Not From Ourselves: Holy Love In The Theology Of Jonathan Edwards -- By: Bruce W. Davidson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 59:3 (Sep 2016)
Article: Not From Ourselves: Holy Love In The Theology Of Jonathan Edwards
Author: Bruce W. Davidson

Not From Ourselves: Holy Love
In The Theology Of Jonathan Edwards

Bruce W. Davidson*

* Bruce Davidson is a professor at Hokusei Gakuen University, 2–3–1, Ohyachi-Nishi, Atsubetsu-ku, Sapporo 004–8631, Japan. He can be contacted at

Abstract: In modern discourse, few words have become as debased as the word “love.” Jonathan Edwards defined Christian love very differently from popular ideas about love. Before the prevalence of current Romantic and therapeutic concepts, “holy love” was in widespread use in Christendom to distinguish divine love from mundane loves, and Edwards also embraced the concept. To Edwards the word “holy” especially meant divine moral transcendence. As the sign of sincere faith, holy love stands in contrast to narcissistic religious love, the mark of hypocrisy. Holy love exalts God, pursues ethical purity, values truth, embraces rationality, produces deep humility, and fixes its attention on heavenly realities. For one thing, holy love produces an exile mentality in regard to this world. Edwards also associated holy love with “humble love,” showing that an attitude of rude familiarity toward God goes contrary to holy love. Significantly, holy love leads to moral purity and even induces a hatred of evil, so it is very far from the modern psychotherapeutic notion of “unconditional acceptance.” Furthermore, such love encompasses adherence to scriptural truth and reasonable faith, since “holy affections are not heat without light.” Finally, holy love challenges the credibility of spirituality marked by self-indulgent, emotional excess. This prominent idea in Edwards’s thought makes clear the danger of blending Christian and non-Christian concepts of love and merits a revival of usage in the contemporary Christian world.

Key Words: Jonathan Edwards, divine love, holy love, Christian love, unconditional acceptance, unconditional love, virtue, ethics

Perhaps few words are heard more frequently these days than the word “love.” As a result, unfortunately, the word has also been considerably cheapened and debased. It often means little more than romantic infatuation or friendly affirmation. Unqualified support for love drives people to approve of any sexual expressions of it. Moreover, to the modern mind, love is often equated with politically correct notions such as tolerance, meaning complete, non-judgmental acceptance. Polls by organizations such as the Pew Research Center indicate that sex outside of marriage and homosexuality are increasingly accepted even among those who identify themselves as evangelical Christians.

In ethical controversy, making an appeal to love allows one to take the moral high ground in any dispute...

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