Edwards: Part 3 – Virtue

Central to its dismissal of the doctrine of original sin, Enlightenment thought redefined “the nature of true virtue”. Virtue was believed to be a universally natural human trait, and as such should be the source and object of religion, as well as the basis for society. Edwards considered the problems he had encountered with his Northampton church, leading to his dismissal, to have been the fruit of this encroaching thought. He found his congregation’s willingness to accept “naturally” virtuous citizens as communicants, qualified to participate in Communion, to have been an indication of the influence of the current delusive optimism regarding human nature. [Admittedly, his famous grandfather, the former pastor at Northampton, Ma., had started the church down this route by agreeing to The Half-Way Covenant and his even more objectionable practice of serving Communion to anyone “of virtue”, whether they claimed regeneration or not. The goal of such practices had primarily been to enable more men to vote. At that time you had to be a male landowner and a church member in order to qualify to vote.]

In particular, John Taylor’s anti-Calvinistic teaching had spread from his native Scotland to the colonies. His emphasis on human freedom and man’s innate capacity for virtue contributed to the conclusion that men could control their own destinies (an interesting change of belief that helped lead to the American Revolution). Edwards wrote the book “Original Sin” as a response to Taylor. He insisted it was necessary to start with the revealed character of God when considering true virtue. He desired to demonstrate that biblical positions were more consistent with experience and reason than the Enlightenment alternatives. He pointed to the propensity of man towards sin as an indication of his innate sinful nature. The chief commandment of the Bible was to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul and mind (Mt.22:37), yet the human race was not naturally inclined to obey. They WERE inclined to reject the gospel of Christ in favor of lesser pleasures.

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3 comments on “Edwards: Part 3 – Virtue

  1. T-Bone says:

    and that’s almost where we find ourselves again with preachers like Joel Osteen and others who tend to try not to focus on sin and evil nature of the flesh.

  2. Beth'sMomToo says:

    I don’t think we, as a nation, ever left! Edwards helped slow the progression down, but by the 19th century the heirs of the Enlightenment had won the battle for cultural supremacy in the US. And the influence isn’t limited to the culture. I’ll have some more to say later about how Enlightenment reasoning continues to affect the church even today, even conservative churches.

  3. Beth'sMomToo says:

    Today I came across some notes I had written down, and found this fact concerning English voting rights. In 1688 “The Immortal Seven” invited Protestant William of Orange (who had a distant connection to the throne) to come to England and take the throne away from the Catholic James II. At that time Property restrictions for voting rights limited the number of voters in England to only 3% of the population! When the colonists came here they continued the practice of requiring property ownership for voting rights, though I can’t imagine it would have been anywhere near as restrictive as in England!

    There was probably no land available for purchase in England! Even today the Peers own entire villages, and the residents rent their homes from them. Of course, that has had the distinct advantage of protecting these villages from urban sprawl. The “quaint old villages” in England are just wonderful and add to its special character, but I wouldn’t want to be an Englishman looking for land to buy. It comes at a pretty hefty cost…and the taxes are unbelievable! (Matt C. could NEVER live there!;)

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