I’m pretty sure this will be the last quote from Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden. Really. These four paragraphs were so good, I really didn’t have the freedom of the will to resist. From Chapter 26, “Against an ‘Almost Inconceivably Pernicious’ Doctrine”, pages 442-3.
As always, Edwards’ philosophy started with his theology. While his opponents were starting with principles of human morality and psychology and from those inferring what God’s moral government of the universe must be like, Edwards was starting with what God must be like and then examining the human condition in that light. If God is absolutely sovereign, as Scripture claimed and Calvinists emphasized, and if God is eternal, omniscient, and omnipotent, how can there be meaningful freedom and moral agency?
If God is the omnipotent creator and sustainer of the universe, then everything that happened must be the result of God’s will. There is no escaping this conclusion. God wills to govern creation in a variety of ways. Everything that happens according to the sequences of nature, for instance, must happen because of the original design of nature. God, of course, is not bound by nature and can will to interpose. Yet whether God wills to interpose or wills not to interpose, whatever happens is still just as certainly dependent on God’s will. It does not make sense to suppose that at every moment in the universe there are millions of uncaused free acts of will that are not the subject of God’s will, either positive or negative.
Such a universe is further unintelligible if we consider that God is eternal. An eternal God cannot be waiting for uncaused and hence unpredictable acts to happen. Rather, God sees all events simultaneously and so sees the sequences of events as they are determined by their antecedents. God’s omniscience, or knowledge of these sequences, entails that they cannot be other than what they are, or in human terms, what they will be. In short, there is no escaping that all that happens does so under the control of God’s will.
Such a rigorous Calvinistic view of a God-controlled universe might seem fatalistic and demoralizing if God were not supremely good and loving. It is at this point that Edwards’ grand theological vision as articulated briefly in A Divine and Supernatural Light becomes most important for understanding his enthrallment with God-willed reality. All created reality is like a quintessential explosion of light from the sun of God’s intertrinitarian love. Though creatures experience this light in time, God sees it from beginning to end, from the perspective of eternity. Unlike humans, God sees the ultimate consequences of everything. So God wills to permit evil but only because that permission grows out of the ultimately loving and just will of God who can do no other than create what is ultimately the greatest good.