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John Gerstner on Jonathan Edwards The Doctrine of Regeneration.

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) - The Works of Jonathan Edwards Online at APM

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John Gerstner on Jonathan Edwards The Doctrine of Regeneration.


Review of Man’s Inclination and Will.

Jonathan Edwards distinguishes emphatically between the power of will and the inclination of will but not enough, apparently, to head off a host of contemporary scholars from confusing them. Even in his own day Edwards had his confusers, as he complains in M 710.

Perry Miller finds Edwards’ determinism not only essentially the same as that of Augustine, Leibniz and Turretin, and “almost all the Calvinistic writers of Geneva and Holland, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,” but also in Hobbes and Anthony Collins as well. (Perry Miller, Jonathan Edwards (New York: William Sloan Associates, 1949), p. 224.)

The late B. F. Skinner, on the other hand, according to the following statement, must never have read Jonathan Edwards’ Freedom of the Will or any of those philosophers mentioned above:

Prevailing philosophy of human nature recognizes an internal ‘will’ which has the power of interfering with causal relationships and which makes the predictions and control of behavior impossible. To suggest that we abandon this view is to threaten many cherished beliefs — to undermine what appears to be a stimulating and productive conception of human nature. (B. F. Skinner, Science and Human Behavior (New York: Free Press, 1965), p. 7.)

Rational as man by nature is, it is, according to Edwards, the affections that move him. He can know what he might do but it is his feelings that produce action good or evil. (Works (Yale), 2:passim.)

A disposition is the inclination of the soul. It tends, in Edwards, to equate with the will as we have seen. More than once, especially in Freedom of the Will, he claims that to will and to incline are the same thing. (Works (Yale), 1:passim.) A disposition by its very nature is a created (or re-created) entity or faculty of the soul. Following Aristotle, Edwards thought that the soul’s generating a disposition is an absurd notion. Rather:

This is the general notion, not that principles derive their goodness from actions, but that actions derive their goodness from the principles whence they proceed; and so that the act of choosing that which is good, is no further virtuous than it proceeds from a good principle, or virtuous disposition of mind. Which supposes, that a virtuous disposition of mind may be before a virtuous act of choice; and that therefore it is not necessary that there should first be thought, reflection and choice, before there can be any virtuous disposition. If the choice be first, before the existence of a good disposition of heart, what signifies that choice? There can, according to our natural notions, be no virtue in a choice which proceeds from no virtuous principle, but from mere self-love, ambition, or some animal appetite. And therefore a virtuous temper of mind may be before a good act of choice, as a tree may be before the fruit, and the fountain before the stream which proceeds from it. (Works (Yale), 3:224, see Original Sin Part II, Chapter I, Sect. I.)

“When God first made man he had a principle of holiness.” (Unpublished MS sermon on 2 Pet. 1:19 (4), “When God first made man he had a principle of holiness in his heart,” p. 1, to the Mohawks at the treaty, August 16, 1754. The text reads “We have also a more sure word of prophecy.” Edwards begins: “These honorable gentlemen speak in the name [of the government] . . . . I in the name of Jesus Christ.”) But now “man is born with no other principle but self-love to direct his powers.” In the application, Edwards says that Adam, too, had the self-love principle but it was subject to the love of God, and, therefore, good. (Unpublished MS sermon on Mat. 10:17, “That the nature of man is so corrupted that he is become a very evil and hurtful creature,” p. 3, before 1733.)

Preaching on 1 John 4:12 Edwards tells us that holiness was a supernatural principle in Adam but even then it did not properly belong to human nature. (Unpublished MS sermon on 1 John 4:12, “True grace in the hearts of the saints is something divine,” p. 5, Dec. 1738.) Human nature as such can exist apart from a principle of holiness. The unregenerate are true, though utterly evil, men.

The sermon, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever” leads to an oblique reference to the mutability of mere man.

I. We learn from the truth taught in the text, how fit Christ was to be appointed as the surety of fallen man. Adam, the first surety of mankind, failed in his work, because he was a mere creature, and so a mutable being. Though he had so great a trust committed to him, as the care of the eternal welfare of all his posterity, yet, not being unchangeable, he failed, and transgressed God’s holy covenant. He was led aside, and drawn away by the subtle temptation of the devil. He being a changeable being, his subtle adversary found means to turn him aside, and so he fell, and all his posterity fell with him. It appeared, therefore, that we stood in need of a surety that was unchangeable, and could not fail in his work. Christ, whom God appointed to this work, to be to us a second Adam, is such an one that is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, and therefore was not liable to fail in his undertaking. He was sufficient to be depended on as one that would certainly stand all trials, and go through all difficulties, until he had finished the work that he had undertaken, and actually wrought out eternal redemption for us. (MS sermon on Heb. 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same now that he ever has been and ever will be,” p. 3, April 1738, printed as “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever,” Works, II:949-954. The quotation is on p. 951. See Application.)

According to Medieval theology, the Holy Spirit originally dwelt in the original righteous man who would be pulled apart by the tension between body and soul were it not for the super-added gift (donum superadditum) to hold him in harmony. When man failed to control the tension by failing to use this special gift, he fell into sin. Why man as created did not use this gift was the scholastics’ problem as it was Augustine’s before them.

Edwards’ problem is far more difficult. His super-added gift was none other than the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit could not fail to keep changeable man from changing from good to evil, and man could not overpower Him if he were tempted to do so. So though never spelled out, this divine super-added “gift” must have been a mere offer. If the Holy Spirit were resident in the first man, he would never have fallen, as it is now with persevering saints, and as will be the case later in heaven where the perfected saint never can even sin because the Spirit fully indwells. If the Spirit were not resident but merely offering to reside within man it still remains difficult to understand why unfallen man would ever reject such a Gift.

Man was made with a holiness principle but this was not essential to human nature. It was lost by the Fall without humanity ceasing to be. As a matter of fact, all the motivation that is necessary to human nature is self-interest, not God-interest. Yet man would know from his rational nature that it is to man’s self-interest to be controlled by God-interest. He was at first aided toward this by the “supernatural” principle of holiness and the presence of the Holy Spirit Himself in Adam, but being deceived by the devil he let his self-interest overthrow God-interest.

Zechariah 7:5-6 teaches “that no religion is acceptable to God but that which is done from a true respect to him.” (Unpublished MS sermon on Zech. 7:5-6.) This is because that is not “true” which springs from self-love. That only is true which has its foundation in the high esteem of God and a sense of His “excellency.” Consequently, true worship “aims” at the glory of God and pleasing Him and enjoying Him and His promises by faith. The rationale against self-interest and in favor of the divine is that there is no goodness in anything not for the glory of God. God does not command anything for need of it but only as occasion for the creature to respect Him and live. Other-motivated deeds have no “suitableness” to the nature of God and are essentially lies. (Unpublished MS sermon on Zech. 7:5-6.)

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.

Bible Verse:

“I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless,” (Gen. 17:1).

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