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The previous post in this series will be found here: https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/charity-and-her-fruits-1-charity-or-love-the-sum-of-all-virtue/


Edwards next proceeds to demonstrate that all virtue that is saving or distinguishing of true Christians, is summed up in Christian love. Edwards sets his proposition upon three arguments: reason, Scripture and the proposition “faith working through love.”[1]


            It may seem strange that Edwards would dare to argue that “reason” could form basis for any Christian doctrine. The strangeness results not from anything defective Edwards’ thinking but rather from a cultural prejudice which sits upon no greater ground than prejudice. If there has been any good of post modernism, it is the understanding that no human being can claim to argue from some wholly neutral objective place.  The Christian theologian Van Til developed this understanding (in a non-postmodern framework) as presuppositional apologetics.[2] The presuppositions of Edwards which he develops in a rational manner are not sub-rational or unreasonable.  If anything, one who carefully follows Edwards’ thought throughout his works will discover that Edwards constructs a worldview which accords far more consistently with reality, experience and human nature than many of the “rational” arguments which claim the place of “reason”.[3]

Rightly understood, love tends towards virtue.

First. We may argue from what reason teaches of the nature of love. And if we duly consider the nature of love, two things will appear.

Edwards notes that love is what compels the human heart most strongly. And thus love will dispose a human being to rightly value God:

That love will dispose to all proper acts of respect to both God and men. This is evident because a true respect to either God or men consists in love. If a man sincerely loves God it will dispose him to give him all proper respect. Men need no other incitement to show all proper respect but love. Love to God will dispose a man to give honor to God. Love will dispose to worship and adore him, heartily to acknowledge his greatness and glory and dominion. So love will dispose to all acts of obedience to God. The servant who loves his master, and the subject who loves his prince, will be disposed to proper subjection and obedience. Love will dispose a person to behave towards God as a child to a father.

Likewise, love will lead to virtuous action toward other human beings.:

So a due consideration of the nature of love will show that it will dispose men to all duties towards their neighbors. If men have a hearty love to their neighbors, it will dispose them to all acts of justice towards them. Men are not disposed to wrong those whom they truly love. Real love and friendship will dispose persons to give others their due.

He notes that love leads to contentment, humility. In every sphere of human action, love would lead to right conduct. For example, Edwards notes that love present would dispose toward a right politics:

It would dispose a people to all the duties which they owe their rulers, to give them all that honor and subjection which is their due. And it would dispose rulers to rule the people over whom they are set justly, sincerely seeking their good.

He concludes:

And in fine, love would dispose men to do to others as they would that others should do to them, if they were in their neighbor’s circumstances, and their neighbor in theirs. Thus love would dispose to all duties, both towards God and towards men. And if love will dispose to all duties, then it follows that love is a root and spring, and, as it were, a comprehension of all virtues. It is a principle which, if implanted in the heart, is alone sufficient to produce all good dispositions; and every right disposition towards God and men is, as it were, summed up in it.


Reason teaches that whatever performances or seeming virtues there are without love are insincere and hypocritical.

This follows from the proposition that behavior without love is essentially manipulative. It seeks a response and the response is the thing desired, not the good of the other.


First, it is the unquestioned proposition of Scripture that love toward God and human beings is the entire purpose of the law:

Or if we take the law in a yet more extensive sense for the whole written Word of God, the Scripture still teaches us that love is the sum of what is required in it, as in Matthew 22:40. There Christ teaches that on those two precepts of loving God with all the heart, and our neighbor as ourselves, hang all the law and the prophets. That is, all the written Word of God. For that which was then called the law and the prophets was the whole written Word of God which was then extant.


Hence love appears to be the sum of all that virtue and duty which God requires of us; and therefore must undoubtedly be the most essential thing, or the sum of all that virtue which is essential and distinguishing in real Christianity. That which is the sum of all duty is the sum of all real virtue.

Faith Works by Love

            Edwards first consider the matter of true faith. He distinguishes true faith from mere “speculative faith” by stating that true saving faith requires assent of the understand and consent of the heart.  What then is the true mark of the heart’s consent? Love:

Now the true spiritual consent of the heart cannot be distinguished from the love of the heart. He whose heart consents to Christ as a Savior loves Christ under that notion, viz. of a Savior. For the heart sincerely to consent to the way of salvation by Christ cannot be distinguished from loving the way of salvation by Christ.

            He also considers the matter of true faith by considering it as a duty owed by human beings to God.  This may sound odd, but it must be understood as true. While we are saved by grace, such grace comes to us unmerited and yet only through the faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Edwards considers the content of the duty of faith in light  of the commands and the description of true faith:

Faith is a duty which God requires of it. We are commanded to believe, and unbelief is a sin forbidden of God. Faith is a duty required in the first table of the law, and in the first commandment; and therefore it will follow that it is comprehended in that great commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” [Matthew 22:37]. And so it will follow that love is the most essential thing in a true faith. That love is the very life and soul of a true faith is especially evident from this place [Galatians 5:6] of the apostle Paul, viz. that faith works by love, and James 2:26 compared together:6 “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” The working, acting nature of anything is the life of it. What makes men call anything alive is because they observe an active nature in it. This working, acting nature in man is the spirit which he has in him. Therefore as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without a working nature is dead also.

Edwards then looks at Galataians 5:6, “faith working by love”:

It is further manifest from this place [Galatians 5:6] of the Apostle, wherein he speaks of faith as working by love, that all Christian exercises of heart, and works of life, are from love. For we are abundantly taught in the New Testament that all Christian holiness is begun with faith in Jesus Christ. All Christian obedience is in Scripture called the obedience of faith. Romans 16:26, “Is made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.” The obedience here spoken of is doubtless the same with that mentioned in the preceding chapter, ver. Romans 15:18, “For I will not dare to speak of those things, which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient by word and deed.” And the Apostle tells us that the life he now lived in the flesh, he lived by the faith of the Son of God, Galatians 2:20. And we are often told that Christians live by faith, which carries in it as much as that all graces and holy exercises and works of their spiritual life are by faith. But how does faith work these things? Why, in this place in Galatians it works whatsoever it does work, and that is by love. Hence the truth of the doctrine follows, and that it is indeed so that all which is saving and distinguishing in Christianity does radically consist and is summarily comprehended in love.



[1] Again, all references to Edwards’ work come from the wonderful Edwards Center at Yale: http:edwards.yale.edu


[2] For a background on presuppositional apologetics, see, http://www.frame-poythress.org/presuppositional-apologetics/

Probably the best aggregator for examples of presuppositional apologetics can be found here: http://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/

[3] To be fair, much postmodernism attacks the idea of anything being rational.