Jonathan Edwards and the New Sense -- By: John K. LaShell

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 04:3 (Summer 1995)
Article: Jonathan Edwards and the New Sense
Author: John K. LaShell


Jonathan Edwards and the New Sense

John K. LaShell

What are the distinguishing marks of God’s saving work in the soul? How do we become children of God, and how can we be assured of our standing before Him? Such questions, always important to theologians and to individual sinners, achieve public prominence during times of revival. Neighbors discuss them over the back fence; families and churches divide over different answers to them; and even secular society opens its sleepy eyes to note briefly the fundamental issues of vital religion. During the Great Awakening all of New England woke up to attend to the burning question, “What makes a person a Christian?” As the most intellectually gifted spokesman for the revival party, Jonathan Edwards articulated the evangelical position in terms that still attract serious students of the grace of God.

What makes a person a Christian? From the time of Luther onward, Protestant orthodoxy has struggled to define and maintain the biblical relationship between three doctrines which answer that question from different perspectives. They are (1) Regeneration by the Holy Spirit, (2) Justification by faith alone, and (3) Sanctification, or the Christian’s life of love. Sometimes this had been viewed as a balancing act in which divergent doctrines act as counterweights to each other’s excesses. Thus, the doctrine of Regeneration balances our tendency to take credit for justifying faith because supernatural Regeneration is the cause of faith. Likewise, a biblical emphasis on loving obedience keeps us from thinking that justified sinners may live for the Devil and still go to heaven. Finally, the doctrines of Justification by faith and Regeneration counteract our natural inclination to think that we can earn our Salvation by a life of love. Balance, balance, balance. But balancing acts are inherently unstable, so the church has tended to lean (or fall) in one direction or the other.

It is the genius of Edwards that he was able to see the organic unity which binds these three doctrines into a harmonious and intrinsically balanced whole. At the same time

Edwards’ formulation of these doctrines avoids the twin pitfalls of sterile rationalism and irrational enthusiasm, pitfalls which have continued to trap many from his day to ours. According to Edwards the key to a unified understanding of Salvation is the believer’s new sense of divine and spiritual realities.

What Is the New Sense?

Jonathan Edwards was not the only seventeenth-century clergyman to speak of Salvation in terms of a new sense. Preachers commonly exhorted sinners to look to Jesus because a new sight of the Savior is an especial mark of converted ...

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