Today I spent eight hours reading Freedom of the Will, one of Jonathan Edwards’ most intense writings. It’s my last assignment for my Winterim class, and it’s a Th.M.-specific assignment. We were allowed to choose one of three major Edwards works, read it, and write a ten-page analysis and critique of it: History of Redemption, Original Sin, or Freedom of the Will. John Hannah told us that if we really wanted to have some fun and tackle the hard stuff, we should go for Freedom of the Will. So tonight my brain is feeling the effects of my attempted academic heroism.
If I tried to translate Edwards’ 300-page metaphysical argument for you, I would confuse both you and myself. Instead, I thought I’d pass along something that made me laugh. Don’t get excited — it probably won’t make you laugh since you didn’t spend eight hours reading the guy. But this is how Edwards illustrates one aspect of his opponents’ arguments which he believes is philosophically self-contradictory. He’s basically saying, “This is what my opponents sound like.” Read slowly — it’s Edwards.
“If some learned philosopher, who had been abroad, in giving an account of the curious observations he had made in his travels, should say, he “had been in Tierra del Fuego, and there had seen an animal, which he calls by a certain name, that begat and brought forth itself, and yet had a sire and a dam distinct from itself; that it had an appetite, and was hungry before it had being; that his master, who led him, and governed him at his pleasure, was always governed by him, and driven by him as he pleased; that when he moved, he always took a step before the first step; that he went with his head first, and yet always went tail foremost; and this, though he had neither head nor tail”: it would be no impudence at all, to tell such a traveler, though a learned man, that he himself had no notion or idea of such an animal as he gave an account of, and never had, nor ever would have” (Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1, ed. by Paul Ramsey [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957], 345-46).
I wouldn’t want to be his theological adversary or the object of his metaphysical sarcasm.
P.S. I’ve found more quotes from John Hannah in some other sections of my Winterim notes, so there will probably be a couple more posts on “Wit and Wisdom from John Hannah.” I know you’re disappointed.