“Jonathan Edwards argues in his sermon A Divine and Supernatural Light that God will, from time to time, provide a child of His with a flash of insight and understanding of divine things. He uses as his text Matthew 16:17 where Peter confesses Christ and Jesus answers that he is blessed because the Father in heaven has revealed it to him. Peter, here, Edwards argues, has a “sense” of the divine excellency that overpowers him, couples with his reason and zeal and causes him to burst forth in his accurate confession. Edwards carefully delineates that it is not the faculty of reason but the sense of the heart that receives this divine light. However, he also demonstrates that this light does not overrule reason – in fact, it is a rational thing to experience.”

Mr. Selby, a question:

A common objection to the possibility of such “senses of the heart”, or if not their possibility than their feasability for being a useful part of the Christian life, is that a) they seem subjective, and b) there is nothing to prevent the dreadful, and common, experience of a person claiming to have received a divine sense and going on therefore to do some dastardly evil or to preach some old heresy.

Does Edwards respond to this objection or concern?

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Posted by Keith E. Buhler


  1. I’m not sure if this helps answer your question, but Edwards does say that the divine light is a sense of the divine excellency of the things revealed in the Bible. So there’s no new “cognitive” content; it’s only a confirming sort of sensation that the things revealed to be true in the Bible are divinely excellent.


  2. I agree with Burglar. Edwards sees Scripture as a rule to which one can compare his new “sense.”

    So to address your specific points, Keith, I take Edwards to say that a) the “sense” bestowed by the Divine Light is indeed subjective, by which he means it reaches as deep as the individual heart. The object of this “sense” is not the idea of God’s holiness, but the deep feeling of the beauty of His holiness. (I love Edwards’ aesthetic theology, if I may call it that.) Since it is a feeling, it is subjective, but the feeling is the proper response to some objective (independent) truth, e.g. God’s holiness.

    As for b), I think Edwards pretty well addresses this concern with his use of Scripture as the rule by which to judge the conclusion or outworking of the Divine Light in a particular person. He admits in The Religious Affections that it isn’t easy for others to tell whether some one has truly had an experience of God, but the fruit of virtue in their lives reveals his salvation, or lack thereof. It’s easy to con an experience, but not so easy to pretend to be a thoroughly good person.

    Edwards’ balance is one of his chief virtues as a philosopher and theologian.


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