Saturday, July 7, 2012

Book Review: Charity and Its Fruits

Charity and Its Fruits: Living In the Light of God's Love. Jonathan Edwards. Edited by Kyle Strobel. 2012. Crossway. 350 pages.

I have been meaning to read Jonathan Edwards for close to a decade. But he isn't as reader-friendly as say Charles Spurgeon or A.W. Tozer or A.W. Pink or R.A. Torrey. Edwards was a scholar, a theologian. He was a deep thinker; his ideas and concepts are complex, very complex. This publication seeks to bring Edwards to a new audience. The text is Edwards, this is not an abridgment or adaptation. But some additional helps have been added. Strobel has added footnotes defining tricky words that Edwards was so fond of using. Words like concatenation, for example. There are also side-boxes where he highlights key concepts, usually in reader-friendly terms. Sometimes he brings in other quotes to help clarify. And, as you might expect, it adds an introduction and conclusion written specifically to help guide and influence modern readers. Both are very straight-forward. Both ask HARD questions of readers. The questions challenge you to truly reflect on the text and your relationship with God.

So what is this one about? Well, it's a collection of sermons on 1 Corinthians 13. It is an in-depth study of 1 Corinthians 13, Edwards doesn't quite go word by word by word, but, he certainly goes line by line by line. A few of the sermons are broader in scope and focus on several verses. The middle sermons, however, which happen to be my favorite, are narrower in focus. They focus on envy, jealousy, patience, anger, selfishness, etc.

The good news: while each sermon builds upon the others, they are meant to be read and studied as a whole, some sermons are less intimidating. Dare I say it? Some are even relatively easy to grasp and understand? True, some of the sermons are very dense, very complex, very intricate. I do think that a reader CAN benefit from the book as a whole, especially if one is willing to focus on the big picture and go for understanding the basic big picture, the key points. I think a second or third or fourth reading of individual sermons may prove beneficial for getting the finer, more intricate points. One could always keep reading, keep studying, keep digging to get all the richness from the text. But I don't think you'd have to make it your life's mission to comprehend Edwards in order to benefit from reading this one.

So what is the most important thing? Well, that's a trick question isn't it! Why read Edwards at all? Why seek to honor America's greatest theologian? Why read a text that is hundreds of years old? I think Strobel would agree with me that the SOLE reason to read Edwards would be to learn MORE of God, to come to a better understanding of who God is, and have a clearer perception of ourselves in relationship with God. That is, by studying God, who He is, what He has done, what He requires of us, etc., we can better KNOW OURSELVES. Some might think it odd that we would need to know God in order to know ourselves, or to know ourselves truly, but I think it's essential to have a right understanding of who we are, we need God, we need to see ourselves as God sees us.

The subject of this one is love: God's love to us, our love to God, and our love for others--both our brothers and sisters in Christ, and, unbelievers. If you really think about it, this is a book about how to live the Christian life...since the TWO commandments are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37; Luke 10:27) Matthew 5:44 goes on to say that we should love our enemies and pray for them.

Section One: Love, The Most Essential Thing

  • Sermon 1: Love The Sum of All Virtue
  • Sermon 2: Love More Excellent than Extraordinary Gifts of the Spirit
  • Sermon 3: Nothing Can Make Up For Want of Sincerity in the Heart

Section Two: Love, The Fountain of All Good

  • Sermon 4: Long-Suffering and Kindness
  • Sermon 5: Charity Contrary to an Envious Spirit
  • Sermon 6: A Christian Spirit is a Humble Spirit
  • Sermon 7: Charity Contrary to a Selfish Spirit
  • Sermon 8: Charity Contrary to an Angry Spirit
  • Sermon 9: Charity Contrary to a Censorious Spirit
  • Sermon 10: Grace Tends to Holy Practice
  • Sermon 11: Undergoing Sufferings A Duty to Christ
  • Sermon 12: Christian Graces Concatenated Together

Section Three: Love, The Divine Gift That Perseveres

  • Sermon 13: Grace Never Overthrown
  • Sermon 14: Divine Love Alone Lasts Eternally
  • Sermon 15: Heaven Is a World of Love

I'd by lying if I said that I understood each point, each and every concept, term, and idea in each and every chapter. But, I do think I was able to grasp the big ones, and hold in mind a big picture of what Edwards was trying to accomplish.

I don't think you can walk away from a study of 1 Corinthians 13 with pride, with your head held high. I think this chapter is VERY humbling, very challenging. It can make you extremely uncomfortable, if you let the meaning of each phrase resonate within you. When you really, truly grasp how we are called to love, how we are called to's humbling. What you are left with is your inadequacy, your need, your DESPERATE need for a merciful, gracious Savior. For there is only ONE who has lived and loved like this. That one is Christ Jesus. This chapter points you to the Savior, reminds you of how far you are from being perfect, from loving and living perfectly. Edwards' study of 1 Corinthians 13 is challenging and thought-provoking.

Favorite quotes:

For Edwards, it is the Spirit of love that unites the Father to the Son, Jesus's human nature to his divine nature, his church to himself, and his people to one another. Furthermore, the Spirit is not simply love, as if that were the only attribute of the Spirit, but also peace, beauty, holiness, and grace. As will become clear below, the Spirit is the fountain of virtue because love is the ultimate virtue and is, in fact, the reality of God's own life. (22)

Love is the tune that orients the believer's heart to heaven, whereas hate is the deformity that leads to hell. (24)

Modern evangelicals do well to note this point, because we often err on the side of seeing salvation simply in terms of forgiveness. By grounding salvation in union with God, we are seeking not forgiveness but God himself. Faith does not lead primarily to forgiveness, but to Christ. In him forgiveness and justification are known. Therefore, one's Christianity cannot boil down to a specific moment in conversion, however important that moment is, Christianity, or, as Edwards would say, "true religion," is communion with God. The Christian life is an ever-increasing love of God such that one's soul comes to take on the life of God itself as God's own Spirit of love works in the heart. With Christ at the center of salvation, the whole of one's life is lived before the face of God. To live this life, we are not forgiven and then left alone to work hard to act like Christians. Rather, if we are in Christ, forgiveness and holiness are now ours. Furthermore, by being united to Christ by the Spirit, we have the Spirit indwelling and acting as a fountain of holiness, love, and grace itself. (27)

Primarily, the solution to sin is God himself. The recognition of vice in our hearts can lead us to the cross and cast us, just as in salvation, upon the overflowing mercy and grace of God. Likewise, as noted above, Edwards wants his readers to grasp the idea that knowledge of God and knowledge of self are mutually informing; therefore, it is important to trace out the roots of our sins and expose them to the light of God's revelation. Misunderstanding who we are is almost as problematic as misunderstanding who God is; it is the root of all sorts of sin. (29)

We are aware that we are incredibly sinful. Unfortunately, our way of dealing with this is not to deal with it at all. We hide our sin as best we can, even from ourselves, and seek to project to the world and church a person who doesn't sin and who has everything figured out. Too many people get lost in the false self they create, and they come to be filled with pride as they judge others (309). 

Searching our hearts is a mode of prayer--it is something done not in isolation, but before God. (312)

Edwards' thoughts should warn us against two errors: first, thinking that we are insightful enough to judge other people's hearts; and, second, thinking that even our own hearts are easily discerned. (312)

We should never underestimate how easy it can be to repackage our vices as virtues. (312)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

1 comment:

Annette said...

I too have a goal to read something from Jonathon Edwards.
I felt you gave an honest review in stating you did not grasp all that was in the book.
Over-all you understood his points.
Thank you!