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Spurgeon saw that our heavenly Father ordains suffering for believers. Though our trials may come from the world, the flesh, and the Devil, they are overruled and ordained by God, who treats them as an important part of our new life in Christ. Shall lilies grow for you and briars for him? This might all seem like bad news for the believer. After all, who wants to hurt?

Yet, studying the lives of eminent men, Spurgeon came to the conclusion that those who never have to push through the waves of difficulty never grow in strength and maturity like those who do. Those who live in the lap of luxury and never experience the discipline of trouble tend always to be more frail and feeble in their faith. Tears, Spurgeon discovered through experience, can clear the eye so that we see with an improved vision and perspective. Losses reveal the insufficiency of all the things around us that we cherish, enabling us to appreciate the all-sufficiency of Christ more.

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Being a pastor, he was sensitively aware of how to give such theology to people who are in the throes of pain. The ways a believer can profit from suffering cannot be trotted out coolly to those who are reeling and weeping. There is a time simply to sit and weep with them. Naturally, we are quick to take suffering to mean that God is against us or has somehow weakened in his love and care for us.

That is not so. But none of that is any indication that our Father has forgotten or failed us, nor that we might no longer be useful. From he sought each winter to escape the darkness, cold, and dirt of London by retreating to Mentone, on the French Riviera. There he found in the balmy warmth and the light a natural reviver for body and mind.

For him, cigars were an acceptable and agreeable means of relaxation when life was otherwise overwhelming. As well as recommending such physical palliatives for the mental sufferer, Spurgeon urged patient carefulness in making any assessment of the situation. He knew how quick we are to assume, when set back and depressed, that grace has left us, or that we have become pointless. Having at all times an objective truth that does not depend on our ability to feel their truth, the promises of God are like a light that cannot be overcome by our darkness. They are an immovable and infinite comfort beyond the reach of our finite trouble and doubt.

When ministering to the downcast, pastors commonly point people to the resurrection and the victory of Christ. And the thought of death defeated, tears wiped away, and exchanging the helmets and swords of our struggle for palm branches and crowns was all essential comfort for Spurgeon.

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  6. However, when pastoring the suffering and depressed, he seemed most often to have focused people on Christ crucified and as the Man of Sorrows. He said:. And the world loses God. That, I think, is ultimately what this conference is about, and why I am so happy to be a part of it. Now let me turn to the story of my personal encounter with Edwards, and the pilgrimage of the last thirty years of friendship with him.

    The point here is to whet your appetite for his works and to give you some introduction to his life and writings. My conviction is that if I can infect you with Edwards and his passion for God's supremacy, you will have a very powerful inoculation against the hollowing disease of our times. When I was in seminary, a wise professor told me that besides the Bible I ought to choose one great theologian and apply myself throughout life to understanding and mastering his thought, to sink at least one shaft deep into reality rather than always dabbling on the surface of things.

    I might in time become this man's peer and know at least one system with which to bring other ideas into fruitful dialogue. It was good advice. The theologian to whom I have devoted myself more than any other is Jonathan Edwards. All I knew of Edwards when I went to seminary was that he had preached a sermon called "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," in which he said something about hanging over hell by a slender thread.

    My first real encounter with Edwards was in a church history course with Geoffrey Bromiley when I chose to write a paper on Edwards' Essay on the Trinity.

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    It was one of those defining moments when my view of God's being was forever stamped. The Son of God is the eternal idea or image that God has of himself. And the image that he has of himself is so perfect and so complete and so full as to be the living, personal reproduction or begetting of himself. And this living, personal image or radiance or form of God is God, namely, God the Son. And therefore God the Son is co-eternal with God the Father and equal in essence and glory.

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    And between the Son and the Father there arises eternally an infinitely holy personal communion of love. 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.

    You can see how this all coheres with the earlier conception of God glorifying himself in two ways: by being known and being loved or enjoyed.

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    That corresponds to the very way the Godhead exists: The Son is the standing forth of God knowing himself perfectly, and the Spirit is the standing forth of God loving himself perfectly. Perhaps you can begin to feel the fire that began to burn in my bones as I saw a more profound unity in the nature of things than I had ever imagined.

    That encounter was and I knew the Edwards I had met in high school was a caricature. The next work of Edwards that I read was the Freedom of the Will.

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    I found it totally compelling philosophically, and in perfect harmony with my emerging Biblical theology. Saint Paul and Jonathan Edwards conspired to demolish my previous notions about freedom. The book was a defense of Calvinistic divinity, but Edwards says in the preface, "I should not take it at all amiss, to be called a Calvinist, for distinction's sake: though I utterly disclaim a dependence on Calvin, or believing the doctrines which I hold, because he believed and taught them, and cannot justly be charged with believing in everything just as he taught.

    In a capsule, the book argues that "God's moral government over mankind, his treating them as moral agents, making them the objects of his commands, counsels, calls [and] warnings. The will is determined, rather, by "that motive which, as it stands in the view of the mind, is the strongest. All are enslaved, as St. Paul says, either to sin or to righteousness Romans , see also John ; 1 John ; but slavery to sin, inability to love and trust God see Romans , does not excuse the sinner, for this inability is moral, not physical. It is not an inability that prevents a man from believing when he would like to believe; rather it is a moral corruption of the heart that renders holy motives to believe ineffectual.

    The person thus enslaved to sin cannot believe without the miracle of regeneration, but is nevertheless accountable because of the evil of his heart, which disposes him to be unmoved by reasonable motives in the gospel. In this way Edwards tries to show that the Arminian notion of the will's ability to determine itself is not a prerequisite of moral accountability. Rather, in Edwards' words, "All inability that excuses may be resolved into one thing, namely, want of natural capacity or strength; either capacity of understanding, or external strength.

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    A pastor and missionary all his life, Jonathan Edwards wrote what is probably the greatest defense and explanation of the Augustinian-Reformed view of the will. It is primarily due to this book, The Freedom of the Will, that many subsequent scholars have called Edwards the greatest American philosopher-theologian. Aside from its intrinsic power, the clearest witness to its merit is its enduring impact on theology and philosophy. When evangelist Charles G. Finney, a hundred years later, wanted to level his guns against the Calvinistic view of the will, he did not see any of his own contemporaries or even Calvin himself as the chief adversary.

    Finney's assessment of the book in a word: "Ridiculous! Edwards I revere; his blunders I deplore. I speak thus of this Treatise on the Will, because while it abounds with unwarrantable assumption, distinctions without difference, and metaphysical subtleties, it has been adopted as the textbook of a multitude of what are called Calvinistic divines for scores of years.

    But for all its vehemence, Finney's slingshot missed the mark, and the great and godly Goliath strides on today, relentlessly exerting his power in theology and philosophy alike.

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    In , Perry Miller would chastise academics for their prejudice against Edwards and their frequent caricatures of him as an antiquarian specimen of hell-fire preaching from the long-lost times of the Great Awakening. Miller's own assessment: "He speaks with an insight into science and psychology so much ahead of his time that our own can hardly be said to have caught up with him.

    Beginning in , Yale University Press began to publish a new critical edition of Edwards' works, of which thirteen volumes have now appeared. It is not surprising that the first work they chose to publish was The Freedom of the Will. It is simply without peer.