II.C.2 Jonathan Edwards; A Divine and Supernatural Light

Part II  –  Application to Reformed & Evangelical Theology

Subpart C  –  The Awakening of Evangelicalism



We now come to a doctrine of Edwards that must have subjected him to great criticism given the reproach that continued to linger upon Quakerism given events of eighty years previous.  While Edwards refuted the Quaker doctrine of following one’s Inner Light, he himself maintained that the revelation of Christ would come to a man instantaneously in what can be described as a divine and supernatural light.  And it was during the first revival of the Great Awakening in New England that Edwards preached his sermon entitled; A Divine and Supernatural Light.  This sermon was remarkable in that it presented the revelation of Christ upon the soul of a man in a way that we seldom hear preached or taught today.  It was also remarkable for its time, as ministers were not accustomed to declaring such an immediate and life-altering-event as a sudden encounter with the Person of God.

Edwards even regarded this doctrine of an instantaneous-encounter with deity as a moving-principle of the 1733-34 awakening.[1]  Certainly, we accept that this does not refer to a literal illumination.  Most of us would accept that what is referred to is something of a spiritual-nature having the effect of revealing (ie. “making manifest”)[2] the person and nature of the Creator to the soul of the man, thereby allowing the man to walk in true paths in respect to the knowledge of the presence and purposes of God.  This spiritual illumination and awakening of spiritual understanding in the man, and the revelation of God upon the man, is that which John calls “the Word” (as the Person of “Christ”).

In Him was life, & the life was the light of men.   & the light shines in the darkness, & the darkness did not comprehend it.                                   John 1:3-4

That this light “shines in the darkness” would seem a contradiction except that the darkness somehow remains insensible to a comprehension of the light.

Jonathan Edwards foretold to his congregation a revelation of Christ they could expect that comes to the believer 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.”[3]  Edwards preached that the revelation of Christ was something distinct from those convictions of heart that arise in a man (albeit assisted by the Holy Spirit) that convince him of his miserable, sinful condition before God.  In his sermon; A Divine and Supernatural Light (which is available for listening-to on this website)[4] he writes:

Those convictions that natural men have of their sin and misery, is not this spiritual and divine light . . . That some sinners have a greater conviction of their guilt and misery than others, is because some have more light, or more of an apprehension of truth, than others.   And this light and conviction may be from the Spirit of God.  The Spirit convinces men of sin, but yet nature is much more concerned in it than in the communication of that spiritual and divine light that is spoken of in the doctrine.  It is from the Spirit of God only as assisting natural principles. [5]

Edwards explains that while the Spirit of God will bear upon a man to convict him concerning sin; in this regard, the Spirit is only strengthening natural principles of conscience in that; “He helps it against those things that tend to stupify it, and obstruct its exercise”.  But this is not to be mistaken for the revelation of Christ.  He writes:

The Spirit of God acts in a very different manner in the one case, from what He does in the other.  He may indeed act upon the mind of the natural man, but He acts in the mind of a saint as an indwelling vital principle.  He acts upon the mind of an unregenerate person as an extrinsic, occasional agent, for in acting upon them, He does not unite himself to them.  For notwithstanding all His influences that they may possess, they are still sensual, having not the Spirit.  But He unites Himself with the mind of a saint, takes him for His temple, actuates and influences him as a new supernatural principle of life and action. . . . Holiness is the proper nature of the Spirit of God. 

After making a clear distinction between the preliminary work of the Spirit to convict the sinner and the deeper revelation that is Christ manifested to the believer, Edwards discusses the revelation of Christ in more detail, beginning by disabusing his listeners of possible misconceptions they may have as to the nature of this “divine light”.  He writes:

This spiritual and divine light does not consist in any impression made upon the imagination.  It is not impression upon the mind, as though one saw anything with the bodily eyes.  It is no imagination or idea of an outward light or glory, or any beauty of form or countenance, or a visible luster or brightness of any object.  The imagination may be strongly impressed with such things, but this is not “spiritual light”.   Indeed, when the mind has a lively discovery of spiritual things, and is greatly affected by the power of divine light, it may, and probably very commonly does, much affect the imagination, so that impressions of outward beauty or brightness may accompany those spiritual discoveries.  But “spiritual light” is not that impression upon the imagination, but an exceeding different thing.  Natural men may have lively impression on their imaginations, and we cannot determine but the devil, who transforms himself into an angel of light, may cause imaginations of an outward beauty, or visible glory, and of sounds and speeches, and other such things.. But these are things of a vastly inferior nature to “spiritual light”.

Edwards discusses how this “divine light” does not bring with it any new truths or propositions” that were not already in the word of God previously received.  But rather, it does give a due apprehension of those things taught in the word of God.  He discusses how the natural man will accept the gospel and even be moved by the tragedy of the crucifixion, without the true belief that follows divine revelation.  Even so, this natural acceptance of the gospel is an appropriate means leading to the divine revelation.  Edwards writes:

But this “spiritual knowledge” . . . is what God is the author of, and none else.  He reveals it, and flesh and blood reveals it not.  He imparts this knowledge immediately, not making use of any intermediate natural causes, as he does in other knowledge.

We are told by Edwards, that what results from this experience with Christ, are such things 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 sense of the gloriousness of God . . the loveliness of God’s holiness . . .

–          “not only a speculatively judging that God is gracious, but a sense how amiable God is on account of the beauty of this divine attribute.” 

–          “the powers of the soul are more awakened and enlivend . . so that reason itself is under far greater advantages for its proper and free exercises, and to attain its proper end, free of darkness and delusion.”

 Edwards reminded his listeners of the necessary-correlation between seeing the Son of God, and believing upon Him, citing to such verses as:

& this is the will of Him that sent Me, that everyone who seeth the Son, & believeth on Him, may have everlasting life.                                      John 6:40

 Jesus cried & said; “He that believeth on Me, believeth not on Me, but on Him that sent Me. I am come a light into the worldthat whosoever believeth on me, should not abide in darkness.                                       John 12:44-46

Edwards writes; “Their believing in Christ, and spiritually seeing Him, are spoken of as running parallel”.

Edwards discusses how the divine-communication does not come via the natural senses, but it is communicated to our spirits as a thing that is transcendent to the senses.  On this, he says:

It is rational to suppose that there is really such an excellency in divine things – so transcendent and exceedingly different from what is in other things – that if it were seen, would most evidently distinguish them.  We cannot rationally doubt but that things that are divine, which appertain to the Supreme Being, are vastly different from things that are human; that there is a high, glorious, God-like 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 divine.  What reason can be offered against it, unless we would argue that God is not remarkably distinguished in glory from men. . . . when God speaks to the world, there should be something in His Word vastly different from man’s word.  Would it not be rational to suppose, that His speech would be exceeding different from man’s speech, that there should be such an excellency & sublimity in His speech or word, such a stamp of wisdom, holiness, majesty & other divine perfections, that the word of man, yea of the wises of men, should appear mean & base in comparison of it?

He discusses particularly what it is that God communicates to us via Christ, ie. “Himself” as a “knowledge” that transcends mean information.  He writes:

Spiritual wisdom & grace is the highest & most excellent gift that ever God bestows on any creature; in this, the highest excellency & perfection of a rational creature consists.  It is also immensely the most important of all divine gifts.  It is that wherein man’s happiness consists, & on which his everlasting welfare depends.

Edwards makes clear-distinction between what is mere “reason”, ie. a necessary means of accepting what is merely “doctrinal truth”, as opposed to the “divine light”, which actually communicates the excellency of God’s Person.  He says; “Reason’s work is to perceive truth and not exellency.”  The divine light of Christ possesses the life of God, and; “assimilates our nature to the divine nature, and changes the soul into an image of the same glory that is beheld.”[6]  Edwards explains that this constitutes the true “knowledge of God”, ie. having “seen Him”.  He writes:

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, & 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 . . . and it effectually disposes the soul to give up itself entirely to Christ.  This light, and this only, has its fruit in a 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 a universal obedience.  It shows God as worthy to be obeyed & 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.

Edwards explained that this revelation, while not produced by natural means, nonetheless requires that the Word of God be conveyed to the mind as; “a person cannot have spiritual light without the Word”.  It is also noteworthy that Edwards made clear distinction between the “light” he was preaching and the “light” preached by the Quakers.

[1] Wikipedia’s biography of Jonathan Edwards taken 6/23/12  A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God, set forth what he regarded as the inner, moving principle of the revival, the doctrine of a special grace in the immediate, and supernatural divine illumination of the soul.”

[2] Ephesians 5:13

[3] A Divine & Supernatural Light, preached by Jonathan Edwards in Northampton and published as a written dissertation by request of the hearers in 1734.

[4] The website is www.lamp-stand.com – click on “MP3 Edwards & Marshall” for listing of MP3 readings.

[5] A Divine & Supernatural Light, preached by Jonathan Edwards in Northampton and published as a written dissertation by request of the hearers in 1734.

[6] II Corinthians 3:18


About Lamp-Stand

I was converted to the faith of Jesus Christ in 1982 at which time I received water baptism and Spirit baptism. In the Spring of 2008 I was led of the Spirit through a process of repentance upon which I had an encounter with Christ that worked a profound change upon my inner being. I became aware that I had been forgiven a great debt of sin. I soon felt the Lord's direction that I close my office that my energies not be divided from the study of doctrine.
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