Today is Jonathan Edwards’ 305th birthday. Lyman Beecher wrote to his son in 1836,
Next after the Bible, read and study Edwards, whom to understand in theology...will be as high praise in theological science as to understand Newton’s works...of natural philosophy. (Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography, 459)
I suppose, after the Bible, no theologian has a greater ongoing effect on me as Jonathan Edwards. There are few in the world who combine the sharpness of mind, the scope of thought, the allegiance to Scripture, the depth of insight, the intensity of affections, the height of imagination, and the power of expression that he brings to all his work. I thank God for him today.
Here is his deep conviction that the free will, understood as ultimate self-determination, is “almost inconceivably pernicious.” He would remind us, “It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16). He wrote this seven months before he died in 1758.
By what I have heard, some...think, that if it be really true, that there is no self-determining power in the will...it is of a mischievous tendency to say any thing of it; and that it is best that the truth in this matter should not be known by any means....
I cannot but be of an extremely different mind. On the contrary, I think that the notion of liberty, consisting in a contingent self-determination of the will, as necessary to the morality of men’s dispositions and actions, is almost inconceivably pernicious....
The longer I live, and the more I have to do with the souls of men, in the work of the ministry, the more I see of this. Notions of this sort are one of the main hindrances of the success of the preaching of the word, and other means of grace, in the conversion of sinners....
And with respect to self-flattery and presumption, as to what is future, nothing can possibly be conceived more directly tending to it, than a notion of liberty, at all times possessed, consisting in a power to determine one’s own will to good or evil; which implies a power men have, at all times, to determine them to repent and turn to God.
And what can more effectually encourage the sinner, in present delays and neglects, and embolden him to go on in sin, in a presumption of having his own salvation at all times at his command? And this notion of self-determination and self-dependence, tends to prevent, or enervate, all prayer to God for converting grace; for why should men earnestly cry to God for his grace, to determine their hearts to that which they must be determined to of themselves.
And indeed it destroys the very notion of conversion itself. There can properly be no such thing, or any thing akin to what the Scripture speaks of conversion, renovation of the heart, regeneration, &c. if growing good, by a number of self-determined acts, are all that is required, or to be expected.
Excuse me, Sir, for troubling you with so much on this head. I speak from the fullness of my heart. What I have long seen of the dreadful consequences of these prevalent notions every where, and what I am convinced will still be their consequences so long as they continue to prevail, fills me with concern.