"One-step" salvation: The knowledge of God and faith in the theology of Jonathan Edwards

Richard Martin Weber, Marquette University


Jonathan Edwards' theology has been portrayed in a wide variety of ways. Perry Miller described Edwards as a Lockean philosopher who surreptitiously ushered the Enlightenment into Puritan New England. Conrad Cherry pictured him as a theologian under the dominant influence of Calvinism and Puritanism. While agreeing with Cherry, I argue that his representation of Edwards' soteriology fails to emphasize properly a feature that permeated the entire corpus of Edwards' writings--namely that salvation is the result of a single divine work of grace. Addressing both the traditional Puritan notion of preparationism and rising Enlightenment empiricism, Edwards spoke of the "graces" of salvation--illumination, humiliation, faith, works--as concatenated into a single divine work of electing grace. Although the fruits of this grace are logically distinct, they are not separate; the existence of one implies the existence of all others. In this way, for Edwards, salvation is the result of a "one-step" act of divine grace. Edwards distinguished between a natural and a spiritual knowledge of God, the former being that which may be grasped by natural human ability (i.e., sense perception, reasoned reflection), consisting of little more than propositional maxims regarding God's existence. Spiritual knowledge is communicated to the elect immediately by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, and it consists of an experiential knowledge of God's benevolence and gloriousness. Spiritual knowledge is characterized by the unwavering presence of faith. Employing a traditional Puritan distinction between "historical faith" and "saving faith," Edwards unites spiritual knowledge to saving faith, declaring the illumination of the mind to be inseparably joined to an inclination of the heart (i.e., the alteration of the will), by which one is enabled to consent to and trust in the God that is spiritually known. This inward change of one's nature that enables saving faith is also an abiding principle that yields good works of evangelical obedience. Thus, all facets of salvation--from the illumination of divine truth that enables saving faith that yields the fruit of good works--are parts of God's gracious work of salvation, united in a single, illuminating work of the Holy Spirit.

Recommended Citation

Weber, Richard Martin, ""One-step" salvation: The knowledge of God and faith in the theology of Jonathan Edwards" (2002). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3059390.