Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is primarily remembered today as America’s most gifted and influential theologian, especially in his active role in the first “Great Awakening.” For over twenty years, Edwards served as pastor of the Congregational Church in Northampton, Massachusetts, followed by a ministry among Native Americans in Stockbridge. In 1757, he became president of the College of New Jersey (Princeton University).
In honor of this truly remarkable American preacher, philosopher, and theologian, we’re thrilled to bring you an excerpt from one of our most recent publications of Edwards’ sermons: Sovereignty Sermons of Jonathan Edwards.
God Glorified in Man’s Dependence
Preached on the Public Lecture in Boston, July 8, 1731.
“God is glorified in the work of redemption in this, that there appears in it so absolute and universal a dependence of the redeemed on him.” Here I propose to show, first, that there is an absolute and universal dependence of the redeemed on God for all their good. And, secondly, that God hereby is exalted and glorified in the work of redemption.
I. There is an absolute and universal dependence of the redeemed on God.
The nature and contrivance of our redemption is such, that the redeemed are in everything directly, immediately, and entirely dependent on God: they are dependent on him for all, and are dependent on him every way.
The several ways wherein the dependence of one being may be upon another for its good, and wherein the redeemed of Jesus Christ depend on God for all their good, are these: viz. that they have all their good of him, and that they have all through him, and that they have all in him: that he is the cause and original whence all their good comes, therein it is of him; and that he is the medium by which it is obtained and conveyed, therein they have it through him; and that he is the good itself given and conveyed, therein it is in him. Now those that are redeemed by Jesus Christ do, in all these respects, very directly and entirely depend on God for their all.
1. The redeemed have all their good of God. God is the great author of it. He is the first cause of it; and not only so, but he is the only proper cause. It is of God that we have our Redeemer. It is God that has provided a Savior for us. Jesus Christ is not only of God in his person, as he is the only begotten Son of God, but he is from God, as we are concerned in him, and in his office of Mediator. He is the gift of God to us: God chose and anointed him, appointed him his work, and sent him into the world. And as it is God that gives, so it is God that accepts the Savior. He gives the purchaser, and he affords the thing purchased.
It is of God that Christ becomes ours, that we are brought to him, and are united to him. It is of God that we receive faith to close with him, that we may have an interest in him. Eph. 2:8. “For by grace ye are saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” It is of God that we actually receive all the benefits that Christ has purchased. It is God that pardons and justifies, and delivers from going down to Hell; and into his favor the redeemed are received, when they are justified. So it is God that delivers from the dominion of sin, cleanses us from our filthiness, and changes us from our deformity. It is of God that the redeemed receive all their true excellency, wisdom, and holiness; and that two ways, viz. as the Holy Ghost by whom these things are immediately wrought is from God, proceeds from him, and is sent by him; and also as the Holy Ghost himself is God, by whose operation and indwelling the knowledge of God and divine things, a holy disposition and all grace, are conferred and upheld. And though means are made use of in conferring grace on men’s souls, yet it is of God that we have these means of grace, and it is he that makes them effectual. It is of God that we have the Holy Scriptures; they are his word. It is of God that we have ordinances, and their efficacy depends on the immediate influence of his Spirit. The ministers of the gospel are sent of God, and all their sufficiency is of him. 2 Cor. 4:7: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” Their success depends entirely and absolutely on the immediate blessing and influence of God.
First, the redeemed have all from the grace of God. It was of mere grace that God gave us his only-begotten Son. The grace is great in proportion to the excellency of what is given. The gift was infinitely precious, because it was of a person infinitely worthy, a person of infinite glory; and also because it was of a person infinitely near and dear to God. The grace is great in proportion to the benefit we have given us in him. The benefit is doubly infinite, in that in him we have deliverance from an infinite, because an eternal, misery, and do also receive eternal joy and glory. The grace in bestowing this gift is great in proportion to our unworthiness to whom it is given; instead of deserving such a gift, we merited infinitely ill of God’s hands. The grace is great according to the manner of giving, or in proportion to the humiliation and expense of the method and means by which a way is made for our having the gift. He gave him to dwell amongst us; he gave him to us incarnate, or in our nature; and in the like though sinless infirmities. He gave him to us in a low and afflicted state; and not only so, but as slain, that he might be a feast for our souls.
The grace of God in bestowing this gift is most free. It was what God was under no obligation to bestow. He might have rejected fallen man, as he did the fallen angels. It was what we never did anything to merit; it was given while we were yet enemies, and before we had so much as repented. It was from the love of God who saw no excellency in us to attract it; and it was without expectation of ever being requited for it. And it is from mere grace that the benefits of Christ are applied to such and such particular persons. Those that are called and sanctified are to attribute it alone to the good pleasure of God’s goodness, by which they are distinguished. He is sovereign, and hath mercy on whom he will have mercy.
Man hath now a greater dependence on the grace of God than he had before the fall. He depends on the free goodness of God for much more than he did then. Then he depended on God’s goodness for conferring the reward of perfect obedience; for God was not obliged to promise and bestow that reward. But now we are dependent on the grace of God for much more; we stand in need of grace, not only to bestow glory upon us, but to deliver us from Hell and eternal wrath. Under the first covenant we depended on God’s goodness to give us the reward of righteousness; and so we do now; but we stand in need of God’s free and sovereign grace to give us that righteousness; to pardon our sin, and release us from the guilt and infinite demerit of it.
And as we are dependent on the goodness of God for more now than under the first covenant, so we are dependent on a much greater, more free and wonderful goodness. We are now more dependent on God’s arbitrary and sovereign good pleasure. We were in our first estate dependent on God for holiness. We had our original righteousness from him; but then holiness was not bestowed in such a way of sovereign good pleasure as it is now. Man was created holy, for it became God to create holy all his reasonable creatures. It would have been a disparagement to the holiness of God’s nature, if he had made an intelligent creature unholy. But now when fallen man is made holy, it is from mere and arbitrary grace; God may forever deny holiness to the fallen creature if he pleases, without any disparagement to any of his perfections.
And we are not only indeed more dependent on the grace of God, but our dependence is much more conspicuous, because our own insufficiency and helplessness in ourselves is much more apparent in our fallen and undone state, than it was before we were either sinful or miserable. We are more apparently dependent on God for holiness, because we are first sinful, and utterly polluted, and afterward holy. So the production of the effect is sensible, and its derivation from God more obvious. If man was ever holy and always was so, it would not be so apparent, that he had not holiness necessarily, as an inseparable qualification of human nature. So we are more apparently dependent on free grace for the favor of God, for we are first justly the objects of his displeasure, and afterwards are received into favor. We are more apparently dependent on God for happiness, being first miserable, and afterwards happy. It is more apparently free and without merit in us, because we are actually without any kind of excellency to merit, if there could be any such thing as merit in creature excellency. And we are not only without any true excellency, but are full of, and wholly defiled with, that which is infinitely odious. All our good is more apparently from God, because we are first naked and wholly without any good, and afterwards enriched with all good.
Though largely associated with the Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards leaves an amazing legacy as a theologian and preacher. He left a remarkable body of work, including the six sermons featured in this collection on the sovereignty of God: “It was of the sovereign pleasure of God, that he contrived a way to save any of mankind, and gave us Jesus Christ, his only-begotten Son, to be our Redeemer.”
Sovereignty Sermons of Jonathan Edwards is a fine sampling from this renowned preacher. Each sermon is a brilliant and personal invitation to know God through both our intellect and our affections—compelling us to open our hearts to the sweet love and joy available to us in our life in Christ.
If you’d like to read more of Jonathan Edwards’ sermons on sovereignty, visit our website!