The Personal Narrative of Jonathan Edwards - Part XIVJanuary 13, 2009 Historical Studies, Historical Studies
Jonathan Edwards was a cessationist. Largely because of excessive and fanatical behavior associated with the revival known as the First Great Awakening, he was concerned with the way in which certain people justified unwise, even unbiblical, decisions by appealing to having heard “the voice of God”. He also opposed the contemporary validity of revelatory gifts (especially prophecy) because he believed, falsely in my opinion, that such would undermine the finality and sufficiency of Scripture.
I mention this about Edwards only to point out that, although I disagree with him on this issue, it didn’t diminish in the least his love and appreciation for the Holy Spirit. He spoke and wrote often of the ministry of the Spirit, primarily in terms of the work of sanctification and illumination. Consider the following excerpt from the Personal Narrative.
“I have many times had a sense of the glory of the third person in the Trinity, in his office of Sanctifier; in his holy operations, communicating divine light and life to the soul. God, in the communications of his Holy Spirit, has appeared as an infinite fountain of divine glory and sweetness; being full, and sufficient to fill and satisfy the soul; pouring forth itself in sweet communications; like the sun in its glory, sweetly and pleasantly diffusing light and life. And I have sometimes had an affecting sense of the excellency of the word of God, as a word of life; as the light of life; a sweet, excellent life-giving word; accompanied with a thirsting after that word, that it might dwell richly in my heart.”
Here again we see Edwards’ highly sensory language in describing his perception of the nature and work of God. Like a self-replenishing fountain that forever flows, God pours forth himself in “sweet communications”. He is a measureless, incalculable reservoir of glory and light, who, in making himself known and giving of himself to hell-deserving sinners, suffers no loss, experiences no lack, and never, ever runs dry! He is more than adequate and able to “fill and satisfy the soul” of men and women who thirst for his presence.
Edwards’ language reminds me of Paul’s declaration in Acts 17:25 concerning the independent, all-sufficiency of God, who is not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” If we truly believe, as did Edwards, that God is “an infinite fountain of divine glory and sweetness” we will not make the blasphemous mistake of thinking that we, by our worship or offerings or activities or good intentions, can in any way add to or supplement or support or increase or enhance his glory and greatness.
So, if God is “an infinite fountain of divine glory and sweetness”, how do we worship him? How do we honor him? With what attitude and intent should we approach him? In what way do we “give” glory to God without belittling him as needy and dependent on us? John Piper tells us:
"God has no needs that I [or anyone else] could ever be required to satisfy. God has no deficiencies that I might be required to supply. He is complete in himself. He is overflowing with happiness in the fellowship of the Trinity. The upshot of this is that God is a mountain spring, not a watering trough. A mountain spring is self-replenishing. It constantly overflows and supplies others. But a watering trough needs to be filled with a pump or bucket brigade. So if you want to glorify the worth of a watering trough you work hard to keep it full and useful. But if you want to glorify the worth of a spring you do it by getting down on your hands and knees and drinking to your heart's satisfaction, until you have the refreshment and strength to go back down in the valley and tell people what you've found. You do not glorify a mountain spring by dutifully hauling water up the path from the river below and dumping it in the spring. What we have seen is that God is like a mountain spring, not a watering trough. And since that is the way God is, we are not surprised to learn from Scripture – and our faith is strengthened to hold fast – that the way to please God is to come to him to get and not to give, to drink and not to water. He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
My hope as a desperate sinner, who lives in a Death Valley desert of unrighteousness, hangs on this biblical truth: that God is the kind of God who will be pleased with the one thing I have to offer – my thirst. That is why the sovereign freedom and self-sufficiency of God are so precious to me: they are the foundation of my hope that God is delighted not by the resourcefulness of bucket brigades, but by the bending down of broken sinners to drink at the fountain of grace. . . .
In other words, this unspeakably good news for helpless sinners – that God delights not when we offer him our strength but when we wait for his – this good news that I need to hear so badly again and again, is based firmly on a vision of God as sovereign, self-sufficient and free” (“The Pleasures of God,” 215-16).