Book Write-Up: A History of the Work of Redemption, by Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards, A History of the Work of Redemption. See here to download the book.

Jonathan Edwards was an eighteenth century Calvinist minister. He is known for his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” His book, “A History of the Work of Redemption,” is a series of sermons that he delivered about the work of God throughout history. He starts with creation and goes to the new heavens and the new earth, but he also comments on events that are not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, such as the intertestamental period, Constantine, and the Reformation.

Here are some items:

A. The book is rather plodding when it goes through the Old Testament, but it came alive to me when Edwards got to the New Testament. It just seemed that, when he went through the Old Testament, he dutifully summarized the stories and referred to the kings of Israel and Judah and whether or not they worshiped idols, but he commented more on religious and spiritual ideas once he got to the New Testament. He also got into prophetic scenarios. His summation on the significance of the Old Testament is insightful and edifying, however, as he discusses the significance of the Old Testament within God’s larger purposes.

B. A point that Edwards made in talking about Christ is that Christ’s moral perfection is greater than that of angels. That is an intriguing thought, since one might think that Christ, the angels, and pre-Fall Adam and Eve are all in the same boat, morally-speaking: they are perfect and sinless. What more can one say? But Edwards argues that Christ’s moral perfection is above that of angels. That reminds me of John Wesley’s view that even those who are spiritually perfect can find room for growth and improvement in their love for God and neighbor.

C. There are passages in the synoptic Gospels in which Christ seems to envision an imminent end of the world, and that troubles a lot of Christians because it could possibly suggest that Christ was wrong: two thousand years later, the world goes on, and we are still not experiencing the paradise that the second coming of Christ is supposed to bring. Edwards addresses this by positing four comings of Christ. Some of them have occurred throughout history, with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE and Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. Some of them will occur in the future. The passages in which Christ appears to envision an imminent eschatology trouble me, as a person of faith. Yet, Edwards’s point that the Bible has produced powerful effects throughout history in converting people and revolutionizing society is compelling.

D. Edwards’s approach to prophecy is an intriguing hodgepodge of approaches. As you can see in (C.), there is a preterist dimension to Edwards’s thought: a belief that Christ envisioned a cataclysmic “coming” in the first century. But there is also a historicist dimension, as Edwards treats the papacy as the Antichrist and refers to Catholic persecution of Protestants throughout the history of Christendom. He believes in a coming millennial reign, followed by the ascension of Christians to heaven. Edwards believes that God will convert the Jewish people, but he also applies Old Testament prophecies about Israel’s restoration, not to Israel, but to the church.

E. Edwards says what he thinks about non-Christian religions. He envisions Muslims uniting with the papacy against the truth of God. He also says that Native Americans worship the devil.

F. Edwards occasionally offers thoughts on who wrote the books of the Bible, particularly Joshua-II Chronicles. For Edwards, different biblical figures wrote those books. Edwards lived in the time of historical criticism, but the idea of a Deuteronomistic History does not appear to be on his radar. Martin Noth supposedly came up with the idea centuries later, but Noth engaged previous ideas, so I do not know what the views about the authorship of Joshua-II Kings was in Edwards’s time. The concept of a Deuteronomistic History makes sense to me, though, since there are common narrative threads that extend throughout Joshua-II Kings.

G. Daniel 11:32 states that people who know God will resist the king who sets up the abomination of desolation. Edwards, like many interpreters, holds that this passage is about the Maccabees, who revolted against Antiochus Epiphanes. That makes sense. At the same time, some scholars have held that the Book of Daniel advocates a different policy in response to Antiochus than what the Maccabees pursued: Daniel advocates waiting for God’s dramatic and supernatural intervention, as opposed to the pious Jews taking matters into their own hands. The author of Daniel may still have seen the Maccabees as well-intentioned, even if he disagreed with their strategy.

H. I read the mobi version of this book. Mobi does not always do a good job in transitioning the old print of the Puritans. There were parts of the book, therefore, that did not flow smoothly, in terms of grammar and spelling. But I could still make out what the passages were saying.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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