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The Freedom of the Will (Great Awakening Writings (1725-1760)) Hardcover – September 1, 1997
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About the Author
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is by far the best known American theologian. After graduating from and teaching at Yale University, he began a very fruitful ministry at Northampton, MA. The church was the scene of the explosive revival of 1734, 35, and burned fiercely for God under Edwards for several years. Edwards then went to pastor the lowly Indians. But at last he was called to be the first president of Princeton University, where he served only 5 weeks, dying of smallpox.
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Whedon (1808-1885) was a prominent university professor, author and Wesleyan theologian of the 19th Century. He was a professor of ancient languages at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and professor of Rhetoric at the University of Michigan. He was the editor of the Methodist Quarterly Review from 1856-1884 and wrote a number of books.
He denied that the strongest selfish motives drive the will. He notes that the importance of the motives must be evaluated by the will. He writes: "What is in truth meant by the highest or strongest motive must be derived by the mind itself; and thence we have this definition, all important to this discussion, that the so-called strength of a motive is the comparative prevalence that the will assigns it in its own action."
He says in so many words that people are not particularly rational when it comes to their motives.
Sometimes people do things arbitrarily and have no motive at all. Or sometimes people will sacrifice their immediate happiness for self interest for a greater cause. Furthermore, Whedon insists that the Will is not driven and necessitated by motives. He says the will itself is the ultimate cause of the decision and action and that the motives flow from the will.
But considering Edwards philosophy of necessitarianism, he writes, "Necessitation is a forceful causation acting upon the Will securing a given volitional act, accordant with the Will because it makes the Will accord with itself. In the former case, the power of the body is nullified to perform any other than the given corporeal act. In the latter, the power of the soul is nullified to putting forth any other than the given volitional act." (p. 340)
Concerning the issue of moral inability vs. natural ability, Whedon says this is a meaningless statement. He says, "If there is no moral ability, there is no natural ability. If the absence of motive, or force of counter motive renders the volition impossible, the absence of volition renders the external act impossible."
"Where there is no power to will, there is no power to execute the behest of the will. That behest cannot be obeyed if it cannot exist."
On a related issue, Whedon insists we are not caught up in nothing but a cause(s)-with-one-effect existence. He says, "God knows in every case that the agent who wills a certain way possessed a the elemental power to of choosing another way, or several elemental powers of choosing several other ways. This conception of free alternatives stands opposed to the conception of a universal system of absolute necessity, as taught by Edwards of which every event is a fixed product of fixed causes."
He also says that if someone does not have the power and freedom to choose more than one way, then God cannot hold the person responsible as it would violate his justice.
Interestingly enough, he takes the position that Christ himself operated freely and implies that at least theoretically Christ as man could have sinned. Probably our gut reaction is to reject this but he does give the interesting argument that if Christ was absolutely incapable of sinning, that makes the temptations of Christ, in which we are told he was tempted just as we are, rather meaningless.
Whedon writes "Without the power of volitional compliance, temptation is an unreality. Temptation to an impossible act is impossible. It is impossible to say that I am tempted to fly to the moon, or that I am tempted to make two and two to be five...But in the case of Jesus, it is the very volition that is supposed to be out of his power. His so willing is supposed to be as impossible as my so flying."
Whedon likens Edwards view as turning the universe into an orrery, which is a mechanical device for rotating the stars and planets, or "mechanically moving figures of a great panorama." He also argues against the Edwardian idea that accepting the freedom of man limits and degrades God: "Denying the freedom of man does not honor but degrades God's sovereignty sinking him from the ruler of free subjects to a manipulator of mechanisms."
Furthermore, he says God's cause and effect ultimately makes God the author of sin.
There is a lot more. I highly recommend this book as an alternative perspective to anyone interested in this controversy.
Sadly though Edwards could never rise above the limitations of the Deformation fatalism about the vileness of man qua man nor to escape from the mechanistic determinism that naturally results from it. In such a system, human being are mere physical objects with no more self awareness or choice than a billiard ball with God cast as a metaphysical Minnesota Fats who ordains which respective pockets men will be inclined to go.
It is therefore necessary in such a system to perform "damage control" to at one and the same time blame man for all his allegedly preordained failings while completely exonerating God of any responsibility for what He has inexorably ordained. This places the Calvinoid apologist like Edwards in the unenviable position of trying to separate ontological causality from moral responsibility by blaming the instrumental causes of evil (i.e., angels and human beings) because of their proximity to the evil actions. They fail to see that this cuts both ways and that therefore the good that men and angels do by grace should also be merited to them because of their proximity to those actions. The historical Christian tradition recognized this but it was lost in the Nominalist haze of Deformation posturing.
Furthermore, Edwards necessarily affirmed that God was not morally responsible when He ordained evil because "good may come of it" despite the fact that the Bible explicitly condemned this notion (Romans 3:8) in excusing human behavior. If we are to be conformed to the image of God, then it necessarily follows that what is morally wrong for us is also morally wrong for Him as well or are we to say of God as Jesus said of the Pharisees "Do as He says but not as He does?" Asserting the sovereign power of God as Edwards does merely says that "might makes right" and we see the moral chaos that infected the Deformers as they pushed the Voluntairst philosophies of Ockham and Scotus to their logical conclusions. In the end, Edwards is just another Gnostic Dualist who worships a deity whose actions are "above and beyond" good and evil and Edwards like the whole Deformation tradition succumbs to the last lie of the Serpent in Eden who declared that God "knew" both good and evil.
Edwards tried in this essay to eschew the necessity of freedom of indifference for moral agency. He claimed that God himself was necessarily good and worthy of our adulation even though He was incapable of choosing evil. He used this to claim that man could therefore be necessarily evil and worthy of condemnation.
Edward's mistake was that God's goodness is the result of the perfection and consistency of His entire being while the evil in man is the result of weaknesses and flaws in human nature. Edwards jettisoned the previous Judeo-Christian tradition that sin was a privation of the good. Sin is what happens when one pursues a relative good like wealth or pleasure apart from the absolute ontological goodness which is God himself.
The comparison between the human condition and the divine nature are not equivalent. God is necessarily good because He is perfectly integrated in Himself. Man is evil because he lacks perfection and integration. He is pulled in many different directions by apparent goods that distract him from the one true good that is God. He is drawn alternatively from darkness to light as he struggles to define himself. As such the natural man is not necessarily a villain but a tragic figure whose flaws lead him to self destruction. He only becomes a villain when he willingly embraces the darkness.
The sad situation of man is that by nature he does not hate the light but is ambivalent to it. There is nothing in him that compels him towards the light and he picks and chooses whatever he chooses. And he is so bombarded with ambiguous choices that sin is as inevitable as a tightrope walker being blown off the rope in a hurricane. No amount of skill can prevent that.
Edwards too easily accepts the water-tight arguments and self-fulfilling prophecies of Deformation thought. He was never able to rise above the man-made traditions he had received and question their presuppositions. Furthermore, he never interacted with the great minds of the Patristic or Scholastic period preferring the distorted caricatures of them given to him by his own tradition.
In short this book is an outdated and narrow defense of a dualistic Demiurge masquerading as the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This false "Goid" is touted as the biggest bully on the block whose arbitrary decision to "love" some men and hate others in and of itself constitutes the "good" of salvation. It is by sheer power that Goid ordains all things and none of us is permitted to question what He has done not because we are too weak to resist Him, not because there are moral ambiguities that the problem of evil conjured up. This is a black and white world where might makes right and the will of Goid trumps any attempt at logical or moral consistency. Edwards claimed that it was better to follow an all-powerful tyrant who could guarantee salvation than a morally consistent God whose actions were mysterious and not easy to understand.
This was the same dilemma that the Roman Emperors used to try and destroy Christianity. Why put faith in a God who cannot save you from the tortures and abuse that an all-powerful emperor can guarantee to deliver in this world? Should we side with the all-powerful Goid whose motives are not morally clear or an all-good God who promises to bring everything eventually into line? The Christian Church made its choice in Patristic times and eventually converted the Emperors. Why did the Deformation make the opposite choice?
In the end this book is of historical significance only. There are far better books on these issues written from other perspectives.
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but find it interesting, college-level and on target.