Jonathan Edwards and the Bible
Communicating the role of the Bible in Jonathan Edwards's life and theology is something like capturing the role of food in a chef's life. Scripture was in him. He ate it; and when he spoke, his words were filled with it. But not only that, Edwards's lifelong calling was to feed others with it. The Bible was both his own life source and his vocation.
When we immerse ourselves in Edwards's writings, we do not find him speaking of Scripture so much as speaking from it. The Bible was not only what he looked at but also what he looked with. It is thus a bit elusive to construct Edwards's theology of Scripture. Nevertheless, certain convictions about the Bible clearly emerge from the Edwards corpus.
In short, Scripture–every word–is that through which God speaks of his own beauty. Scripture is God's tool of human beautification. It is that through which God comforts and changes us. It is therefore the treasure of the Christian life.
Scripture Is a Treasure
If Edwards had one metaphor to use for the Bible, this would be it: it is a treasure. Jonathan Edwards was the best kind of prosperity preacher. He believed vast riches were at believers' fingertips–not in what was in their bank accounts but in what was on their shelves: the Holy Bible.
One of the great tragedies of a Christian life, to Edwards, is to own but neglect the Bible. This is akin to a sick man neglecting his medicine or a poverty-stricken man neglecting the inheritance that has just come to him. The Bible is to be plundered, not yawned over.
The Bible is to be plundered, not yawned over.
Those Christians who neglect the Bible, said Edwards, were living in abject poverty of soul when the great remedy, the great treasure, awaits, needing simply to be accessed. "Whatever treasures the Scripture contain," says Edwards, "we shall be never the better for them if we don't observe what is there. He that has a Bible, and don't observe what is contained in it, is like a man that has a box full of silver and gold, and don't know it, don't observe that it is anything more than a vessel filled with common stones."
Scripture is Food
Just as we regularly take in food to nourish the body, so we must regularly take in Scripture to nourish the soul. Neglect of the Bible is self-starvation. Recounting his own awakening in his younger years, Edwards spoke of the Bible as "a refreshing ravishing food."
This is not to say that the Bible itself has any inherent power, crassly conceived. While every word of Scripture is God himself speaking, it is possible for his words to land on deaf ears. The Holy Spirit must unstop our ears and give us ears to hear the voice of God. Or to return to the food metaphor, the Spirit must awaken our taste buds to enjoy the Word of God. The crucial question is not whether we can explain what is in the Bible, but whether we can enjoy it. In short, God must give us eyes to see the beauty of God that is before us in Scripture.
Scripture is Beautiful
Finally, the Bible is the word of a beautiful God. The Bible is beautiful because it speaks of Christ from beginning to end. A Christian's devotion to the Bible and a Christian's personal loveliness rise and fall together. The world today, and often believers, tends to view the Bible as arid, stuffy, old-fashioned, obtuse. Our hyper-pragmatism approaches the Bible for quick fixes and handy tips for life. We view reading the Bible like entering a mine: we might stumble onto occasional nuggets of helpful inspiration, but only amid foreboding and impenetrable darkness.
Edwards recalibrates us. This book is a book of beauty. A four-year-old may get quickly bored with Rembrandt, but if he grows up to be a healthy human being, he will learn to appreciate its beauty. We who get bored quickly with Scripture need to grow up. There is rich and inexhaustible beauty here for those who have eyes to see.
A dozen good things will clamor for your attention as you slide into consciousness tomorrow morning. More sleep, checking the weather forecast, dishes from the night before, nervousness about some upcoming event at work, anxieties arise from broken relationships, worry about a new bodily pain, fretting over finances, e-mail and a million interesting websites. Such is life.
Into the frenetic bustle of normal everyday life, Jonathan Edwards invites us to join him in the Bible, that permanent eye of the storm amid life's chaos.
Our instincts tell us that the pace of our circumstances outside us must dictate the pace of our hearts inside us. It simply is not true. When read slowly and thoughtfully, the Bible does for the human heart what an inhaler does for a third-grader with asthma. It calms us down. Franticness is soothed. We become a little more human.
We are given God.
This article was adapted from Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God by Dane Ortlund.