Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Edwards on Being Self Controlled

Came across this passage in George Marsden's Biography of Jonathan Edwards:

Edwards had glimpsed something of the future of American religion as well. Self-controlled individuals, as he had observed in his parishes for the past fifteen years, would acknowledge guilt for particular sins, but not guilt for their fundamentally rebellious hearts. Guided by conscience, they saw particular sins as failures of will power, which might be overcome by exercising greater self-control . . . Even the most popular evangelicalism of the next two centuries tended to emphasize guilt for and victory over known sins. Although the submission of one's will to God and a subsequent infilling or baptism of the Holy Spirit typically would be urged as necessary to achieve moral purity, God's power was most often seen as cooperating with or working through the native powers of the sovereign individual will (pg. 439).

There is much here, but it is a good description, I think, of the failure of modern religion. How many of us have struggled to overcome some sin--that we truly grieve over--by greater self-control. Edwards reminds us that our very "self" is corrupt, so that our seeking to rein in our sin by our own determination and power is still rebellion; it is failing to look to and rest in our gracious and sovereign God who alone can change our hearts. It also speaks of the isolation so many of us feel in our churches. "Sin is a private matter to be dealt with privately." We need each other. We need the body of Christ.