Response to Gilbert: “The Nations Will Worship: Jonathan Edwards And The Salvation Of The Heathen” -- By: Gerald R. McDermott
TrinJ 23:1 (Spring 02) p. 77
Response to Gilbert:
“The Nations Will Worship: Jonathan Edwards And The Salvation Of The Heathen”
Mr. Gilbert tries to show that Edwards never considered the possibility that a person could be saved without knowledge of the doctrines of the gospel that comes through Christian preaching. Gilbert thinks that by repeating Edwards’s first line from Miscellanies 27b (“It is clear, both from Scripture and reason, that there must be a reception of Christ with the faculties of the soul in order to salvation—by him”) he has clinched his case—that Edwards never considers salvation without explicit knowledge of the doctrines of the gospel. Yet in this same entry Edwards speaks of “the ancient Jews before Christ” who
were saved without the sensible exertions of those acts in that manner which is represented as necessary by some divines, because they had not those occasions nor were under circumstances that would draw them out.
Edwards clearly means the OT saints who never had explicit knowledge of Christ or the doctrines of the gospel.
How could Edwards say both—that Christ must be received with the soul and that Jews could be saved without “sensible” reception of Christ? Gilbert himself concedes the answer—that for Edwards, as for all great theologians, there are “normal circumstances” (Gilbert’s words) and abnormal circumstances. Normally, for Edwards, there is no separation between a disposition and its exercise. But life is messy and sometimes impervious to neat rules drawn by some systematic theologians: as in the cases of OT saints and infants who die.
Edwards recognized that these were “abnormal cases,” just as he argued that baptism “ordinarily” but not always seals salvation. In Miscellanies 27b and elsewhere, he acknowledged that many OT figures were saved but did not know Christ (except typologically, as he argues elsewhere, which raises all sorts of implications for
TrinJ 23:1 (Spring 02) p. 78
Christ’s presence in other religions that Edwards himself explored but Gilbert oddly ignores).
Edwards also recognized that, in another “abnormal” case, elect infants can have a saving disposition without the opportunity to exercise it (Book of Controversies, 65). Gilbert dismisses this abnormality by asserting that Edwards would never have extended covenantal benefits to the heathen (a wonderful illustration of assuming what one tries to prove). He also wrongly states, here and elsewhere in his article, that infants (and others) are “saved by their disposition” [sic]. Edwards’s soteriology held that...
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