This devotional was taken from Edwards' sermon on Malachi 4:1–2.
For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. (ESV)
Edwards loved to use analogies from the natural world to explain and illustrate weighty spiritual truths. In this message he teases out the idea that Christ is the spiritual Sin with beams of gracious influence (or judgment). The sermon can be read in its entirety at The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University.
To show what we may understand by the beams of this spiritual Sun, or its wings, as by an Hebraism it is expressed in the text. And here I would [not] at all strain the similitude or metaphor beyond what is naturally signified by it; and therefore to understand what is meant by the beams of the Sun of righteousness, we are to consider that the rays or beams of the sun are those by which the sun is manifested and by which it has its influence.
The beams of the sun are those by which the sun is manifested. The sun appears to us, or is seen by us, no otherwise than by its rays or by the beams of light that its sends forth. All other things here on the face of the Earth are seen or discovered by the light or beams of the sun; but the sun is discovered only by his own light. The rays of the sun's light shining to our eyes, are those by which the sun's glory is manifested and made to appear to us.
And again, the beams of the sun are that by which it has its influence. All the influence the sun has on sublunary bodies to enlighten them, to comfort them, to cause them to grow and flourish, or, on the contrary, to cause them to wither and die: I say, all these ways of its influence is by its beams that it is continually sending forth.
And therefore by the beams of the Sun of righteousness we are to understand all that by which Christ makes himself known, or by which he communicates himself or diffuses his influence. And particularly, the following things must be understood as signified by his beams or wings, as 'tis expressed in the text.
First—His Word and ordinances. The glorious gospel of Jesus Christ is as it were the rays or beams of the light of the Sun of righteousness. 2 Corinthians 4:4, “Lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” So the Word of God is called a light. Psalms 119:105, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light.” Verse Psalms 119:130, “The entrance of thy words giveth light.” Proverbs 6:23, “The commandment is a lamp.”
The gospel is the light by which the Sun of righteousness enlightened the world after the long night of darkness that there was before Christ came. The words that Christ spoke, and the particular passages of Scripture by which he is revealed, are as so many bright beams proceeding forth from the Sun of righteousness.
The gospel is the main instrument by which the influences of this Sun are derived on the hearts of men. So also the ordinances of the gospel are as beams by which Christ is made known and by which he influences men's hearts. The same things are exhibited in the sacraments of the gospel in another manner as are held forth in the Word. By these Christ gives us instruction, and by these he carries on his work, as well as by his Word. And therefore these also are as beams from this sun.
Second—The communications and influences of his Spirit on men's hearts. The Spirit of Christ is the messenger he sends forth, by which the Word and ordinances are made effectually to enlighten, enliven and quicken men's hearts. And therefore these communications and influences of the Spirit are as it were the beams put forth from that, by which he enlightens and warms and produces other effects in the hearts of men.
The sun's light and heat is his fullness of which the world receives. So the Holy Spirit, that Christ has not by measure, is his fullness of which the spiritual world receives and partakes.
Third—All the exercises of Christ's power whatsoever may be called his beams. That by which the sun has power and by which it produces all its great and powerful effects are its beams, or rays; by these it warms, by these it cherishes, and by these it dries, scorches and burns.
So all the exercises and emanations of Christ's omnipotence are as it were the emissions of his beams, not only those effects of his power that are by the influences of his Spirit on men's hearts, but all other exertions of his power whatsoever.
Fourth—All manifestations of his attributes whatsoever, not only those that are made by his Word, but all appearances of his attributes in his works: his works in creation and providence, his works of providence towards godly men, and also towards the ungodly, in this and another world.
And also those appearances of his majesty and glory which will be made immediately hereafter, without any use of God's Word or ordinances. These displays— that which will be made of the majesty of Christ and awful glory of Christ to the bodily eyes of both good and bad at the day of judgment— these may properly [be] represented as the beams of the light or brightness of the Sun of righteousness. These are the shining forth of his glory, as the glory of the sun shines forth in his rays.