Edwards’ theology is based on several intricate beliefs about the human condition, beliefs he has gleaned directly from the Bible. Human nature, he believes, is good in its purest form, but has been tainted by original sin (passed down from Adam and Eve), which has infected people with evil. Because of original sin and the evil into which it leads people, human goodness and salvation depend on a person’s ability to become born again into Christ’s love. In short, Edwards believes that humans are meant to be good, but have been born evil (due to original sin) and can only be saved by accepting Christ. Without understanding the interplay of these beliefs, Edwards’ statements may seem contradictory, as he wobbles between declarations of the goodness of man and statements that all men are evil and doomed to hell because of it.
Edwards’ clearest indication that human beings aren’t meant to be evil comes when he tells the congregation that, if they are sinners, then they are a burden to the earth. God’s creatures are meant to serve God, he says, and the earth’s resources—the sun, the air, and the land, which are also made by God to serve God—do not “willingly” keep sinners alive. In fact, if not for the hand of God, Edwards tells the congregation, the earth “would spew you out.” This is a complicated statement, because Edwards is implying that all people are sinners, but that being a sinner is an unnatural state for mankind, as sinning is fundamentally opposed to the natural order of the world—so much so that the earth wants to reject a sinner’s very presence. As God’s creatures, though, Edwards makes clear here that, were the world in harmony, every human being would be good rather than evil.
Yet even as Edwards insists that a person’s most natural state is goodness, he also relentlessly and intricately describes the evil that is common to all people. Sometimes these descriptions go so far as to imply that mankind is naturally depraved, which seems—superficially—to be at odds with Edwards’ insistence that mankind is naturally good. Edwards’ description of mankind’s inevitable depravity is particularly notable when he discusses how “the very nature of carnal men” contains “the foundation for the torments of hell,” and that a person’s soul—the center of their spiritual being—has the “seeds of hell fire.” This would seem to be a definitive indication that mankind is naturally depraved, but it’s important to make the distinction between the depravity that Edwards sees as inevitably afflicting all people due to original sin, and the goodness that is the condition for which a person’s being is naturally meant. In other words, all of mankind is God’s creation, and therefore mankind is naturally good, but mankind also shares the stain of original sin, which means that—despite their natural goodness—they all have an innate propensity for evil that only Christ’s love and mercy can overcome.
Theology and the Human Condition ThemeTracker
Theology and the Human Condition Quotes in Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
Joh. 3:18. He that believeth not is condemned already. So that every unconverted man properly belongs to hell; that is his place; from thence he is Joh. 8:23. Ye are from beneath. And thither he is bound; ‘tis the place that justice, and God’s word, and the sentence of his unchangeable law assigns him.
Yea God is a great deal more angry with great numbers that are now on earth, yea doubtless, with many that are now in this congregation, that it may be are at ease and quiet, than he is with many of those that are now in the flames of hell.
There is laid in the very nature of carnal men, a foundation for the torments of hell: There are those corrupt principles, in reigning power in them, and in full possession of them, that are seeds of hell fire. These principles are active and powerful, exceeding violent in their nature, and if it were not for the restraining hand of God upon them, they would soon break out, they would flame out after the same manner as the same corruptions, the same enmity does in the hearts of damned souls, and would beget the same torments in ‘em as they do in them.
God has laid himself under no obligation, by any promise to keep any natural man out of hell one moment. God certainly has made no promises either of eternal life, or of any deliverance or preservation from eternal death, but what are contained in the covenant of grace, the promises that are given in Christ, in whom all the promises are Yea and Amen.
Were it not that so is the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it; the creation groans with you; the creature is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not willingly; the sun don’t willingly shine upon you to give you light to serve sin and Satan; the earth don’t willingly yield her increase to satisfy your lusts; nor is it willingly a stage for your wickedness to be acted upon; the air don’t willingly serve you for breath to maintain the flame of life in your vitals, while you spend your life in the service of God’s enemies. God’s creatures are good, and were made for men to serve God with, and don’t willingly subserve to any other purpose, and groan when they are abused to purposes so directly contrary to their nature and end.
That God will execute the fierceness of his anger, implies that he will inflict wrath without any pity: when God beholds the ineffable extremity of your case, and sees your torment to be so vastly disproportion’d to your strength, and sees how your poor soul is crushed and sinks down, as it were into an infinite gloom, he will have no compassion upon you, he will not forbear the executions of his wrath, or in the least lighten his hand; there shall be no moderation or mercy, nor will God then at all stay his rough wind; he will have no regard to your welfare, nor be at all careful lest you should suffer too much, in any other sense than only that you shall not suffer beyond what strict justice requires: nothing shall be with held, because it’s so hard for you to bear.
Men’s hearts harden, and their guilt increases apace at such a day as this, if they neglect their souls: and never was there so great danger of such persons being given up to hardness of heart, and blindness of mind. God seems now to be hastily gathering in his elect in all parts of the land; and probably the bigger part of adult persons that ever shall be saved, will be brought in now in a little time.