"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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    Book Review: A New Inner Relish: Christian Motivation in the thought of Jonathan Edwards, by Dane Ortlund

    Reviewed by John Hendryx

    A New Inner Relish: Christian Motivation in the thought of Jonathan Edwards by Dane Ortlund is a gem of a book. Books on scholarly research are not usually the ones I gravitate toward when considering a book review in the hope that the average reader will be interested in it. In fact, I was not planning to read this one at all but casually picked it up off our store bookshelf the other day to skim through. Having been immediately captivated by it, I read further and found that I could not put it down. Ortlund’s research of Jonathan Edwards writing on motivation is anything but dry and could even be said to be devotional in nature. If you are interested, as I am, the biblical doctrine of regeneration taken to a deeper level I would encourage you to pick this one up.

    Ortlund does a great job of explaining why motivation is a critical component of our faith, influencing every aspect of our sanctification and lay at the heart of Edward’s theology. Three motivating factors we often associate with the Christian faith is 1) what Christ has already accomplished for us on the cross, 2) our new identity as heirs and children of God and 3) the blessing that await us in heaven. But as Ortlund points out, Edwards believes that these motivators, in themselves actually provide no power to obey from the heart that loves God. None of these can stimulate righteous living apart from God granting our hearts a new relish or disposition. In other words, these three motivators are impotent apart from grace. These truths merely applied externally are not the efficient cause of regenerating grace. Faith and obedience, he says, will not be authentic without renewal of heart.

    Regarding the relevancy of Jonathan Edwards’s writings for a contemporary audience Ortlund says “Jonathan Edwards must be heard today because he exhaled the air of eternity as one intoxicated with the resplendent beauty of the immortal God in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This was his all-consuming passion as he lived under and awareness of and enthrallment with God foreign to vast portions of the church today.” Now that’s some prose I can deal with because of its tendency to make my heart leap and want to worship Christ. He quote David Wells as saying that one of the defining characteristics of our time is that God is now weightless, meaning unimportant, resting so inconsequently upon the world as to hardly be noticeable. While Ortlund fully acknowledges Edwards as a sinner and in now way wishes to exalt him to superhuman status, he wants to point out some important things we can learn from Edwards that may point us back to a higher view of God. This is because Edwards united religious affections with intellectual powers.

    Edwards reminds his readers, Orlund notes, that God has dealt a fatal blow to the bondage of sin in regeneration, that “through union with Christ believers are freed from sin’s penalty and power (Rom 6:1-11). For all He has done both for us and in us, believers are grateful to God. Edward’s emphasized that in looking back to what Christ has done for us our acts of obedience are not done to pay back God. “After all”, he says, “obedience is itself only a gift of God’s grace (2 Cor 9:8; 1 Pet 4:11). Therefore if we are counting on obedience to put us right with God or to pay Him back, such moralistic strategy will backfire since it will only be putting us more in His debt.” Our obedience arises, rather, from gratefulness that arises from a renewed heart acknowledging that we are already saved and made his children, not a way to maintain our standing before God.

    The gift of the new heart by the Holy Spirit by its nature cries out ‘Abba Father’. Those who thus know the Lord “are those who have had a principle or seed of … love implanted in their hearts in a work of regeneration,” says Ortlund. He quotes Edwards here at length:

    “…they have been the subjects of a new birth; they have been born of the Spirit. A glorious work of the Spirit of God has been wrought in their hearts, renewing their hearts, as it were, by bringing down some of that light, and some of the holy pure flame, which is in the world of love, and giving it place in them. Their hearts are a soil in which this heavenly seed has been sown and in which it abides. And so they are changed, and of earthly are become heavenly dispositions. The love of the world is mortified and the love of God implanted.”

    Ortlund goes on to note Edwards most vital concept in the entire study: “regeneration, or being born again, the act of God which inaugurates the new inner relish…” According to Edwards reading of the Bible, believers believe and obey the gospel BECAUSE “it is what they relish. It is their new inclination.” In order to make his point, he differentiates the reading of the ingredients of a chocolate bar to the actual tasting of it. So important was this concept in Edwards ministry that he emphasized appealing not only to people’s heads but their hearts, and this taste of spiritual sweetness as the only path to true holiness. So while Edwards exhorted his listeners to pursue holiness he, more importantly, painted a beautiful portrait of God and put it before men.

    Change, obedience and the motivation that drives it, according to Edwards, comes about from the inside out. That is, the sinner must lose all hope in himself and God must change him at the most basic level, disposing and inclining our hearts to obey Him. The Holy Spirit, in other words, must be granted if there is to be any right perception of God. “Only a divinely wrought, inward change truly and lastingly motivates rebels to lay down their arms in glad obedience. God grants a new inclination”. This God given vision of the moral beauty of God does not come about naturally, but affections and obedience to Christ come as a direct result of the new heart. Divine initiative is what motivates toward greater godliness. In short, “all motivation to obey God is a direct result of His sovereign hand at work in a human heart that is thoroughly self-absorbed apart from imported grace.” In regeneration God gives new eyes to see, new taste buds and unites to Christ in life altering way. This was not possible before God acted. We now have a divinely given distaste for sin, which previously held us in bondage to its false beauty. But our new nature is repelled from this, says Edwards.

    Natural men, in other words, have no sense of spiritual things – they fail to see the beauty and excellency of Christ. Only a supernatural divine sense enables them to see it. And only true saints can revel in Christ’s beauty and moral perfections. True Christians alone can love God’s holiness because if they don’t, Ortlund points out; they prove their alleged false faith. Once we are converted, we are captivated and delight in holiness.

    To conclude, he affirms with Edwards that, “Christianity is not a religion of importing obedience in the hope of cultivating a life pleasing to God. It is the living out of something already inside us. It is inside-out, not outside in. ‘Without a change of nature, men’s practice will not be thoroughly changed. Until the tree is made good, the fruit will not be good. Men do not gather grapes of thorns, nor figs of thistles…The swine may be washed, and appear clean for a while, but yet, without change of nature, he will still wallow in the mire.” We believe that this is the kind of teaching that must regain a foothold in today’s church if we are to witness true reformation and revival … and authentic Christian corporate witness that will transform the church and the culture.

    Note: Ortlund has provided a very valuable 70-page appendix at the rear of the book which gives extensive documented quotes from Christians throughout church history on this same vital topic.


    A New Inner Relish: Christian Motivation in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards, available at Monergism Books
    Posted by John on October 27, 2008 12:22 PM

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