“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son …” (Rom. 5:10a) is the text that Jonathan Edwards has in mind when he sets out to write his miscellaneous discourse entitled, Men Naturally Are God’s Enemies. The book is arranged in eight sections. The Puritans were fond of presenting their sermons and treatises in two parts – doctrine and application. Hence, the first seven sections focus on doctrine. The eighth is devoted to application.
What follows is a six part post that will focus on Edwards’ notable assertions:
Edwards begins his treatment with a hopeful glance at the opening verses of Romans 5 by reminding readers of the blessed nature of their hope in Christ. He remarks, “The apostle’s argument is exceeding clear and strong. If God has done already so great a thing for us, as to give us Christ to die and shed his precious blood for us, which was vastly the greatest thing, we need not doubt but that he will bestow life upon us.”
The weightiness of Christ’s atonement for the people of God is set forth in vivid terms. As such, the author reminds his readers that anyone in Christ is a friend of God; he is no longer an enemy: “But in actually bestowing salvation on us after we are justified, we are not looked upon as sinners, but as perfectly righteous persons: he beholds no iniquity in us. We are no more enemies, but reconciled. When God gave Christ to die for the elect, he looked on them as they are in themselves; but in actually bestowing eternal life, he look on them as they are in Christ.”
Romans 5 clearly describes, then, the condition of sinners in and of themselves: they are without strength; they are ungodly; they are enemies of God. Edwards argues that most unregenerate people will admit the sinfulness of their hearts; most unregenerate people will admit their lack of love for God. But very few will acknowledge they are enemies of God. The concern of Edwards in this piece is to make the biblical point clear – Natural men are God’s enemies.
1. In What Respects Natural Men Are God’s Enemies
Edwards unpacks four specific ways that men demonstrate their opposition to God. Their antipathy to God is readily apparent. The language of their hearts is, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice?” The author shows the utter contempt of sinners for God which is in agreement with the Pauline assertion, namely, unregenerate men are God’s enemies.
First, they are enemies in the natural relish of their souls. They have an inbred distaste of God’s perfections.” Jonathan Edwards would have been rightly horrified with the modern notion of “seeker sensitivity” where pastors tone down the message and soften the hard edges of the gospel – all to accommodate “seekers.” Rather, sinners naturally oppose God; they have an aversion to him. Edwards notes, “The natural tendency of the heart of man is to fly from God, and keep at a distance from him, as far off as possible. A natural man is averse to communion with God, and is naturally disinclined to those exercises of religion, wherein he has immediately to do with him.”
Second, their wills are contrary to his will. Never let it be said that Jonathan Edwards rejected the notion of freewill. Nothing could be further from the truth! Edwards merely embraced the biblical reality that men choose according to their strongest inclination. Of course, the general direction of the unregenerate heart is to fly from God; the general direction of the unregenerate heart is to oppose God. Sinners turn away from God, by nature. And they do so freely! Edwards adds, “God’s will and theirs are exceeding cross the one to the other … They are not loyal subjects, but enemies to God … They are enemies to God’s authority.”
Third, they are enemies to God in their affections. Edwards rightly notes that the hatred sinners have for God often lies unexpressed, secret if you will. But there is “in every natural man a seed of malice against God … wherein the heart is like a viper, hissing and spitting poison at God.” It is not surprising that some will respond negatively to the Edwardsean assertion. But Edwards merely sides with Scripture and paints a portrait of the human heart apart from grace. Their hearts, will in the final analysis be laid bare: “When wicked men come to be cast into hell, then their malice against God will appear. Then their hearts will appear as full of malice, as hell is full of fire … A natural man has a heart like the heart of the devil; only corruption is more under restraint in man than in devils.”
Fourth, they are enemies in their practice. The Puritan divine wastes no time in describing the natural bent of the unregenerate heart: “In their enmity against God, they are exceeding active. They are engaged in war against God … They oppose themselves to his honor and glory: they oppose themselves to the interest of his kingdom in the world: they oppose themselves to the will and command of God … They list under Satan’s banner, and are his willing soldiers in opposing the kingdom of God.”