I just finished reading this classic sermon by the Puritan Calvinist Jonathan Edwards, it was definately unique to me. (I should've been doing homework). I have been reading "The Bondage and Liberation of the Will" by John Calvin as well. Both of them seem to begin in the same place really.
Total Depravity. Is man really completely corrupt? It is clear that Calvin and Edwards both think so. I have always been taught it, but never to the extent that I've seen in both these authors. Jonathan Edwards' entire sermon is about how we are so sinful that we have kindled God's wrath against us and we are in essence dangling above the fires of hell, and only by the absolutely unmerited grace of Christ can we be saved. This is quite different from Catholic Soteriology I've been reading about being made righteous through the sacraments and other things to the point of eventual perfection after purgatory.
Calvin wrote this in his book which I am still thinking about, "a work will not be righteous and pure unless it proceeds from a perfect love for God...the saints are held back by a permanent weakness of the flesh from doing perfectly the good works which they do; I mean that they walk when they should be running, often they even limp...there has never been a good work which was entirely pure and perfect...human uncleanness is so powerful and contagious a poison that it defiles by mere contact whatever is otherwise holy."
Edwards writes, "O sinner! consider the fearful danger you are in: 'tis a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you as against many of the damned in Hell: you hang by a slender thread... [and] nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment."
It is a teaching not heard often in the modern church about the wrath of God. I was very shocked at the end of the sermon. But what he says I think is true, and I feel the argument is fairly strong that we are totally depraved from an academic standpoint, it still doesn't quite mesh entirely with my own experience (as I feel I have chosen God many times) - however the point stands that I must believe it until I can disprove it.
Well with all that knowledge where does that lead us? To despair? That's what I was thinking, but both Calvin and Edwards have very different conclusions.
Calvin writes, "We say that man cannot do anything good but cannot even think it, so that he may learn to depend totally on God and, despairing of himself, to cast himself entirely upon him; and so that [man] may give the credit, if he has done anything good, to God and not to himself...this entire teaching trains a person only to be humble, to fear God, to place his trust in God, and to ascribe glory to God."
The Conclusion of Edwards is, "Therefore let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come"
Furthermore, I think this is an interesting glimpse at old fashioned 'gospel' messages. For the most part I feel the Evangelical Church now holds more of an Armenian or even Catholic position that we choose God and that saves us, but the great theologians have always said the opposite. This knowledge of our sinfulness and inability to save ourselves when spoken of correctly as Edwards and Calvin have done, leads us to total trust in God and thus the ends seem to justify the means. I will close with the words of Charles Spurgeon on the issue:
"Trembling, yet believing, I cast myself wholly upon thee, O Lord. I trust the blood and righteousness of thy dear Son...Lord, save me "