Monday, October 21, 2013



Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and other Writings (1700’s; Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 314 pp.

The selection contains four sermons, An Essay on the Trinity, and the Freedom of the Will. This is a very odd selection. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is as mighty a sermon as the title promises. And it was mightily used by God to awaken sinners: “Those of you that finally continue in a natural condition, that shall keep out of hell longest will be there in a little time! your damnation does not slumber” (p. 16.) The Presence is felt in that sermon more than in the other three, though all are good. The essay on the trinity, by today’s standard, is also good, but it does not compare well with so much else that Edwards has written. The rhetoric is complicated, and it is a real pain to decipher.

The Freedom of the Will must be about as abstract and esoteric as any theorem in existence. I have little doubt that Edwards is right and the Arminian is wrong. But who is sharp enough to follow Edwards down such narrow corridors of reason? Like most philosophy, this must be gotten through only by the stubborn reader. Who can labor through this without leaving so many parts unknown? The difference between Necessity and necessary, and between impossible and Impossibility, are these necessary to state and possible to fathom? (p. 125.) About Edwards’ philosophical subtleties, John Erskine says this in his Advertisement (1774) to Edwards’ History of Redemption: “the abstruse nature of the subject, or the subtle objections of opposers of the truth, led him to more abstract and metaphysical reasonings.” (He is not speaking there, of the History of Redemption, though.) Edwards’ Freedom of the Will is the domain of “divines, metaphysicians, and logical writers,” as Mr. W. the Editor calls them in a note (not in this edition.) This being the case, do we not require the full disclosure of what Edwards worked so hard to prove before we can hope to grasp more than a few slivers of what he meant? When Volume One of Edwards’ Works providentially came into my hands, I discovered that I had struggled to understand the Freedom of the Will with only part of the treatise to read! Thanks Nelson Publishers!

Over twenty percent of the Will is missing in Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and other Writings by Thomas Nelson Publishers. There is no indication of omission in the Publisher’s Preface, and none in the Introduction—yet the Will’s Preface, its Footnotes, even vast Sections of the grand Treatise itself, and the Appendix, and even the Conclusion—are all omitted! On Nelson’s final page, it says, The End, as if to cause the impression that we’ve just read the full version. With something as important and hard to comprehend as the operation of man’s will, by which our choice for evil or good is made in consequence to eternity, what are we to make of Nelson’s deletions? Even the conclusion is dropped from the Farewell Sermon, which is where Edwards extends his love to that guilty, ungrateful congregation that dishonorably voted him out. It’s as if this selection of abridged material is painstakingly calculated to give the reader a low opinion of Edwards. I recommend Hendrickson’s edition of his Works.  

For help in understanding Edwards’ treatise on the will, I recommend the essay by William Cunningham: Calvinism, and the Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity. This may be found in The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation (1862.)  

Content: ? (This Nelson Royal Classic is a royal rip-off.)
     Style: ? (Nothing is so disorienting as omission.)
    Tone: ? (Abridgments are ugly; beguiling Publishers, uglier.)
Grading Table: A: a keeper: reread it; promote it; share it.
                        B: an average book: let it go.
                        C: read only if you have to.

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