Jonathan Edwards on Assurance

I've blogged before about what it means for a Christian to fear God, especially in conjunction with my thoughts on 1 Peter 1:17, "And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile." Christians differ on what it means to fear the Lord, and non-Christians generally question both the need and propriety of such a doctrine in respect to a loving God.

I found some unexpected wisdom to this point in a letter by Jonathan Edwards. The quote below comes from a discussion on Christian assurance in relation to the shortcomings of the first Great Awakening:

"And I am persuaded we shall generally be sensible, before long, that we run too fast when we endeavor by our positive determinations to banish all fears of damnation from the minds of men, though they may be true saints, if they are not such as are eminently humble and mortified, and (what the Apostle calls) "rooted and grounded in love" [Ephesians 3:17]. It seems to be running before the Spirit of God. God by his Spirit does not give assurance any other way, than by advancing these things in the soul. He does not wholly cast out fear, the legal principle, but by advancing and filling the soul full of love, the evangelical principle. When love is low in the true saints, they need the fear of hell to deter them from sin, and engage them to exactness in their walk, and stir them up to seek heaven. But when love is high, and the soul full of it, we don't need fear. And therefore a wise God has so ordered it that love and fear should rise and fall like the scales of a balance."

In other words, such fear isn't meant to last. It's a condescension, a means of preservation for the believer until he attains such a maturity in his love for God that he needs no other impetus to persevere in the faith to the end of his days.

John Piper recently posted another link to an Edwards quote that was foundational for him in the formulation of what he calls "Christian hedonism." He pulls a lot from Edwards, Lewis, and a myriad of other respected, historical theologians. This particular link is to a paragraph explaining the way that our delight in God is the climax of our glorifying God. Check it out and check out C.S. Lewis' sermon "The Weight of Glory" (attached) for more.


One thing that confuses me about this kind of thing is that "Christian Hedonism" seems to go hand in hand with a more judgemental kind of Christianity that I feel like it doesn't need.

My understanding of Hedonism is (put simply) what is morally right is what causes us pleasure, essentially doing what we "really" want to do. Christian Hedonism adds to this by suggesting that there is something called sin that is the technical name for not doing what we "really" want. That hedonistic pleasures are the only moral good, but even with that, we are so depraved that we don't do those things we want and we know it (due to our concience). Romans 7 is imo a perfect example of this. It is Christ that finally sets us free to do those things we want to do anyway.

I'd compare this to food. We need food to live, we don't like it when we are starving but due to the fall we are trapped in perpetual starvation. Jesus death on the cross is like him giving us some food to eat. Hell is like perpetual anorexia.

If this is Christian Hedonism why do we need the fear of Hell to keep us from sinning? Surely an understanding of sin means we won't want to sin just because thats what sin is. If you're hungry why wouldn't you expect the food? Do you need to scare someone who knows they are hungry to eat food that they want?

The other issue is that every non-follower of The Way ought to ask "Why should I fear hell, if I've already rejected the one who has told me that Hell is bad?" and if this message is for those that love Christ, why would you want to sin? and if you do surely its better to deal with that grave misunderstanding of who he and his way is, rather then install and artificial fear?

apologies for the typos!

No worries on the typos. I didn't even notice. Wink

I read over your comment and want to respond but don't have the time right this moment. For quick clarification, though, can you clarify my understanding a little? Are you saying something like if what we really want to do is follow God's Word and worship Him, we wouldn't need fear to spur us onto obedience because our redeemed conscience has been freed from harmful indulgence?

Also, I'm not sure I see that definition of sin in Piper directly. Do you have someone else's similar teachings in mind when you equate sin with not doing what we "really" want?

I don't think I'm talking about a "redeemed conscience". I think the conscience is kind of always redeemed, Romans 2:15 seems to suggest to me that everyone has this bit of them that is essentially telling them that they need Christ (although the verse is specifically dealing with the law). Again I'd compare it to everyone knowing they need to eat, but some responding with eating food and others with anorexia.

So I'm not suggesting we're freed from harmful indulgence because what I believe "sin" is, is that we are so depraved we don't do what we actually want, like we have an inability to eat.

But what is possible is that fear won't solve this problem. Fear suggests, Its like there is this external pain or pleasure that we obtain depending on obedience. We are scared that if we don't obey we'll receive "wrath" and we're pleased that if we obey we're receive something good like "heaven".

However what I'm suggesting is rather then fear, we have hope that spurs us on. And rather then a reward or punishment, it's the obedience itself that we hope to achieve. I believe that this is simply "the truth", as in "the truth will set you free" kind of truth.

Finally the method to get that isn't through something else like fear, but Christ's death itself through the Holy Spirit. So for example I wouldn't put the Sermon on the Mount as series of rules we have to follow, nor be scared of disobeying. Instead I see them a description of what everyone actually wants (though has no hope of achieving) and the sermon itself is more of a promise of who you can be?

Does that clarify things? Sorry if its a little confused
(As a side note I'm not suggesting that the knowledge of the truth is what sets us free, it doesn't matter if people agree with the sermon on the mount, the truth is that everyone wants it :P)

As to where I've got these from,

Well I'm a student studying a bit of philosophy so my understanding of "Hedonism" is from philosophy (Epicurus, John Stuart Mill) and then I think my understanding of Christian Hedonism is a mixture of John Piper but a bit of romans. I should probably say from the outset that I think the perfect understanding of the "Gospel" comes more completely from Romans rather the a particular idea such as Christian Hedonism or a more Law based theology (Dunno if that is a good title for anything).

I think the best way to understand this verse to read not "to fear God" but "to fear the Father".
The reality is that any kid who loves his father doesn't want to upset him.
The John writes about "fear of the legal judgement" 1John4:18.
John point that Holy Spirit replaced "legal fear" with love in our hearts.
Form now on we have a different motive to seek forgiveness from Father - His love.
The Father have canceled my "judgement day"
I should be afraid not to be in His word, not to pray, not to do His will ... not to upset Him.