Desire Isn’t Good Enough

, posted by Godismyjudge

Outline of Edwards’ arguments in part III.V

  1. Some falsely argue we can’t perform our spiritual duties, but desire these things, so they are excusable.
  2. This entails the contradiction that we are inclined and disinclined to the same thing
  3. Obedience consists in the inclination itself
  4. The inclination is itself the choice
  5. “Desire without performance” is a phrase sometimes used, but it’s improper as the desire relates to something future or something else is the object of desire. (i.e. someone might say a drunk doesn’t want to drink the drink he’s drinking, meaning: a drunk who desires to avoid drinking “someday” so he can keep his money)
  6. This “indirect willingness” falls short of any virtue or even partial obedience to God’s command
  7. “Sincerity” in indirect willingness doesn’t make it any better, people can be sincere about bad things.

I already addressed the inconsistency between Edwards and modern Calvinists on the will here, but I wanted to address the argument itself.

My Response

I mainly object to Edwards’ first point. God doesn’t let people off the hook for anything less than full obedience. God requires perfect obedience to all His commands throughout our whole lives. It requires not only right actions, but right actions for the right motives. We must obey God out of love for God with all our heart.

Deuteronomy 10:12-14 12 “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments of the LORD and His statutes which I command you today for your good? 14 Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the LORD your God, also the earth with all that is in it.

Also see Matthew 5:48.

While Adam was able to obey God’s commands, fallen mankind cannot obey without God’s assistance. Ecclesiastes 7:29, Romans 5:12-20, Matthew 12:33-35 It’s easy to mix the purpose of the law for pre-fallen Adam with the purpose of the law for sinful mankind. For Adam, the law would have given life, for sinners the law’s threatening only brings us to fear God’s coming judgment.

It’s also easy to mistake the role of prevenient grace. God doesn’t give us prevenient grace in order for us to keep the law, either partially or fully, but rather for us to realize that we are not keeping the law. God uses the law to help us understand that we are sinners and that we need a Savior. Romans 7:7-9, Romans 8:15, Galatians 3:24 Then the Law stops and the Gospel begins. The law points out our need for a Savior and the Gospel tells us that Savior is Jesus Christ. Luke 5:31-33, Matthew 11:28, Romans 3:19-26, Romans 10:3-13

So it’s a mistake to think that man partially obeys without grace, or that the purpose of prevenient grace is to enable partial or complete obedience, or that God would accept partial obedience.

Another problem I have with Edwards’ argument is that points 2, 3 & 4 seem to conflate desire and choice.

The final problem I have with Edwards’ argument is that point 5 indicates desire relates to a remote object (i.e. something other than an action on our part). I disagree. We can want to do something, but not do it. This is called velleity, in contrast with volition. If we are faced with alternatives, we may desire them both, but we end up only choosing one. So at least in some sense we may desire to do something that we don’t do. John 16:18-20

<a href=””>Part of a Critique of Jonathan Edwards’ Enquire into the Will at The Traditional Baptist Chronicles.</a>