Wit and Wisdom from John Hannah (13)

I know — no one probably thought that I had more John Hannah quotes from my class on Jonathan Edwards seven months ago.  But I do.  And I’m not recycling them.  When taking classes from masterful professors, I lose all self-control in note-taking and basically end up with a partial transcript.  Actually, it’s a choice I made awhile back in my education when another helpful professor said that quantity is more important than quality when it comes to note-taking (especially in college).  Until you know the subject yourself, you can’t really know what you should write down and what you shouldn’t.  So write down as much as you can and sift through it later instead of writing down five important-sounding points and realizing later that you missed another fifteen.  It makes for harder work in class, but you get what you put into it.

John Hannah

In the weeks to come I plan to continue the series of quotes from this distinguished theology professor whose week-long Winterim class on the Life and Writings of Jonathan Edwards was a highlight of my time in seminary.  If you missed the first twelve posts, you can get the background by reading my thoughts about the professor (John Hannah) and my reasons for prolonging the series.  The links to all twelve are below; every single one contains gold.

I can say without a hint of pride that these posts are some of my best, because I’m quoting a man who has spent a lifetime walking with God, half a century wrestling with and teaching theology, and who has a tremendous gift for communicating theology and wisdom in a piercing, honest, and biblical way.  You would be wise to read and consider what he says.  Plus, his topic is Jonathan Edwards, unanimously considered as one of the most gifted and God-centered minds in the history of the church.  I don’t confuse giftedness with God-centeredness, but I do think that Edwards had both.

The book Charity and Its Fruits came from a sermon series on 1 Corinthians 13 that Edwards preached in 1738.  The following are some loose quotes from Dr. Hannah as he lectured on this work.  I’ve provided the general topic in bold.

Pleasing God:  Edwards said that only those sharing in God’s character through regeneration are pleasing to God.  In other words, you have to have God to be pleasing to God.

True freedom:  We think that unbelievers are freer than we are because they have more moral options.  But freedom is not found in multiplicity of moral options but in the presence of a virtual object to choose.  Unbelievers have none.

Being and doing:  Whenever I ask a man how he’s doing, he tells me what he does.  But that’s not what I’m asking.  I don’t confuse being with doing.

Virtue and motive:  Virtue is determined by motive and motive is determined by object.  If the heart is withheld, there is nothing really given to God.  This levels us all to humiliation.  I want to go out and cry.

Judging people:  We are to judge people, but not their motives.  We are to judge their actions.

Love and spiritual gifts:  In Sermon Fourteen, Edwards said that the essence of God’s communication to His church can be summarized in one word: love.  The miraculous gifts are not the supreme gift of God to the church.  Such gifts lack a durative aspect; love abides forever.  Not until the 19th century did the spiritual gifts become an aspect of sanctification.  With the decline of Christianity in our day, spiritual gifts have become an issue of power.  We actually believe that we’re special if we have certain gifts.

Rejoicing and weeping with others:  We find it easier to weep with those who weep than to rejoice with those who rejoice.  We like people to succeed — after us.

Freedom and necessity:  Are freedom and necessity opposing concepts according to Edwards?  If you can answer this question, you’ve got this guy.  The answer is no.  What is necessity?  It’s the overwhelming desire to choose a pleasure.  And that’s freedom!

Free will?  What people lack is not the ability to make choices.  People lack the ability to make good choices because they lack an object to choose.  They can, but they won’t.  They won’t, not because they lack ability, but because they lack object.

Ability to choose:  We have a natural ability but a moral inability.  The fall did not destroy the ability of man to make choices, but it removed the sphere in which to make those choices.

Theological views:  How do I come to make choices in relation to Scripture?  Upon what criteria do I choose among five different interpretations, all of which were held by brilliant minds in history?  I pick the one that answers more questions than the others do and creates less problems.  But what have I just said?  I have questions I can’t answer and problems I’ve created by the choice I’ve made.  That’s how I do theology.  I think that’s how we all do it; we just don’t admit it.  We just talk to ourselves and convince ourselves because there’s no contrary voice.

Self-love and self-hatred:  If you want to love yourself, love your God.  If you want to hate yourself, love yourself.  Build His kingdom, and you’ll have everything, because everything is in Him.  Build yourself, and you’ll end up in despair.

Part 1 – Monday’s quotes
Part 2 – Tuesday’s quotes
Part 3 – Wednesday’s quotes
Part 4 – Thursday’s quotes
Part 5 – Friday’s quotes
Part 6 – Saturday’s quotes
Part 7 – Quotes from biographical lectures (1)
Part 8 – Quotes from biographical lectures (2)
Part 9 – Quotes from lectures on Edwards’ early writings
Part 10 – Quotes from lecture on Religious Affections
Part 11 – Quotes from lecture on Edwards’ Trinitarianism
Part 12 – Quotes from lectures on Edwards’ preaching and Grace


4 thoughts on “Wit and Wisdom from John Hannah (13)

  1. The comments on “Being and doing” and “Rejoicing and weeping with others” and “Free will” and “Self-love and self-hatred” are right on!

  2. “Judging people: We are to judge people, but not their motives. We are to judge their actions.”

    Hmmm. A very interesting statement to say the least. What about …

    Matthew 7:1
    ” Do not judge so that you will not be judged.”

    Romans 14:10
    But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.

    Romans 14:13
    Therefore let us not judge one another anymore …

    1 Corinthians 5:12,13
    For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges.

    James 4:12
    There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?

    Perhaps Hannah’s judgement comment is refering to the church judging the church, but that’s not specified.

    Also, if we are not to judge motives but only actions, then all acts of war are to be condemned. It doesn’t matter why we are killing thousands or millions of people — Hitler, Communism, or WMD — the only salient fact is that we are killing those people which is wrong.

    Also, murder in self defense is not to be tolerated. It doesn’t matter that the person you killed was raping your wife and would have killed your children. The act of killing him is wrong.

    Am I missing something?

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