Jonathan Edwards on God's Sovereignty

According to the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University, the prodigious and prolific Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) "was born into a Puritan evangelical household on October 5, 1703, in East Windsor, Connecticut. He was the fifth of eleven children born to the Rev. Timothy and Esther Edwards. His childhood education immersed him not only in the study of the Bible and Christian theology but also in classics and ancient languages.

Undergraduate Years

During his undergraduate years (1716-1720) and graduate studies (1721-1722) at Yale College, Edwards engaged all manner of contemporary issues in theology and philosophy. He studied the debates between the orthodox Calvinism of his Puritan forebears and the more 'liberal' movements that challenged it, such as Deism, Socinianism, Arianism, and Anglican Arminianism, as well as the most current thought coming out of Europe, such as British empiricism and continental rationalism. From early in his life, Edwards committed himself to vindicating his beliefs before the foreign luminaries of the Enlightenment by recasting Calvinism in a new and vital way that synthesized Protestant theology with Newton's physics, Locke's psychology, the third earl of Shaftesbury's aesthetics, and Malebranche's moral philosophy.

At Yale, Edwards wrote almost exclusively on natural philosophy and metaphysics. Simultaneous with and yet distinct from the great English idealist George Berkeley, Edwards formulated a metaphysical system that was idealistic, designed to challenge Aristotelianism. Edwards refuted both the speculations of Hobbes and Descartes concerning the nature of reality and substance in ways that anticipated theoretical physics. His metaphysics also had a singularly aesthetic component to it; for Edwards, beauty was an essential aspect of an entity, which subsisted in the harmony or agreement of its parts. This approach continues to inform modern ethics.


Becoming a Pastor

In 1726, Edwards succeeded his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, as the pastor of the church in Northampton, Massachusetts, the largest and most influential church outside of Boston. Turning his attention from the theoretical pursuits of his Yale years to more practical matters, he married Sarah Pierpont in 1727. Jonathan and Sarah had met in New Haven eight years earlier, when she was just thirteen years old, but they were not married until eight years later. The two of them would go on to raise ten children in Northampton."


The following are some heretical quotes from Edwards' sermon entitled, God's Sovereignty in the Salvation of Men.

Commenting on Romans 9:18, Edwards writes:

"God's different dealing with men. He hath mercy on some, and hardeneth others. When God is here spoken of as hardening some of the children of men, it is not to be understood that God by any positive efficiency hardens any man's heart. There is no positive act in God, as though he put forth any power to harden the heart. To suppose any such thing would be to make God the immediate author of sin" (Jonathan Edwards, Sermon IV of Seventeen Occasional Sermons, Volume Two, The Banner of Truth Trust, Reprinted 1997, p. 849).

No positive and efficient power to harden the heart? Really? Scripture saith unto Pharaoh that "Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew [sic] my power in thee" (Romans 9:17) and that God is willing to show wrath and to make His power known (Romans 9:22). Thus Edwards ought to conclude that the Apostle Paul makes "God the immediate author of sin." What does Edwards mean by "immediate author of sin"? Methinks he means to signify "something very ill" by the phrase. Let's try to understand his meaning from another work of his called, On the Freedom of the Will. Here Edwards defines the phrase "author of sin": 

"They who object, that this doctrine makes God the author of sin, ought distinctly to explain what they mean by that phrase, 'the author of sin.' I know, the phrase, as it is commonly used, signifies something very ill. If by 'the author of sin,' be meant the sinner, the agent, or actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing; so it would be a reproach and blasphemy, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin; rejecting such an imputation on the Most High, as what is infinitely to be abhorred; and deny any such thing to be the consequence of what I have laid down. But if by 'the author of sin,' is meant the permitter, or not a hinderer of sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted or not hindered, will most certainly and infallibly follow: I say, if this be all that is meant, by being the author of sin, I don't deny that God is the author of sin (though I dislike and reject the phrase, as that which by use and custom is apt to carry another sense), it is no reproach for the Most High to be thus the author of sin." (Jonathan Edwards, On the Freedom of the Will, Volume One, p. 76).

By comparing the two Edwards' quotes above it seems to imply that he would define "immediate author of sin" as "the sinner, the agent, or actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing." If this is correct then would Edwards agree that when God positively, efficiently, and powerfully swings His battle axe or war club, then He actually becomes the battle axe or war club (cf. Isaiah 10:5-15; Jeremiah 51:20)? Is it rational or logical to conclude that since God absolutely, positively, efficiently, and powerfully controls X then it follows that He is X? 

Or, for example, does Edwards simply mean that if God positively, efficiently, and powerfully causes the vaunting axe to vaunt itself over Him that lifts or chops with it, then God somehow becomes "the doer of a wicked thing" when He does this (cf. Isaiah 10:5-15)? If so, then Edwards does not realize who he is or who God is, or what the end for which God created the world is. In other words, Jonathan Edwards in objecting to God's active causation and absolute control over sin has shown himself to be Paul's unbelieving objector (Romans 9:19-20) and in league with the Assyrian king.

Marc D. Carpenter makes this apt comment on the Edwardian paragraph quoted above:

"Interesting, eh? He starts out right, but then he goes on to talk of permitting sin! For us, we would say the same thing as Edwards in the first 4 sentences (and Edwards actually puts it very well). But then we would replace the rest of the quote to say, 'But if, by the Author of Sin, is meant the decreer, causer, and controller of sin, I do not deny that God is the Author of Sin.'"

After carefully reading verses like Romans 9:18, Psalm 105:25, Isaiah 10:5-15, and Jeremiah 51:20 one ought to see how God's active control and causation couldn't get any more powerful, positive, and efficient. There are many other verses that contradict Edwards' arrogant assertion that necessarily implies that the Sovereign Potter of the Universe has no hands (Isaiah 45:9) and that He has (allegedly) sinned in some way or other by being the "immediate author of sin."

Here is another heretical quote from Edwards' sermon entitled, God's Sovereignty in the Salvation of Men:

"God is said to harden men in two ways: by withholding the powerful influences of his Spirit, without which their hearts will remain hardened, and grow harder and harder; in this sense he hardens them, as he leaves them to hardness." (Jonathan Edwards, Sermon IV of Seventeen Occasional Sermons, Volume Two, The Banner of Truth Trust, Reprinted 1997, p. 849).

Where does Romans 9:18 say, hint at, or even remotely imply anything about God "withholding the powerful influences of his Spirit"? That's right. It doesn't. It's just a figment of Jonathan Edwards' unregenerate mind. The aforecited passages reveal a sovereign and omnipotent God who reveals who He is by a grand demonstration of His power. It appears that Edwards thinks that God, instead of making known His power to harden whom He will, rather withholds His power so that creature-man may demonstrate his own self-determining power to ultimately harden himself. This is to count the Potter as the clay. This is a wonderful and felicitous confusing of the creature-Creator distinction. This is to not realize that the Lord is God and you are not. This is to believe and teach the Devil's lie: You shall be as God.

And finally, this ironic and hypocritical statement from Edwards about not contending with God about His sovereignty.

"This is the stumbling-block on which thousands fall and perish; and if we go on contending with God about his sovereignty, it will be our eternal ruin. It is absolutely necessary that we should submit to God, as our absolute sovereign, and the sovereign over our souls; as one who may have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and harden whom he will" (Jonathan Edwards, Sermon IV of Seventeen Occasional Sermons, Volume Two, The Banner of Truth Trust, Reprinted 1997, p. 854).