Many of the readers of this blog will be familiar with Jonathan Edwards’ well-known sermon A Divine and Supernatural Light, in which Edwards explains the biblical and theological idea of regeneration. It is arguably the greatest theological explanation of regeneration in all of church history. Just a few decades prior to Edwards’ preaching A Divine and Supernatural Light, Thomas Halyburton–one of the notable Scottish theologians–left the church what is arguably the greatest experiential explanation of what happens to someone in conversion when He explained his own conversion in his Memoirs:
The promises and truths of the word, in great abundance and variety, were brought to remembrance, and the wonders contained in them were set before mine eyes in the light of the word. (John 14:26; Ps. 119:18.) “He sent his word, and healed me.” (Ps. 107:20.) This was the rod of his strength, that made me willing (Ps. 30:2, 3); and it was the plain word of salvation that I found to be the power of God. (Rom. 1:16.) I cannot positively say that the particular places above-mentioned were the words whereby these discoveries were conveyed to my soul; but by these, or such like passages, and I believe by many even of those mentioned promises and truths, were the discoveries above-named made to me. But it was not the word alone that conveyed the discovery; for most of the passages whereby I was relieved I had formerly in my distresses read and thought upon, without finding any relief in them. But now the Lord shined into my mind by them. (2 Cor 4:6).
For formerly I was only acquainted with the letter, which profits not (John 6:63) ; but now the Lord’s words were “spirit and life” (Ps. 36:9); and “in his light I saw light,” God opening mine “eyes to see wonders out of his law.” (Ps. 119:18.) There was light in them; a burning light by them shone into my mind, to give me not merely some theoretical knowledge, but ” the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6) And many differences I found between the discoveries now made and the notions I formerly entertained of the same truths. —
1. It “shone from heaven” (Acts 9:3); it was not a spark kindled by my own endeavors, but it shone suddenly about me; it came by the word of God — a heavenly mean; it opened heaven, and discovered heavenly things — the glory of God; and it led me up as it were to heaven. Its whole tendency was heavenward.
2. It was a “true light” (John 1:9), giving true manifestations of God, even the one true God, and the one mediator between God and man; and giving a true view of my state with respect to God, not according to the foolish conceits I had formerly entertained, but as they are represented in the word.
3. It was a pleasant and sweet light: “Truly light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun” (Eccles. 11: 7.) It had a heavenly satisfaction in God attending it. It led to a pleasure in the fountain whence it came.
4. It was a distinct and clear light, representing not only spiritual things, but manifesting them in their glory, and in their comely order (2 Cor. 4: 6); it put all things in their due line of subordination to God, and gave distinct and sweet views of their genuine tendency.
5. It was a satisfying light. The soul rested in the discoveries it made, and was satisfied; it could not doubt if it saw, or if the things were so as represented them. (1 John 2:27).
6. It was a quickening, refreshing, healing light. When this Sun of Righteousness arose, there was “healing under his wings.” It was, like the summer’s sun, warming. In a word, it was the light of life. (John 8: 12; 2 Cor. 4:6).
7. It was a great light. It made great and clear discoveries, whereby it easily distinguished itself from any former knowledge of these things I had attained. And,
8. It was a powerful light. It dissipated that thick darkness that overspread my mind, and made all those frightful temptations, that had formerly disturbed me, fly before it. When the Lord arose, ” his enemies were scattered,” and fled before his face. (Ps. 48:1).
9. It was composing. It did not, like a flash of lightning, suddenly appear, and fill the soul only with amazement and fear; but it composed and quieted my soul, and put all my faculties in a due posture, as it were, and gave me the exercise of them. (Cant. 3:8, compared with Isa. 42:19). It destroyed not, but improved my former knowledge. These particulars might be explained and further amplified; but the nature of this narrative, and the brevity designed in it, will not allow me to insist; and I the more willingly stop here, and forbear to give any more large account of my small experience of this light, because I know that no words can express the notion that the weakest Christian, who has his eyes opened, really has of its glory. The true notion of light is not conveyed by the ear. The ear tries words, the taste meats (Job xii. 11); but it is the eye that beholds the sun. No words can convey a true notion of light to the blind; and he that has eyes, at least while he sees it, will need no words to describe it. It manifests itself and other things (Eph. 5:13). It is like the new ” name, that none knows save he who has it” (Rev. 2:17). And they who really see, but because their light is weaker, and Satan raises mists to obscure it, will be more capable of judging of it by its effects, than by any account of its nature. Therefore, I shall forbear to speak any more of that, and now proceed to account for the effects, whereby its reality and difference from former light will more obviously, evidently, and convincingly appear. However, at least, while this shining brightness lasted, this one thing it convinced me fully of, and made me certainly know, ” that whereas I was blind, now I saw” (John 9:25).1
1. Halyburton, Thomas Memoirs of the Rev. Thomas Halyburton (Glasgow: Printed for William Collins, 1830) pp. 154-156