With the Enlightenment dismissal of the doctrine of Total Depravity and a biblical understanding of the sin nature, there was a change in the way sin was perceived. Individuals might feel guilt for particular sins, but they were completely impervious to the ruling SIN of their rebellious hearts against a just God. John Locke’s writings, in particular, fostered an ideal of self-responsible independence. Many colonials were beginning to think of themselves as having “individual rights” which were “self-evidently endowments” of NATURE, ideas advanced by Locke. (Is this beginning to sound familiar?! Be careful when you attribute too much “Christian” influence on the founding of the United States. There was a lot more influence from Enlightenment thought than biblical Christian thought.) By focusing on particular sins, one could attribute their failure to a lack of “will power”, which could be overcome by exercising greater “self-control”. Edwards believed this thinking was undermining the gospel itself. He called the teaching “almost inconceivably pernicious”. He stressed that in order to be reconciled with God it was necessary for individuals to be “properly convinced of their real guilt and sinfulness in the sight of God, and their deserving of His wrath.”
Edwards’ concern was well founded. Over the next two centuries “Christianity” would increasingly emphasize guilt for and victory over known individual sins, instead of focusing on THE sin of a rebellious heart toward God and rejection of Christ. God’s power would become seen more frequently as cooperating with or working through the natural powers of the sovereign individual will. These are issues I think we need to consider when witnessing to the unsaved. How many gospel messages have you heard where they ask, “Have you ever lied?” “Have you ever disobeyed your parents?”, etc. Let’s not concentrate on individual sins, but on THE sin…rejection of God and his gracious gift.