This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Voice from the Past: Jonathan Edwards Agrees with The Race Set Before Us

I realize that to say "Jonathan Edwards agrees with The Race Set Before Us" is at least anachronistic and may even seem a touch arrogant to some readers. Such anachronism serves a valid purpose, nonetheless. It makes the point that Jonathan Edwards, Tom Schreiner, and Ardel Caneday seem to have read the same Bible and that they seem to agree in large measure concerning the function of biblical warnings and admonitions. (Keep in mind that the Bible is anachronistic, too, whenever God compares himself to us, such as in Psalm 103:13.)

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail message from Chip Bugnar. The message contained a segment from a sermon by Jonathan Edwards. The sermon is on "The Character of Paul an Example of Christians." The text is Philippians 3:17. Find the following selected segments on pages 856-857 of volume 2 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards.

As Chip correctly observes, The Race Set Before Us is in very good company, because Tom Schreiner and I agree with Jonathan Edwards in his understanding of how warnings and admonitions function. I have bolded the particularly pertinent portion of the selected segments of the sermon. Thanks, Chip, for bring this to my attention.

1. We ought to follow the good example that the apostle Paul has set us in his seeking the good of his own soul.

First. We should follow him in his earnestness in seeking his own salvation. He was not careless and indifferent in this matter; but the kingdom of heaven suffered violence from him. He did not halt between two opinions, or seek with a wavering, unsteady mind, but with the most full determination and strong resolution. He resolved, if it could by any means be possible, that he would attain to the resurrection of the dead. . . .

Secondly. The apostle did not only thus earnestly seek salvation before his conversion and hope, but afterwards also. What he says in the 3rd chapter of Philippians of his suffering the loss of all things, that he might be found in Christ, and its being the one thing that he did to seek salvation; and also what he says of his so running as not in vain, but as resolving to win the prize of salvation, and keeping under his body that he might not be a castaway; were long after his conviction, and after he had renounced all hope of his own good estate by nature. If being a convinced sinner excuses a man from seeking salvation any more, or makes it reasonable that he should cease his earnest care and labour for it, certainly the apostle might have been excused, when he had not only already attained true grace, but such eminent degrees of it. To see one of the most eminent saints that ever lived, if not the most eminent of all, so exceedingly engaged in seeking his own salvation, ought for ever to put to shame those who are a thousand degrees below him, and are but mere infants to him, if they have any grace at all; who yet excuse themselves from using any violence after the kingdom of heaven now, because they have attained already, who free themselves from the burden of going on earnestly to seek salvation with this, that they have finished the work, they have obtained a hope. The apostle, as eminent as he was, did not say within himself, “I am converted, and so am sure of salvation. Christ has promised it me; why need I labour any more to secure it? Yea, I am not only converted, but I have obtained great degrees of grace.” But still he is violent after salvation. He did not keep looking back on the extraordinary discoveries he enjoyed at his first conversion, and the past great experience he had had from time to time. He did not content himself with the thought, that he possessed the most wonderful testimonies of God’s favour, and of the love of Christ, already, that ever any enjoyed, even to his being caught up to the third heavens; but he forgot the things that were behind. . . .

Thirdly. The apostle did not only diligently seek heaven after he knew he was converted, but was earnestly cautious lest he should be damned; as appears by the passage already cited. 1 Cor ix. 27. “But I keep under my body and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, when I have preached to others, 1 myself should be a castaway.” Here you see the apostle is very careful lest he should be a castaway, and denies his carnal appetites, and mortifies his flesh, for that reason. He did not say, “I am safe, I am sure I shall never be lost; why need I take any further care respecting it?” Many think because they suppose themselves converted, and so safe, that they have nothing to do with the awful threatenings of God’s word, and those terrible denunciations of damnation that are contained in it. When they hear them, they hear them as things which belong only to others, and not at all to themselves, as though there were no application of what is revealed in the Scripture respecting hell, to the godly. And therefore, when they hear awakening sermons about the awful things that God has threatened to the wicked, they do not hear them for themselves, but only for others. But it was not thus with this holy apostle, who certainly was as safe from hell, and as far from a damnable state, as any of us. He looked upon himself as still nearly concerned in God’s threatenings of eternal damnation, notwithstanding all his hope, and all his eminent holiness, and therefore gave great diligence, that he might avoid eternal damnation. For he considered that eternal misery was as certainly connected with a wicked life as ever it was, and that it was absolutely necessary that he should still keep under his body, and bring it into subjection, in order that he might not be damned; because indulging the lusts of the body and being damned were more surely connected together. The apostle knew that this conditional proposition was true concerning him, as ever it was. “If I live wickedly, or do not live in a way of universal obedience to God’s commands, I shall certainly be a castaway.” This is evident, because the apostle mentions a proposition of this nature concerning himself in that very chapter where he says, he kept under his body lest he should be a castaway.1 Cor. ix. 16. “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of, for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.” What necessity was there upon the apostle to preach the gospel, though God had commanded him, for he was already converted, and was safe; and if he had neglected to preach the gospel, how could he have perished after he was converted? But yet this conditional proposition was still true; if he did not live a life of obedience to God, woe would be to him; woe to him, if he did not preach the gospel. The connexion still held. It is impossible a man should go any where else than to hell in a way of disobedience to God. And therefore he deemed it necessary for him to preach the gospel on that account, and on the same account he deemed it necessary to keep under his body, lest he should be a castaway.

Take note, also, that Jonathan Edwards's second point underscores the foundational element of salvation as both present (already) and future (not yet), foundational to a correct understanding of biblical admonitions and warnings.

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