The counselor and pastor would do well to consider Ezekiel 33:30-33:
30 “As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.’31 And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain.32 And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it.33 When this comes-and come it will!-then they will know that a prophet has been among them.”
In verse 33, The Lord explains why the people can hear and even show some approval for the Word of God, and yet they will not receive it in a heart transforming way: “for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain.” They demonstrate a universal covetousness: either seeking people (lust) or stuff (gain).
The NIV 84 translates it “With their mouths they express devotion, but their heart are greedy for unjust gain.” If one takes it this way, then the covetousness in view is money, not money and sex. In either understanding, it is covetousness which excludes the words of God.
The Lord himself explains the same trouble in the parable of the sower:
18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word,19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
Mark 4:18-19. They hear, there is some apparent growth, but soon it dies: the weeds have grown up about it and have choked the shoot.
What can a counselor, a teacher, a preacher do in such a situation? We are not the Holy Spirit — we cannot regenerate a heart; we cannot make the seed grow. We cannot force the heart of others to reject the deceitfulness of false desire.
But we can warn the people. We can tell them to beware “the deceitfulness of riches.” We can warn of the vanity of the creature (Ecclesiastes 1:2). We can tell them that these temptations will show beauty, but must “not desire her beauty in your heart” (Prov. 6:25). We must warn them that transgression will seek to speak “deep in [your] heart” (Psalm 36:7); yet, they must not listen.
We can seek a congregational culture in which we all confess our sins one-to-another (James 5:16). We can explain that all of us are in danger as long as we are in gunshot of temptation, and thus we must not neglect to gather together and stir up one another to love and good works, encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:24-25), always keeping a careful eye upon the fickleness of our heart and another on the beauty of Christ:
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
2אֲנִי֙ פִּי־מֶ֣לֶךְ שְׁמ֔וֹר וְעַ֕ל דִּבְרַ֖ת שְׁבוּעַ֥ת אֱלֹהִֽים׃
Murphy draws the following connection to the preceding verse:
We may regard the following verses (2–4) as traditional court wisdom, but also as having relevance for Qoheleth’s own day. However, he is not simply transmitting a body of sayings. He is relativizing the role and prestige of the sage (v 1) by following up with (wise!) admonitions that in fact are humiliating for the sage at court, even if they also save him from trouble. The wise advisor, for all his gifts, is confronted by royal power and is totally dependent upon the royal pleasure. It is all very well to praise the wisdom of the wise (v 1), but one must attend to the risks they run at court (vv 2–4). Hence Qoheleth’s admonitions serve to qualify v 1, even though they are themselves derived from traditional wisdom. He pits traditional wisdom against itself.
Roland Murphy, vol. 23A, Ecclesiates, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 82-83.
“I”: it is not followed by any matching verb. Seow notes that this I “makes no sense as it stands” (Seow, 279). Fredericks thinks it a textual error (189). Like Seow, Fredricks does not translate the pronoun. Longman note the problem, but having no textual basis for dropping the pronoun he assumes it to be a shorthand for “I say” (or something similar). Gordis rejects dropping the word and takes as a shorthand “I declare” (288).
Keep the king’s command
Vers. 2, 6. LUTHER:—It is enough for you to do so in the state, that you should obey the king’s commands, and listen to him who is ordained of God. Here you see how civil obedience is comprehended in obedience to God. So Paul would have servants obey their masters, not as submitting to men, but as to God.—MELANCHTHON:—Thus is obedience ordained. Obey the Divine voice first; then the king commanding things not repugnant to the Divine law.—This will be in conformity with the rule given Acts 4:19.—STARKE (ver. 3):—The powerful ones of this world have among men no higher one over them, to whom they must give an account, but in heaven there is One higher than the highest. Wisdom of Solomon 6:2–4.—(Ver. 5): He who keeps the commandments of God will, for the sake of God and his conscience, also obey the salutary commands of authority, Col. 3:23.—
John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, Otto Zöckler et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Ecclesiastes (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 121.
Literally, “the king’s mouth” “mouth of the king”, that is, the words which come from the mouth of the king. Therefore, the king’s command: “metonomy for command, which is probably the correct reading” (Barton, 152).
For the idiom, see, e.g.,
41וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֔ה לָ֥מָּה זֶּ֛ה אַתֶּ֥ם עֹבְרִ֖ים אֶת־פִּ֣י יְהוָ֑ה וְהִ֖וא לֹ֥א תִצְלָֽח׃
Numbers 14:41 (BHS/WHM 4.2)
But Moses said, “Why now are you transgressing the command of the LORD, when that will not succeed? Numbers 14:41 (ESV)
Because of the words (of)
The waw before the preposition ‘al
Before עַל the וְ is inserted by way of explanation, and may be rendered even, or, as Eng. Vers., “and that,” conf. Latin idque, et quidem (Gesen. Lex. (c) p. 234). עַלדִּבְרַת, on account of, conf. 3:18. Note that the prep. עַל (which is in fact a noun in construction) has here a disjunctive accent, and so also דִּבְרַת. This is sometimes the case when several nouns succeed one another, each in construction with the following one: see a parallel instance in the last clause of Numb. 3:32, and Lee’s Heb. Gram. Art. 247, 14.
J. Lloyd, An Analysis of the Book of Ecclesiastes: With Reference to the Hebrew Grammar of Gesenius, and With Notes Critical and Explanatory (London: Samuel Bagster and Sons, 1874), 106.
On the accents
4 a. (֕) זָקֵףגָּדוֹל Zâqēph ḡdôl, and
4 b. (֔) זָקֵףקָטוֹן Zâqēph qāṭôn. The names refer to their musical character. As a disjunctive, Little Zâqēph is by nature stronger than Great Zâqēph; but if they stand together, the one which comes first is always the stronger.
5. (֖) טִפְחָא Ṭiphḥā or טַרְחָא Ṭarḥā, a subordinate disjunctive before Sillûq and ʾAthnâḥ, but very often the principal disjunctive of the whole verse instead of ʾAthnâḥ; always so when the verse consists of only two or three words (e.g. Is 2:13), but also in longer verses (Gn 3:21).
Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, ed. E. Kautzsch and Sir Arthur Ernest Cowley, 2d English ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910), 60.
Oath of (construct state) Elohim.
The nature of the oath has caused much debate. Is it an oath by one standing before the king, or an oath of the king – or some other oath? Seow defines it only as an oath sworn in the name of the Lord – even though the word “God” is substituted for “YHWH” (see, e.g., Exodus 22:10 (English 22:11), שְׁבֻעַ֣ת יְהוָ֗ה “an oath by the Lord” ESV). Fredericks proposes and oath to YHWH and the king, e.g., 1 Kings 2:43. So, also, Barrick, “Solomon exhorts people to be faithful in their sworn allegiance to their king” (142).
Having submitted that this prudent view of life will make us adapt ourselves and cheerfully yield to the pressure of circumstances, Coheleth deduces therefrom the lesson of submission and obedience to the authority reigning over us for the time being, and especially as submission and obedience have been solemnly promised with an oath invoking the name of God. The oath referred to alludes to the covenant at the coronation of the king, when the sovereign solemnly promises to govern the people according to the law of God, and the people in return swear fealty and allegiance to their monarch (comp. 2 Kings 11:17; 1 Chron. 11:3, 29:24). Hence we are told by Josephus, that when Ptolmey Lagi settled the captive Jews in Egypt, he made them take an oath of allegiance (Antiq. xii. 1.)
Christian D. Ginsburg, Coheleth, Commonly Called the Book of Ecclesiastes: Translated from the Original Hebrew, With a Commentary, Historical and Critical (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1861), 391-92.
3אַל־תִּבָּהֵ֤ל מִפָּנָיו֙ תֵּלֵ֔ךְ אַֽל־תַּעֲמֹ֖ד בְּדָבָ֣ר רָ֑ע כִּ֛י כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֥ר יַחְפֹּ֖ץ יַעֲשֶֽׂה׃
אַל־תִּבָּהֵ֤ל מִפָּנָיו֙ תֵּלֵ֔ךְ
Do not quickly from his face(s) go. Or, do not be dismayed in his presence – go ….
Here is an example where some thinking is needed for the translation: HALOT gives the primary gloss of the niphal verb “to be horrified” to “be out of one’s senses”. There is a secondary meaning, “to hurry”. Most translation take this to mean “to hurry”. However, the NRSV translates it:
3 Do not be terrified; go from his presence, do not delay when the matter is unpleasant, for he does whatever he pleases. Ecclesiastes 8:3 (NRSV)
Seow translates it “do not be stupefied” with references to Genesis 45:3:
Genesis 45:3 (BHS/WHM 4.2)
3וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יוֹסֵ֤ף אֶל־אֶחָיו֙ אֲנִ֣י יוֹסֵ֔ף הַע֥וֹד אָבִ֖י חָ֑י וְלֹֽא־יָכְל֤וּ אֶחָיו֙ לַעֲנ֣וֹת אֹת֔וֹ כִּ֥י נִבְהֲל֖וּ מִפָּנָֽיו׃
3 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. Genesis 45:3 (ESV)
And Job 23:15. Genesis 45:3 & Job 23:15 are the two uses of the verb when coupled with the word “presence”.
Fredricks compares Proverbs 28:22, “A stingy man hastens after wealth ….” Which does not seem parallel in concept.
In 5:2 the phrase “do not be dismayed” actually means “Do not be rash.” It describes a hasty or ill-considered action, which would be typical of a fool. So rather than advising a person to leave the king’s presence, this verse warns against leaving unless you consider carefully what you are doing. It advises against abandoning the king or refusing to support him. “Do not be dismayed” is a figurative expression meaning “Do not be in a hurry.” This is not advice about literally walking slowly (rather than running) from the throne room. Rather, it has in mind a wise person who carefully weighs actions before carrying them out. From his presence is literally “from his face” or “from before him.”
Graham S. Ogden and Lynell Zogbo, A Handbook on Ecclesiastes, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1998), 281-82.
Weiss translates it as “dread”:
Dread not his countenance as thou walkest:
Nor persist thou in an evil matter;
For He doeth whatsoever pleaseth Him.
Benjamin Weiss, New Translation and Exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes: With Critical Notes on the Hebrew Text (Edinburgh; London: William Oliphant and Co.; Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1858), 259.
I think it best to take the translation as given in the NRSV and/or Seow and Weiss: do not be dismayed: 1) It is the most common and “natural” translation of the passage; 2) the translation makes good sense of the clause; 3) it makes good sense of the section. The section ends with the idea that no one has absolute power over life – implicitly, except for God. A king does have power which must be considered and respected, but not absolute power. 4) An overarching theme of the book is that God has absolute power over all, therefore, we are to fear God. Having feared God, we have no need to give such fear to human beings. 5) Thus, the theme ties into the a biblical theme:
22 Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he? Isaiah 2:22 (ESV)
25 The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe. Proverbs 29:25 (ESV)
10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)
13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. Ecclesiastes 12:13–14 (ESV)
אַֽל־תַּעֲמֹ֖ד בְּדָבָ֣ר רָ֑ע
Do not stand in an evil thing/matter/word
Stand not in an evil thing, (Ger., “evil word”); i.e., when the king speaks an angry word (דָּבָררַע) do not excite his anger still more by foolishly standing still, as if thou couldst by obstinately remaining in thy place compel his favor. EWALD and ELSTER correctly give the general sense of the admonition as follows: In presence of a king, it is proper to appear modest and yet firm, to show ourselves neither over timid nor obstinate towards him. The Vulgate, LUTHER, STARKE, etc., are less consistent: “Stand not in an evil thing,” i.e., remain not in evil designs against the king, if you have become involved in such;—HENGSTENBERG gives the same. VAIHINGER: “Do not appear in an evil thing.”
John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, Otto Zöckler et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Ecclesiastes (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 117.
A “bad cause” (בְּדָבָררָע, v. 3) is not a morally evil cause but a cause that is politically impossible, i.e., one that the king will never accept. Alternative interpretations (e.g., Scott, Ecclesiastes, 240; Delitzsch, Ecclesiastes, 340) are unlikely. אַלתַּעֲמֹדבְּדָבָררָע could be paraphrased, “Do not champion an idea the king opposes.” See Garrett, “Qoheleth,” 169.
Duane A. Garrett, vol. 14, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993).
כִּ֛י כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֥ר יַחְפֹּ֖ץ יַעֲשֶֽׂה
For all that he pleases he will do. ESV: he does whatever he pleases.
(ii) Provides the reason for a preceding expression or expressions by marking with כִּי the motivation given by speakers to explain something they have said. The causal relation is thus not due to natural laws but is due to the speaker’s own reasoning. כִּי can usually also be translated for.
In cases where it is clear that speakers consider the grounds on which they base their motivation are difficult to contest, thus suggesting the force of their conviction, one can translate כִּי ‘in fact, the fact of the matter’.
If speakers believe that their motivation contains information that is generally known, כִּי may be translated after all,
Christo Van der Merwe, Jackie Naudé, Jan Kroeze et al., A Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar, electronic ed. (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 302-03.
It may be appropriate, therefore, to translate the phrase, “after all, he does whatever he pleases”.
The nominative form was used earlier, Ecclesiastes 3:1 where the ESV translates it “matter”, “for every matter under heaven”. It makes for an interesting echo: the thing which the king pleases he will do: the thing which God pleases, he will do.
This should be understood as the non-perfective of possibility, “denotes the possibility that the subject may perform the action” (Waltke & O’Connor, 31.4e, p. 508).
4בַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר דְּבַר־מֶ֖לֶךְ שִׁלְט֑וֹן וּמִ֥י יֹֽאמַר־ל֖וֹ מַֽה־תַּעֲשֶֽׂה׃
Baron, “for, because”. (152).
The word of the king [is] power/mighty.
Barton considers this an Aramaic loan word (152).
And who may/can say to him.
(2) To express the definite expectation that something will not happen. The imperfect with לֹא represents a more emphatic form of prohibition than the jussive1 with אַל־ (cf. § 109 c), and corresponds to our thou shalt not do it! with the strongest expectation of obedience, while אַל־ with the jussive is rather a simple warning, do not that! Thus לֹא with the imperfect is especially used in enforcing the divine commands, e.g. לֹאתִגְּנׄב thou shalt not steal Ex 20:15; cf. verses 3, 4, 5, 7, 10 ff. So לֹא with the 3rd pers. perhaps in Pr 16:10.
Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, ed. E. Kautzsch and Sir Arthur Ernest Cowley, 2d English ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910), 317.
What are you doing? What will you do?
“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?
Behold, he snatches away; who can turn him back? Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’
If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against him? And if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to him?
do not hastily bring into court, for what will you do in the end, when your neighbor puts you to shame?
For the word of the king is supreme, and who may say to him, “What are you doing?”
In three instances, one faces the inability to stop or question God. The use in Proverbs underscores the inability to respond to a judgment. The usage in Ecclesiastes points to one’s inability to stop a king.
 For an argument in favor of “hasty” see:
3. Do not go away hastily, &c. This obedience must not be restricted to ordinary occasions, when everything demanded on the part of the sovereign is in accordance with the feelings of the subject; but we are to be submissive even when the king treats us harshly. If he chooses to rebuke us, we are not, in consequence of this insult, hastily to quit his service and throw off our allegiance to him; nor are we to manifest our disapprobation of it, since he can do with the resenter whatever he likes. הָלַךְמִפְּנֵי, i.q., יָצָאמִלִּכְנֵי, to go away from one’s presence (Gen. 4:16), i.e., to withdraw from him, to quit his service, to throw off allegiance to him comp. הָלְכוּמִפְּנֵיהֶם, they withdrew from their pretence (Hos. 11:2; and see infra, 10:4). אַל־תִּבָּהֵלמִפָּנָיותַּלֵךְ, do not be hasty, withdraw from his presence, stands for אַל־תִּבָּהֵללָלֶכֶתמִפָּנָיו, do not hastily withdraw from his presence; תִּבָּהַל, the first verb, as frequently, is used adverbially, to qualify תַּלֵךְ, the second verb (comp. נֵדְעָהנִרְדְּפָה, we shall know, we shall pursue, i.e., we shall know to pursue. Hos. 6:3; אַל־תַּרְבּוּתְדַבְּרדּ, do not multiply speak, i.e., do not multiply to speak, 1 Sam. 2:3; see also supra, 1:16; and infra, 10:1, 12:9)
Christian D. Ginsburg, Coheleth, Commonly Called the Book of Ecclesiastes: Translated from the Original Hebrew, With a Commentary, Historical and Critical (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1861), 392-93. See, also, Gordis, 288-289.
 The alternative translation of “hasty” leads to a very different conclusion:
Inasmuch as the word, &c. This verse assigns a reason for the assertion made in the second half of the foregoing verse, “the king can do whatever he pleases,” because, or inasmuch as (בַּאֲשֶׁר), his royal mandate (דְּבַרמֶלֶךְ) is power itself, and no one can call into question his doings, or bring him to account for them. How useless and hazardous, therefore, for a subject to disrespect or bid defiance to the person or power of a sovereign.
Christian D. Ginsburg, Coheleth, Commonly Called the Book of Ecclesiastes: Translated from the Original Hebrew, With a Commentary, Historical and Critical (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1861), 393-94. Adams, writes, “But he [the counselee] is not to rebell again legitimate command weven when the thinks that they are unwise. So long as he is not required to sin, he must obey. Counselees will protest; but that is exactly what Solomon is warning against. They have no right before God to do so. Explain this and call them to submit to rightful authority” (83).
Broadus explains that nothing can supersede or substitute for physical preaching before living human beings by a present man. At his time, the potential substitute for preaching would be a book, something printed. We likely would put recordings or internet in its place — I imagine an extremely large church may create the same sort of distance between speaker and hearer. Broadus points out the persona pleading necessary for true Christian work:
But printing can never take the place of the living word. When a man who is apt in teaching, whose soul is on fire with the truth which he trusts has saved him and hopes will save others, speaks to his fellow-men, face to face, eye to eye, and electric sympathies flash to and fro between him and his hearers, till they lift each other up, higher and higher, into the intensest thought, and the most impassioned emotion—higher and yet higher, till they are borne as on chariots of fire above the world,—there is a power to move men, to influence character, life, destiny, such as no printed page can ever possess.
The Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, 2.
He compares and contrasts this work with “pastoral work”, personal ministry between pastor and congregant and notes that while such is important, it cannot substitute for preaching. And, that when preaching and pastoral are combined in one man, the work is most profitable. Thus, he counsels:
If a minister feels himself specially drawn towards either of these departments of effort, let him also constrain himself to diligence in the other.
These two elements must be held in concert. First, a preacher who does not know the congregation, who has no pastoral relationship can do little more than preach at the people as opposed to preach to, to care for and shepherd the congregation from the pulpit. Second, as Broadus notes the preacher who counsels has a special place:
When he who preaches is the sympathizing pastor, the trusted counsellor, the kindly and honored friend of young and old, of rich and poor, then “truths divine come mended from his lips,” and the door to men’s hearts, by the magical power of sympathy, will fly open at his word. But on the other hand, when he who visits is the preacher, whose thorough knowledge of Scripture and elevated views of life, whose able and impassioned discourses have carried conviction and commanded admiration, and melted into one the hearts of the multitude, who is accustomed to stand before them as the ambassador of God, and is associated in their minds with the authority and the sacredness of God’s Word,—when he comes to speak with the suffering, the sorrowing, the tempted, his visit has a meaning and a power of which otherwise it must be destitute
Indeed, it is the very reason why remedial counseling exists (remember, man was made as a creature whose welfare was dependent—even before Adam’s sin—on God’s directive, guiding and preventive counsel. He received such counsel in the garden and benefited from it by the fellowship and communication that it established with God. Human life depends upon God’s Word). Counsel per se was always needed.
Jay Edward Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling : More Than Redemption (Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resource Library, 1986), 139.
A Divine and Supernatural Light
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. Matthew 16:17
Upon this occasion Christ says as he does to him and of him in the text: in which we may observe,
1. That Peter is pronounced blessed on this account.
2. The evidence of this his happiness declared; viz. that God, and he only, had revealed it to him. This is an evidence of his being blessed,
(1) As it shows how peculiarly favored he was of God,
(2) It evidences his blessedness also, as it intimates that this knowledge is above any that flesh and blood can reveal. …
God is the author of such knowledge; …
Doctrine. There is such a thing, as a spiritual and divine light, immediately imparted to the soul by God, of a different nature from any that is obtained by natural means.
In what I say on this subject at this time, I would
I. Show what this divine light is.
II. How it is given immediately by God, and not obtained by natural means.
III. Show the truth of the doctrine.
And then conclude with a brief improvement.
I. I would show what this spiritual and divine light is. And in order to it would show,
First, in a few things what it is not. And here,
1. Those convictions that natural men may have of their sin and misery is not this spiritual and divine light. [There may even be conviction of sin which arises from an operation of the Holy Spirit stirring up natural faculties.]
There is this difference; that the Spirit of God in acting in the soul of a godly man, exerts and communicates himself there in his own proper nature. Holiness is the proper nature of the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit operates in the minds of the godly, by uniting himself to them, and living in them, and exerting his own nature in the exercise of their faculties. … But as he acts in his holy influences, and spiritual operations, he acts in a way of peculiar communication of himself; so that the subject is thence denominated “spiritual.”
2. [It is not an impression, intuition of the imagination.]
3. [It is not the revelation of some new information not found in the Scripture.]
4. [It is not being affected by hearing a Bible story – even the story of Jesus.]
Second. Positively, what this spiritual and divine light is.
And it may be thus described: a true sense of the divine excellency of the things revealed in the Word of God, and a conviction of the truth and reality of them, thence arising.
This spiritual light primarily consists in the former of these, viz. a real sense and apprehension of the divine excellency of things revealed in the Word of God. A spiritual and saving conviction of the truth and reality of these things, arises from such a sight of their divine excellency and glory; so that this conviction of their truth is an effect and natural consequence of this sight of their divine glory. There is therefore in this spiritual light,
1. A true sense of the divine and superlative excellency of the things of religion; a real sense of the excellency of God, and Jesus Christ, and of the work of redemption, and the ways and works of God revealed in the gospel.
A. [This is not mere “rational belie[f]” that Jesus is glorious. It is a “sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart.]
B. [There are two types of knowledge of God: (i) an intellectual, “notional” sense; and (ii) “the sense of the heart”.]
C. [Proposition of sense developed]
i. The first, that which is merely speculative or notional: as when a person only speculatively judges, that anything is, which by the agreement of mankind, is called good or excellent, viz. that which is most to general advantage, and between which and a reward there is a suitableness; and the like.
ii. And the other is that which consists in the sense of the heart: as when there is a sense of the beauty, amiableness, or sweetness of a thing; so that the heart is sensible of pleasure and delight in the presence of the idea of it. … There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness. A man may have the former, that knows not how honey tastes; but a man can’t have the latter, unless he has an idea of the taste of honey in his mind. So there is a difference between believing that a person is beautiful, and having a sense of his beauty. The former may be obtained by hearsay, but the latter only by seeing the countenance.
2. There arises from this sense of divine excellency of things contained in the Word of God, a conviction of the truth and reality of them: and that either indirectly, or directly.
A. Indirectly, and that, two ways.
i. [Removing prejudices against truth.]
ii.It not only removes the hindrances of reason, but positively helps reason. It makes even the speculative notions the more lively. …
B. A true sense of the divine excellency of the things of God’s Word doth more directly and immediately convince of the truth of them; and that because the excellency of these things is so superlative. There is a beauty in them that is so divine and godlike, that is greatly and evidently distinguishing of them from things merely human, or that men are the inventors and authors of; a glory that is so high and great, that when clearly seen, commands assent to their divinity, and reality. [This is an “intuitive and immediate evidence”. ]
II. I proceed now to the second thing proposed, viz. to show how this light is immediately given by God, and not obtained by natural means. And here,
First. [God uses man’s natural, rational faculties. God deals with a human being “according to his nature”.]
Second. [God uses the written Scripture as the objective source:] for here is by this light only given a due apprehension of the same truths that are revealed in the Word of God; and therefore it is not given without the Word. The gospel is made use of in this affair: this light is “the light of the glorious gospel of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). [It is not wholly new information, not new words – it is a new appreciation and relationship to the information.]
Third. [Natural means are used to convey the objective facts. God makes use of those objective facts to immediate create “the sense of the divine excellency of them in our hearts.”] So that the notions that are the subject matter of this light, are conveyed to the mind by the Word of God; but that due sense of the heart, wherein this light formally consists, is immediately by the Spirit of God. As for instance, that notion that there is a Christ, and that Christ is holy and gracious, is conveyed to the mind by the Word of God: but the sense of the excellency of Christ by reason of that holiness and grace, is nevertheless immediately the work of the Holy Spirit.
[An analogy here might help: Imagine reading a love-letter addressed to someone else – perhaps to someone who lived long ago. You could read the letter and understand the words. You could study the grammar and the syntax and never know what it is to experience the love conveyed by the letter. Now the one to whom the letter was addressed would read the words and the words would be linked with the conveyance of the love, but the love would not be in the words – rather the love is in the one who conveyed the words and uses the words to convey the love.]
III. To show the truth of the doctrine; that is, to show that there is such a thing as that spiritual light that has been described, thus immediately let into the mind by God. And here I would show briefly, that this doctrine is both scriptural, and rational.
First, ’tis scriptural. [1 John 3:6; 3 John 11; John 14:19 & 17:3.] And this light and knowledge is always spoken of as immediately given of God [Matt. 11:25-27; 2 Cor. 4:6; 1 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 1:15-16; Ps. 119:18; Ps. 25:14.]
[Here is a very important point in Edwards’ argument: This light , this sense of the divine excellency of God in Jesus Christ cannot but be joined inherently with true saving faith: One cannot know truly God as a Savior in Jesus Christ and not believe and trust upon that Savior.]
And that a true and saving belief of the truth of religion is that which arises from such a discovery, is also what the Scripture teaches. As John 6:40, “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one that seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life.” Where it is plain that a true faith is what arises from a spiritual sight of Christ. And John 17:6–8, “I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world…. Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee; for I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me, and they have received them, and known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.” Where Christ’s manifesting God’s name to the disciples, or giving them the knowledge of God, was that whereby they knew that Christ’s doctrine was of God, and that Christ himself was of him, proceeded from him, and was sent by him. Again, John 12:44–46, “Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me; and he that seeth me seeth him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.” Their believing in Christ and spiritually seeing him, are spoken of as running parallel.
Second, this doctrine is rational.
1. ‘Tis rational to suppose that there is really such an excellency in divine things, that is so transcendent and exceedingly different from what is in other things, that if it were seen would most evidently distinguish them. We can’t rationally doubt but that things that are divine, that appertain to the supreme Being, are vastly different from things that are human; that there is that godlike, high, and glorious excellency in them, that does most remarkably difference them from the things that are of men; insomuch that if the difference were but seen, it would have a convincing, satisfying influence upon anyone, that they are what they are, viz. divine. What reason can be offered against it? Unless we would argue that God is not remarkably distinguished in glory from men.
[This underscores a great fault in the apologetic questions of unbelievers. While secondary things such as historical validity of a particular recorded event may be ascertained by mere natural reason, the ultimate question – the truth of God in Jesus Christ – cannot be ascertained by such means. It is like trying to prove love or beauty by reference to chemistry alone. Certain types of knowledge can only be had by certain types of faculties and evidence. To complain that chemistry does not prove that Bach is majestic is madness – and yet that is the complaint of the scoffer.]
2. If there be such a distinguishing excellency in divine things, ’tis rational to suppose that there may be such a thing as seeing it. …[Additionally, we should not be surprised that a man’s mind polluted with sin should not see such a light.]
3. ‘Tis rational to suppose that this knowledge should be given immediately by God, and not be obtained by natural means. … Why should not he that made all things, still have something immediately to do with the things that he has made? [This seems to be a great complaint inherent – although not expressed – in many complaints of the evidence of Christianity. While various propositions can be demonstrated by reason and history, the key point – the beauty of Christ – cannot be known except by immediate operation of the Holy Spirit upon the soul of man. This helps understand the scope of presuppositionalist and evidentialist apologetics. The evidentialist can demonstrate that certain facts or arguments are reasonable or plausible. Such arguments can take away excuses for unbelief but can never convey saving faith. Only the direct proclamation of the Gospel when used by the Spirit will convey the divine and supernatural light.]
[A second element of this point is, Why wouldn’t God save his best gift for his personal action. He may convey lesser gifts by use of secondary means. But his greatest gift he leaves to his own immediate operation.]
‘Tis rational to suppose, that it should be beyond a man’s power to obtain this knowledge, and light, by the mere strength of natural reason; for ’tis not a thing that belongs to reason, to see the beauty and loveliness of spiritual things; it is not a speculative thing, but depends on the sense of the heart.
I will conclude with a very brief improvement of what has been said.
I. This doctrine may lead us to reflect on the goodness of God, that has so ordered it, that a saving evidence of the truth of the gospel is such, as is attainable by persons of mean capacities, and advantages, as well as those that are of the greatest parts and learning. [This supernatural light is not the product of extraordinary intelligence. Since it is conveyed immediately, it does not depend upon natural abilities. This demonstrates the gracious of God who does not limit the gift to the inherent abilities of the human being but distributes the gift of supernatural sight independent of natural abilities.]
II. This doctrine may well put us upon examining ourselves, whether we have ever had his divine light, that has been described, let into our souls. [On the matter of testing yourself, see William Guthrie’s The Christian’s Great Interest.]
III. All may hence be exhorted, earnestly to seek this spiritual light.
First. This is the most excellent and divine wisdom, that any creature is capable of.
Second. This knowledge is that which is above all others sweet and joyful.
[This third element is at the heart of counseling and discipleship]
Third. This light is such as effectually influences the inclination, and changes the nature of the soul. It assimilates the nature to the divine nature, and changes the soul into an image of the same glory that is beheld; 2 Corinthians 3:18, “But we all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” This knowledge will wean from the world, and raise the inclination to heavenly things. It will turn the heart to God as the fountain of good, and to choose him for the only portion. This light, and this only, will bring the soul to a saving close with Christ. It conforms the heart to the gospel, mortifies its enmity and opposition against the scheme of salvation therein revealed: it causes the heart to embrace the joyful tidings, and entirely to adhere to, and acquiesce in the revelation of Christ as our Savior; it causes the whole soul to accord and symphonize with it, admitting it with entire credit and respect, cleaving to it with full inclination and affection. And it effectually disposes the soul to give up itself entirely to Christ.
Fourth. This light, and this only, has its fruit in an universal holiness of life. No merely notional or speculative understanding of the doctrines of religion, will ever bring to this. But this light, as it reaches the bottom of the heart, and changes the nature, so it will effectually dispose to an universal obedience. It shows God’s worthiness to be obeyed and served. It draws forth the heart in a sincere love to God, which is the only principle of a true, gracious and universal obedience. And it convinces of the reality of those glorious rewards that God has promised to them that obey him.