Jonathan Edwards on Remaining True to the Emphases of Scripture

“Surely those things which Christ and his apostles chiefly insisted on in the rules they gave, ministers ought chiefly to insist on in the rules they give. To insist much on those things on which the Scripture insists little, and to insist very little on those things on which the Scripture insists much, is a dangerous thing; because it is going out of God’s way, and is to judge ourselves, and guide others, in an unscriptural manner. God knew which way of leading and guiding souls was safest and best for them; he insisted so much on some things, because he knew it to be needful that they should be insisted on; and let other things more alone, as a wise God, because he knew it was not best for us, so much to lay the weight of the trial there. As the Sabbath was made for man, so the Scriptures were made for man; and they are by infinite wisdom fitted for our use and benefit. We should therefore make them our guide in all things, in our thoughts of religion, and of ourselves. And for us to make that great which the Scripture makes little, and that little which the Scripture makes great, tends to give us a monstrous idea of religion; and (at least indirectly and gradually) to lead us wholly away from the right rule….” (Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, III.XIV)

This is a good reminder, especially as we think about preaching.

Our aim in expository preaching is not to use the text to preach our own thoughts, ideas, applications, hobby horses, opinions, or to trampoline off the text into some topic or application we want to emphasize, but to dig into the text and let our emphasis and focus proportionally reflect that of the text (while of course contextualizing for pastoral concerns of our particular church and setting). Let’s be honest; we are not that wise (Prov 3:5-6). Our ideas are utter foolishness compared to what God has to say. Moreover, to insert our agenda or displace the emphasis of scripture is actually somewhat quite audacious — to hijack the very purpose that God had in given that passage.

Jonathan Edwards on Christian Warfare and Boldness Against the Enemies of Christ

But here some may be ready to say, Is there no such thing as christian fortitude, and boldness for Christ, being good soldiers in the christian warfare, and coming out bold against the enemies of Christ and his people?

To which I answer, there doubtless is such a thing. The whole christian life is fitly compared to a warfare. The most eminent Christians are the best soldiers, endued with the greatest degrees of christian fortitude. And it is the duty of God’s people to be stedfast, and vigorous in their opposition to the designs and ways of such as are endeavouring to overthrow the kingdom of Christ, and the interest of religion. But yet many persons seem to be quite mistaken concerning the nature of christian fortitude. It is an exceeding diverse thing from a brutal fierceness, or the boldness of beasts of prey. True christian fortitude consists in strength of mind, through grace, exerted in two things; in ruling and suppressing the evil passions and affections of the mind; and in stedfastly and freely exerting and following good affections and dispositions, without being hindered by sinful fear, or the opposition of enemies. But the passions restrained, and kept under in the exercise of this christian strength and fortitude, are those very passions that are vigorously and violently exerted in a false boldness for Christ. And those affections which are vigorously exerted in true fortitude, are those christian holy affections, that are directly contrary to the others. Though christian fortitude appears in withstanding and counteracting enemies without us; yet it much more appears in resisting and suppressing the enemies that are within us; because they are our worst and strongest enemies, and have greatest advantage against us. The strength of the good soldier of Jesus Christ appears in nothing more, than in stedfastly maintaining the holy, calm meekness, sweetness, and benevolence of his mind, amidst all the storms, injuries, strange behaviour, and surprising acts and events, of this evil and unreasonable world. …

The surest way to make a right judgment of what is a holy fortitude in fighting with God’s enemies, is to look to the Captain of all God’s hosts, our great leader and example, and see wherein his fortitude and valour appeared, in his chief conflict. View him in the greatest battle that ever was or ever will be fought with these enemies, when he fought with them all alone, and of the people there was none with him. See how he exercised his fortitude in the highest degree, and got that glorious victory which will be celebrated in the praises and triumphs of all the hosts of heaven, through all eternity. Behold Jesus Christ in his last sufferings, when his enemies in earth and hell made their most violent attack upon him, compassing him round on every side, like roaring lions. Doubtless here we shall see the fortitude of a holy warrior and champion in the cause of God, in its highest perfection and greatest lustre, and an example fit for the soldiers to follow, that fight under this Captain. But how did he show his holy boldness and valour at that time? Not in the exercise of any fiery passions; not in fierce and violent speeches, vehemently declaiming against the intolerable wickedness of opposers, giving them their own in plain terms; but in not opening his mouth when afflicted and oppressed, in going as a lamb to the slaughter, and, as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, not opening his mouth; praying that the Father would forgive his cruel enemies, because they knew not what they did; nor shedding others’ blood, but with all-conquering patience and love shedding his own. Indeed one of his disciples, who made a forward pretence to boldness for Christ, and confidently declared he would sooner die with Christ than deny him, began to lay about him with a sword: but Christ meekly rebukes him, and heals the wound he gives. And never was the patience, meekness, love, and forgiveness of Christ, in so glorious a manifestation, as at that time. Never did he appear so much a Lamb, and never did he show so much of the dove-like spirit, as at that time. If therefore we see any of the followers of Christ, in the midst of the most violent, unreasonable, and wicked opposition, maintaining the humility, quietness, and gentleness of a lamb, and the harmlessness, love, and sweetness of a dove, we may well judge that here is a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

When persons are fierce and violent, and exert their sharp and bitter passions, it shows weakness, instead of strength and fortitude. …

There is a pretended boldness for Christ that arises from no better principle than pride. A man may be forward to expose himself to the dislike of the world, and even to provoke their displeasure, out of pride. For it is the nature of spiritual pride to cause men to seek distinction and singularity; and so oftentimes to set themselves at war with those whom they call carnal, that they may be more highly exalted among their party. True boldness for Christ is universal, and carries men above the displeasure of friends and foes; so that they will forsake all rather than Christ; and will rather offend all parties, and be thought meanly of by all, than offend Christ. And that duty which tries whether a man is willing to be despised by those of his own party, and thought the least worthy to be regarded by them, is a more proper trial of his boldness for Christ, than his being forward to expose himself to the reproach of opposers. … He is bold for Christ, who has christian fortitude enough to confess his fault openly, when he has committed one that requires it, and as it were to come down upon his knees before opposers. Such things as these are much greater evidence of holy boldness, than resolutely and fiercely confronting opposers. …

There is indeed opposition, vigorous opposition, that is an attendant of it; but it is against things, and not persons. Bitterness against the persons of men is no part of, but is contrary to it…. It is no other, in its very nature and essence, than the fervour of christian love. And as to what opposition there is in it to things, it is firstly and chiefly against the evil things in the person himself who has this zeal; against the enemies of God and holiness in his own heart; (as these are most in his view, and what he has most to do with;) and but secondarily against the sins of others. And therefore there is nothing in a true christian zeal contrary to the spirit of meekness, gentleness, and love; the spirit of a little child, a lamb and dove … but is entirely agreeable to, and tends to promote it.

Edwards, Jonathan, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections: In Three Parts, Part III, Section VIII in The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Vol. 1, Banner of Truth Trust, 1974.

Jonathan Edwards on Scripture’s Self-Authentication

In part III, section V. of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections, Edward’s helpfully explains the Holy Spirit’s inward testimony to scripture’s divine origin. In short, Edwards argues that the gospel itself is directly “self-evidencing.” Namely, that the Spirit enables individuals to apprehend and taste the excellencies of God in the Gospel, which, when perceived, are direct evidence of its divine origin and thereby grants sure conviction of its truthfulness.

He goes on to say that (what we might call) more “evidentialist”-type arguments are helpful inasmuch as they are serviceable to “awaken unbelievers” or “confirm the faith of true saints.” Yet “there is no spiritual conviction of the judgment, but what arises from an apprehension of the spiritual beauty and glory of divine things.”

Below is a compilation of select quotations from this section of his book as they address this subject:


It is evident that there is a spiritual conviction of the truth, or a belief peculiar to those who are spiritual, who are regenerated, and who have the Spirit of God, in his holy communications, dwelling in them as a vital principle. … [This] spiritual conviction of the truth of the great things of the gospel is such a conviction as arises from having a spiritual apprehension. … [And this spiritual apprehension] consists in a sense and taste of the divine, supreme, and holy excellency and beauty of those things. So that then is the mind spiritually convinced of the divinity and truth of the great things of the gospel, when that conviction arises … from such a sense or view of their divine excellency and glory as is there exhibited. …

A view of this divine glory directly convinces the mind of the divinity of these things, as this glory is in itself a direct, clear, and all-conquering evidence of it. … He that truly sees the divine, transcendent, supreme glory of those things which are divine, does as it were know their divinity intuitively. … The manifestations of the moral and spiritual glory of the Divine Being (which is the proper beauty of the divinity) bring their own evidence, and tend to assure the heart. … Continue reading

Free-Willers in the Hands of an Angry Guy: Jonathan Edwards’ Philosophy of Human Freedom

The following is a paper originally submitted to Dr. Harold Netland in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the course PR 6411 History of Philosophy of Religion II at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL, April 2015.



Free-Willers in the Hands of an Angry Guy: Jonathan Edwards’ Philosophy of Human Freedom As Primarily Presented in Freedom of the Will


In the preface of his monumental work, A Careful and Strict Inquiry into that Modern Prevailing Notions of that Freedom of Will, Which is Supposed to Be Essential to Moral Agency, Virtue and Vice, Reward and Punishment, Praise and Blame,[1] Jonathan Edwards asserts that knowledge of ourselves, with particular reference to understanding the nature of human freedom, is next to knowledge of God as subjects of chief importance. Upon it rests all matters of religion, virtue, and the doctrines of grace (preface; IV.XIV).[2] Therefore, against the backdrop of the “Modern Prevailing Notion” of human freedom (i.e., libertarianism), Edwards seeks to establish what he sees as a more sure and stable philosophical conception of freedom upon which such things can rest securely. He finds his answer in theological deterministic compatibilism.

This paper seeks to succinctly analyze that philosophy of human freedom as Edwards primarily presents it in his monumental work Freedom of the Will.

Continue reading

A Summary of Jonathan Edwards’ View of Human Freedom

The following outline is essentially a summary of part 1 of Jonathan Edward’s Freedom of the Will.[1] The following does not include Edward’s defense of his view or critique of others’ views. That material is to be found in parts 2-4.


  • Freedom – “Freedom and Liberty … is The power, opportunity, or advantage, that any one has, to do as he pleases. Or in other words, his being free from hinderance or impediment in the way of doing, or conducting in any respect, as he wills.” (1.5)
    • Note: How a person comes to such volitions is not determinative for whether freedom is truly present. One is free when one chooses as one pleases, regardless of the cause of such choices.
    • Freedom contrasts with compulsion and restraint:
      • Compulsion – “a person’s being necessitated to do a thing contrary to his will.” (1.5)
      • Restraint – “being hindered, and not having power to do according to his will.” (1.5)
    • The will – “That power, or principle of mind, by which it is capable of choosing: an act of the Will is the same as an act of choosing or choice” (1.1).
      • Note: The will is not a property of the will (contra. the notion of a self-determining will [i.e., a self-willing will]), but a property of the person. Thus, an act of will is a person, not the will, in the act of choosing. // This distinction will be important as we consider what determines the will—as Edwards will answer, the motives of the person not a will as an undetermined, free entity.
  • Determination of the will.
    • Definition – “Causing that the act of the Will or choice should be thus, and not otherwise.” (1.2)
    • What determines the will.
      • The act of the will is an effect that has a cause. And, therefore, this cause is what determines the will.
      • And that cause is what Edwards calls motive. “It is that motive, which, as it stands in the view of the mind, is the strongest, that determines the Will.” (1.2)
    • Motive – “The whole of that which moves, excites, or invites the mind to volition, whether that be one thing singly, or many things conjunctly. … And when I speak of the strongest motive, I have respect to the strength of the whole that operates to induce a particular act of volition, whether that be the strength of one thing alone, or of many together.”
    • Conclusion – “The will always is as the greatest apparent good is” [i.e., what the mind at that moment apprehends as most agreeable]. (1.2.) A man’s choices are made “according to what, in the present view of his mind, taken in the whole of it, is most agreeable to him.” (1.2) Therefore, by definition, “A man never, in any instance, wills any thing contrary to his desires, or desires any thing contrary to his Will.” (1.1). In short, the will is always determined by the greatest desire.
  • Necessity – “A thing is then saidto be necessary, when itmust be, and cannot be otherwise.” (1.3)
    • Distinction between philosophical and common use of necessity – The philosophical or metaphysical definition of necessity isto be distinguished from the common use of necessity which has a relative meaning, i.e., it implies compulsion from opposing external forces.
      • Common use – “Implies something that frustrates endeavour or desire.” (1.3)
      • Philosophical use – Simply means certainty.
      • Point – “Necessity [i.e., the philosophical kind] is not inconsistent with liberty.” (1.3)
    • Distinction between natural and moral necessity (and inability).
      • Natural necessity (and inability) – “Such Necessity as men are under through the force of natural causes.” (1.4) “We are saidto be naturally unable to do a thing, when we cannot do it if we will, because what is most commonly called nature does not allow of it, or because of some impeding defect or obstacle that is extrinsic to the Will; either in the faculty of understanding, constitution of body, or external objects.” (1.4)
        • Illustration: A man stepping off a ledge is unable to keep himself from falling do to the law of gravity.
        • Note: This may involve a restriction on freedom, for it involves compulsion from external forces that may contradict one’s desire.
      • Moral necessity (and inability) – “That Necessity of connexion andconsequence, which arises from such moral causes, as the strength of inclination, or motives, and the connexion whichthere is in many cases between these and such certain volitions and actions.” (1.4) “Moral Inability consists …is the want of inclination; or the strength of a contrary inclination; orthe want of sufficient motives in view, to induce and excite the act of the Will, or the strength of apparent motives to the contrary. Or both thesemay be resolved into one; and itmay be said in one word, that moral Inability consists in the opposition or want of inclination.” (1.4)
        • Illustration: A sinful man who, due to his sinful desires, is unable to repent because he does not desire to repent.
        • Note: This does not involve a restriction on freedom, for it involves no compulsion but is a necessity related to one’s own desire. “No such opposition, or contrary will and endeavour, is supposable in the case of moral Necessity; which is a certainty of the inclination and will itself; which does not admit of the supposition of a will to oppose and resist it.” (1.4)
        • Caveat – As such, ‘moral inability’ is an misleading term. “Man cannot be truly said to be unable to do a thing, when he can do it if he will. It is improperly said, that a person cannot perform those external actions, which are dependent on the act of the Will, and which would be easily performed, if the act of the Will were present. … Therefore, in these things, to ascribe a non-performance to the want of power or ability, is not just; because the thing wanting is not a being able, but a being willing.” (1.4)

[1] All quotations are from part 1 of Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (vol. 1; Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008).