Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards 1703-1758.

Yale Gradate in theology (1722).

A Presbyterian by ordainment and most of his pastoral career.

A staunch Calvinist, he objected to Arminianism as illogical. Self-determination he believed was beyond human capacity, limited free-will yes, but not full self-determination. We are confined to our origins he taught, and that the first cause was not of our determination, and since we react to each thing that happens to us, on down the chain of our existence, that ultimately, we do not have self-determination at all.

He also defended original sin. Universal mortality, particularly infant mortality, proves original sin beyond a shadow of a doubt in his mind.

He wrote his paper on original sin in response to John Taylor's work who claimed that babies went to heaven because they were sinless, and that certain adults were also sinless. Taylor also taught that after salvation people were given ability to live only certain levels of holiness from God and were obliged to do no more.

Meaning again that no sin was imputed to them over what they could do. This of course flies in the face of many scriptures, we all sin after we are saved, and Jesus paid for those sins too, to say we do not sin after salvation is silly and licentiousness at best.

In his paper, "A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections", Edwards both defends the revivals in New England (America) and attacks false conversions. As one of the most powerful works ever written, it has been said that if you can read that paper and still believe you are a Christian afterwards then you are truly saved. :-) In those days affections meant almost the same thing as passions, but was a little less base in its meaning.

The gist of his paper is that true religion is acompanied by passion for Christ and the things of Christ. It is also accompanied by peace and joy. He calls lukewarmness an odious thing.

He believed the baptism of the Holy Spirit and with fire meant passion in the heart. He commented that cold doctrine without passion was dead and lifeless.

He commented that holy joy is part of true religion, as is sorrow, mourning, and brokenness of heart.

He goes through the entire category of emotions (gratitude towards God, compassion, mercy, zeal, and summarized and unified in the single word love)

He then devotes a large part of the paper to false affections: Grandiosity, affects on the flesh, zealousness to religion, self-generated, scripture quoting, have the appearance of love, even all of the above in abundance, an awakening of conscience improves one's life, lots of religious activities, exceeding confidence in one's religion.

That is a whopper of a list, he lists many of the false apparently zealous chasing after religion and a holy life that so many people fall into.

Next he lists the true "affectations" and their nature: Come from above and not from below, they lack self-interest, are founded on God's holiness rather than ours, a certainty of God's word and His promises, evangelical humilation - willingness to evangelize at personal cost, a change of nature occurs in the individual, the lamb-like dove-like meek spirit of Jesus Christ (quietness, forgiveness, and mercy), tenderness of spirit, beautiful symmetry and proportion, the more true spirituality is obtained, the more one wants - contrasted with self-satisfaction that results from the false, all these things are practiced in the believers life - bearing witness to his neighbors of the truth of Christ.

I see why they say what they do, I didn't make it past that list either, I cannot claim to be a Christian by Edward's standards, or at least I have a long way to go.

Edwards also wrote a treatise on grace, he associates graciousness with grace. He is also the one who taught me that Calvinism is really about grace. We are saved wholly by the grace of God, and not by ourselves. I have disagreed with Arminianism since the first moment I understood what it teaches. Calvinism's detractors accuse it of being fatalistic, as if somehow that idea that God is sovereign is a fatalistic philosophy, but like his successor Spurgeon, Edwards also described predestination and (limited) free-will as being operational in full force, and salvation is wholly by grace. This is Biblically accurate as far as I can tell, and Arminianism is not.

Edwards believed that "true virtue" was the purpose for which we were created, to live the truly "virtuous life". This is a synopsis and climax of many of his earlier writings in my opinion.

Edwards writings as a whole tend to make one uncomfortable with whatever level of "virtue" one has obtained. His concept of grace was manifest graciousness in a person's life, meaning godly character and temperment. He believed any true conversion (and he believed that many were false) resulted in a changed life.

Jonathan Edwards is best known for being a part of the great awakening. This was a revival in New England (Massachusetts actually). His most famous sermon during this time is "sinners in the hands of an angry God". In many ways this is the quintessential fire-and-brimstone sermon of all time. It, and all of Edwards' sermons and writings, are freely available in their entirety on the web link at the web at the top of this page.

Jonathan Edwards is also remembered as a theologian of revival and a champion of it. In "The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God", Edwards gives nine false signs of revival and five true signs.

His conversion theology is also helpful. Many people before truly coming to Christ in the proper way (which is to acknowledge His sovereignty and lordship) seek to reform themselves. Sooner or later they will utterly fail, and come to a realization of their spiritual bankruptcy. Only now they are ready to truly accept Christ as Lord and Savior. And even if they have come to this point, is not necessarily evidence that grace is present says Edwards. Only a changed life, one that has been changed from above, and not by the efforts of the person count as evidence of a true conversion in Edwards' way of thinking.

Edwards was one of the earliest cessationists in the history of reformation theology. He was adamantly against any "mental impressions" attributed to God that would so easily allow believers to let Satan set himself up as leader of God's people. I agree with Edwards assessment of risk, and believe that he accurately predicted what has happened in our time.

His explanation is that miracles were for the purpose of creating scripture. The revelatory gifts were for creating it, and the other gifts for confirming it. The Canon, once finished, required no further miracles to support or sustain it according to Edwards.

Cessationism actually originated much earlier, as early church fathers were writing within one hundred years after the last apostle died that miracles had apparently ceased. And by Augustine's time (a few centuries later) had developed theologies to explain it that were essentially identical to Edward's viewpoint.

Scriptural arguments supporting Edwards' conclusions are weak however, so I reject Edwards conclusions myself. But I do not reject the early church fathers who recorded that miracles had ceased. God is sovereign and can do as He wishes. (Note: As I continue my studies I have become more sympathetic to the partial cessationist view that some gifts may have ceased, but miracles have not, again more of an observation than a theology. I was unaware that such a distinction between miracles and gifts existed when I first wrote this article).

Edwards was agnostic about outward manifestations, trembling, falling to the ground and so on. He basically said these things are meaningless in and of themselves, see his true manifestations of grace discussion (QED). In his lifetime he also changed his mind a bit about these things. Earlier in his life he endorsed such things, but was critical of them later as "excesses" that detracted from the message of the Gospel. I find his later assessment quite refreshing and appropriate to today.

Edwards many other works include his sermon: "Justification by Faith Alone".