In his editorial introduction to Sermons and Discourses, 1720-1723 (The Works of Jonathan Edwards Series, Volume 10) (v. 10) (228-30), Wilson Kimnach emphasizes the central importance of typology in Edwards’s thinking. It was not simply a way of harmonizing old and new, but a clue to a biblical response to modern developments in metaphysics, the psychology of perception, and physics. Kimnach writes:

Typology “was not unusual for a minister of the English Puritan tradition, of course, but the scope, depth, and imaginative vitality of his work set it apart. At the heart of [Edwards’s] literary-theological studies was an attempt to define a vocabulary that would bridge the apparent gap between the eternal world of spiritual reality and the Lockean world of sensational experience in which men lived. Though the existence of the world as an idea in the mind of God might be demonstrably “true” (“The Mind,” no. 13), the observant and practical minister knew that as far as the members of his flock were concerned, the world of concrete phenomena perceived through the senses was “real” (“The Mind,” no. 34). In order to bridge that crucial gap—as Newton had bridged the gap between physical phenomena and the abstract principle of gravity—and, in doing so, give his flock a greater chance of recognizing the “supernatural light,” Edwards had to find both an authoritative sanction for the undertaking and a way of relating his vocabulary to those orthodox religious principles that he wished, ultimately, to uphold and substantiate. Finally, inasmuch as his intended auditory would have a higher percentage of New England farmers than members of the Royal Society, the “new vocabulary” had to have currency with the commonalty or nothing at all would be accomplished.”

Hebrews 9, of all things, held the key:

“Edwards turned once again to his basic text for all studies, the Bible. There, in the New Testament, he found the luminous paradigm: ‘The scope of the chapter [Hebrews 9]: to show how the things of the law and first covenant were types, shadows of things under the gospel state, and how much more excellent the antitypes. There is a parallel run between the tabernacle and heaven, between the sacrifices of bulls, goats, and calves, and the sacrifice of Christ.”

It was not a new text, of course, but Edwards made fresh use of it: “Edwards did not stop with conventional typology in his search for a new rhetoric. After all, conventional typology was preoccupied with linking the Old Testament to the New; what Edwards wanted was a ‘vertical typology,’ something to link the ‘true’ and the ‘real’ worlds in a simple, ‘sensible idea.’” As Edwards himself explained his “vertical typology”: “the whole outward creation, which is but the shadows of beings, is so made as to represent spiritual things. It might be demonstrated by the wonderful agreement in thousands of things, much of the same kind as is between the types of the Old Testament and their antitypes, and by there being spiritual things being so often and continually compared with them in the Word of God. And it’s agreeable to God’s wisdom that it should be so, that the inferior and shadowy parts of his works should be made to represent those things that are more real and excellent, spiritual and divine, to represent the things that immediately concern himself and the highest parts of his work. Spiritual things are the crown and glory, the head and soul, the very end, and alpha and omega of all other works. What, therefore, can be more agreeable to wisdom than that they should be so made as to shadow them forth?” (“Miscellanies,” no. 362.)

Through typology he was able to arrive at a unified view not only of Scripture but of his various philosophical and scientific concerns: “His ‘early idealism,’ his sentimentalist psychology, and his Newtonian search for the underlying principles of force in the spiritual cosmos: all could be reconciled in this new typology. Moreover, the true ‘natural’ types, if they could be positively identified, would furnish the preacher with a vocabulary that synthesized instruction, illustration, and proof. The type is, in literary terms, fundamentally an image; thus, such a device could be both true (according to the analogy of the world) and real (according to the evidence of the senses). Consequently, there might not need to be a distinction between a new way of thinking and the old way of talking; one might really do both simultaneously. If natural phenomena were invested with spiritual principles, to apprehend the image would be to apprehend the principle, and to apprehend the principle is to see the truth: ‘There is no other properly spiritual image but idea, although there may be another spiritual thing that is exactly like [it]. Yet one thing’s being exactly like another don’t make it the proper image of that thing. If there be one distinct spiritual substance exactly like another, yet [it] is not the proper image of the other; though one be made after the other, yet it is not any more an image of the first than the first is of the last. . . . Seeing the perfect idea of a thing is, to all intents and purposes, the same as seeing the thing; it is not only equivalent to seeing of it, but it is seeing of it, for there is no other seeing but having an idea. Now by seeing a perfect idea, so far as we see it, we have it; but it can’t be said of anything else that, in seeing of it, we see another, speaking strictly, except it be the very idea of the other.’” (“Miscellanies,” no. 260.)

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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