Sunday, February 13, 2011

Edwards On Free Will and the Fall (Part 3)

Man’s Original Composition

Upon an examination of Jonathan Edwards' great theological work, Original Sin, we find in Part IV, Edwards devotes all of Chapter II to the objection “against the doctrine of Native corruption, that to suppose men receive their first existence in sin, is to make Him who is the Author of their being, the author of their depravity.” [1]

First, Edwards says, his opponent makes the assumption that if Edwards is correct, then God is the author of sin in a positive sense. To this, Edwards offers his reply:
In order to account for a sinful corruption of nature, yea , a total native depravity of the heart of man, there is not the least need of supposing any evil quality, infused, implanted, or wrought into the nature of man, by any positive cause, or influence whatsoever, either from God, or the creature. [2]
Edwards is about to enter into a defense based upon this statement right here. Everything that follows is an effort to support his (indeed Biblical) apologetic that God cannot be seen as the author of sin.
When God made man at first, he implanted in him two kinds of principles. There was an inferior kind, which may be called natural, being the principles of mere human nature; such as self-love, with those natural appetites and passions, which belong to the nature of man, in which his love to his own liberty, honour, and pleasure, were exercised: these, when alone, and left to themselves, are what the Scriptures sometimes call flesh. [3]
Edwards’ concept first states that this principle or ability inhabited unfallen man. To some readers this may not be at all different from Augustine’s posse peccare (possibility to sin). Although I am tempted to elaborate and speak more on this principle, I will complete Edwards’ argument, first.
Besides these, there were superior principles that were spiritual, holy, and divine, summarily comprehended in divine love; wherein consisted the spiritual image of God, and man’s righteousness and true holiness; which are called in Scripture the divine nature.
Now we see the second half of the principles which Edwards proposes God placed into man as initially created. These two principles, according to Edwards, were inseparably connected with mere human nature; thus, Spirit and Flesh were both present within man at the beginning of creation. The astute reader will immediately see what is happening here - but we need to fully appreciate what Edwards is doing, and make sense of his methodology before we make our judgments.
These principles may, in some sense, be called supernatural, being such as are above those principles that are essentially implied in, or necessarily resulting from, and inseparably connected with, mere human nature; and being such as immediately depend on man’s union and communion with God, or divine communications and influence of God’s Spirit: which though withdrawn, and man’s nature forsaken of these principles, human nature would be human nature still… These [spiritual] principles were given to possess the throne, and maintain an absolute dominion in the heart; the [flesh] to be wholly subordinate and subservient. And while things continued thus, all was in excellent order, peace, and beautiful harmony, and in a proper and perfect state.
Next, we see how Edwards conceptualizes the spiritual house of the unfallen human. Essentially, Edwards sees the man’s heart as a throne, with either Spirit or Flesh ruling. In unfallen man, the Spirit ruled and all was at peace. Here, Edwards offers us no bridge between this last sentence and the next:
When man sinned and broke God’s covenant, and fell under his curse, these superior principles left his heart: for indeed God then left him; that communion with God on which these principles depended, entirely ceased; the Holy Spirit, that divine inhabitant, forsook the house.
So we see that in Original Sin, Edwards understood man in the way that was thus described, but now a storm of questions rolls forth: Did God abandon Adam and thus bring about the fall? In connection with our original question from Sproul, how could Adam, a man with God on the throne, of himself, dethrone God? If God created Adam with the flesh in his heart, would that place the blame squarely on God for Adam’s Fall? These questions which we have for Edwards will all be answered in due time, but it is important for us first to listen to the things Edwards says about this subject elsewhere first, so that we can have a complete picture of what is going on in the conception he is drawing for us. And that will have to wait for Part 4.

Next Up: Part 4


[1] Works Pg. 217
[2] Ibid.
[3] Works Pg. 217-218

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