Jonathan Edwards on the Ministry (16)
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertainto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 2 Peter 1.2-4
“Christ has not only told us, but shown us, the way to success in our business, and the way to victory over all that oppose us in it. And our imitating Christ in our ministry, will be the way for us to be partakers with him in his glory; the way for us in like manner to be approved, and openly honoured and rewarded by God: the way to be brought to sit with Christ on his throne, as he is set down with the Father on his throne.”
- Jonathan Edwards, Christ the Example of Ministers
The knowledge of God and Christ
Jesus declared the work of shepherds to be that of giving eternal life to the sheep (Jn. 10.27, 28). Jesus, of course, gives the gift of eternal life by which we are saved and renewed; His shepherds also give the gift of eternal life as they labor to help the members of their flock grow in the knowledge of God and Christ, which is eternal life (Jn. 17.3).
This is what Peter sought for the churches in Asia Minor. He longed for God’s grace and peace to be multiplied in them through the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ. The grace and peace of God come to His people for that very reason, that they might partake of the divine nature, and so increase in eternal life and all its benefits and fruit.
God does this in us by His divine power, helping us to increase in life and godliness by drawing us closer to Himself through His Word of promise, that we might actually partake of Him, dwell with and abide in Him, and leave the corrupt practices of the sinful world behind.
Since God, our Good Shepherd, does this in us, we who are His under-shepherds (Jer. 23.1-4) must make “our business” to do the same, both for ourselves and for those we serve. The goal of pastoral ministry must be that, increasingly, those we serve should so come under the influence of God’s grace and peace, and be so moved by His precious and very great promises, and so warmed by His glory, that they grow in the knowledge of God and Christ – which is eternal life – and partake increasingly of His nature.
But what exactly is it to “know God and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent”? How do we know when we know God? What does this involve? How is the knowledge of God experienced or expressed? And what is the role of a shepherd in helping those he serves to grow in the knowledge of God and Christ?
And how does increasing in the knowledge of God make us “partakers of the divine nature”?
The glory of God and Christ
To partake of the divine nature is to enter the glory of God and Jesus Christ. The glory of Christ is the Presence of Christ in the fullness of His deity – what the apostles experienced on the Mount of Transfiguration. It is a fearful Presence indeed, as John explained in Revelation 1. But it’s where we belong! And, while Jesus is always present with us, even to the end of the age, we are not always awareof His Presence. We do not partake of Him as we might. We are distracted, diverted, and frankly, not sufficiently interested in the presence of the Lord, such that we do not know how to engage Him in His glory.
Ministers especially should know the Presence of Christ in His glory, in their times of reading and study, in prayer and worship, and as they minister in His Name and power among the flocks of God. Jesus intends for us to share in His glory and to partake of Him by living toward His promises and laboring, beyond our strength and abilities, to serve the people entrusted to our care – spending and being spent for their souls.
I’m convinced that the reason our discipleship is so ineffectual in this age in flight from God is that we have not truly partaken of Christ as fully or consistently as we can. We have reduced our discipleship to activities related to church, rather than to accessing the Presence of Christ in His glory by every available means. We have made of the work of ministry a check list of things to do rather than an adventure of leading the flock of God ever more deeply into the green meadows and beside the still waters of the Presence of Jesus Christ.
In Scripture, when people were confronted with the glory of God, they experienced something real and palpable, something that filled them with fear and ignited deep affections of longing and joy at the same time. Like the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, in the Presence of God’s glory we experience something so utterly other-worldly that it shakes us to the depth of our being and fills us with a desire for more of the same.
Absent knowing the glory of God, living for His glory will be next to impossible. And if we settle for anything less than partaking of Jesus, we will not be much inclined to proclaim Him to our neighbors.
For the glory
Jesus led the disciples into the glory of God, and the disciples, filled with the Spirit of Jesus, led the multitudes into the glory of His Kingdom by their ministries of the Word. As shepherds, we must settle for nothing less than to partake of the divine nature and to know God in His glory. Oh, how greatly would our ministries be affected if we actually partook of the divine nature in all our undertakings! Then we would proclaim Jesus and His glory by word and deed and sacrament. Then we would lead His sheep to feed on Him, rest in Him, shelter near Him, be clothed in Him, and grow in the knowledge of Him. Thus partaking of Jesus, the followers of Christ would, as they are going, live for and manifest the glory of Jesus, and demonstrate the hope that is within them.
If we will seek the Lord in His glory, He promises that we will find Him (Jer. 29.13). We have been seated with Christ in heavenly places, and are surrounded by and suffused with His glory as our normal mode of being in the world (Eph. 2.6; Ps. 19.1-4). Let us fix our minds on this glory (Col. 3.1-3), so that we are utterly transformed by it, and partake of Jesus in ever-newer and more powerful ways (2 Cor. 3.12-18). Then let us shape and direct our ministries to lead the Lord’s sheep into that same glory, through the precious and very great promises of God, that they and we together may partake of Jesus, and partaking, grow in the knowledge of our Lord and God.
The greater your knowledge of God becomes, the more you will realize the magnitude of his promises. When God blesses us, he changes our very being so that whatever we were by nature is transformed by the gift of his Holy Spirit, so that we may truly become partakers of his nature.
- The Venerable Bede (672-735 AD), On 2 Peter
T. M. Moore
Shepherding God’s Flock?
How is the work of shepherding the souls of God’s people going in your church? Need a refresher? Consider enrolling in our course, “Shepherding God’s Flock,”at The Ailbe Seminary. It’s free, and it can help you get your church into a framework in which watching over the souls of all the people in your care is a real possibility.
Refresh your own soul: Pray for Revival!
Please prayerfully consider sharing with The Fellowship of Ailbe through your giving. You can contribute to The Fellowship by clicking the Contribute button at the website or by sending your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 19 Tyler Drive, Essex Junction, VT 05452.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Quotations from Jonathan Edwards, “Christ the Example to Ministers,” are from Edward Hickman, ed.,The Works of Jonathan Edwards(Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1834, 1995). Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).