Edwards and Self-Examination: Remembering Life Without Christ

We read in Ephesians 2:11-12 (ESV),

“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands- remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

Paul, encouraged the Gentile believers to constantly remember their estate before Christ. He wanted them to remember their hopelessness, so they could marvel at God’s amazing grace (see Ephesians 2:8-).

We, like the Gentile believers, are in need of remembrance. How easy is it to forget that we were once lost, completely blinded by sin, and spiritually dead! We are all prone to this forgetfulness. Which is why we need to obey Paul’s exhortation to remember.

I am currently reading through Iain Murray‘s biography on Jonathan Edwards. It is, second only to the Bible, my favorite book. I love Jonathan Edwards, and I am always personally challenged when I read about his life.

As I was reading, I came across this reference to Edwards’ dairy. Though it is long, I think it is helpful to reproduce here for our own edification. May we, as we read Mr. Edwards’ words, be propelled to contemplate on our own wickedness in order to marvel at the majestic grace of God. Edwards writes,

Often, since I lived in this town, I have had very affecting views of my own sinfulness and vileness; very frequently to such a degree as to hold me in a kind of loud weeping, sometimes for a considerable time together; so that I have often been forced to shut myself up. I have had a vastly greater sense of my own wickedness, and the badness of my heart, than ever I had before my conversion. It has often appeared to me that if God should mark iniquity against me I should appear the very worst of all mankind-of all that have been, since the beginning of the world to this time, and that I should have by far the lowest place in hell.

My wickedness, as I am in myself, has long appeared to me perfectly ineffable, and swallowing up all thought and imagination; like an infinite deluge or mountains over my hear. I know not how to express better what my sins appear to me to be than by heaping infinite upon infinite, and multiplying infinite by infinite. Very often, for these many years, these expressions are in my mind, and in my mount, ‘Infinite upon infinite…Infinite upon infinite!’ When I look into my heart, and take a view of my wickedness, it looks like an abyss infinitely deeper than hell.

I have greatly longed of late for a broken heart, and to lie low before God; and, when I ask for humility, I cannot bear the thoughts of being no more humble than other Christians. It seems to me, that though their degrees of humility may be suitable for them, yet it would be a vile self-exaltation in my, not to be the lowest in humility of all mankind. Others speak of their longing to be ‘humbled to the dust’, that may be a proper expression for them, but I always think of myself, that I ought, and it is an expression that has long been natural for me to use in prayer, ‘to lie infinitely low before God.’ And it is affecting to think, how ignorant I was, when a young Christian, of the bottomless, infinite depths of wickedness, pride, hypocrisy and deceit, left in my heart.

(Jonathan Edwards in Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2008 reprint), 101-102.

This kind of self-examination is needed. We need to remember what we were, but before Christ saved us and even after He saved us. We are all creatures of His exquisite grace, and were it not for His wonderful grace we would all perish under the righteous wrath of God.

Paul, shortly after penning the words found in Ephesians 2:11-12 (ESV), writes “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

 

 

 

 

(Photo Credit)

Seven Ways We Are Not Affected By the Will of God

 

Continuing his exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, Thomas Manton offers seven ways in which we may not be affected to God’s will as we should.

Now, some of you may read the word affected and wonder how this applies? In the Puritan days, the word affected carried a different connotation. Jonathan Edwards comments on the idea of affections, writing, “The will, and the affections of the soul, are not two faculties; the affections are not essentially distinct from the will, nor do they differ from the mere actings of the will and inclination, but only in the liveliness and sensibility of exercise. .. what are commonly called affections are not essentially different from them, but only in the degree and manner of exercise. In every act of the will whatsoever, the soul likes or dislikes, is either inclined or disinclined to what is in view.”[1]

This is the idea that Manton is discussing with regard to our relationship to God’s will. He offers this with the goal of self-examination. In other words, how do I measure up to the following points?

“WE PRETEND TO DO GOD’S WILL IN GENERAL, BUT WHEN IT COMES TO PARTICULARS WE STICK AT IT”[2]

Manton’s first point is that we tend to do God’s will in general, but not in specifics. We, as a whole, do not go around and murder one another. In this sense, we are doing God’s will. However, when we have a disagreement with someone, we may not seek restoration. We may even actively seek out their hurt. Or, we may secretly speak evil of them. We comfort ourselves in obeying God’s will (not murdering), but we betray God’s will by holding grudges. Or, as Manton puts it, “We will do the will of God in general, but when it comes to cross our lusts and private inclinations, these make us grudge at it, and shrink back again.”[3]

Are we guilty of this? Do we generally follow God’s will, but secretly keep hold of our own?

“SOME COMMEND AND APPROVE THE WILL OF GOD, AND TALK OF IT, BUT DO NOT PRACTISE IT”[4]

“Practice what you preach!” we quickly tell others who say one thing and do another. Children are exasperated when parents tell them not to perform a certain action and then turn around and do it themselves. This form of hypocrisy is particular harmful to the Christian. For if the Christian says we should follow God’s will, but does not follow it herself, how can the light of Christ shine to the dark world?

Christian, what do your affections reveal to you? Do you speak of doing God’s will, but fail to execute? Let us take heed to James exhortation, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”[5]

“FOR THE PRESENT, WHILE WE ARE IN A GOOD HUMOUR, WHEN OUR LUSTS LIE LOW, WHEN THE HEART IS WARM UNDER THE IMPULSIONS OF A PRESENT CONVICTION OR PERSUASION, MEN HAVE HIGH THOUGHTS OF DOING THE WILL OF GOD”

What Manton is saying here is that when things are going well we tend to have more concentrated views of God’s will. For instance, if a girl receives a loving letter from her boyfriend, she thinks highly of him, feels closer to him, and spends more energy to communicate her feelings. But Manton makes the point of distinction even clearer, “There are several acts of our wills; there is consent, choice, intention, and prosecution. It is not enough to consent: these things may be extorted from us by moral persuasion; but there must be a serious choice, an invincible resolution, such an intention as is prosecuted with all manner of industry and serious endeavours, whatever disappointments we meet with from God and men.”[6]

In other words, thoughts should lead to action. We can think highly of God’s will, but until we make a conscious effort to do His will it is pointless and fruitless. I can tell my wife that she is the only lady for me, but if I never show her that I love her, then I must not love her. How much more should I show God that I am affected by His will than to obey His laws, change my ways, and seek His face in every moment of my life?

“WE HAVE MANY TIMES A SEEMING AWE UPON THE CONSCIENCE, AND SO ARE URGED TO DO GOD’S WILL, YET THE HEART IS AVERSE FROM GOD ALL THE WHILE; THEREFORE THEY STRIVE TO BRING GOD’S WILL AND THEIRS TOGETHER, TO COMPROMISE THE DIFFERENCE”[7]

We are all guilty of this at one point in our lives. We claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, to submit our lives to Him Who is the King of kings and Lord of Gods We offer our allegiance to Him. And yet, there is a battle. As Paul wrote to the Galatian churches, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”[8]

Manton states, “In many cases we are thus divided between our own affections and God’s will, between our interests and the will of God.”[9] This is not to say that we will never have any different interests. To have hobbies and such is not, in and of itself, sin.[10] However, we are too often guilty of allowing those hobbies and interests to receive our affections against God’s will.

For example, I enjoy watching hockey. I especially enjoy it when the Dallas Stars are playing. I enjoy it even more when they win. I approach games with excitement and eagerness. Now the question I must ask myself is, “Do I approach God’s Word the same way?” Do I, with eager anticipation, look for ways to do God’s will? This helps us see how our affections are toward God’s will. If we pray like our Lord, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”[11]

“A WISH THAT WE WERE BROUGHT UNDER THE POWER OF IT, AS HE THAT STRETCHED HIMSELF UPON HIS BED, AND SAID, OH, THAT THIS WERE TO LABOUR!”[12]

Similar to the previous mistakes we can make, Manton is discussing desire. He goes on to write, “They have a wish, but not a volition, not a serious desire; and sometimes they may draw it out to a cold prayer that God would make them better.”[13] Oh, how often I am guilty of this! How often have I prayed, “God help me overcome _________,” and leave it at that prayer. I fail to engage in serious war with the sin, and thus I am simply wishing for God’s will.

“HALVING THE WILL OF GOD; AS IN MANY CASES MANY WILL DO PART OF THE WILL OF GOD, BUT NOT ALL, THEY COME NOT FULLY UP TO THE MIND OF GOD”[14]

This is the idea that as long as our sins are little and our execution of God’s will much, we are fine. This betrays a biblical view of sin, however. Manton offers this stinging remark,

“No sin is little which is committed against a great God.”[15]

Meditate on the greatness, on the holiness, of God, and you will never think lightly of sin.

“A LOATHNESS TO KNOW THE WILL OF GOD, TO SEARCH AND INQUIRE INTO IT, ARGUETH DECEIT, AND THAT WE ARE LOATH TO COME UNDER THE POWER OF IT”[16]

We are, at times, very clear on what God’s will is for us, and yet we simply do not pursue it. It is like the older gentleman who was raised in a godly home. The Scriptures were read every night, the family prayed together. This man knew where to find truth, but because God’s will conflicted with his life, he loathed it.

Does your heart loath God’s will? Is there any part of the commands of God that you do not love? That reveals our affections, and we must learn to cultivate our affections to love, cherish, and execute God’s most gracious will.

CONCLUSION

So, how did you do? Are your affections geared to the will of God? Or, has your own will replaced His? May we, as we pray, “Your will be done,” mean it genuinely.[17]

 

Thomas Manton’s Collected Works can be published through the Banner of Truth Trust.

Also, check out these two helps from Manton’s other thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer:

Manton’s Five Steps to Help You Do God’s Will

On the Goodness of God’s Will: Manton’s Marvelous Memoir

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[1] J. Edwards, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2000) 237, as quoted in Sam Williams, “Toward a Theology of Emotion,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, volume 7, no. 4 (Winter, 2003), 58-72.

[2] Thomas Manton, The Works of Thomas Manton, Volume 1 (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1993), 134.

[3] Manton, Works, 134.

[4] Ibid.

[5] James 1:22, ESV.

[6] Manton, Works, 135.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Galatians 5:17, ESV.

[9] Manton, Works, 135.

[10] The exception, of course, would be if that hobby violated God’s law. Then it would be sin.

[11] Matthew 6:10, ESV.

[12] Manton, Works, 135.

[13] Ibid., 135-136.

[14] Ibid., 136.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] See Matthew 6:10, ESV.