I'd like to welcome a special guest to Resolution 57 today. All the way from the 18th century, the greatest theologian in American history, and the man who inspired the name of this blog, please give a warm welcome to Jonathan Edwards!
R57: Mr. Edwards, I understand that you'd like to tell us a little about the difference between true grace and the experience of devils.
JE: Yes, that's right. I preached a sermon on this subject back in the 18th century and I think it's something that your century desperately needs to hear.
R57: What was your text for this sermon?
JE: James 2:19, which says, "Thou believest that there is one God; thou dost well; the devils also believe, and tremble."
R57: And what inferences do you draw from this text?
JE: We can observe in these words that some people depend upon, as an evidence of their good estate and acceptance as the objects of God's favor, a speculative faith, or belief of the doctrines of religion.
R57: So you're saying that a proper belief in the doctrines of religion is not necessarily a sign of true faith?
JE: It is allowed from the text that it is a good attainment. "Thou dost well." It is good as it is necessary. This doctrine is one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity; and, in some respects, above all others fundamental. It is necessary to be believed, in order to salvation.
R57: So a proper belief is necessary, but is no sure sign of salvation?
JE: Correct. What is implicitly denied in the text is that it is any evidence of a person's being in a state of salvation. The whole context shows this to be the design of the apostle in these words. And it is particularily manifest by the conclusion of the verse where the argument by which the apostle proves that this is no sign of a state of grace, namely, that it is found in devils. Devils believe that there is one God, and that he is a holy, sin-hating God; and that he is a God of truth, and will fulfil his threatenings, by which he has denounced future judgments, and a great increase of misery on them; and that he is an almighty God, and able to execute his threatened vengeance upon them.
R57: So a belief in the existence of God, the Trinity, the atonement, and the ressurection, no matter how strong that belief is, can be no sure sign of saving faith?
JE: Nothing in the mind of man, that is of the same nature with what the devils experience, or are the subjects of, is any sure sign of saving grace. If there be anything that the devils have, or find in themselves, which is an evidence of the saving grace of the Spirit of God, then the apostle's argument is not good; which is plainly this: "That which is in the devils, or which they do, is no certain evidence of grace."
R57: But surely it is not the same thing for men to experience belief as it is for devils, is it?
JE: It is not the subject that makes the affection, or experience, or quality holy; but it is the quality that makes the subject holy. And if those qualities and experiences which the devils are the subjects of have nothing of the nature of holiness in them, then they can be no certain signs that persons which have them are holy or gracious.
R57: Doesn't the Scripture often speak of knowledge of divine things as what is peculiar to true saints as in John 17:3, "This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent," or Matt. 11:27, or Phil. 3:8?
JE: Yes, but then we must understand it of a different kind of knowledge from that speculative understanding which the devil has to so great a degree. It will also be allowed that the spiritual saving knowledge of God and divine things greatly promotes speculative knowledge as it engages the mind in its search into things of this kind, and much assists to a distinct understanding of them; so that, other things being equal, they who have spiritual knowledge are much more likely than others to have a good doctrinal acquaintance with things of religion; but yet such acquaintance may be no distinguishing characteristic of true saints.
The devil is orthodox in his faith; he believes the true scheme of doctrine; he is not a Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, Roman Catholic, Open Theist, or Pelagian; the articles of his faith are all sound, and in them he is thoroughly established. Therefore, for a person to believe the doctrines of Christianity merely from the force of arguments, as discerned only by speculation, is no evidence of grace.
R57: So we've established that a speculative knowledge of the truth of the doctrines of Christianity is no sure sign of saving faith. Are there any more conclusions we can draw from this text?
JE: It may also be inferred from the doctrine which has been insisted on that it is no certain sign of persons being savingly converted, that they have been subjects of very great distress and terrors of mind, through apprehensions of God's wrath, and fears of damnation.
R57: So a fear of hell is no sign that you are truly repentant?
JE: Absolutely not. It is clear from the text that the devils are the subjects of great terrors, through apprehensions of God's wrath, and fears of its future effects. It must be no small degree of terror which should make those principalities and powers tremble.
R57: How about if a person were to have very earnest desires and great longings after salvation? Would that be any evidence of true grace?
JE: The devils, doubtless, long for deliverance from the misery they suffer, and from that greater misery which they expect. If they tremble through fear of it, they must, necessarily, earnestly desire to be delivered from it. Wicked men are, in Scripture, represented as longing for the pprivileges of the righteous, when the door is shut, and they are shut out from among them; they come to the door, and cry, Lord, Lord, open to us. Therefore, we are not to look on all desires that are very earnest and vehement, as certain evidences of a pious heart. There are earnest desires of a religious nature, which the saints have, that are the proper breathings of a new nature, and distinguishing qualities of true saints; but there are also longings, which unregneerate men may have, which are often mistaken for marks of godliness. They think they hunger and thirst after righteousness, and have earnest desires after God and Christ, and long for heaven; when, indeed, all is to be resolved into self-love; and so is a longing which arises from no higher principles than the earnest desires of devils.
R57: But isn't it true that men in this world are in vastly different circumstances from those in which the devils are? Those things which are visible and present to devils are now future and invisible to the other; and wicked men in this world are in the body, that drags and hinders the soul, and are encompassed with objects that blind and stupify them. Is it reasonable then, that because the devils have a great apprehension and lively sense of such things without grace, ungodly men in their present state may have the same?
JE: It is true that no mortal man, whether godly or ungodly, has an equal degree of speculative knowledge with the devil. But yet it is evident that men in this world may have things of the same kind with devils; the same sort of light in the understanding; the same views and affections, the same sense of things, the same kind of impressions on the mind and on the heart. The objection is against the conclusiveness of that reasoning which is the apostle's more properly than mine. The apostle judged it a conclusive argument against such as thought their believing there was one God an evidence of their being gracious, that the devils believed the same. So the argument is exactly the same against such as think they have grace, because they believe God is a holy God, or because they have a sense of the awful majesty of God. My text has reference, not only to the act of the understandings of devils in believing, but to that affection of their hearts which accompanies the views they have; as trembling is an effect of the affection of the heart. Which shows, that if men have both the same views of understanding, and also the same affections of heart that the devils have, it is no sign of grace.
R57: What if someone says that they have something besides all these things, namely love and joy?
JE: You may have something besides the experiences of devils, and yet nothing beyond them. Though the experience be different, yet it may not be owing to any different principle, but only the different circumstances under which these principles are exercised. The principles from whence the fore-mentioned things in devils arise are these two, natural understanding and self-love. It is from these principles of natural understanding and self-love, as exercised about their own dispositions and actions, and God as their judge, that they have natural conscience, and have such convicitions of conscience as have been spoken of. It is from these principles that they have such a sense of the importance of the things of religion, and the eternal world, and such longings after salvation. And that you have a kind of love or gratitude and joy, which devils have not, may possibly not arise from any other principles in your heart different from these two, but only from these principles as exercised in different circumstances.
R57: If there be so many things which men may experience from no higher principles than are in the minds and hearts of devils, what are those exercises and affections that are of a higher nature, which we must find in our heart, and which we may justly look upon as sure signs of the saving grace of God's Spirit?
JE: The exercises and affections which are good evidences of grace, differ from all that the devils have, and all that can arise from such principles as are in their hearts, in two things, namely, their foundation and their tendency.
R57: How so?
JE: They differ in their foundation, or in that belonging to them which is the foundation of all the rest that pertains to them, namely, an apprehension or sense of the supreme holy beauty and comeliness of divine things, as they are in themselves, or in their own nature.
Of this the devils and damned men in hell are, and forever will be, entirely destitute. This the devils once had, while they stood in their integrity; but they wholly lost it when they fell. And this is the only thing that can be mentioned pertaining to the devil's apprehension and sense of the Divine Being, that he did lose. Nothing else belonging to the knowledge of God, can be devised, of which he is destitute. It has been observed, that there is no one attribute of the divine nature, but what he knows, with a strong and very affecting conviction. This I think is evident and undeniable. But to the supreme beauty of the divine nature he is altogether blind. He sees no more of it, than a man born perfectly blind does of colours. The great sight he has of the attributes of God gives him an idea and strong sense of his awful majesty, but no idea of his beauty and comeliness. Though he has seen so much of God's wonderful works of power, wisdom, holiness, justice, and truth, and his wonderful works of grace to mankind, for so many thousand years, and has had occasion to observe them with the strongest attention; yet all serves not to give him the least sense of his divine beauty. And though the devils should continue to exercise their mighty powers of mind with the strongest intention; and should take things in all possible views, in every order and arrangement; yet they never will see this. So little akin is the knowledge they have to this, that the great degrees of thet knowledge, bring them no nearer to it. Yet the more knowledge they have of God of that kind, the more do they hate God. That wherein the beauty of the divine nature does most essentially consist, namely, his holiness, or moral excellency, appears in their eyes furthest from beauty. It is on that very account chiefly that he appears hateful to them. The more holiness they see in him, the more hateful he appears; the greater their sight is of his holiness, the higher is their hatred of him raise. And because of their hatred of his holiness, they hate him the more, the more they see of his other attributes. They would hate a holy Being, whatever his other attributes were; but they hate such a holy Being the worse, for his being infinitely wise, and infinitely powerful, more than they would do, if they saw in him less power and less wisdom.
The wicked, at the day of judgment, will see every thing else in Christ, but his beauty and amiableness. There is no one quality or property of his person, that can be thought of, but what will be set before them in the strongest light at that day, but only such as consist in this. They will see him coming in the clouds of heaven, "in power, and great glory, in the glory of his Father." They will have that view of his external glory, which is vastly beyond what we can imagine; and they will have the strongest and most convincing demonstrations of all his attributes and perfections. They will have a sense of his great majesty, that will be, as it were, infinitely affecting to them. They shall be made to know effectually, "that he is the Lord." They shall see what he is, and what he does; his nature and works shall appear in the strongest view; but his infinite beauty and amiableness, which is all in all, and without which every other property is nothing, and worse than nothing, they will not see.
Therefore in a sight or sense of this fundamentally consists the difference between the saving grace of God's Spirit, and the experiences of devils and damned souls. This is the foundation of every thing else that is distinguishing in true Christian experience. This is the foundation of the faith of God's elect. This gives the mind a saving belief of the truth of divine things. It is a view of the excellency of the gospel, or sense of the divine beauty and amiableness of the scheme of doctrine there exhibited, that savingly convinces the mind that it is indeed divine or of God. This account of the matter is plainly impied; 2 Cor. 4:3-4, "But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost, in whom the God of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine into them." And verse 6. "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." It is very evident that a saving belief of the gospel, is here spoken of by the apostle as arising from a view of the divine glory or beauty of the things it exhibits. It is by this view that the soul of a true convert is enabled savingly to see the sufficiency of Christ for his salvation. He that has his eyes opened to behold the divine superlative beauty and loveliness of Jesus Christ, is convinced of his sufficiency to stand as a mediator between him, a guilty hell-deserving wretch, and an infinitely holy God, in an exceeding different manner than ever he can be convinced by the arguments of authors or preachers, however excellent.
R57: What are the effects on a person who has this sight of the beauty of divine things?
JE: It will excite true desires and longings of soul after those things; not like the longings of devils, but natural free desires; the desires of appetite, the thirstings of a new nature, as a new-born babe desires the mother's breast; and as a hungry man longs for some pleasant food he thinks of; or as the thirsty deer pants after the cool and clear stream.
R57: Is this sense of divine beauty the first thing that happens in true conversion?
JE: Yes, and it is the foundation of everything else belonging to that change; as is evident by those words of the apostle, 2 Cor. 3:18, "But we all with open face, beholding, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."
By this, above all other things, do men glorify God. By this, above all other things, do the saints shine as lights in the world, and are blessings to mankind. And this, above all things, tends to their own comfort; from hence arises that "peace which passeth all understanding," and that "joy which is unspeakable and full of glory." And this is that which will most certainly issue in the eternal salvation of those who have it. It is impossible that the soul possessing it should sink and perish. It is an immortal seed; it is eternal life begun; and therefore they that have it can never die. It is the dawning of the light of glory. It is the day-star risen in the heart, that is a sure forerunner of that sun's rising which will bring on an everlasting day. This is that water which Christ gives, which is in him that drinks it "a well of water springing up into everlasting life;" John 4:14. It is something from heaven, of a heavenly nature, and tends to heaven. And those that have it, however they may now wander in a wilderness, or be tossed to and fro on a tempestuous ocean, shall certainly arrive in heaven at last, where this heavenly spark shall be increased and perfected, and the souls of the saints all be transformed into a bright and pure flame, and they shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
R57: So what would you say to someone who struggles with assurance of their salvation and continues to look inward for some sign of true faith?
JE: Look to Christ.
R57: Well, we can't thank you enough for all the time. Will you come back and visit us again some time? Perhaps we could discuss "The Excellency of Christ," another one of my favorite sermons.
JE: I would be delighted to, if God wills.