Review: Jonathan Edwards, evangelist

The overall scope of the book is Edwards’ take on the ordo salutis, but Gerstner focuses on Edwards’ view of the unregenerate’s seeking salvation.   Throughout the text the reader recognizes quips from old John Gerstner sermons.  Indeed, one can hear Gerstner’s growl through the text.


As a good Calvinist Edwards denied the unregenerate man can will salvation.  But that didn’t mean he couldn’t do anything.  He can seek.  While God is not bound to save men in response to their seeking, and in fact often saves those who didn’t go  seeking, but Edwards notes that God is pleased to save those who seek. As Gerstner notes, “Men are able to seek precisely because they are unable to believe” (Gerstner 73). The Calvinist view of inability refers not to man’s ability to seek but to man’s ability to believe.

We should be clear that there is no merit in seeking.  The outward activities of the unregenerate seeker–going to church, keeping the Sabbath, etc.–will damn him as surely as any other activity.  There is no merit in these activities, yet some activities are less evil than others. In short, when a man seeks he is seeking to be made willing.  He is not (yet) willing to be made willing (81).

But this seems hopeless.  Why seek if I can’t will to be saved?  Edwards draws upon the story of the lepers. If you sit still (i.e., don’t seek) you will perish eternally.  If you seek, you might still perish eternally.  But if you seek, you might also live (96ff).

Other sections of the book deal with the Covenant of Redemption (in which Gerstner ties in Edwards’s End for Which God Created the World).  Gerstner also calls attention to the “bodily effects” of Edwards’ view, but Gerstner doesn’t dwell on it (129, 167).


About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
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4 Responses to Review: Jonathan Edwards, evangelist

  1. cal says:

    Why do you think Edwards was still so rough with seeking (i.e. a snarling and austere glance down upon the unregenerate)? I’d wager a guess that Edwards’ view about seeking as potential for the unregenerate was pretty far left-field for NE Old Light Calvinists, as Edwards was a still pretty conservative New Light.


    • J. B. Aitken says:

      Do you mean snarling in the literal or metaphorical sense? Edwards’ take on seeking was fairly standard American Puritanism. He was just a lot sharper on it.


      • cal says:

        What I mean is St. Paul’s declaration to the Athenians that “God is not far from any” and Christ’s statement that “those who seek will find” seems more wide-ranging and hopeful, rather than the reservation and qualification found in your summary (” If you sit still (i.e., don’t seek) you will perish eternally. If you seek, you might still perish eternally. But if you seek, you might also live”). I’m not so much wondering whether Edwards’ take fits contemporary notions or even is biblical, but whether that was pushing it in his own context or if it was rather standard fare. I was betting on the former, but you answered me it was the latter. And sharper was in terms of logical precision or forthright clarity?


      • J. B. Aitken says:

        For what it’s worth, Edwards was pretty optimistic about the seeker’s odds. I also suspect that he is using “seek” in a different sense.


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