In our previous post we reviewed briefly the life of
Edwards had an incredible reverence for Scripture. His mind is saturated with it and it flows from his pen. When one reads Edwards the impression is left that he has the entire scope of biblical history before him as he tries to communicate. Indeed Edwards approach to the Bible was in some ways “before his time.” Rather than simply reproducing the scholastic theology of many of his Puritan forbearer's he conceived of God’s work with creation as sort of a narrative, a story, or to use his own words, a history. The plot to that history is Creation, Fall, Call of Israel, Jesus and the New Heavens and New Earth. If we look at the actual contents of Scripture that is a pretty good outline of the actual contents of the story revealed there.
The beginning of the History of Redemption is none other than Creation itself. Edwards published a work titled The End for Which God Created the World and is often seen as one of his greatest published works but also his least read. Edwards asks the all important question of why did God create in the first place? Was God in need?? Did God need something to boss around?? If God is perfect in himself then what is the point of creation?? These are, beloved, incredibly important questions. For Edwards the doctrine of the Trinity precludes any “need” on God’s part. He already existed in a state of perfection in glory and most of all in love. God has existed as Father, Son and Spirit for eternity and they exist in holy communion and perfection of love. Thus for Edwards, any understanding of Creation must reflect the character of God. The heart of his analysis is the many scriptural references that the highest end of creation is “the glory of God.” God’s glory is his love. Thus, in a nutshell, God creates to extend that perfect internal love outward. It is an extension of the glory of a perfectly good and loving being to communicate that love with others. Thus for the “whole is of God, and in God, and to God; and God is the beginning, middle, and the end in this affair.” Thus Creation itself is good, and godly, because it reflects the glorious love of God. It is the expression of the love that exists within the Trinity itself. I suppose if we stop to reflect on this it can tend toward revolutionary thoughts.
But with contemporaries like Voltaire, Edwards was quite aware that this age is hardly the ‘best of all possible world’s” (as Dr. Pangloss quips in Candide). This age or world has been infected with Sin. Creation suffers under a curse because of humanities rebellion against the God of Glorious Love. Indeed because Creation is on God’s side it would deal swiftly with humanity if it were not for the “sovereign pleasure of God.” As Edwards expressed it in that most infamous of sermons “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,”
“Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it; the creation groans with you; the creature is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not willingly; the sun don’t willingly shine upon you to give you light to serve sin and Satan; the earth don’t willingly yield her increase to satisfy your lusts; nor is it willingly a stage for your wickedness to be acted upon; the air don’t willingly serve you for breath to maintain the flame of life in your vitals, while you spend your life in service of God’s enemies. God’s creatures are good, and were made for men to serve God with, and don’t willingly subserve to any other purpose, and grown when they are abused to purposes so directly contrary to their nature and end. And the world would spew you out, were it not for the sovereign hand of him who hath subjected it in hope …”
There is a lot in that paragraph. It is dense with thought. Creation is God’s, it is good and it is on his side. There is plenty in this paragraph that is anything but politically correct. But we see some of the initial glory of Creation even in the Fallen world. We humans were meant to exist within Creation, we were intended to serve and bring glory to God both with and within Creation.
The History of Redemption for Edwards is centered on God’s desire to reclaim and heal that which expressed his perfect love. Writing in 1739 Edwards unpacks redemption with power and clarity. The narrative history of redemption reveals several things:
First, Redemption means the putting down all of God’s enemies under his feet and that the supreme goodness of God finally triumphs over evil. What enemies and what did they do? Satan rose up against God to frustrate his design in Creation “of this lower world, to destroy his workmanship here, and to wrest the government of this lower world out of his hands, and usurp the throne himself.”
Second, Redemption means that by subduing God’s enemies he will “perfectly restore all the ruins of the fall … therefore we read of the restitution of all things.” But what is it that was “ruined” in the Fall? “Man’s body was ruined by the fall, became subject to death. The world was ruined as to man as effectively as if it were reduced to chaos again, all heavens and earth were overthrown. But the design [of Redemption] was to restore all, as it were to create a new heaven and a new earth.” God’s love is triumphant in the history of redemption. What is that wonderful place going to look like? Edwards puts it like this in his Notes on his unpublished magnum opus,
“And then shall all the world be united in peace and love in one amiable society; all nations, in all parts, on every side of the globe, shall then be knit together in sweet harmony, all parts of God’s church assisting and promoting the knowledge and spiritual good one of another . . . all the world shall be as one church, one orderly, regular, beautiful society, one body, all the members in beautiful proportion.”
Heaven is not a realm of love because human beings live in the the new earth but because the “eternal society or family of the Godhead in the Trinity dwells there." Here in the new heavens and new earth the goal of God's creation is realized. God dwelling and communicating his love for us.
This post has grown long so I need to bring it to a close. But I find Edwards to be refreshing, challenging and above all true to the history of redemption. We need to reflect on the history of redemption …