Jonathan Edwards Collection: Edwards, Jonathan - History of Redemption: 07 Period 1: Improvement

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Jonathan Edwards Collection: Edwards, Jonathan - History of Redemption: 07 Period 1: Improvement

TOPIC: Edwards, Jonathan - History of Redemption (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 07 Period 1: Improvement

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History of the Work of Redemption


Jonathan Edwards




BEFORE I proceed to the next proposition, I would make some few remarks, by way of improvement, upon what has been said under this.

I. From what has been said, we may strongly argue, that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Son of God, and the Savior of the world, and so that the Christian religion is the true religion, seeing that Christ is the very person so evidently pointed at, in all the great dispensations of divine providence from the very fall of man, and was so undoubtedly in so many instances foretold from age to age, and shadowed forth in a vast variety of types and figures. If we seriously consider the course of things from the beginning, and observe the motions of all the great wheels of providence from one age to another, we shall discern that they all tend hither. They are all as so many lines, whose course, if it be observed and accurately followed, it will be found that everyone centers here. It is so very plain in many things, that it would argue stupidity to deny it. This therefore is undeniable, that this person is a divine person sent from God, that came into the world with his commission and authority, to do his work and to declare his mind. The great Governor of the world, in all his great works before and since the flood, to Jews and Gentiles, down to the time of Christ’s birth, has declared it. It cannot be any vain imagination, but a plain and evident truth, that that person that was born at Bethlehem, and dwelt at Nazareth, and at Capernaum, and was crucified without the gates of Jerusalem, must be the great Messiah, or anointed of God. And blessed are all they that believe in and confess him, and miserable are all that deny him. This shows the unreasonableness of the Deists, who deny revealed religion, and of the Jews, who deny that this Jesus is the Messiah foretold and promised to their fathers.

Here it may be some persons may be ready to object, and say that it may be some subtle, cunning men contrived this history, and these prophecies, so that they should all point to Jesus Christ on purpose to confirm it, that he is the Messiah. To such it may be replied, How could such a thing be contrived by cunning men to point to Jesus Christ long before he ever was born? — How could they know that ever any such person would be born. — And how could their craft and subtlety help them to foresee and point at an event that was to come to pass many ages afterwards? For no fact can be more evident, than that the Jews had those writings long before Christ was born, as they have them still in great veneration, wherever they are, in all their dispersions through the world. And they would never have received such a contrivance from Christians, to point to and confirm Jesus to be the Messiah, whom they always denied to be the Messiah. And much less would they have been made to believe that they always had had those books in their hands, when they were first made and imposed upon them.

II. What has been said, affords a strong argument for the divine authority of the books of the Old Testament, from that admirable harmony there is in them, whereby they all point to the same thing. For we may see by what has been said, how all the parts of the Old Testament, though written by so many different penmen, and in ages distant one from another, do all harmonize one with another. All agree in one, and all center in the same thing, and that a future thing, an event which it was impossible any one of them should know but by divine revelation, even the future coming of Christ. This is most evident and manifest in them, as appears by what has been said.

Now, if the Old Testament was not inspired by God, what account can be given of such an agreement? For if these books were only human writings, written without any divine direction, then none of these penmen knew that there would come such a person as Jesus Christ into the world. His coming was only a mere figment of their own brain. And if so, how happened it, that this figment of theirs came to pass? How came a vain imagination of theirs, which they foretold without any manner of ground for their prediction, to be so exactly fulfilled? And especially, how did they come all to agree in it, all pointing exactly to the same thing, though many of them lived so many hundred years distant one from another?

This admirable consent and agreement in a future event, is therefore a clear and certain evidence of the divine authority of those writings.

III. Hence we may learn what a weak and ignorant objection it is that some make against some parts of the Old Testament’s being the Word of God, that they consist so much of histories of the wars and civil transactions of the kings and people of the nation of the Jews. Some say, We find here among the books of a particular nation, histories which they kept of the state of their nation, from one age to another, histories of their kings and rulers, histories of their wars with the neighboring nations, and histories of the changes that happened from time to time in their state and government. And so we find that other nations used to keep histories of their public affairs, as well as they. And why then should we think that these histories which the Jews kept are the Word of God, more than those of other people? But what has been said, shows the folly and vanity of such an objection. For hereby it appears, that the case of these histories is very different from that of all other histories. This history alone gives us an account of the first original of all things. And this history alone deduces things down in a wonderful series from that original, giving an idea of the grand scheme of divine providence, as tending to its great end. And together with the doctrines and prophecies contained in it, the same book gives a view of the whole series of the great events of divine providence, from the first original to the last end and consummation of all things, giving an excellent and glorious account of the wise and holy designs of the Governor of the world in all.

No common history has such penmen as this history, which was all written by men who came with evident signs and testimonies of their being prophets of the most high God, immediately inspired.

And the histories that were written, as we have seen from what has been said under this proposition, do all contain those great events of providence, by which it appears how God has been carrying on the glorious divine work of redemption from age to age. Though they are histories, yet they are no less full of divine instruction, and those things that show forth Christ, and his glorious gospel, than other parts of the Holy Scriptures which are not historical

To object against a book’s being divine merely because it is historical, is a poor objection, just as if that could not be the Word of God which gives an account of what is past, or as though it were not reasonable to suppose that God, in a revelation he should give mankind, would give us any relation of the dispensations of his own providence. If it be so, it must be because his works are not worthy to be related. It must be because the scheme of his government, and series of his dispensations towards his church, and towards the world that he has made, whereby he has ordered and disposed it from age to age, is not worthy that any record should be kept of it.

The objection that is made, that it is a common thing for nations and kingdoms to write histories and keep records of their wars, and the revolutions that come to pass in their territories, is so far from being a weighty objection against the historical part of Scripture, as though it were not the Word of God, that it is a strong argument in favor of it. For if reason and the light of nature teaches all civilized nations to keep records of the events of their human government, and the series of their administrations, and to publish histories for the information of others. How much more may we expect that God would give the world a record of the dispensations of his divine government, which doubtless is infinitely more worthy of an history for our information? If wise kings have taken care that there should be good histories written of the nations over which they have reigned, shall we think it incredible,  that Jesus Christ should take care that his church, which is his nation, his peculiar people, should have in their hands a certain infallible history of their nation, and of his government of them?

If it had not been for the history of the Old Testament, how woefully should we have been left in the dark about many things which the church of God needs to know! How ignorant should we have been of God’s dealings towards mankind, and towards his church, from the beginning! And we would have been wholly in the dark about the creation of the world, the fall of man, the first rise and continued progress of the dispensations of grace towards fallen mankind! and we should have known nothing how God at first set up a church in the world, and how it was preserved, after what manner he governed it from the beginning, how the light of the gospel first began to dawn in the world, how it increased, and how things were preparing for the coming of Christ.

If we are Christians, we belong to that building of God that has been the subject of our discourse from this text. But if it had not been for the history of the Old Testament, we should never have known what was the first occasion of God’s going about this building, and how the foundation of it was laid at first, and how it has gone on from the beginning. The times of the history of the Old Testament are mostly times that no other history reaches up to. And therefore, if God had not taken care to give and preserve an account of these things for us, we should have been wholly without them.

Those that object against the authority of the Old Testament history of the nation of the Jews, may as well make an objection against Moses’ account of the creation that it is historical. For in the other, we have a history of a work no less important, viz. the work of redemption. Yea, this is a far greater and more glorious work, as we observed before, that if it be inquired which of the two works, the work of creation, or the work of providence, is greatest, it must be answered, the work of providence. But the work of redemption is the greatest of the works of providence.

And let those who make this objection consider what part of the Old Testament history can be spared without making a great breach in that thread or series of events by which this glorious work had been carried on. This leads me to observe,

IV. That from what has been said, we may see much of the wisdom of God in the composition of the Scriptures of the Old Testament, i.e. in the parts of which it consists. By what has been said, we may see that God has wisely given us such revelations in the Old Testament as we needed. Let us briefly take a view of the several parts of it, and of the need there was of them

Thus it was necessary that we should have some account of the creation of the world, and of our first parents, and their primitive state, and of the fall, and a brief account of the old world, and of the degeneracy of it, and of the universal deluge, and some account of the origin of nations after this destruction of mankind.

It seems necessary that there should be some account of the succession of the church of God from the beginning. And seeing God suffered all the world to degenerate, and only took one nation to be his people, to preserve the true worship and religion until the Savior of the world should come, that in them the world might gradually be prepared for that great light, and those wonderful things that he was to be the author of, and that they might be a typical nation, and that in them God might shadow forth and teach, as under a veil, all future glorious things of the gospel. It was therefore necessary that we should have some account of this thing, how it was first done by the calling of Abraham, and by their being bond-slaves in Egypt, and how they were brought to Canaan. It was necessary that we should have some account of the revelation which God made of himself to that people, in giving their law, and in the appointment of their typical worship, and those things wherein the gospel is veiled, and of the forming of that people, both as to their civil and ecclesiastical state.

It seems exceeding necessary that we should have some account of their being actually brought to Canaan, the country that was their promised land, and where they always dwelt. It seems very necessary that we should have a history of the successions of the church of Israel, and of those provisions of God towards them, which were most considerable and fullest of gospel mystery. It seems necessary that we should have some account of the highest promised external glory of that nation under David and Solomon, and that we should have a very particular account of David, whose history is so full of the gospel, and so necessary in order to introduce the gospel into the world, and in whom began the race of their kings, and that we should have some account of the building of the temple, which was also full of gospel mystery.

And it is a matter of great consequence, that we should have some account of Israel’s dividing from Judah, and of the ten tribes’ captivity and utter rejection, and a brief account why, and therefore a brief history of them until that time. It is necessary that we should have an account of the succession of the kings of Judah, and of the church, until their captivity into Babylon, and that we should have some account of their return from their captivity, and re-settlement in their own land, and of the origin of the last state that the church was in before Christ came.

A little consideration will convince everyone, that all these things were necessary, and that none of them could be spared, and in the general, that it was necessary that we should have a history of God’s church until such times as are within the reach of human histories. And it was of vast importance that we should have an inspired history of those times of the Jewish church, wherein there was kept up a more extraordinary intercourse between God and them, and while he used to dwell among them as it were visibly, revealing himself by the Shechina, by Urim and Thummim, and by prophecy, and so more immediately to order their affairs. And it was necessary that we should have some account of the great dispensations of God in prophecy, which were to be after the finishing of inspired history. And so it was exceeding suitable and needful that there should be a number of prophets raised who should foretell the coming of the Son of God, and the nature and glory of his kingdom, to be as so many harbingers to make way for him, and that their prophecies should remain in the church.

It was also a matter of great consequence that the church should have a book of divine songs given by inspiration from God, wherein there should be a lively representation of the true spirit of devotion, of faith, hope, and divine love, joy, resignation, humility, obedience, repentance, etc., and also that we should have from God such books of moral instructions as we have in Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus, relating to the affairs and state of mankind, and the concerns of human life, containing rules of true wisdom and prudence for our conduct in all circumstances, and that we should have particularly a song representing the great love between Christ and his spouse the church, particularly adapted to the disposition and holy affections of a true Christian soul towards Christ, and representing his grace and marvelous love to, and delight in, his people, as we have in Solomon’s Song. And especially that we should have a book to teach us how to conduct ourselves under affliction, seeing the church of God here is in a militant state, and God’s people do through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of heaven. And the church is for so long a time under trouble, and meets with such exceedingly fiery trials, and extreme sufferings, before her time of peace and rest in the latter ages of the world shall come. Therefore God has given us a book most proper in these circumstances, even the book of Job, written upon occasion of the afflictions of a particular saint, and was probably at first given to the church in Egypt under her afflictions there, and is made use of by the Apostle to comfort Christians under persecutions, Jam. 5:11, “Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” God was also pleased, in this book of Job, to give some view of the ancient divinity before the giving of the law.

Thus, from this brief review, I think it appears, that every part of the Scriptures of the Old Testament is very useful and necessary, and no part of it can be spared, without loss to the church. And therefore, as I said, the wisdom of God is conspicuous in ordering that the Scriptures of the Old Testament should consist of those very books of which they do consist.

Before I dismiss this particular, I would add, that it is very observable that the history of the Old Testament is large and particular where the great affair of redemption required it, as where there was most done towards this work, and most to typify Christ, and to prepare the way for him. Thus it is very large and particular in the history of Abraham and the other patriarchs. But very short in the account we have of the time which the children of Israel spent in Egypt. So again it is large in the account of the redemption out of Egypt, and the first settling of the affairs of the Jewish church and nation in Moses and Joshua’s time, but much shorter in the account of the times of the judges. So again, it is large and particular in the account of David’s and Solomon’s times, and then very short in the history of the ensuing reigns. Thus the accounts are large or short, just as there is more or less of the affair of redemption to be seen in them.

V. From what has been said, we may see that Christ and his redemption are the great subjects of the whole Bible. Concerning the New Testament, the matter is plain. And by what has been said on this subject hitherto, it appears to be so also with respect to the Old Testament. Christ and his redemption is the great subject of the prophecies of the Old Testament, as has been shown. It has also been shown, that he is the great subject of the songs of the Old Testament. And the moral rules and precepts are all given in subordination to him. And Christ and his redemption are also the great subject of the history of the Old Testament from the beginning all along. And even the history of the creation is brought in as an introduction to the history of redemption that immediately follows it. The whole book, both Old Testament and New, is filled up with the gospel. Only with this difference, that the Old Testament contains the gospel under a veil, but the New contains it unveiled, so that we may see the glory of the Lord with open face.

VI. By what has been said, we may see the usefulness and excellency of the Old Testament. Some are ready to look on the Old Testament as being, as it were, out of date, and as if we in these days of the gospel have but little to do with it, which is a very great mistake, arising from want of observing the nature and design of the Old Testament, which, if it were observed, would appear full of the gospel of Christ, and would in an excellent manner illustrate and confirm the glorious doctrines and promises of the New Testament. Those parts of the Old Testament which are commonly looked upon as containing the least divine instruction, are as it were mines and treasures of gospel knowledge. And the reason why they are thought to contain so little is, because persons do but superficially read them. The treasures which are hid underneath are not observed. They only look on the top of the ground, and so suddenly pass a judgment that there is nothing there. But they never dig into the mine. If they did, they would find it richly stored with silver and gold, and would be abundantly requited for their pains.

What has been said, may show us what a precious treasure God has committed into our hands, in that he has given us the Bible. How little do most persons consider how much they enjoy, in that they have the possession of that holy book the Bible, which they have in their hands, and may converse with it as they please. What an excellent book is this, and how far exceeding all human writings, that reveals God to us, and gives us a view of the grand design and glorious scheme of providence from the beginning of the world, either in history or prophecy, that reveals the great Redeemer and his glorious redemption, and the various steps by which God accomplishes it from the first foundation to the top stone! Shall we prize a history which gives us a clear account of some great earthly prince, or mighty warrior, as of Alexander the Great, or Julius Caesar, or the Duke of Marlborough? And, shall we not prize the history that God gives us of the glorious kingdom of his Son Jesus Christ, the Prince and Savior, and of the wars and other great transactions of that King of kings, and Lord of armies, the Lord mighty in battle, the history of the things which he has wrought for the redemption of his chosen people?

VII. What has been said, may make us sensible how much most persons are to blame for their inattentive, unobservant way of reading the Scriptures. — How much do the Scriptures contain, if it were but observed? The Bible is the most comprehensive book in the world. But, what will all this signify to us, if we read it without observing what is the drift of the Holy Ghost in it? The Psalmist, Psa. 119:18, begs of God, “That he would enlighten his eyes, that he might behold wondrous things out of his law.” The Scriptures are full of wondrous things. Those histories which are commonly read as if they were only histories of the private concerns of such and such particular persons, such as the histories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Joseph, and the history of Ruth, and the histories of particular lawgivers and princes, as the history of Joshua and the Judges, and David, and the Israelite princes, are accounts of vastly greater things, things of greater importance, and more extensive involvement, than they that read them are commonly aware of.

The histories of Scripture are commonly read as if they were stories written only to entertain men’s fancies, and to while away their leisure hours, when the infinitely great things contained or pointed at in them are passed over and never taken notice of. Whatever treasures the Scriptures contain, we shall be never the better for them if we do not observe them. He that has a Bible, and does not observe what is contained in it, is like a man who has a box full of silver and gold, and does not know it, does not observe that it is anything more than a vessel filled with common stones. As long as it is thus with him, he will be never the better for his treasure. For he that knows not that he has a treasure, will never make use of what he has, and so might as well be with out it. He who has a plenty of the choicest food stored up in his house, and does not know it, will never taste what he has, and will be as likely to starve as if his house were empty.

VIII. What has been said may show us how great a person Jesus Christ is, and how great an errand he came into the world upon, seeing there was so much done to prepare the way for his coming. God had been doing nothing else but prepare the way for his coming, and doing the work which he had to do in the world, through all ages of the world from the very beginning. If we had notice of a certain stranger’s being about to come into a country, and should observe that a great preparation was made for his coming, that many months were taken up in it, and great things were done, many great alterations were made in the state of the whole country, and that many hands were employed, and persons of great note were engaged in making preparation for the coming of this person, and the whole country was overturned, and all the affairs and concerns of the country were ordered so as to be subservient to the design of entertaining that person when he should come. It would be natural for us to think with ourselves, why, surely, this person is some extraordinary person indeed, and it is some very great business that he is coming upon.

How great a person then must he be, for whose coming into the world the great God of heaven and earth, and Governor of all things, spent four thousand years in preparing the way, going about it soon after the world was created, and from age to age doing great things, bringing mighty events to pass, accomplishing wonders without number, often overturning the world in order to it, and causing everything in the state of mankind, and all revolutions and changes in the habitable world from generation to generation to be subservient to this great design? Surely this must be some great and extraordinary person indeed, and a great work indeed it must needs be that he is coming about.

We read, Mat. 21:8, 9, 10, that when Christ was coming into Jerusalem, and the multitudes ran before him, and cut down branches of palm trees, and strewed them in the way, and others spread their garments in the way, and cried, “Hosannah to the son of David,” that the whole city was moved, saying, Who is this? They wondered who that extraordinary person should be, that there should be such an ado made on the occasion of his coming into the city, and to prepare the way before him. But if we consider what has been said on this subject, what great things were done in all ages to prepare the way for Christ’s coming into the world, and how the world was often overturned to make way for it, much more may we cry out, Who is this? What great person is this? and say, as in Psa. 24:8, 10. “Who is this king of glory,” that God should show such respect, and put such vast honor upon him? Surely this person is honorable indeed in God’s eyes, and greatly beloved of him, and surely it is a great errand upon which he is sent into the world.