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Charity and Its Fruits by Jonathan Edwards

Charity and Its Fruits (1738)

by Jonathan Edwards

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The book is setup as 16 lectures on the subject of love but reads much more like as a series of sermons Edwards may have given in his church.

Edwards spends all 16 chapters teaching on the nature of love from 1 Corinthians 13. He begins (ch1) making the argument that all true virtue (what he calls grace in the heart) is summed up in love. Love is the nature of God and is the ingredient on all true and living faith. As a result it is the most essential thing.

In subsequent chapters he goes on to explain positively and negatively what love is and is not and finally concludes with a moving chapter on the nature of heaven, which will be a world of love.

As a preacher, I learnt a lot from analysing the structure of each chapter. Each chapter generally follows a similar structure:
- he begins with the doctrine, looking to the nature of the subject (eg Christian love is a humble spirit)
- he then contrasts this doctrine with other subjects, its opposite or how impressive the subject is given the world we know
- following this he offers proofs and evidences for the doctrine, answering objections to the doctrine along the way
- finally he concludes each sermon with application to the reader

Edwards preaches Christ throughout the book. He realises that true change is worked in our hearts when we see how Christ has acted toward us. As an ethical method this is striking. Instead of moralising the text, saying “just do it”, he calls the reader to look to one who lived this way and poured out his love like this unto us. See pp.107-108, 118-120, 145, 149-152. And yet at the same time, Edwards never backs off telling us it is necessary to live this way.

Edwards finishes most chapters with an appeal to the believer and at times the non believer (pp.92ff). He makes an earnest, direct, practical appeal to the will to act on what the mind has just heard and what the affections have been moved to value. In almost every chapter, his application (in part) is for the reader to examine themselves. As such he preaches as a pastor and evangelist.

At times I was personally challenged and rebuked by my lack of love. At other times my heart was made glad as I reflected on God’s own love for me which meets perfectly every aspect of love described in 1 Corinthians 13.

I highly recommend this book for all pastors and for all Christians and even for sceptics. It is not always easy reading, and I did get bogged down and left the book aside for months on end. But every time I picked it up again I was deeply moved in reading. For those who are slow readers or find reading difficult, this may also be your experience, but persevere as the rewards are great. ( )
  toby.neal | Jan 2, 2018 |
Jonathan Edwards preached this series of discourses on I Corinthians 13 in 1738 to his congregation in Northampton. These sermons, sixteen lectures in all, give great insight into the regular pastoral preaching of Edwards and show how gifted he was as an expositor of Scripture. They are full of both doctrinal propositions and practical instruction. They explain the text and also apply it. Edwards' aim was to show how Christian love is manifested in the heart and life of a true believer. His sermons follow the typical Puritan style of preaching, giving "doctrine" and application.

The first lecture seeks to prove that "all the virtue that is saving, and that distinguishes true Christians from others, is summed up in Christian love." In this sermon, Edwards' familiarity with the breadth of Scripture is plainly evident. The second and third sermons seek to more fully expound the first three verses of I Corinthians 13 in which Edwards explains how love is more excellent than the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit and that anything which is suffered in the way of duty is vain if not permeated with love.

Lectures four through fourteen focus on the fifteen characteristics of love as described in verses four through seven of I Corinthians 13. Edwards' pastoral concerns are most evident here as he labors to show how love will be longsuffering, kind, unselfish, etc. Edwards' penetrating application lays bare the human heart in ways that I have rarely seen in other sermons.

The final two sermons deal with the last paragraph of I Corinthians 13 and are more theological in nature as Edwards contends that the Holy Spirit will forever be given to the saints in love and that Heaven will be a world full of love. Edwards' view of heaven and hell are described with poignant detail in this last sermon, which is one of the most beautiful and insightful treatises on heaven that I have ever read. Like all of Edwards' writings, Charity and Its Fruits is full of theological acumen, philosophical insight, and pastoral concern. ( )
1 vote brianghedges | Oct 23, 2009 |
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