The following is a lightly edited transcript.
I have some comfort in the fact that my talk has very little application in it. Everything I have said and done for the last forty years has been an effort to apply this talk. My life is an imperfect echo of what I’m going to say. I’m not a dispassionate scholar when it comes to Jonathan Edwards. I love the man. I do. I love him, and what I say here I believe is true, and therefore, you can ask it as though I said it as my view. So there, I’ve just ruined all scholarly distance and dispassionate analysis and confessed that I am totally committed to the kinds of things that I have seen and love.
My other comfort is that Todd Wilson’s heart beats with mine, and what I leave out, he should add at the end. Then we’ll apply it together, I hope.
Joy at the Center
For Jonathan Edwards, joy is central and essential for what it means to be God and what it means to be God-glorifying. Joy is not a secondary ethical issue in Christian theology; it is foundational ontology. It’s part of what it means to be God. Joy is not an emotional icing on the cake of Christian obedience; it is an essential element in all God-exalting obedience. There is no true deity and there is no true virtue without joy.
So, we can say, I think, without exaggeration, that Edwards has elevated joy to a place of infinite importance. This is infinite as in essential to the infinite divine being and infinite as essential to our eternal union with the divine being. That’s the thesis of this talk: that joy has that rank in Edwards’s thinking.
Here’s what we’re going to do: We’re going to walk through Trinity, Creation, Fall, and Redemption, tracing the role of joy in God and in God’s revelation of himself in creation and redemption. So, let’s start with Trinity. How it all hangs together is simply magnificent in Edwards’s thinking.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
What we’re going to see is that joy is essential to God’s Trinitarian being, and that man is created in the image of God in such a way that joy is essential to our wholeness and union with God. For Edwards, God the Father is, “The Deity subsisting in the prime, unoriginated, most absolute manner, or the Deity in its direct existence.”
Then the Son and the Holy Spirit have their eternal being as God’s, knowing himself perfectly, and God’s enjoying himself perfectly.
As God with perfect clearness, fullness and strength understands himself, views his own essence (in which there is no distinction of substance and act, but it is wholly substance and wholly act), that idea which God hath of himself is absolutely himself. This representation of the divine nature and essence is the divine nature and essence again. So that by God's thinking of the Deity, [the Deity] must certainly be generated. Hereby there is another person begotten; there is another infinite, eternal, almighty, and most holy and the same God, the very same divine nature.
Edwards is not only at pains to make a conceptualization of the begetting of the Son in God’s knowing God, he’s at pains also to show that it accords with biblical language like, the logos of God (John 1:1–5), the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4), the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of the nature of God (Hebrews 1:3).
“The Son of God is the fully divine personal, standing forth of God’s idea of himself.”
So, the second person of the Trinity is eternally begotten by God’s image in God, thinking God, knowing God in such fullness that the person stands forth as fully God. “He is the eternal, necessary, perfect, substantial, personal idea which God hath of himself.” That’s risky language and Edwards has been criticized, but I don’t think he minimizes the full personal nature of the Son in this kind of conception.
The Godhead being thus begotten by God's having an idea of himself and standing forth in a distinct subsistence or person in that idea, there proceeds a most pure act, and an infinitely holy and sweet energy arises between the Father and Son: for their love and joy is mutual, in mutually loving and delighting in each other. . . . the Deity becomes all act, the divine essence itself flows out and is as it were, breathed forth in love and joy. So that the Godhead therein stands forth in yet another manner of subsistence, and there proceeds the third person in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, viz. the Deity in act.
So, the Son of God is the fully divine personal, standing forth of God’s idea of himself, generated by God’s infinite understanding of himself. And the Holy Spirit is the fully divine, personal standing forth of God’s joy — the Father’s joy in the Son, the Son’s joy in the Father, generated by God’s infinite delighting in himself. Here’s Edwards summary of the Trinity:
The Father is the Deity subsisting in the prime, unoriginated and most absolute manner, or the Deity in its direct existence. The Son is the Deity generated by God's understanding, or having an idea of himself, and subsisting in that idea. The Holy Ghost is the Deity subsisting in act or the divine essence flowing out and breathed forth, in God's infinite love to and delight in himself. And I believe the whole divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the divine idea and divine love, and that therefore each of them are properly distinct persons.
Now the main thing to see for our purposes is for Edwards, God’s being consists essentially in knowing himself and enjoying himself. His knowledge of himself is infinite, and his delight that he takes in himself is infinite. The being of the Son is the personal standing forth of his knowing himself and the being of the Holy Spirit is the personal standing forth of his joy in himself. Hence my statement at the beginning: joy is not a secondary ethical issue in Christian theology, but part of the foundational ontology, at the heart of what God is as God. The Holy Spirit is the personal subsisting of God’s joy in God. You can’t say anything greater about joy than that.
Now we move to creation. The implication of the nature of the divine being is that God’s being as perfect knowledge of himself and perfect joy in himself is what he meant to put on display and to communicate to the creature in creation, with man as the apex of that creation. He means to communicate the Trinitarian knowledge of himself to man, and the Trinitarian joy in himself to man. He means for man to see and to share in the knowledge that God has of God and the joy that God has in God. In doing that he put himself most fully on display for man’s knowledge and enjoyment.
Because he infinitely values his own glory, consisting in the knowledge of himself, love to himself, and complacence and joy in himself; he therefore valued the image, communication or participation of these, in the creature.
Understanding and Will
Which means — and this is where the harmony of it all, for me, becomes so beautiful — God created man with two faculties reflecting his own essential being: the faculty of understanding and the faculty of willing. I have to clarify what he means by willing, or you won’t necessarily connect it with enjoying but he does, and you’ll see why in just a minute.
God has indued the soul with two faculties: one is that by which it is capable of perception and speculation . . . which is called the understanding. The other faculty is that by which the soul does not merely perceive and view things, but is some way inclined . . . either as liking or disliking, pleased or displeased, approving or rejecting. This faculty is . . . sometimes called . . . the will.
So, Edwards does not have a role for a third faculty called emotion. We often think of knowing, willing, and feeling. He doesn’t. He has two faculties in the soul. The body is something else. So, there’s no third faculty for Edwards. What are the affections? Love, hate, desire, fear, hope — what are they in his psychology of the human soul? They are “the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul.”
The will, and the affections of the soul, are not two faculties; the affections are not essentially distinct from the will, nor do they differ from the mere actings of the will and inclination of the soul, but only in the liveliness and sensibleness of exercise.
So, to choose something as we say by willpower, and to choose it because you love it and enjoy it, are not the actions of two distinct faculties. They are simply the acting of the will, one with less inclination, and the other with more lively inclination. That’s important to see for understanding how the human soul is in the image of God in these two faculties.
“Joy is central and essential to what it means for God to be God.”
God creates man in his image with the capacity to know the truth, and the capacity to will — that is to be inclined to, to enjoy supremely what is supremely enjoyable and in God. The reason for this creation is so that God’s glory could be put on display most fully in man’s knowing him and enjoying him, understanding and rejoicing in him, seeing and savoring him. All I’ve done most of my life is try to use different language so that people wouldn’t think I’m cheesy.
Rejoice in Glory
Next is, for me, what has been the most important paragraph in Edwards that I’ve ever read, and probably outside the Bible, the most important paragraph I’ve ever read period. I say that because this paragraph that I’m about to read has been most universally shaping of all that I’ve thought and done, in ministry, in writing, in theology, in pastoral practice, and so on. This paragraph is stunningly important for me. It unlocked the key to a whole way of seeing the world and a whole way of life, which I have called Christian Hedonism.
What’s remarkable about this paragraph is the way the Trinitarian reality of God’s knowing God fully in the person of his Son, and God’s enjoying God fully in the person of the Holy Spirit is reflected in our capacities to know reality and to love reality, Here’s the paragraph:
God is glorified within himself these two ways: (1) by appearing or being manifested to himself in his own perfect idea, or, in his Son, who is the brightness of his glory; (2) by enjoying and delighting in himself, by flowing forth in infinite love and delight towards himself, or, in his Holy Spirit.
So God glorifies himself towards the creatures also two ways: (1) by appearing to them, being manifested to their understandings; (2) in communicating himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying the manifestations which he makes of himself.
Here is what has been the most important section for me:
God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in, when those that see it delight in it: God is more glorified than if they only see it; his glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart. God made the world that he might communicate, and the creature receives, his glory, but that it might [be] received both by the mind and heart. He that testifies his having an idea of God’s glory don’t glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation of it and his delight in it.
“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him,” will be on my tombstone, if my wife has caught on. What emerges from this paragraph is that joy in God is not only at the heart of what it means for God to be God, but at the heart of what it means for man to glorify God. Let me read the key sentence again: “God is glorified not only in his glory’s being seen, but it’s being rejoiced in: when those that see it delight in it: God is more glorified than if they only see it.”
If you believe that, everything in your ministry will change. That sentence changes everything: counseling, funerals, marriages, preaching, childrearing — everything changes if that’s true. This is why I said at the beginning for Jonathan Edwards, joy is central and essential for what it means to be God and what it means to be humans to be God-glorifying.
Centrality of Joy
One of the greatest revelations about God that comes from seeing this central and essential role of joy glorifying God is that, we need not, and we must not put man’s joy and God’s glory as competing motives in God’s reason for creating the world. Did he create the world for us, or did he create the world for him? Did he create the world to display his glory or to make us happy? If you’re with me so far, you can see immediately those dare not be — cannot be — alternatives. If you don’t see it, you’re not with me yet, but we’ll keep trying. They are not alternatives. They happen as one in the same act and here’s how he says it,
God in seeking his glory, therein seeks the good of his creatures: because the emanation of his glory . . . implies the communicated excellency and happiness of his creature. Their excellency and happiness is nothing but the emanation and expression of God's glory: God in seeking their glory and happiness, seeks himself: and in seeking himself, i.e. himself diffused and expressed . . . he seeks their glory and happiness.
For Edwards, joy is central and essential to what it means for God to be God and central and essential for what it means for humans to be God-glorifying. In creating the world, God was to spill over and share what the Trinity is enjoying and knowing — put that on display, make that go public in souls that are created in the image in such a way that we have the capacity for knowing the most magnificently knowable and enjoying the most supremely enjoyable.
No Conflict Between Joy and Glory
In that experience of knowing infinite truth, beautiful glorious truth and enjoying it, we are made happiest, and his worth is displayed most fully in our response, so that you dare not and cannot — must not — make alternatives. Did he create the universe in order to make man happy? Or did he create the universe in order to make himself look glorious? They are one as he created the world. There never can be a conflict between man’s supreme happiness and God’s supreme glorification. That’s a liberating thought. I have seen that statement change thousands.
There can be no conflict between man’s supreme happiness — supreme is key. There are all kinds of ways to be happy that dishonor God. There can be no conflict between man’s supreme happiness and God’s supreme glorification. Supreme happiness is only found in knowing and enjoying God and this supreme joy in God displays the all-satisfying greatness of God.
When the human race fell in Adam, we not only incurred guilt by our union with Adam, but also inherited a nature that no longer enjoys God supremely and cannot.
The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7–8)
Our affections today are profoundly misdirected and beyond human remedy. The holy, God-given self-love, that once found all its good in God has collapsed in on itself. Edwards says that man
shrunk into a little point, circumscribed and closely shut up within itself to the exclusion of others. God was forsaken and fellow creatures forsaken, and man retired within himself and became wholly governed by narrow, selfish principles.
“Wholly governed” is Edwards’s way of talking about moral inability. Natural inability — for Edwards is to be unable to do a thing though you will to do it fully, but are hindered by something extrinsic to the will, like you’re chained to a chair and willing to get out, and with all your heart you can’t get out because you’re chained. That’s natural inability. That’s not our depravity. Our depravity is moral inability, and it means being unable to do something because you lack the inclination to do it. Your will is so corrupt you can’t want what you ought to want. We all know by personal experience that’s real. That’s real. It’s a horrible bondage; it’s a frightening condition.
“The fallen condition of mankind is not the end of the story.”
Our will is too corrupt to delight in holiness. We do not by nature delight in the things of God. We are like beasts who drink poison. We have exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man (Romans 1:23). Here’s the way Edwards put it, “Evil affections radically consist in inordinate love to other things besides God.”
The essence of the fall, the essence of man’s fallen nature, is that our minds are unable to see God as supremely beautiful and our wills are unable to enjoy God as supremely enjoyable. The Bible says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). We cannot see or taste that God is good. So we give ourselves like animals to fleeting pleasures that, in the end, poison us (Psalm 73:22; Hebrews 11:25).
My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)
That’s sin. Sin is turning away from God as all-satisfying and digging in the dirt and sucking on the ground desperately trying to find a better alternative than God. The essence of evil, the central nature of sin is preferring anything to God.
All of us have sinned and fail to embrace the glory of God as our supreme treasure. We have exchanged it for what cannot satisfy, and so God is dishonored and we are dissatisfied and damned for a lifetime of daily insults to the infinitely valuable God. That’s the condition of every man. We are in bondage, we have a moral inability to love God, delight in God, enjoy God, and see God for who he really is in his compelling beauty.
The fallen condition of mankind is not the end of the story. God immediately undertakes to put in motion his eternally planned work of redemption, and in the fullness of time sends his Son into the world to both recover and advance. The Son comes into the world to recover what was lost and advance it in the original purpose of creation, namely the glory of God and the gladness of man. That’s the way I’m summing up God’s original purpose in creation: the glory of God and the gladness of man and his glory has been besmirched, hidden, trampled on, belittled, and our hearts have shrunk up into total incapacity to find full and lasting joy at his right hand. In the death and resurrection of Jesus, the original purpose of creation is recovered.
In the Death of Christ
First, the countless sins of God’s people in preferring the creation over the Creator were punished in the death of Christ so that God’s holy wrath was satisfied.
Second, the glory of God’s majesty that had been so injured by its defamation through our sin was restored and repaired by Christ’s God-glorifying sacrifice.
Third, the perfect righteousness that we needed in order to stand before a holy God without being consumed was completed so that it could be, by faith, imputed to us.
Fourth, the new-covenant privileges of new birth and sanctification were purchased so that the Holy Spirit could be poured out in his renovating power — so that the blind could see and the dead hearts could delight again in God. Edwards pointed in what is his second most famous sermon maybe, to 2 Corinthians 4:4–6:
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. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 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.
What’s the remedy for that blindness, that deadness? So that we can’t see light, we can’t see glory, we can’t taste it, we don’t love it. It’s foolishness and it’s a stumbling block, and an hour later he’s the wisdom and he’s the power of God and we’re ready to lay down our lives for him. What happened?
Well, 2 Corinthians 4:6 happened: “The God who said, “Let there be light,” shone into our hearts.” Edwards called it a “divine and supernatural light, immediately imparted to the soul.” That’s a faithful rendering of 2 Corinthians 4:6. God says to John Piper’s dead heart, years ago, “Let there be light,” and what was boring and foolish and confusing and irrelevant, became everything. And I was born again. That’s regeneration. This is a spiritual reality.
“The work of Christ in redemption does not only restore, it advances God’s aim in creation.”
The light that he imparts grants that the mind can now see the beauty of the glory of God. For the infinite value that it has and is, and thus a new taste is born. A new seeing begets a new savoring. We see him as compelling, we see him as beautiful, we see him as all-satisfying. And without any long chain of reasoning we are there with our hearts cleaving and loving and delighting and desperately needing and being satisfied by what we have been granted to see. So what is the new birth?
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 of the loveliness and sweetness of the supreme excellency of the Divine nature.
So, the aim of creation that was lost in the fall is restored. The heart of man now is supremely rejoicing in the supremely enjoyable. And he is on display for our minds to see in his beauty and his worth. Now I said, Christ came and achieved not only restoration but advance, so let’s close with that.
The work of Christ in redemption does not only restore, it advances God’s aim in creation. Christ was not merely a remedy or an afterthought to recover what was lost. The history of redemption climaxes with the cross, not only as means of restoration but a means of advance. Christ was the goal of creation, not a means to the goal. He didn’t just recover the goal; he was the goal. By his incarnation and death and resurrection, the glory of God was put on new display in its most vivid and lavish excellency. Christ did not come and die and rise only to restore our joy in God but to become our joy in God.
The incarnate God did not appear simply to enable us to rejoice in God, but to become the focus of our rejoicing in God. Edwards put his incomparable lens to the gospel of the glory of Christ to describe the glory of Christ most compellingly in his sermon, “The Excellency of Christ,” which I love. The beauty of Christ in that sermon is developed in a stunning way to show that when Christ did his work, he wasn’t in his work merely enabling us to have something we had lost, but to become in that work, the very focus of the glory that we once thought we saw, and now see in fullness.
Where Beauties Mingle
So, here’s his description of the glory of Christ that we could not know the glory of God, that we could not know without the revelation of God in Christ. It’s the beauty is in the juxtaposition of these seeming opposites. If you’ve read this sermon, you know what this is going to sound like. These are things that mingle in Christ and thus constitute his incomparable beauty:
- “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.”
Christ, the incarnate second person of the Trinity, the Redeemer, is now the fullness of the revelation of the glory of God. He didn’t just repair our ability to see something old; he became what God meant for us to see all along. So, for example, when it says in Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” The Old Testament saints tasted that, and it was glorious, and they didn’t have a clue what the fullness meant at God’s right hand.
“My joy is joy in my image and my Son. You can come into that.”
None of the saints knew the fullness of the meaning of that promise, that at God’s right hand are pleasures forevermore. It took the incarnation and the New Testament revelation to show that the pleasures at God’s right hand are the pleasures of God the Father in God the Son, and the pleasures of God the Son in God the Father. Now he has come. “This is my beloved Son in whom I delight” (Matthew 3:17). I am well pleased, and you should read “well pleased”: billions of tons of pleasure.
We gloss over those words so quickly: “This is my beloved Son in whom I, God Almighty, with all my infinite energy, am totally well pleased and have been from all eternity, and now you can see what my joy is. Now you can see the joy that is at my right hand. My joy is joy in my image and my Son. You can come into that.”
Drawn Further In
Jesus prayed and he suffered for what no eye had seen or ear heard, that the children of God through faith in Christ, would actually be taken into the life of the Trinity and be bound to God by the indwelling love of God for God — the indwelling love, delight in rejoicing of God in God. This is Jesus praying for you:
I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
There is no mercy in God’s love for Jesus in the Trinity. It is all joy. There’s no self-sacrifice that the Father makes to love the Son. This is just total energy of joy. “I pray that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them.” God’s love for the Son, infinite in joy, comes into you and becomes your love for the Son. Have you ever felt emotionally inadequate to respond to God? You won’t be emotionally inadequate in the end because you will respond to God with the energy of the joy of God. His name is the Holy Spirit.
What binds the children of God to their Father for eternity is that we enjoy the Son of God with the very joy of God the Father. And we should add that Jesus had already said,
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11)
So now you not only have Jesus praying for the love of the Father for the Son to become my love for the Son, but you have Jesus saying, “And my joy in the Father — I’ve spoken to you so that my joy would be in you.” There’s no other way for your joy to be full than for my joy in God to become your joy in God so that now we have our joy in the Father being the Son’s joy in the Father and our joy in the Son being the Father’s joy in the Son. We must have a new resurrection body or we will be blown to smithereens by that experience and that’s not a joke at all. That is why you must have a new body.
“Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50). That doesn’t mean you won’t have a resurrection body; that means this one won’t work. This one will not work for that experience forever. Let me give you one last quote and we’ll wrap it up.
the glory of God is both exhibited and acknowledged; his fullness is received and returned. Here is both an emanation and remanation. The refulgence shines upon and into the creature, and is reflected back to the luminary. The beams of glory come from God, and are something of God, and are refunded back again to their original. So that the whole is of God, and in God, and to God; and God is the beginning, middle and end in this affair.
Surely we can say without any exaggeration, Jonathan Edwards has shown us that joy is elevated to a place of infinite importance: infinite in its essential role in the divine being, and infinite in its essential role in our union with the Father and with the Son by the Spirit.