a book in the biography section of a Christian book shop and for whatever reason I bought it. His name was Jonathan Edwards. He would, no doubt, have told me I bought it by the providence of God and it is providence too that you are reading these words about him :) Now, I probably should have been cautious about reading a book about a man who wears a curly wig but through its pages I was introduced to an extraordinary mind, pastor, thinker and theologian and great friend of George Whitfield who is my preaching hero. Here though is a warning- reading Edwards is really rather hard as I discovered when I decided to do an essay on 'The nature of true virtue'. It is a pig of an essay to read (which I had to do about seven times before I came anywhere near to comprehending what he was on about). Why bother doing any of this you may wonder? Well.....
1. He is possibly one of the top ten theologians, if not minds, of all time
2. Most of the things that prompt you to start a sentence, "I wonder what..." Edwards has looked into the Scriptures and all of the thought that was available to him and pondered it better than you and I will ever probably manage- even with Google.
3. People are still reading him avidly three hundred years after he went to glory which might tell you something. The same may not be the case for Joel Osteen or Joyce Meyer, but I am happy to be proven wrong.
4. He was making sense of charismatic woop-up's long before John Wimber ever came along and his reflection on the Religious Affections has yet to be bettered.
5. Everyone should have at least one friend who wears a curly wig.
This talk called 'Sweet sorrrow: The happy root of holy living' unlocked a truth that was deeply deeply profound for me. It happened, just so that you know, as I drove past Chieveley Services on the M4 on Saturday which is an unnecessary but amusing detail to share. Now the talk is by John Piper who I know, because lots of my readers tell me, is not everyone's cup of tea. On this one though, might I suggest you cut dear John and his, at times, unfortunate manner and views some slack. Piper's statement in this talk that Edwards knew something at 20 that 99% of pastors will never comprehend let alone their congregations made me truly sit up and listen. I think it might be where he got his thought for 'Don't waste your life' which if you haven't watched you should. It might prevent you ending up old collecting shells....
Now, when it comes to the Chieveley profundity, as it will henceforth be known, Piper had to say it three times and translate the sentence from the Edwards sermon into his own words and then explain it twice. In short, you really will need your thinking caps on for this one my friends- Edwards is no Yancey, Ortberg or Hybels (all of whom I love) but may I commend you to make the effort and fire up the old grey matter for this one. If you get this thought and then read Ephesians in one sitting I guarantee your world will be a different place. Perhaps a comfortable chair with pen and paper, a long walk in the park with the pod, an hour in a coffee shop with a journal, a drive up a great British motorway (if you choose the M1 you might have your own 'London Gateway' services moment, formally known by its proper name as 'Scratchwood' if I'm being a true service station pedant, or indeed you may have a Newport Pagnell revelation) This isn't an easy talk but it really is potentially life changing.
So what I am so excited about? It's the fact that God is more pleasurable and contains more joy than anything else you can experience in this life. Now I have known this for some time and hence changed the whole course and vision of my life because of it but the penny dropped for me in a fresh way. And I agree with Piper that most Christians don't get this at all which is why they are more excited about their loft conversion than Jesus. The Edwards thought is kind of summarised in this quote from Rumours of God: experiencing the kind of faith you've only heard about (which may well make a late entry onto my list of books of the year) and if you have no idea what Piper is on about reading this excerpt might tell you the same thing in a rather more accessible way.
'Let me guess. You would like to have more money-financial stability, a comfortable living environment, perhaps a newer car. You'd have a progressing career, be respected in your field. You'd like to have emotionally healthy friends, who are energetic, encouraging, spontaneous and fun. Maybe you'd wish to change something about your appearance- lose a few pounds, be taller more athletic. If you're single, you might desire to find a life partner, someone supportive, kind and attractive (not just on the inside).
Maybe you want to have kids. Or maybe you already have kids and you want them well-educated, high-functioning, successful, well-mannered children who do better in school than your friend's kids
Or perhaps you'd like to be famous and influence millions of people around the world for the greater good.
There's nothing inherently wrong with these dreams. They are the carrots the media dangle in front of us. But what's interesting is that for the most part, the desires and dreams of Christians are the same as non-Christians. Essentially we are dreaming and longing for the same things. This seems odd- shouldn't we be different from non-Christians. Shouldn't our dreams be fuelled by a different story?"
They should indeed. Oh my goodness, truly they should indeed.
If this awakens in you a desire to know a bit more about Edwards you might like to start on the George Marsden's A short life of Jonathan Edwards.
These talks are also well worth checking out:
Pursuing a passion for God through Spiritual Disciplines: Learning from Jonathan Edwards
A God-entranced vision of all things: Why we need Jonathan Edwards 300 years later
Interview with Piper on Edwards
Jonathan Edwards: The life, The man and The legacy