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A Divine and Supernatural Light

Eric Lui helps us unpack the message and exhortation of Jonathan Edwards' "A Divine and Supernatural Light" which was originally a sermon preached by Edwards in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1734.

a-divine-and-supernatural-light-jonathan-edwardsIn Matthew 16:17, Jesus said to Peter: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Herein is what Jonathan Edwards meant by ‘a divine and supernatural light’.  

Christ said these words to Peter upon his professing of faith in Jesus as the Son of the living God, while others said that He was John the Baptist or Elijah or one of the prophets. Others were blind not to know who Jesus was, but God had given Peter the spiritual light to know the truth of the matter. Jesus praised Peter because of how he was peculiarly blessed by God to be given this spiritual light while others who were wise and great, like the scribes and Pharisees, were left in darkness.  

The thesis that Edwards proposes is: “That there is such a thing as A SPIRITUAL and DIVINE LIGHT, immediately and directly imparted to the soul by GOD, of a different nature from any that is obtained by natural Means.” 

What is this spiritual and divine light? 

Before elaborating on his thesis, Edwards excludes the following phenomena from which he considers to be spiritual light: 

  • Convictions that natural men may have of their sin and misery, although such convictions may be prompted by the Spirit of God to convince men of their sin.
  • Visions in a person’s mind of an external light of glory, some object of exceptional beauty, or some visible brightness of any object.
  • Suggestions of any new biblical truths which are not found in the Word of God. These belong to the category of inspiration which were given by God to the Prophets and Apostles, but has since ceased.
  • Emotional affections towards things of religion, such as the story of Jesus Christ, the sufferings that He went through, or other similar stories in the Bible. 

So spiritual light is defined by Edwards as “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”. 

A real sense and appreciation of the divine excellency of things of religion is to see a divine and superlative Glory in these things that is vastly higher and more sublime than any other glory of things on earth. A person who is spiritually enlightened will see this glory. He is enraptured by it and his heart feels pleasure and delight in the presence of it. This leads to a conviction of the truth of what he saw. In 2 Peter 1:16, Apostle Peter mentioned what gave them (the Apostles) good and well-grounded assurance of the truth of the Gospel, which is that they had seen the divine glory of Christ: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” 

This spiritual light is given by God directly to the soul 

What this means is that God gives this spiritual light directly to our soul without making use of any third party means. This light is only given to apprehend the same truths that are revealed in the Word of God. It is not given without the Word of God. But the Word is not the second cause for us in receiving the light, because the Word only conveys the subject matter to our mind and not the sense of divine excellency of them in our hearts. 

Scriptural and rational support for this doctrine

The author cites several scriptural texts to support his doctrine. In many parts of the Bible, we are told that the saints differ from the unbeliever in that they have the spiritual knowledge of God, the sight of God and of Jesus Christ. For instance, in 1 John 3:6, “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” In John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” 

This spiritual light is also spoken of as directly given by God. For instance, in Matthew 11:25-27, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” Thus, the imparting of the knowledge is here given to the Son as his sole prerogative. Also, in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “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.” 

To clarify, the author gives as an illustration of a wise man speaking with wisdom: there will be something in every word he says that will distinguish him from the talk of an ordinary man. Similarly, when God speaks to the world, there should be something in His Word which will be vastly different from men’s word. There must be a stamp of divinity in His Word, such as what He reveals to us of His scheme of salvation and doctrine of the Gospel. Would it not be rational to suppose that there should be such excellency and sublimity in His speech, with a stamp of wisdom, holiness, majesty and other divine perfections, that even the wisest of men should appear mean and base in comparison? 

So, if there is a distinguishing excellency in divine things, it is rational to suppose that there may be such a thing as seeing it. Further, it is rational to suppose that this knowledge of divine excellency should be given directly by God, because such spiritual wisdom is of the highest and most excellent gift that God can ever bestow on man. It is also the most important of all divine gifts because wherein lies man’s happiness, and on which his everlasting welfare depends. Therefore, it is rational to suppose that God should reserve this most excellent divine and important communication in His own hands, to be bestowed by Him directly.

What encouragement and exhortation can we draw from this doctrine? 

  • The author wants us to reflect on the goodness of God, because He ordains that such saving evidence of the truth of the Gospel can be attained by persons of humble capacity and advantage. If the evidence of the Gospel is dependent only on history or on such reasoning as learned men only are capable, it would be beyond the reach of most of mankind. 
  • This doctrine should cause us to examine ourselves, whether we ever had His divine light into our souls. Whether we have seen the Son, and believe in Him, or have that faith of Gospel doctrines that arises from a spiritual sight of Christ. 
  • Finally, the author exhorts us to earnestly seek this spiritual light, because it is the most excellent and divine wisdom; it is sweet and joyful, especially in times of affliction; it assimilates the divine nature and changes the inclinations of our souls; and has its fruits in universal holiness of life.