The Sin of Self-LoveMiscellanies by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
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473. Natural Man. Conversion. Self-Love. Common Work of the Spirit. From a principle of self-love, that is to say, from a love of pleasure and a love of being loved, and a hatred of pain and an aversion to the being hated, many things may arise. First, there may arise the affection of gratitude, for as the soul necessarily loves pleasure or respect, so it loves that which the soul sees to be the cause of that pleasure or good, or to be the person that exercises that love and respect. A person may have a kind of benevolence and complacence in an immediate thing that has been the occasion of much delight and pleasure to him, by a certain kind of association of ideas and inclinations and acts of the mind. Ideas that are habitually associated together do partake of one another’s love and complacence and benevolence, i.e., in the benevolence and delight the soul exercises towards them. But especially is it natural to the soul to exercise gratitude to persons that it conceives of as not only causes of pleasure but also, therein, exercising respect — and that both as it loves the pleasure and the respect. As it is natural to the soul to exercise anger or malevolence to a person that it conceives of as hating him and doing him ill, so is there also a natural gratitude in the soul. Mat. 5:46, “If ye love them that love you, what reward have ye, do not even the publicans the same?”
2. From self-love a person may come to love another person for good qualifications of mind. If a person conceives of another as having those qualifications of mind that would enable him to do him good and minister to his profit or pleasure, and as being disposed to respect and benevolence (which he will look upon as more or less valuable as he conceives of the person as greater or less, more or less considerable and honorable) — this may beget in his mind strong desire of a person’s friendship, and of having a propriety in him and union with him, and may for the present cause a kind of benevolence from the person’s imagination (whereby he imagines himself as being in friendship and union and enjoyment of him) and a complacence from that love of virtue which there may be from self-love, which we now are about to speak of.
3. There may be a love to many virtues that arises from self-love. So there may be a love of justice and a love of generosity because it conceives of such virtues as tending directly to man’s good, and finds and knows that they tend to his own good whenever exercised towards him. And when the contrary vices are exercised, they are for his ill and excite his anger. And so a person may habitually hate it, yet desire it and make association with it. For the person is restrained from such acts himself, and therefore he is not an actor but only a sufferer by such vices, and so he has not benefit but only injury by them. For man may come to scorn some vices from pride, if it greatly affects his actions and his natural conscience suggests to him the relation between some vices and shame and contempt. A man may hate other vices from the things that usually attend them, as he may hate drunkards for their other vicious dispositions that attend it, as their boisterousness and ungoverned spite and scoffing, which he may hate for the reason aforesaid. A man may dislike men for some vices from envy, for he is restrained and he has not the pleasure of them, and his envy in such a case is without restraint, for he looks upon his zeal as good, and gives it the reins.
821. Self-Love. Common Grace. Saving Grace. There are two affections that are natural to men, that do especially seem to imitate virtue. The one is gratitude, or a disposition to love others that love them. It is as easy to account for such an affection’s arising from self-love, as to account for anger and revenge, whereby men are disposed to hate those that hate them… [Biblical citations are omitted.]
2. It is very plain, by experience, that pity is an affection natural to men. But this does not argue that men naturally have any true or proper love to others that does not arise from self-love. For men may pity those that they have no love to, provided they do not hate them, or if they do hate them, they may pity them if they see that their misery goes beyond their hatred. Pity is a painful sensation in us arising from the sight or sense of misery in others that is disproportionable to our disposition towards them. Whenever there is a disproportion between our disposition towards others and the state we see them in, it has a tendency to excite uneasiness in us, let that disposition be what it will. When we see those happy that we do not love, or when their happiness exceeds our love, or when their misery is less than our hatred — that excites our envy. And on the other hand, when we see those miserable that we do not hate, or when their misery exceeds our hatred, or when their happiness is less than our love, it excites our pity. This natural pity may excite in men hatred of many acts of sin. We have a remarkable instance in David, when he does not seem to have been much in the exercise of grace. 2 Sam. 12:5-6, “And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, as the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
And self-love may have influence to cause men to love virtue many more ways than one would be ready to imagine. The ways of the working of a man’s heart are so mysterious that in many instances it may be difficult to give an account how such and such things should arise from self-love.
That natural men should love just, generous, meek, and benevolent persons, and persons possessed of such like virtues, with a love of appetition and complacence, though they have never received any benefit by those virtues in them and possibly have no expectation that ever they shall, is no more unaccountable than that they should love that sweet fruit and pleasant food, the sweetness of which they are sensible of or have an idea of, though they as yet receive no benefit of it, and do not know that ever they shall. Yet they love it, because they conceive of it as in itself tending to their pleasure, if there were opportunity and due application. So they conceive of those mentioned virtues as, in like manner, in their own nature tending to their good. Self-love makes them love the quality in general, in one case as in the other.
A natural man may love others, but it is some way or other as appendages and appurtenances to himself; but a spiritual man loves others as of God, or in God, or some way related to him.
Consider the following two works by Edwards that have been updated and republished for easy reading:
Ripe for Damnation: Sermons on the Book of Revelation – by Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758). Are you hungry for more of Edwards’ sermons? On the book of Revelation? These new works are not found anywhere on A Puritan’s Mind, and there are new ones not found in his large 2 volume works. 4 deal with the plight of the wicked, and 2 deal with the bliss of saints in heaven. These sermons are powerful, practical, and biblical, glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ, and contain 2 never before published sermons.
Justification by Faith Alone – by Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758). In this classic work, Edwards covers the intricacies of how believers are made righteous only through Christ’s merits, and that this justifying righteousness is equally imputed to all elect believers. This is accomplished by the condition of faith as an instrument.