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.