2 Corinthians 3:18–4:7
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
Focus with me for a few moments on the root of Jonathan Edwards' God-entranced vision of all things. The root is sunk into three levels of salvation. And what makes Edwards' vision of all things so God-entranced and God-centered and God-exalting is that in each of these three levels of salvation God himself is sovereign and decisive and beautiful. You can see these three levels of salvation in 2 Corinthians 4:4 and 4:6.
I'll point them out and then come back and look at them more closely with you. Focus first on the last part of verse 4.
"In their case [those who are perishing] the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."
Then notice the close parallel to the last words of verse 4 in the last part of verse 6:
"For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
Notice the similar words in verses 4 and 6:
Verse 4: "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God."
Verse 6: "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."
In both verses the word "light" is parallel. Then the words "gospel" and "knowledge" are parallel: "Light of the gospel" and "light of knowledge." Then the term "glory of Christ" is parallel to "glory of God": "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ" and "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God." And in both verses Paul adds words to show how the "glory of God" is in fact "the glory of Christ." He does it in verse 4 by saying Christ is the "image of God," so Christ's glory is the glory of God. And he does it in verse 6 by saying that God's glory is seen "in the face of Christ," so God's glory is the glory of Christ.
Now notice the three levels of salvation in these two parallel verses. The deepest level of salvation is in the term, "the glory of Christ, who is the image of God," or "the glory of God in the face of Christ." This is the deepest level of Edwards' vision - the glory of God in Christ, or the glory of Christ who is God. You cannot go beneath this. There is no deeper reality and no greater value than the glory of God in Christ. There is no prize and no satisfaction beyond this. When you have this, you are at the end. You are home. The glory of God is not a means to anything greater. This is ultimate, absolute reality. All true salvation ends here, not before and not beyond. There is no beyond. The glory of God in Christ is what makes the gospel "gospel."
The second level of salvation, moving up from the deepest level of the glory of Christ, is the gospel of Christ. This is the good news (verse 4, or, as verse 6 says, the "knowledge") of what Christ has done in history to make access to the deepest level of salvation possible for guilty sinners. What makes the good news ultimately good is that it opens the way for sinners to approach the glory of God with all-satisfying joy instead of being incinerated. We will come back in a moment to see what Christ did.
The third level of salvation, moving up from the glory of Christ and the gospel of Christ is the shining of divine light in the human heart that enables it to see and savor the gospel of the glory of Christ. You see this in the word "light" in verses 4: "light of the gospel" and verse 6: "light of the knowledge." But you see most clearly how this light comes in verse 6: "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light. . ." It is not enough to hear "the gospel" mentioned in verse 4, or to have "the knowledge" mentioned in verse 6. There must be a divine work of illumination or awakening. God himself, by his Spirit, must do an act of creation as he did at the beginning of the universe when he said, "Let there be light." Edwards will call this act of God "regeneration" - being born again.
These are the three levels of salvation in which Edwards' God-entranced vision of all things is rooted. Most deeply and ultimately salvation is seeing and savoring the glory of Christ forever. But sinners cannot approach the glory of God without being destroyed. Therefore Christ came into the world to save sinners through the gospel of his death and resurrection. But sinners, left to themselves, will never see the beauty of the gospel. Christ crucified for sinners will always be foolishness to the natural man. There is only one hope - a divine and supernatural light immediately imparted to the soul by the Spirit of God.
So I want to let Edwards speak to us about these three levels of salvation where his God-entranced vision is rooted.
First, the Deepest Level of Salvation: The Glory of Christ
Edwards believed that the glory of Christ is revealed most clearly in the gospel, and that this glory carries its own evidence of truth. It is self-authenticating. If you see it, you know for sure that you are looking at divine reality.
Thus the soul may have a kind of intuitive knowledge of the divinity of the things exhibited in the gospel; not that he judges the doctrines of the gospel to be from God, without any argument or deduction at all; but it is without any long chain of arguments; the argument is but one, and the evidence direct; the mind ascends to the truth of the gospel but by one step, and that is its divine glory.1
So Edwards labored in his preaching to put the glory of Christ on display in the gospel. One of his most beautiful examples of this is his sermon, "The Excellency of Christ," based on Revelation 5:5-6 where Christ is described as the conquering "Lion of the tribe of Judah" (v. 5) and the "Lamb standing as though it had been slain" (v. 6). Edwards states his theme: "There is an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ."
Then he puts his lens to the gospel and describes Christ in one of the most compelling, Christ-exalting sermons you will ever read. In the person of Christ, he says, meet together
infinite highness and infinite condescension . . . infinite justice and infinite grace . . . infinite glory and lowest humility . . . infinite majesty and transcendent meekness . . . deepest reverence towards God and equality with God . . . infinite worthiness of good, and the greatest patience under sufferings of evil . . . an exceeding spirit of obedience, with supreme dominion over heaven and earth . . . absolute sovereignty and perfect resignation . . . self-sufficiency, and an entire trust and reliance on God.2
This is the glory of Christ. To see him and be with him and to enjoy him will be our final, all-satisfying salvation. This is the end for which we were made - to spend eternity knowing ever-more and enjoying ever-more the infinite riches of the glory of Christ.
But the problem is that we are sinful and deserving of hell. We dare not even approach the glory of God, lest we be consumed by his holiness and wrath. Therefore, we need the gospel. That is level two of the salvation in this text. We cannot get to the bottom level of glory of Christ except through the second level of gospel of Christ.
The Second Level of Salvation: The Gospel
2 Corinthians 4:4 refers to "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ."
Because he was a sinner, Edwards loved the double truth of the gospel that Christ satisfied the righteous wrath of God by dying in our place, and that he performed for us a perfect righteousness which God reckons to be ours by faith alone. This double truth is the heart of the gospel, and both are crucial. Edwards was jealous that Christ get glory not only as the one who pardons our sins, and not only as the one who imparts to us a sanctifying righteousness, but also as the one who performed the perfect righteousness which God imputes to us and on the basis of which alone we are justified and declared to be righteous.
The gospel of Christ's blood and righteousness cannot be cherished as it ought without realizing the horrific situation we are in before God because of our sin. Edwards helps us treasure the gospel by describing this situation:
If it be allowed that it is requisite that great crimes should be punished with punishment in some measure answerable to the heinousness of the crime . . . because of their great demerit and the great abhorrence and indignation they justly excite: - it will follow that it is requisite that God should punish all sin with infinite punishment, because all sin, as it is against God, is infinitely hateful to him, and so stirs up infinite abhorrence and indignation in him.3
This infinite punishment that is justly owing to our sin can be meted out in two ways: either through the infinitely precious sacrifice of the Son of God for those who believe, or everlasting punishment in hell for those who don't. Every Christian exults with Edwards in the words of Galatians 3:13, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us - for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.'" The infinite punishment owing to us was laid on Christ, and by faith alone, we enjoy the forgiveness for our sins.
But Edwards was jealous to show that this is not the limit of the gospel or the glory of Christ in our salvation. We are not only pardoned in the court room of heaven, we are justified - that is, we are declared righteous. A punishment is not merely taken away, but perfection is provided - the perfection of Christ. Not only is the title to hell cancelled, but the title to heaven is created.
And what is that title? The righteousness of Christ. "We are accepted, and approved of God as the heirs of salvation," Edwards says, "not out of regard to the excellency of our own virtue or goodness, or any moral fitness therein . . . but only on account of the dignity and moral fitness of Christ's righteousness."4 "[That I] be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Philippians 3:9). "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Romans 10:4). "For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous" (Romans 5:19). "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor. 5:21)
It is a glorious thing to have pardon for all our sins because of Christ. And it is doubly glorious to have the perfect righteousness of Christ credited to us by faith alone. "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (Romans 3:28). This is the double truth of the gospel that Edwards saw and loved. Because of this gospel alone does any sinner have access to the all-satisfying glory of Christ. The gospel is the blood and righteousness of Christ providing pardon and perfection. And with that we will inherit the glory of Christ as our everlasting treasure.
But there is another problem. The natural mind - the fallen, worldly mind - does not want the glory of Christ as its treasure. And we all have this fallen mind by nature. We wouldn't mind escape from hell. And we wouldn't mind the healing of our bodies and removal of guilt feelings and the reunion with our relatives with our loved ones in heaven. All that is natural. But treasuring Christ above all, enjoying the glory of Christ above all joys - for that we have no taste. And that brings us finally to the third level of salvation.
The Third Level of Salvation: The Shining of Divine Light into the Human Heart That Enables It to See and Savor the Gospel of the Glory of Christ Above All Other Joys
Just as God was sovereign and decisive in levels one and two, so he is sovereign and decisive here at level three. He is the glory we inherit in the deepest level. He is the one who sent Christ to do the work of the gospel for us in level two. And now it is God who breaks into our natural, rebellious, darkened minds and changes our nature so that we see Christ crucified no longer as foolishness, but as the wisdom of God and the power of God.
Edwards saw this in verse 6: "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." The way anybody gets converted - the way anybody comes to see and savor the glory of Christ as the greatest treasure and sweetest joy - is that God sovereignly causes the darkened soul to see the beauty of Christ in the gospel. Just as he once said, "Let there be light!" and there was light, so now he says, "Let the glory of Christ shine as an irresistible beauty" and it does.
He calls it "A divine and supernatural light immediately imparted to the soul by the Spirit of God" - the name of one of his most famous sermons.5 Being converted to Christ - being saved - is a supernatural work of God. It is being born again by the Spirit of God - being given a new nature, a new spiritual taste, and new way of seeing, and by that, an awakening of joy in Christ that you never knew before.
In Edwards' understanding, this is what regeneration is. This is what God does in shining into the heart of a darkened sinner: "The first effect of the power of God in the heart in REGENERATION, is to give the heart a Divine taste or sense; to cause it to have a relish [for] the loveliness and sweetness of the supreme excellency of the Divine nature."6 This is how any of us comes to rejoice in the glory of Christ. Before regeneration - before God creates a new taste for Christ - money and comfort and ease and security and sexual stimulation and food and success and family and productivity and the praise of men tasted better to us than Christ.
But now something has happened. "God . . . has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." We have been born again. We have a new taste for reality. The created things that we thought were the fountain of pleasure turn out to be empty, and the one we thought was a boring, bloody fool turns out to be a beautiful treasure chest of holy joy.
Therefore Edwards says, "The change that takes place in a man, when he is converted . . . is not that his love [or desire] for happiness is diminished, but only that it is regulated."7 Now we have a new spiritual, supernatural taste for what will truly satisfy. Our longing for happiness now looks to God and says, "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11).
I argued Friday night that Jonathan Edwards' God-entranced vision of all things has near its heart this sentence: "God is glorified not only by His glory's being seen . . . but by its being rejoiced in."8 This implies that our passion for satisfaction is the barometer of our passion to glorify God. It also implies that not to pursue your joy in God is an insult to his glory.
Objection #6, you recall, to this elevation of joy to such a central place in God's purposes to be glorified in the world was that it seems to have little to do with the cross, justification by faith, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit.
To this objection I now answer by summing up this sermon.
By the cross - that is, by the blood-shedding and the completed righteousness of Christ - the wrath of God was removed as the great obstacle to my hope of everlasting joy at God's right hand. His suffering became my punishment. His obedience became my righteousness. The curse of the law and the command of the law were fulfilled for me by the death of Christ and the righteousness of Christ.
As a hell-deserving sinner I never could have dreamed of spending eternity with God in ever-increasing joy in the ever-increasing revelation of God himself. All I could expect was destruction and misery. But wonder of wonders, "Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring [me] to God."
That was my rescue from the guilt and punishment of sin. But what about sin's power? What about my corruption and my spiritual blindness and my rebellion and my addiction to the poison of sin and my slavery to the fleeting pleasures of the world? What about my preference for all that is not God? How shall I ever lay claim to the purchase of Christ, when I prefer anything and everything to God?
The answer is not that I have free will, but that my will must be set free. The answer is that something supernatural must happen in my heart that causes me to see Christ as the image of God, and see God in the face of Christ, and see the cross as the wisdom and power of God, and see Jesus as a treasure so valuable that I count everything as rubbish in comparison with him. A divine and supernatural light must shine in my heart so that Christ appears as compellingly glorious. That is, I must be born again. I must be regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
I conclude therefore that the sin-bearing cross of Christ and the imputation of his righteousness through faith alone, and the supernatural work of regeneration are the indispensable divine works of salvation that usher us into the ultimate goal of God in creation: namely, the display of the infinite worth of his glory in the never-ending increase of our joy in him.
1. Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), p. 290.
2. Jonathan Edwards, "The Excellencies of Christ," in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), pp. 681-682.
3. Jonathan Edwards, "Satisfaction for Sin," in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), p. 565.
4. Jonathan Edwards, "Justification by Faith Alone," in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), p. 643.
5. The sermon is found in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth), pp. 12-16. This sermon, along with study questions, is also found in the new paperback entitled Growing in God's Spirit, ed. T. M. Moore (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2003).
6. Jonathan Edwards, Treatise on Grace, ed. by Paul Helm, (Cambridge: James Clarke and Co., 1971), pp. 48-49.
7. Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits, pp. 161-162.
8. Jonathan Edwards, "The 'Miscellanies,'" ed. by Thomas Schafer, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 13, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), p. 495, Miscellany #448.