to the great ocean of infinite purity and bliss. The progress of time does but bear them on to its blessedness; and us, if we are holy, to be united to them there. Every gem which death rudely tears away from us here is a glorious jewel forever shining there; every Christian friend that goes before us from this world, is a ransomed spirit waiting to welcome us in heaven. There will be the infant of days that we have lost below, through grace to be found above; there the Christian father, and mother, and wife, and child, and friend, with whom we shall renew the holy fellowship of the saints, which was interrupted by death here, but shall be commenced again in the upper sanctuary, and then shall never end. There we shall have company with the patriarchs and fathers and saints of the Old and New Testaments, and those of whom the world was not worthy, with whom on earth we were only conversant by faith. And there, above all, we shall enjoy and dwell with God the Father, whom we have loved with all our hearts on earth; and with Jesus Christ, our beloved Savior, who has always been to us the chief among ten thousands, and altogether lovely; and with the Holy Ghost, our Sanctifier, and Guide, and Comforter; and shall be filled with all the fullness of the Godhead forever!”
The hope of heaven
Describing the nature of heavenly love, Edwards states, “All the saints in heaven love God for his own sake, and each other for God’s sake, and for the sake of the relation that they have to him, and the image of God that is upon them.” Now saints suffer from pride and selfishness which hinder our love for God and others. But with the small love that God has shed abroad in our hearts there is this hope:
“That which was in the heart on earth as but a grain of mustard-seed, shall be as a great tree in heaven. The soul that in this world had only a little spark of divine love in it, in heaven shall be, as it were, turned into a bright and ardent flame, like the sun in its fullest brightness, when it has no spot upon it.”
How people will love in heaven
Edwards observes that there will be degrees of glory among the saints. Moses, Paul, and John will be more beloved of God than other saints. But won’t those higher in glory suffer from pride? Edwards responds:
“We are not to conceive that those who are more holy and happy than others in heaven, will be elated and lifted up in their spirit above others; for those who are above others in holiness, will be superior to them in humility. The saints that are highest in glory will be the lowest in humbleness of mind, for their superior humility is part of their superior holiness. Though all are perfectly free from pride, yet, as some will have greater degrees of divine knowledge than others, and larger capacities to see more of the divine perfections, so they will see more of their own comparative littleness and nothingness, and therefore will be lowest and most abased in humility.”
How love to God will find its fullest expression in heaven
Edwards laments the believer’s struggles on earth to enjoy God adequately and for any long period of time. He sympathetically states: “They carry about with them a heavy-molded body — a clod of earth — a mass of flesh and blood that is not fitted to be the organ for a soul inflamed with high exercises of divine love. . . Love disposes them to burst forth in praise, but their tongues are not obedient; they want words to express the ardency of their souls, and cannot order their speech by reason of darkness (Job 37:19); and often, for want of expressions, they are forced to content themselves with groanings that cannot be uttered (Rom. 8:26).”
“But in heaven the saints shall have no such hindrance. There no earthly body shall clog with its heaviness the heavenly flame. The saints in heaven shall have no difficulty in expressing all their love. Their souls being on fire with holy love shall not be like a fire pent up, but like a flame uncovered and at liberty. Their spirits, being winged with love, shall have no weight upon them to hinder their flight. There shall be no want of strength or activity, nor any want of words wherewith to praise the object of their affection. Nothing shall hinder them from communing with God, and praising and serving him just as their love inclines them to do.”
How saints will finally enjoy rest in heaven
“And oh! what joy will there be, springing up in the hearts of the saints, after they have passed through their wearisome pilgrimage, to be brought to such a paradise as this! Here is joy unspeakable indeed, and full of glory — joy that is humble, holy, enrapturing, and divine in its perfection! Love is always a sweet principle; and especially divine love. This, even on earth, is a spring of sweetness; but in heaven it shall become a stream, a river, an ocean! All shall stand about the God of glory, who is the great fountain of love, opening, as it were, their very souls to be filled with those effusions of love that are poured forth from his fullness, just as the flowers on the earth, in the bright and joyous days of spring, open their bosoms to the sun, to be filled with his light and warmth, and to flourish in beauty and fragrancy under his cheering rays.
Every saint in heaven is as a flower in that garden of God, and holy love is the fragrance and sweet odor that they all send forth, and with which they fill the bowers of that paradise above. Every soul there, is as a note in some concert of delightful music, that sweetly harmonizes with every other note, and all together blend in the most rapturous strains in praising God and the Lamb forever. And so all help each other, to their utmost, to express the love of the whole society to its glorious Father and Head, and to pour back love into the great fountain of love whence they are supplied and filled with love, and blessedness, and glory. And thus they will love, and reign in love, and in that godlike joy that is its blessed fruit, such as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath ever entered into the heart of man in this world to conceive; and thus in the full sunlight of the throne, enraptured with joys that are forever increasing, and yet forever full, they shall live and reign with God and Christ forever and ever!”