21 April 2011

A Kind of Heavenly Elysium

Last night I read again Edwards' account of his wife's personal renewal in the Lord and, with my decaf in one hand and a big bowl of thin mint Edy's in the other, was deeply moved.

Edwards points out that the 'anonymous' person he is describing (1) was converted 27 years ago, so this is not the passing excitement of a recent convert; (2) experienced this personal renewal four years before Whitefield and Tennent came to town, and at a time when the rest of Northampton was spiritually sleepy, so this is not vicarious feeding on the experience of others; and (3) has suffered bouts of depression from youth, which have now strangely ceased, so this reviving is not explainable by a Myers-Briggs personality profile.

You know, at one point Edwards goes on for nine pages of his original manuscript of his account of Sarah's experience with a single paragraph; and in that paragraph he has one sentence that goes for three pages. Though the Yale editors break all this up, it is not difficult, in meditative reading, to see why Edwards wrote this way: in describing Sarah's experience of heaven, Jonathan himself was caught up in these glories.

And in reading what Jonathan wrote, I am myself caught up in it.
The soul remained in a kind of heavenly Elysium, and did as it were swim in the rays of Christ's love, like a little mote swimming in the beams of the sun, or streams of his light that come in at a window; and the heart was swallowed up in a kind of glow of Christ's love, coming down from Christ's heart in heaven, as a constant stream of sweet light, at the same time the soul all flowing out in love to him; so that there seemed to be a constant flowing and reflowing from heart to heart. The soul dwelt on high, and was lost in God, and seemed almost to leave the body; dwelling in a pure delight that fed and satisfied the soul; enjoying pleasure without the least sting, or any interruption, a sweetness that the soul was lost in; so that (so far as the judgment and word of a person of discretion may be taken, speaking upon the most deliberate consideration) what was enjoyed in each single minute of the whole space, which was many hours, was undoubtedly worth more than all the outward comfort and pleasure of the whole life put together. . . .

This great rejoicing has been a rejoicing with trembling, i.e. attended with a deep and lively sense of the greatness and majesty of God, and the person's own exceeding littleness and vileness: spiritual joys in this Person never were attended, either formerly or lately, with the least appearance of any laughter or lightness of countenance, or manner of speaking; but with a peculiar abhorrence of such appearances. . . . These high transports when they have been past, have had abiding effects in the increase of the sweetness, rest and humility that they have left upon the soul; and a new engagedness of heart to live to God's honor, and watch and fight against sin. . . .

And this steadfastness and constancy has remained through great outward changes and trials; such as times of the most extreme pain, and apparent hazard of immediate death. What has been felt in late great transports is known to be nothing new in kind, but to be of the same nature with what was felt formerly, when a little child of about five or six years of age; but only in a vastly higher degree. These transporting views and rapturous affections are not attended with any enthusiastic disposition to follow impulses, or any supposed prophetical revelations; nor have they been observed to be attended with any appearance of spiritual pride, but very much of a contrary disposition, an increase of a spirit of humility and meekness, and a disposition in honor to prefer others.
--Jonathan Edwards, Thoughts Concerning the Revival, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 4: The Great Awakening, excerpts from pp. 332-35

'So subjectivistic!' you say. 'So annoyingly introspective!' Friends, if there was one level-headed, sober-minded thinker in the history of the church, it was the man writing this account. This is the man who warned countless times against the danger of feeling untethered to truth, and intemperate zeal, etc--in this same book that he records Sarah's experience he writes, 'There is nothing that belongs to Christian experience that is more liable to a corrupt mixture than zeal.'

I defy you to give me one good reason why you should die without longing for and praying for such renewal in your own soul.

Is this not, at heart, what Paul prayed over the Ephesians in the second half of Epheisans 1, and the end of Ephesians 3?

How long will you go on burdened and miserable?

This is not for the Sarah Edwards's of the world. It is for normal, everyday, faltering Christians like you and me.

Christ did not go to the cross, and walk out out of the tomb, and send the Spirit, so that you could (only) doctrinally assent to Ephesians 3:19.

No comments: