Jonathan Edwards – On The Good Life
The book opens with the author looking at Jonathan Edward’s doctrine of happiness, which is an important one. And it’s fair to say that this doctrine has impacted today’s world, especially through the teachings of John Piper who has dedicated a large portion of his time as a Christian to the study of Jonathan Edward’s life and teaching. The crux is this, as humans we chase after happiness, the Biblical Christian does not sacrifice this when he begins a life of obedience to God. It’s rather a re-directing of passions. Obedience to God should not be dry doleful almost reluctant obedience. Edward’s argues that glorifying God is what makes man most happy. This thought process drove John Piper to live by the statement: “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him”. The Christian life of obedience is actually the only place a person can find ultimate happiness which surpasses all temporary sufferings and trials that we face.
In chapter 2 the book takes a quick jump to the topic of sin. After the good life is presented the question remains, what happened for us to lose the good life. Obviously it’s because of the fall, which was a part of God’s plan. But did God cause us to fall? Edwards points to an important truth: “God, in His sovereignty, chose to let us fall” I have worded this summary very carefully, it contains the beautiful supralapsarian doctrine of God’s good and important plan for the fall, and also Man’s full and personal responsibility for sin. The fall was then by God’s permission not by God’s action. We are responsible for our sin. Rebellion towards God comes from the heart of man, it’s not something external to humans, but it’s something embedded deep within our hearts. The author uses this to point to our need for salvation. It’s not just about man being guilty of actions that we need to change, it’s deeper, it’s our emotions and passions that need to change. Our love needs to be re-directed towards God.
This is where the author brings everything to the heart, what is the Christian life? A life of duty? We believe because we’re told to? We’re converted because we made a decision? No. We Love, because He first loved us. He has given the believer a tase of what is good. Faith isn’t just about rationally knowing about God, the true convert really knows God on an emotional level, He has true religious affections. In talking about this taste for God, Edwards’ doctrine points out that we can have an opinion that God is holy and gracious, but that is very different to having a sense of it’s sweetness. Rational judgement is different to affectional tasting. In a puritan like manner, Edwards did forsake a lot of the junk of this world, in order to have his heart set on Christ. In this chapter the author takes some time to focus on the Word, and how the good life and all doctrines of truth are contained in the Bible. Saturation in the word and accountability to the local church is how we can seek after the taste of the good life. And the gospel must be at the heart of all things.
After coming to see the truth and beauty of Reformed Theology (which I believe to be the correct understanding of the Bible) I personally placed a lot of focus on the struggles and suffering of the Christian life, which indeed there are many. With this mindset it is especially good for me to understand that there are immense pleasures in the Christian life here on earth, amidst the suffering, as well as in heaven, without suffering. Those words that just keep popping up in the scriptures: peace, joy, love, hope… These are the things of the Christian life, and these are beautiful realities. The author talks about the fruit of the spirit, how these attributes truly bring true pleasures in life, and things of the flesh, envy, malice, hatred etc, these attributes lead toward negativity. This is one of many examples of the pleasures in the Christian life that I too often take for granted. “in the same way that one easily spots unrest and fear in the unbeliever, one finds many Christians who radiate hope and calm trust in the Lord in all kinds of circumstances. Despite the deterioration of the body, the loss of a job, the death of a friend, Christians rooted in the gospel display otherworldly peace and trust, showing that the good life always yields good fruit.”
Throughout his life Edwards promoted the Christian life as a good life, this good life came with much suffering, and we do have so many rules to obey, but it is the best life because it is the most meaningful life. We have a hope, grounded in truth flowing from the love of God, an eternal hope. The joys we have point towards that ultimate joy which every Christian will encounter in heaven. Edwards said “however pleasant any practice or gratification of any appetite may be, we must lay it aside, cast it away, if it be any hinderance, any stumbling block in the way to heaven”. The book points out that “godliness brings us joy far more than sin does”, so as John Piper would say, the Christian life is about sacrificing lesser joys for supreme joys in Christ Jesus. The magnificent ending of this book is pointing the readers towards the Word. If we wish to find true joy, we must hold onto the promises laid out in scripture. This was a fantastic little book and would be a great read for anyone who is starting to look into “Christian Hedonism”, Jonathan Edwards or how a Christian should life in light of heart changing doctrines of Christianity.
Buy list from this book:
The Christian’s Life A Journey Towards Heaven