Jonathan Edwards On The Freedom Of The Will -- By: C. Samuel Storms

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 03:2 (Fall 1982)
Article: Jonathan Edwards On The Freedom Of The Will
Author: C. Samuel Storms

Jonathan Edwards
On The Freedom Of The Will

C. Samuel Storms

Believers Chapel, Dallas

Many contemporary treatments of the controversy over free will and determinism begin with some form of justification. Acceding to the opinion of those who believe the matter to be, at best, irrelevant and, at worst, beyond resolution, they proffer numerous reasons why the issue is deserving of yet one more look. For Jonathan Edwards, writing to counter the influence of Arminian thought in eighteenth century New England, the warrant was self-evident:

‘Tis very necessary, that the modern prevailing doctrine concerning this point, should be well understood, and therefore thoroughly considered and examined: for without it there is no hope of putting an end to the controversy about original sin, and innumerable other controversies that subsist, about many of the main points of religion. I stand ready to confess to the forementioned modern divines, if they can maintain their peculiar notion of freedom, consisting in the self-determining power of the will, as necessary to moral agency, and can thoroughly establish it in opposition to the arguments lying against it, then they have an impregnable castle, to which they may repair, and remain invincible, in all the controversies they have with reformed divines, concerning original sin, the sovereignty of grace, election, redemption, conversion, the efficacious operation of the Holy Spirit, the nature of saving faith, perseverance of the saints, and other principles of the like kind. 1

Ola Winslow, Edwards’s Pulitzer Prize winning biographer, concurs:

If man’s will were free, and he might accept divine grace or reject it, then his eternal salvation could no longer be foreordained by a power outside himself: he would be saved by his own choice, or by an immutable decree. And if this were true, then God’s sovereignty was limited, not absolute. There would be reins on His omnipotence, and man would hold them. It was unthinkable. If man’s will were free, the Calvinistic system was ruined.2

My purpose, then is to examine Edwards’s contribution to this problem, not out of historical or philosophical curiosity alone, but with a view to expanding

our appreciation for the theological dimensions of the problem and the practical implications it bears for Christian life and ministry. Furthermore, if Perry Miller’s assessment of Edwards as “the greatest philosopher-theologian yet to grace the American scene”You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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