Friday, February 3, 2012

Jonathan Edwards—A man who viewed the doctrine of election as “sweet”

This title is likely to “grate” on some of you, especially for those who are still unconvinced of the “sweetness” of this doctrine.

But before you stop reading, please read Edwards’ words below:
“From my childhood up, my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in choosing whom he would to eternal life, and rejecting whom He pleased; leaving them eternally to perish, and be everlastingly tormented in Hell. It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me.
But I have often, since that first conviction, had quite another kind of sense of God’s sovereignty than I had then. I have often since had not only a conviction, but a delightful conviction. The doctrine has very often appeared exceedingly pleasant, bright and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. But my conviction was not so.”
The journey of Edwards, in regards to the doctrine of election, may surprise some. For many, he is viewed simply as the man who preached the legendary sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. They would be shocked to hear of any internal struggle from the man who preached these words,

“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.” (July 8th, 1741)
Yet he apparently did struggle.

So you may be asking, “What helped Edwards “turn the corner”? Not sure. But I will tell you what helped me “turn the corner”.

The Bible teaches the doctrine of election.

For years, I professed to be a Christian and rarely read the Bible. Even when I did “crack open” the text, much of it seems like a riddle or an exercise of “Mad Libs”. Then, at 23, I led a short-term Missions trip to Colombia and was forced to preach a few sermons and suddenly, the word of God came alive. Please understand, nothing mystical or ecstatic occurred. Just a growing affection for Christ and a concurrent love for His word.

This deeper zeal for scripture, though, had a cost. Illumination of the Spirit opens the heart, but also opens the eyes (I Cor. 2:12-13). Words like election and predestined danced before me, compelling me to look into the “black box” of the mysteries of God.

That is when (for me) the journey began. Fortunately, I had godly men along the way, reminding me of the sufficiency, authority, clarity and perspicuity of the Scriptures. They pressed me to apply proper bible study skills and remove myself (I.e. my presuppositions) from the expedition of proper interpretation. What did I find? The truth. Every word of the Bible comes from the “mouth of God”.

Election doesn’t have to mean double predestination.

It would be incorrect to conclude that my acceptance of the doctrine of election was like a “flip of a switch”. Yet there were “lightbulb” moments.

One of the “lightbulb” moments was when I realized the scriptures didn’t teach the doctrine of double predestination. For years, I thought that election meant that God actively chose some for salvation and actively chose others for Hell. To me, this made God seem unjust and unfair. 

Then I began to synthesize the biblical data, which led me to writing down these statements.

Everyone is a sinner (Romans 3:23).
God must punish sin (Hab. 1:13a)
God is perfectly just in eternally punishing every sinner (Romans 6:23a).
God chooses to show mercy to some (Rom 9:15).
God gives the rest what they want (Rom. 3:10-18).

Not convinced? Well, maybe this illustration will help. It helped me.

Picture a river. This river is heading towards eternal separation from God. Everyone is in it. God comes down and rescues some. The rest He JUSTLY leaves alone.

This illustration reminds me of what I deserve and how merciful and loving God is to save ANY of us.

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Embracing the absolute sovereignty of God

If any of Edwards’ above statements help us understand his journey, it would be this: 
“Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God.”
This response does not come naturally for humans, even after their conversion. Why is this? I believe the primary reason is our chief sin, pride.

Pride does not want to be ruled. Pride wants to have all the answers. Pride has a sinful attachment to the concept of “free will”. Pride wants credit. Pride wants every part of salvation to be synergistic, rather than monergistic.

It is not a coincidence that most new Christians DO NOT ascribe absolute sovereignty to God. To them, they simply responded to the offer of salvation. They have never been introduced to the sovereignty of God in salvation and even if they were, it is unlikely they would embrace it until the Spirit clears out the sediments of their fleshly mind (Rom. 12:1-2).

Does this mean all Calvinists are humble and all Arminians are prideful? No, of course not. 

Does this mean all Calvinists are indifferent to evangelism and all Arminians share their faith? No, of course not.

But this does mean that the doctrine of election gives ALL THE CREDIT TO GOD since it is God who chooses to save an individual based on nothing more than His perfect will.

Romans 9:16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

Amazing grace.


  1. Good stuff... I like that you flirt with the juxtaposed concepts of election and selection. I love God's sovereignty and believe that too many o not wrap their heads around it. It is nice to hear ome one promulgate that one can not be supra lapsarian and yet fully embrace God's sovereignty.

  2. Yeah, I almost created a separate point to deal with the decrees of God. Maybe in the future. Edwards was something special.

  3. Why do Calvinsits seem so oblivious to the villany of their conception of the Divine? Would you praise a man who sees a train headed for two dispicable convicts and pulls one off the tracks, and leaves the other one to die despite it being in his full power to save both? Of course, this is a imperfect example considering the person left behind felt pain for a moment and may have woke up in heaven while the one left behind by God will suffer unto ages of ages. Indeed one finds that the being purposed here can only be called good equivocally and could just as easily called evil, likewise he may very well be love to the elect, but only to the extent that he is hate to the damned. When taken to it's conclusion one finds double predestination must reject Privatio Boni and affirm Dualism