Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Edwards On Free Will and the Fall (Part 4)

Adam Needed God’s Grace

In Miscellany 501, Edwards offers this thought, with regard to the Fall of Man:
Adam had sufficient assistance of God always present with him, to have enabled him to have obeyed, if he had used his natural abilities in endeavoring it; though the assistance was not such as it would have been after his confirmation, to render it impossible for him to sin. Man might be deceived, so that he should not be disposed to use his endeavors to persevere; but if he did use his endeavors, there was sufficient assistance always with him to persevere.[1]
The aspect of Edwards’ statement here which bears the need for examination is his teaching that Adam always had “sufficient grace.” In other words, Adam’s original composition of Flesh subservient to Spirit, which was on the throne, was always dependent upon God’s grace to keep the Spiritual aspect upon the throne. Upon consideration, however, we see that if in fact, this grace from God was sufficient as Edwards claims, then Adam should never have fallen.

Edwards’ theology does, in one respect, consider God the Author of sin, but only in a negative sense. This teaching that God can be seen as the negative cause of sin in fallen man is still within the bounds of Calvinist orthodoxy, and many do hold such a view. In this respect, such a teaching is not abnormal. What he means by “negative cause” is that in fallen man, sin is so prevalent that whenever human beings do “good” or things that are non-self centered, that those good things come from God. In order for God to be considered the negative cause of sin, all He has to do is remove His gracious restraints and then the person will sin, completely separate from the positive influence of God. This is seen as an act of justice on God’s part, since the person, when good, is good only by God’s grace, and when they sin, they are doing what they would have done in the first place. Observe in one of Edwards’ unpublished sermons:
All the corruption has the same spring and therefore if there be in the heart of men the spring of one sort of wickedness there must be of all. The cause of corruption is negative. It is the absence or removal of the grace of God or of a spirit of love to God leaving natural principles to themselves… There is no love to God at all in the heart of man, and therefore it will follow that there is all the corruption in the heart of man that the absence of this principle can be the cause of natural principles of self love, a love of pleasure and honor and hatred of pain, etc. are the same in all.[2]
Natural principles, by nature, are inherent. An inherent principle in unfallen man of natural and sinful desires means that man as created – by Edwards’ own statement – was self-loving. As Gerstner points out, when Edwards refers to “the imperfection which properly belongs to a creature, as such,”[3] the fatalism is inescapable.[4]

Whereas Augustine taught that Adam was created posse peccare (with a potential to sin) and posse non peccare(a potential to not sin), Edwards is saying that man was created unable to stand on his own moral two feet. Thus, Edwards’ Adam is only posse peccare. Now, Edwards has shown that God must overcome this imperfection, but if God does overcome this inherent imperfection in Adam, and God’s sufficient grace is sufficient, then if God continued to provided this grace, then the Fall never should have occurred.
But, should it nevertheless be said, that if God, when he had made man, might so order his circumstances, that from these, together with his withholding further assistance and divine influence, his sin would infallibly follow, why might not God as well have made man with a fixed prevailing principle of sin in his heart?[5]
It is in response to this question that Edwards states that if sin did come into the world, “it should arise from the imperfection which properly belongs to a creature, as such, and should appear so to do, that it might appear not to be from God as the efficient or fountain.” Edwards does not say that God is the positive cause of Adam’s Fall, but as the reader can now see, he does teach that God negatively caused the Fall by the just withdrawl of His Spirit.

Consider this: If God made man so that man needed God’s Spirit to be holy and yet God withdrew His Spirit (whether He did this sovereignly is of little consequence now), but then God harshly judges, curses, and condemns man to death and eternal suffering, then it seems that God would be unjust to judge man for an act of disobedience that could have been prevented, had God – the good and gracious God – continued to uphold Adam in a state of holiness. This is the crux and the hole, which Edwards has dug for himself.

Let’s summarize: As long as Adam used his natural abilities, God’s sufficient grace would always be sufficient. Adam naturally speaking was imperfect and always needed God’s assistance to keep from falling. However, Edwards says that God did not owe it to Adam the assistance He was providing, and so, sovereignly withdrew His Spirit from Adam, and thus the Fall infallibly followed God’s sovereign withdrawl. It would seem that Edwards’ mistake in all of this is that he presupposes fallen man, before the Fall. He presupposes that the way in which God relates to us, as fallen people must have been the same when he dealt with our parents, Adam and Eve. Instead, as we see in this next quote, Edwards’ statement which bears each reader’s own judgment is that a creature by virtue of his “creature-ness” is naturally imperfect.
It was meet, if sin did come into existence, and appear in the world, it should arise from the imperfection which properly belongs to a creature, as such, as should appear so to do, that it might appear not to be from God as the efficient or fountain. But this could not have been, if man had been made at first with sin in his heart; nor unless the abiding principle and habit of sin were first introduced by an evil act of the creature, it would not have been so visible, that it did not arise from God as the positive cause, and real source of it. – But it would require room that can’t be here allowed fully to consider all the difficulties which have been stated, concerning the first entrance of sin into the world.[6]
Gerstner reminds us of Foster’s summary of this: “God is that author of the system, man of the sin.”[7] Gerstner, however, says, “In truth this view amounts to: ‘God is that author of the sinful man; sinful man is the author of sin.’”[8] Did Edwards understand the implications of the statements he was making? John Gerstner – according to R.C. Sproul the greatest Edwards scholar of the twentieth century – says that he did, but only in part. Gerstner writes:
When I first read this paragraph many years ago it froze my blood. I could not believe it; that is, I could not believe that Edwards meant it or thought of its implications. By now I have come to the sad but inescapable conclusion that he knew what he was writing and meant it as stated. This I conclude although I do not believe that Edwards ever recognized that this doctrine implies the purest conceivable form of fatalism, and a total abandonment of the Christian religion, as understood by almost the entire catholic tradition, including himself, through all the ages of the Church’s history, and in all the pages of Edwards’ most biblically oriented writing![9]
In our next post, we will explore the marked contrast between Edwards' attempts at plumbing the depths of these questions and the ways in which the historic Reformed theologians dealt with the questions - including some perverse offshoots from Edwards' own thinking.

Next Up: Part 5


[1] Edwards, Jonathan The “Miscellanies” (Entry Nos. 501-832) Ed. Ava Chamberlain (Yale University Press, 2000). Pg. 51
[2] Unpublished MS sermon on Romans 7:14; Quoted in Gerstner, John H. The Rational and Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards 3 Vol. (Ligonier Ministries, 1992) Vol. 2, Pg. 313 [my emphasis]
[3] Works Pg. 81
[4] Gerstner Pg. 314
[5] Works Pg. 81
[6] Ibid.
[7] Foster, Frank Hugh. A Genetic History of New England Theology, (University of Chicago Press, 1907) Pg. 79
[8] Gerstner Pg. 318
[9] Gerstner Pg. 321-322

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