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Considering Sin

Miscellanies by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

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Edwards talks about original sin, sin in general, the sin against the Holy Spirit, and sin in relationship to law and duty.

nn. Demerit of Sin. It is certain without dispute that an offense, injury or affront to God is greater than an offense, injury or affront in other respects equal, against any finite being that is or can be, however great….

Again, it is evident that the injury increases in some proportion or other to the greatness of its object: that is if you add greatness to the person injured, you add badness to the injury in some proportion or other…

34. Original Sin. There can be no question but that human nature, by some means or other, however it came about, is now, in these days, all over the world, in every man that comes into the world, very much vitiated. Now the rectitude of human nature and of rational beings most certainly is that they should be most highly affected with the highest excellencies, and less affected with lower excellencies; that the mind should have the sweetest taste and most perfect, exquisite delight of those things that are truly most delightful, and a lower delight and slower relish of those things that in themselves are less delightful; that the things that are most beautiful and amiable, as soon as ever they are seen, should most delight the eye, and those things which are less beautiful should less please the sight; and that man should have the quickest and easiest sight and most delightful perception of that which is best, and the slowest and dullest perception of that which is less good. This is the rectitude of human nature, and thus humans once were, or else most certainly human nature proceeded from God as an inconsistent, self-repugnant, and contradictory thing. But we know, as well as we know that we have being, that this rectitude is not the present state of human nature but the right contrary, in all universally, till human nature, by some means after we are born, is wrought up into this rectitude again. We are the highest species with the lowest excellencies. We have the easiest and greatest delight in things that in themselves are least delightful. Things that are less beautiful and amiable in themselves strike much quicker and deeper with the sense and proportion and constitution of the mind than things that have in themselves the highest excellence, most charming beauty, and exquisite sweetness. Yea, we can hardly bring ourselves to be in any measure pleased with the beauty, or to taste any sweetness at all, in things that are infinitely the greatest excellencies. How much soever one has been out of the way of ill examples or from the practice of vice, set before his eyes or represent to his mind the brightest and most amiable instances of virtue, and his mind responds but very heavily, at the perception; but bring before him beauty of body, and some of the meanest perfections of mind, and the soul comes immediately alive and in a near rapture. And so in all other cases.

44. Eternal Torments. Question. Seeing that the malicious or evil principle, which is the essence of the sin, is not infinite, though the God against whom sin is committed be infinite, how can it be just to punish sin with an infinite punishment? I acknowledge, if man at the same time that he injured God had actually a full and complete idea of the infinite excellency and greatness of God whom he injured, he could not injure him without an infinite pravity of soul, and then infinite punishment would undoubtedly be deserved. But all finite beings are uncapable of this full idea. Wherefore it is impossible for them to have this infinite restraint, nor of pravity of infinite strength to break through restraint. It seems that the pravity of an action is not to be measured by the real hidden excellency or greatness of the person offended, but by the understanding the offender has of his greatness. That which was hidden is no aggravation, because he did not know it. If his idea be finite, then a finite pravity of mind is sufficient to conquer that idea.

Answer. Eternal punishment is just in the same respects infinite as the crime, and in no other. Thus the crime or injury done, in itself considered, is really infinite, yet is finite in the idea or mind committing it, that is, is in itself infinite but is not committed infinitely: so it is with the punishment. It is really in itself infinite but is never suffered infinitely. Indeed if the soul was capable of having at once a full and complete idea of the eternity of misery, then it would properly be infinite suffering, but the soul is no more capable of having a full idea of that than of the infinite greatness and excellency of God, and we should have as full and as strong an idea of God’s infinite perfection as the damned have of the eternity of their torment, if it were not for sin. Eternity is suffered as an infinite God is offended, that is, according to the comprehension of the mind. Then if it were possible for a man eternally to be in pain, and all the while be deceived and think that he had suffered not above half an hour, and was assured that he was not to suffer above half an hour longer — though the misery in God’s idea would be infinite, yet in the suffering it is finite, in the suffering it is no more than if one should partake of nothing, and suffer one hour, and drop into nothing again. Sin against God, in God’s idea, is infinite, and the punishment is infinite no otherwise but in the idea of God. For all that is past and all that is to come, that is not comprehended in finite ideas, is not anywhere else but in the divine idea. See where we have proved that nothing has any existence but in ideas. [Of Being.]

301. Sin and Original Sin. The best philosophy that I have met with of original sin and all sinful inclinations, habits, and principles is that of Mr. Stoddard of this town of Northampton. This is that it is self-love, in conjunction with the absence of the image and love of God — that natural and necessary inclination that man has to his own benefit, together with the absence of original righteousness. Or in other words it is the absence of that influence of God’s spirit, whereby love to God and to holiness is kept up to that degree that this other inclination is always kept in its due subordination. But this being gone, his self-love governs alone and, having not the superior principle to regulate it, breaks out into all manner of exorbitancies, and becomes in innumerable cases a vile and odious disposition and causes thousands of unlovely and hateful actions. There is nothing in the actions we call sin, but only the same self-love that necessarily belongs to that nature, working and influencing without regulation from that superior principle that particularly belongs to our nature and that is necessary in order to the harmonious exercise of it. This natural and necessary inclination to ourselves, without the governor and guide, will certainly, without anything else, produce or rather will become all those sinful inclinations which are in the corrupted nature of man.

475. Sin Against The Holy Ghost. There seem to be three things essential to this sin, viz., conviction, malice, and presumption in expressing that malice. Christ says, Mat. 12:31-32, “Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men and, whosoever speaketh a word against the son of man it shall be forgiven him but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost neither in this world nor in the world to come.”

Here I would observe 1st, in order to a man’s speaking against or reviling the Holy Ghost in the sense of this text, he must have some knowledge of him. If a man only hears the name Holy Ghost, having no notion what is meant by it and reviles he knows not what, he does not blaspheme the Holy Ghost in the sense of the text. Or if he has only such a notion that he is one of the persons in the Godhead and speaks against him, as he does against the other persons, having no notion in his mind of anything that is a distinction of nature or work. One man would not be said to blaspheme or revile another, if he spoke against him, having only heard his name, having no notion at the same time in his mind of anything belonging to him that distinguished him from the rest of mankind, or to revile his person in particular if he had no other notion of him than only of his being of such a company, if he has no notion in his mind of anything that distinguishes his particular person that he expresses spite against. Therefore when men blaspheme the Holy Ghost, they express spite against something that they have an idea or notion of in their minds, that is particularly pertaining to and distinguishing of this divine person. Therefore I determine thus: that those that blaspheme the Holy Ghost unpardonably express their contumely and spite against the Holy Ghost with respect to those acts of his, wherein consists his nature and office, viz. divine love either expressing the love of God or breathing (?) love to God, or which is the same thing with respect to his gracious and holy acts. It is no matter whether they have a distinct notion of a person of the Holy Ghost if they, out of malice, revile those things wherein his nature and work consists. The Pharisees, out of malice, reviled the Holy Ghost in his expressing the love and mercy of God to men in casting out devils and delivering men from captivity to that cruel enemy, a gracious and glorious work, something of the same nature with his casting Satan out of men’s souls and an image of it. And we are not to understand it, as though Christ charged them with this sin merely because they reviled the Holy Ghost in this work. But in all his doctrine and works they, against conviction, laid all those things in Christ that were the fruits of the Spirit to the devil. They charged him with acting and being acted by an unclean spirit, Mark 3:30.

2. In order to a man’s blaspheming the Holy Ghost in the sense in which Christ speaks his so doing, it must be attended with conviction. He must be sensible that he does it, and he must be sensible that the thing he reviles is God’s Spirit, or at least that it is from God. He must have conviction that God is God and must have a malice against him, and must from malice against him express his contempt. Or despite of some gracious or holy spiritual operation of his, or in a word, he must revile the grace of God that he has light to know is his. A man is not said to blaspheme or revile another in the sense that the expression is used in this text, if he does not know who he is. If a man meets another that is his father and reviles him, he doesn’t revile his father, if he doesn’t know that it is his father.

A man may have light sufficiently to know a thing and may inwardly secretly be convinced, and yet his spite and malice may keep him, as it were, from owning of it to himself. A man may have abundant evidence of some worthy qualification in another that he mortally hates and may, as it were, keep from owning of it to himself, and yet indeed be inwardly sensible of it. He does, as it were, willfully stop the mouth of his understanding — wont suffer it to speak out. So I believe it was with those Pharisees: that miserable unreasonable shift of theirs to take off the evidence of his miracles seems to show that they were convinced, but were willfully resolved to object and not to own, viz., that he had one of the strongest of the devils in him and so by him cast out the rest.

3. By speaking against the Holy Ghost I understand anyway very outwardly and presumptuously declaring malice by reproaching and blaspheming. A having malice inwardly is not sufficient, though it be against convictions of conscience, but when a person has (?) with his malice also the presumption as to appear in it, he has that spirit of contempt that he is not restrained by any fear or awe, but is so horribly daring as outwardly to express his malice, by reproaching, then therein he commits the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost. Generally words and actions go together.

4. The spite and malice that they do this from may be against God or against the Son of God, or against the people of God, but if it is not any spite or malice against God or the Son of God or the people that being declared is the sin against the Holy Ghost, but their spite must be because of the Holy Ghost. If their spite is declared against God, it must be because of the gracious or holy breathings and operations of the Spirit that he is the Author of. If it be against the Son of God, it must be because of what of the Holy Ghost appears in him: his holy doctrine, holy precepts, holy life, or what of the gracious or holy influences of the Holy Ghost come from him. Or if it be against the people of God, it must be because of the Holy Ghost in them, their holy religion, holy graces. Their spite and malice is evermore terminated upon the Holy Ghost, or as the Holy Ghost is the foundation of their malice. Their spite and contumely, when it is declared, it must be declared against that, or for that. They need not declare that their spite is for the Holy Ghost, but they must declare that it is for that which is indeed, and which they are convinced, is divine, the Holy Ghost. For instance, if a man, when convinced, appears in avowed enmity against another for his holiness, his love to God, or his humility and faith in Christ alone, if he openly appears in avowed hatred and contumely against him for those things, either by reproaching him for them, or maliciously persecuting of him declaredly for those things, whether he will call them the Holy Ghost or no, yet if he is convinced that they are, or that they are divine things in him, he commits the unpardonable sin. The Pharisees, though they were inwardly convinced, yet had a mortal spite against Christ for his holy doctrine and manner of life and precepts and miracles, because they were so contrary to them and therefore they reproached them as though they were hellish and from the devil.

We have reason to think that conviction is one thing essential to this sin, for this is every where in Scripture spoken of as a sin the more difficultly pardoned, Num. 15:29- 30, speaking there of the sacrifices that were to be offered for sins of ignorance, God says, “But the soul that doth ought presumptuously whether born in the land or a stranger, the same reproacheth the Lord and that soul shall be cut off from among his people.” Luke 23:34, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” 1 Tim 1:13, “But I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly and in unbelief.” So in the beginning of the 6th chapter to the Hebrews (Heb. 6), speaking probably there of this unpardonable sin, and 10th chapter (Heb. 10).

Here a question may arise, viz. why is this more unpardonable than to have a spite against and to blaspheme the divine being in general, or either of the other persons of the Trinity? If a man that was convinced of the being of a God should blaspheme and reproach him and charge him with folly, or with injustice and cruelty or wickedness, that is not unpardonable. But he that blasphemes against the Holy Ghost, willfully and maliciously reproaches that which should attract our love, and win our hearts, viz. the beauty and grace of God. They are malicious against God for his love and loveliness. They are malicious against God’s saving grace and presumptuously blaspheme it. Wherefore God never will bestow it upon them.

When men blaspheme the Father or the Son and may yet be pardoned, they blaspheme him by denying that of him wherein the Holy Ghost consists, by denying goodness or holiness and attributing contrary qualities to him, or else by denying wisdom of them.

Mr. Baxter says that it does not appear that the Pharisees were convinced. But we have to think that many of them were convinced by their behavior, at other times as well as now, Mat. 28:11, particularly by their behavior when the watch came and showed them of Christ’s rising from the dead. Their actions plainly showed that they believed them, for they did not blame the watch at all, that they had not been faithful in watching and keeping the body of Jesus, but gave them large money to hide (?) them, to keep it secret, and invented a lie for them to tell, and told them they would plead their cause with the governor, and would persuade [sic] him and secure (?) them. By Heb. 6 it appears that it is against a great degree of light and Heb. 10, it is said, “if they sin willfully after they have received the knowledge of the truth.”

Christ in mentioning the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost has respect to their laying all that he did, as acting by the Holy Ghost, to an unclean spirit. He has not only a respect to this particular instance of casting out devils, for they did not only moan that this, but that all was from the devil. He rather takes occasion to mention it now because such a miracle was a powerful argument to convince them. The people were all amazed and said, “Is not this the Son of David,” Mat. 12:23. And they were now convinced by the strength of it, as he sees who knew their thoughts, as it is said, Mat. 12:25. And they showed their conviction by what they said as we observed before.

The Pharisees did but repeat what they used to say upon this occasion. They used to say, “he hath an unclean spirit and that he had Beelzebub,” Mat. 10:25. And it is this, that Christ has respect to as Mark 3:30. They repeat that now with this addition, that the unclean spirit he had was the prince of them, to take off the objection he did or might raise against them: you say that he acts by the spirit of the devil? If so, how does he cast out devils out of others? They answer that the devil, that he has is the chief of them, and by that he is able to cast out the rest.

The apostle says, Heb 10:26, “if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, etc.” Now persons may be said to sin willfully in three senses: 1. As all sins are willful, even sins of ignorance, the actions are voluntary actions, and they spring from a depraved disposition or inclination. 2. When men know that acts are sins at the same time that their wills determine them, as a man may do when he is overpowered by a temptation, by fear or some appetite. 3. When his will is determined to wickedness for opposition’s sake, without any cause for it but a mere spite against, and contumacy towards that to which sin is the opposite: against true religion and its principles and exercises, or against the Holy Ghost in his actings and fruits. For the Holy Ghost is the opposite to sin, Heb. 10:29, “he hath done despite to the Spirit of grace.” This is to sin spontaneously, åêïõóéù, or willingly in the sense of this text.

They rebel for the sake of rebelling, oppose for the sake of opposition, or which is the same thing, out of spite to that which is opposed.

566. Law. Sin. Duty. It hardly seems to me true to say that the command of God is the prime ground of all the duty we owe to God. Obedience is but one part of the duty we owe to God. It is our duty to love God, to honor him, and have a supreme regard to him, and submit to him, and praise him, and obey him. These are distinct duties. To obey God is not a general, that under which the rest are properly included as particulars. That does not comprise the general nature and reason of all the rest. It is not the prime reason or ground of our obligation to love and honor God, that is, our duty to obey him. I acknowledge that we are commanded to love and honor God, and that we ought to love and honor him in obedience to that command, seeing God has commanded it. But our obligation to obedience is not the prime ground of our duty to love him and honor him, but on the contrary, our obligation to love and honor God and to exercise a supreme regard to God is the very proper ground of our obligation to obey. That is the very reason that it is our duty to do as God bids us, because we have such a supreme regard, love, and honor to him, as disobedience is quite contrary to. A command of any being cannot be the prime foundation of obligation because there must be something prior, as a reason why a command is obligatory, and why obedience is due to it. If anyone should ask me why I am obliged to obey God more than the king of France, it would not be proper for me to answer, because God commands me to obey him. There is something prior to God’s command that is the ground of, and reason why, his command obliges.

664a. The Greatness of the Sin of Unbelief. The sin of unbelief is exceedingly provoking to God, because thereby his only begotten Son is condemned and ill treated. And how incensing that must be to the wrath [sic] we may judge, by considering how soon and how greatly God’s wrath was wont to be stirred up by an ill treatment of the saints. They who were but Christ’s disciples were so dear to God, and God set so high a value upon them, that he touched the apple of God’s eye, and his wrath was effectually roused by it, despising of them was a great crime, Mat. 18:10. “Take heed that he despise not one of these little ones etc. — but how much dearer to God is his only begotten Son, and how much higher a value doth he set upon him.” John 3:18, “because he hath not believed on the only begotten Son of God.”

Especially if any of the saints came from God with a gracious message to men, if they were then treated with indignity, did God highly resent it. Thus how highly did God resent it when Corah and his company envied Moses and treated him ill and rejected him: how terribly were they destroyed. But if they escaped not who refused him that spoke on earth, much more shall not we escape if we turn away from him that speaks from heaven.

676. Sin. All that a natural man doth is sin. Vid. Shepard’s Sincere Convert, p. 105. Let a woman seek to give all the content to her husband that may be, not out of any love to him but only out of love to another man; he abhors all that she doth.

725. Vanity of the World. After the fall, the place of paradise was altered. It was changed from earth to heaven, and God ordered it so that nothing paradisiacal should be any more here. And though sometimes there be great appearances of it and men are ready to flatter themselves that they shall obtain it, yet it is found that paradise is not here, and there is nothing but the shadow of it. Those things that look most paradisiacal will have some sting to spoil them.

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.

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