Friday, July 10, 2009

Men Excusing Themselves With Their Own Inability

A selection from a letter by Jonathan Edwards to John Erskine in Scotland. Edwards is deploring the notion taught by some that man is not morally responsible to God. Edwards taught rightly, that though man lacks the self-determining power of will, he is fully accountable to God for his sin. He proffered no excuses to sinners for their rejection of Christ. The letter was written August 3, 1757.

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 [making excuses]. 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. This especially appears when the minds of sinners are affected with some concern for their souls, and they are stirred up to seek their salvation. Nothing is more necessary for men in such circumstances than thorough conviction and humiliation, that their consciences should be properly convinced of their real guilt and sinfulness, in the sight of God, and their deserving of his wrath.

But who is there, that has had experience of the work of a minister, in dealing with souls in such circumstances that don’t find, that the thing that mainly prevents this, is men’s excusing themselves with their own inability? And the moral necessity of those things, wherein their exceeding guilt and sinfulness in the sight of God, most fundamentally and mainly consists: such as living from day to day without one spark of true love to the God of infinite glory, and fountain of all good, their having greater complacence in the little vile things of this world than in him, their living in a rejection of Christ, with all his glorious benefits, and having their hearts still as cold as a stone towards him; their living in such ingratitude for the infinite mercy of his laying down his life for sinners. They, it may be, think of some instances of lewd behavior, lying, dishonestly, intemperance, profaneness, etc. But the grand principles of iniquity, constantly abiding and reigning, from whence all proceeds are overlooked; conscience don’t condemn ‘em for these things because they can’t love God of themselves; they can’t believe of themselves, and the like. They rather lay the blame of these things, and their other reigning wicked dispositions of heart to God, and secretly charge him with all the blame…

Jonathan Edwards: Letters and Personal Writings, edited by George S. Claghorn, vol. 16 in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Yale University Press, 1998, pp. 719-20.

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