The Personal Narrative of Jonathan Edwards - Part IXJanuary 18, 2009 Historical Studies, Historical Studies
“In September, 1725, I was taken ill at New Haven, and while endeavoring to go home to Windsor, was so ill at the North Village, that I could go no farther, where I lay sick, for about a quarter of a year. In this sickness, God was pleased to visit me again, with the sweet influences of his Spirit. My mind was greatly engaged there, on divine and pleasant contemplations, and longings of soul. I observed, that those who watched with me, would often be looking out wishfully for the morning; which brought to my mind those words of the Psalmist, and which my soul with delight made its own language, Mysoul waiteth for the Lord, more than they that watch for the morning; I say, more than they that watch for the morning; and when the light of day came in at the window, it refreshed my soul, from one morning to another. It seemed to be some image of the light of God's glory.”
This may not immediately strike you as a profound statement, but I found several comments in it that are highly instructive.
First, note that Edwards refused to conclude from his sickness that God had abandoned him. Although he lay sick for almost three months, an especially difficult thing for a man who early in life resolved never to waste a minute’s time, he looked through the illness for God’s presence and purpose. “God was pleased to visit me again,” he notes, “with the sweet influences of his Spirit.” We don’t know what Edwards had in mind by “sweet influences” of the Spirit, but the subsequent reference to the engagement of his “mind” would suggest that God enlightened and illumined his mind to grasp and savor and relish the promises of Scripture that are unaffected by human trial and suffering.
Second, even in illness Edwards was at work! He spent this time “greatly engaged” on “divine and pleasant contemplations” and “longings of soul.” He meditated on the sweet truths of Scripture, turning them over and over in his mind, ruminating, musing, soaking his soul in the beauty of Christ revealed therein. But more than that, he spent his time in “longings of soul.” Perhaps this is a reference to prayer. I suspect that he redeemed this season of physical weakness to strengthen and nurture and exercise the muscles of his soul, crying out to God for his presence, venting his heart’s desire for a sense of God’s power, testifying repeatedly, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you” (Psalm 16:2), and yet again, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26).
Third, and finally, I’m intrigued by Edwards’ reference to the morning light that “came in at the window.” It “refreshed my soul, . . . [and] seemed to be some image of the light of God's glory.” Edwards believed that virtually everything in the natural realm was an “image” or “shadow” of some divine reality or truth or principle pertaining to God and his way of redemption. After all, in Edwards’ theology “the end of creation was God’s communication of himself – and thereby of his glory – to the understanding and will of his creatures. The universe itself was part of that divine self-communication, an act performed every moment by the power of the sovereign God” (Wallace Anderson, Yale:11, p. 9).
For Edwards, there was hardly any color or shape or process or movement in nature that didn’t in some way or other embody and express a spiritual truth. Edwards once wrote that he expected to be ridiculed as “a man of very fruitful brain and copious fancy” because he believed “that the whole universe, heaven and earth, air and seas, and the divine constitution and history of the holy Scriptures” was “full of images of divine things.”
So, when Edwards lay sick in bed, he looked each morning for the first appearance of light breaking through the window, for in it he saw “the light of God’s glory” and his soul was “refreshed”! I fear we take so very much for granted and ignore the magnitude of God’s revelation of himself in creation. How often do we pause long enough to behold his beauty and power in the little things of life, whether a beam of light or a thunder cloud or the effortless flight of a bald eagle? If not so much as a sparrow falls from the sky apart from the will of our heavenly Father, consider how pervasive must the revelation of his glory be in the most mundane of events and phenomena of the physical world.
So, the next time you are sick or weakened or perhaps perfectly healthy and lying quietly in bed, open your eyes to the presence of the Creator in creation. Who knows what may be found in a simple beam of light!