Jonathan Edwards, Art and the Sense of the Heart

By Terrence Erdt | Go to book overview
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Chapter 4
Lively Pictures, the Use of Art

I do not suppose that they themselves imagined that they saw anything with their bodily eyes; but only have had within them ideas strongly impressed, and as it were, lively pictures in their minds: as for instance, some when in great terrors, through fear of hell, have had lively ideas of a dreadful furnace. Some, when their hearts have been strongly impressed, and their affections greatly moved with a sense of the beauty and excellency of Christ, it has wrought on their imaginations so, that together with a sense of his glorious spiritual perfections, there has arisen in the mind an idea of one of glorious majesty, and of a sweet and a gracious aspect.1

The imagination, Edwards believed, may advance evangelical religion in another way besides conjuring up ordinary ideas and feelings to substitute for those involving spirit. It can enable the mind to grasp circumstances never actually experienced; one may imagine, or be led to imagine, being perched precariously over a pit, then sliding helplessly and frantically into the bowels of hell. The imagination permits conceptualization of what cannot be sensed, the horrors of eternal damnation being a foremost instance. If one does not have a convincing idea of the terror which the unconverted are doomed to feel, a real feeling of anguish, one will not turn to Christ and beg for mercy. Thus to an extent one's spiritual fate may hinge upon the ability to imagine the awful punishment of hell. Much of what Scripture reports of the past and foretells of the future, Edwards realized, the imagination alone can make seem real to the mind, dependent as it is, from the Lockean perspective, upon sense knowledge. If the Bible is to be believed with conviction, if the mind is truly to grasp the revela


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