Men’s Inhumanity To God
Placing God in a human context rather than attempting to lift humans to an apprehension of the divine being was a new emphasis for Edwards, at least as the governing principle for an entire sermon, but by October 1750 he was apparently ready to undertake a new gambit. In essence, Men’s Inhumanity to God is an awakening sermon designed to “stir up natural men,” but for the most part the appeal is not to those persons’ fear of pain and suffering, as was expected of such sermons, but rather to their anxieties respecting social justice and self-respect. However, Edwards was as incisive as ever, and his new approach undoubtedly awoke passions as hot as any evoked by a regular hellfire sermon, perhaps more so for their relating directly to the auditors’ daily lives.
Edwards’ language is intense throughout the sermon, though occasional passages are truly harsh, as in his assertion that natural men elevate their lusts above God, preferring “a few shillings…a morsel of meat or a draught of strong drink, or a little brutish pleasure with a harlot.” But undoubtedly more disturbing were the passages evoking the social tensions among Northampton citizens as Edwards cites typical incidents of social climbing, lack of respect for persons, questionable seating in the meetinghouse, resentment of neighbors, and other types of ingratitude and disrespect. Of course, disregard of God’s messenger in public worship, contempt for the Bible, and minimizing the role of Christ in redemption are also mentioned. Though many of the sins cited are universal, the sense of eighteenth-century hierarchical society in general, and of Northampton’s factional configuration involving the “court” and “country” parties, the old order and the new, are vividly if subtly represented. Various church-related issues, such as talking about religious experiences, common during the Great Awakening, are also used as examples of those pretentions that people detest.
While calling to the congregation’s attention many of their deepest resentments arising from others’ presumption, disrespect, and injustice, Edwards asked them to imagine a God of human sensibilities enduring the same kinds of insult, though by comparison with God all men are virtually equal and thus the degree of deference appropriate to God cannot be exaggerated. But by keeping God and man within the same frame of reference, Edwards challenged his people in the Application to a “use of self-reflection” which might enable them to discover the justice of divine wrath through their own experience of human behavior. Conversely, by identifying with God and his infinite mercy and forgiveness of sinful men, people might finally become, more truly, godly Christians.
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The twenty-seven-leaf duodecimo sermon booklet is written in double columns, necessarily in outlinish form. Moreover, there are several blanks of paragraph dimension where Edwards did not write out his thought, presumably because it involved points that he could deliver ad libitum, such as listing particular illustrations. The booklet is composed of miscellaneous scraps of paper, including a subscription list from Edwards’ printers, Kneeland and Green. At the top of the first page it is noted, as was Edwards’ custom in the case of repreachings outside Northampton, that the sermon was also preached at Longmeadow, the parish of the Rev. Stephen Williams, one of the founders of the Stockbridge Indian mission.
Men’s Inhumanity To God
And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the Lord of hosts. Malachi 1:8.
1. By what title God is called.
2. After what manner the people treated this God.
3. How the unreasonableness and heinousness of this treatment appeared. In the Malachi 1:6, the heinousness of [this treatment is] represented by its being contrary to what men expected. Here the heinousness [is represented] by its being what [respectable] men would not accept.
Men are wont to offer such treatment to God as they will not take one of another.
This may be observed with respect to the following particulars:
I. Men will not bear that others should behave themselves with such pride and arrogance towards them as they do towards God. Pride, as it is exercised in men one towards another, is a thing very abominable to men and what they cannot endure. The manifestation of an arrogant spirit, or a disposition in men to take much upon them, to assume to themselves the rights of others; a disposition in men to leave their proper places1 and jostle others out of their places, and to arrogate to them[selves] the honors and prerogatives of their superiors, is what men highly resent. Yea, if it be in no greater instance than taking an higher place: a forwardness in a man to take the right hand of a superior, or an higher seat in the meeting house, or to place himself above him in any public assembly; and especially if men will assume that power and authority which don’t belong to ’em, it provokes men and is what they win not bear.
But yet such things as these do men do continually towards God. The exalt themselves in their pride before him, and in many respects assume to themselves God’s prerogatives. They set themselves highest and take the first seat, even before the great Jehovah, and honor themselves more than God. They take to themselves the prerogatives of Christ in trusting in their own righteousness, expecting that regard to be paid to their works, their prayers, labors, and self-denial which is due only to Christ’s merits and intercession. They arrogate to them [selves] the honor due to the governor of the world when they refuse to submit to God’s will and contend with God concerning his administration. They often claim more to their own understanding than they give to God’s wisdom, and set their wills above God’s will; and set themselves up in God’s stead in making themselves and their private interest their supreme end.
II. Men will not bear to be treated by their neighbors with that disregard and contempt with which they treat the Most High. Men are wont greatly to resent it if others seem to treat ’em contemptuously, and as though they looked upon them [as] mean and despicable, whether this contempt be manifested by a contemptuous carriage or reproachful speeches; or only by being very much neglected, as though they [were] worthy of little or no notice, especially if men are much above others by birth or by the place they stand in, or the authority they are vested with. Or if they esteem themselves very much others’ superiors in circumstances or honorable qualities, will they great[ly] resent it if their inferiors treat them with slight and disregard. But with what contempt do men generally treat the Most High! What a degree of disregard of him do they manifest; in how regardless a manner do many of them behave themselves in his presence, when standing before him to be immediately engaged in his worship, when speaking to him in prayer, or hearing him speaking to them by [his] messengers: some of them laying themselves down to sleep, others gazing and staring2 about, some it may be smiling and laughing one on another.
If they should behave themselves after such a manner in the presence of some earthly monarch, it would be at their peril. And what contempt do most men show of God in their common conversation: how little regard do they show to him, although they are always in his presence; his eye is always upon them and they live and move and have their being in him, and he be their supreme Lord and Judge.
What a mean esteem do they show that they have of him. In their conversation, they set him in the lowest place, and at the left hand of all things. The meanest object of their lusts is set higher than he: he has less respect shown him than a few shillings of money,3 or than a morsel of meat or a draught of strong drink, or a little brutish pleasure with a harlot. The vilest of their wicked companions is more regarded, more feared and honored than the Lord of heaven and earth. Such is the conversation of most men under the gospel as shows contempt of all God’s attribute. They plainly show that they contemn his awful and infinite majesty and greatness, [his] spotless holiness, his justice; [they] contemn [both] his threatenings [and his] mercy. Offers of his favors and friendship, [even] offers of the privilege of being his children, [have the] meanest temporal advantage or pleasure [preferred] before it. [They] contemn the Word of God, [containing his] instructions, counsels, warnings, reasonings, [and] expostulations. [They also contemn the] works of God: God’s works of mercy and judgment, [especially] that greatest of all God’s works, the work of redemption, [including] the wisdom, the power, the justice, and the grace of that work. [They] contemn each person of the Trinity: the Father, who sent his Son, [and they] contemn Christ—[even] spit in his face—[and contemn] the Holy Spirit. [They] despise the messengers of God [and] all things by which he makes himself known.
III. Men will not bear such disobedience in those that are under [their] authority as they are commonly guilty of towards God. When men are vested with authority and command over others, they expect to be obeyed. A father expects that a child should give him that honor (Malachi 1:6).4 A master expects to be so far reverenced and regarded by his servant.5 A prince expects obedience from his subjects. And God, as he is the common Father of spirits, the Lord and master and absolute sovereign [of the creation], infinitely higher and vested with infinitely greater authority, may justly expect [proportionate respect]. But yet, no master’s commands [are] so much disobeyed; no prince [is] treated with so much rebellion. If a master or absolute prince gives forth his commands, such as are altogether reasonable and just in themselves, [his] will is fully known and his commands are peremptory—and especially [to] be enforced with much solemnity, and with threatenings of the severest displeasure. But [if] the subject or servant willfully disobeys [and] treats the commands with a great degree of disregard, such behavior is looked upon [as] intolerable. Especially if the commands are not only reasonable but very important, and concerning his proper business, the duty [is] much insisted on. [If the] commands [are] often repeated, [and] the temptations [to disobey] small, how highly are men provoked!
If a subject should thus treat an absolute prince thus, or a soldier in an army should thus behave himself towards his commander, nothing would be expected but the severest punishment. But yet thus is the great Jehovah, the infinite sovereign of the universe, treated continually by vast multitudes, everywhere [and] every day.
How plainly revealed are the most important commands of God’s word! How peremptorily delivered: with what majesty and solemnity enforced; what awful threatenings are denounced! And yet, [multitudes persist in their indifference].
IV. Men will not endure to be treated by men with such injustice—in withholding and abusing what is committed to their trust—[as] they are guilty of towards God. Men received from God all the faculties of their minds, [their] senses, members, [and] all their worldly possessions: committed to them by God to be improved for him.6 Lent things require that they be returned, but how is God robbed! Men withhold these things [and] improve them to other ends. These treasures are embezzled [to] convert ’em to a private use. A small part of them is begrutched [to God, but many people] take ’em and serve other gods with them. Hosea 2:8, “For she did not know [she had] taken my corn.”
Such robbery among men, committed one towards another, would be esteemed intolerable and would not be endured; if lent goods should be thus detained and wasted, and improved in opposition to those that lent them. If men should thus refuse to pay their debts one to another, if servants should waste the substance of their masters at so great a rate, and if the stewards of great men should so embezzle their treasure and squander their estates, with what severity would they be dealt! Such sort of persons would be judged a public nuisance, not fit to be dealt with or have any commerce with mankind.
V. Men will not bear from one another such opposition of spirit and behavior as they live in against God.7 The greater part of men that live under the gospel live from year to year under the reigning power of enmity of heart against God: a great dislike and distaste of those things that appertain to God or do nearly concern him. They take no pleasure in reading or hearing concerning him, disrelish all intercourse with him, are exceedingly out of their element when conversant with religious matters, have an enmity against the duties of God’s worship, and do very much shut out the Most High from their thoughts and live in opposition to the honor of God and interest of his kingdom in the world. They walk contrary to God: the general course of their lives is a course of opposition to God’s revealed will and his glory in the world. Thus men treat the Most High without much self-reflection or remorse.
But if any of their neighbors in the course of his behaviors shows a fixed disrelish and disgust, [or] evidently avoids their company as being very disagreeable to them, and constantly opposes their reputation and credit among men, and in the whole course of their conduct behave themselves so as tends to wound their interest and thwart all their designs, and to oppose, hinder and cross ’em in whatever they undertake, it would be esteemed insufferable. They would think they had just cause to make such men the objects of their hatred.
VI. Men abhor such guile and hypocrisy in their neighbors towards themselves as they are guilty of towards God. ‘Tis common for men to flatter the Most High, [to] pretend great respect with the mouth, to show much love, [to] come before God as his people come, [to] use very respectful terms: [to] speak of his glorious excellency, use honorable expressions, confess sin [and] praise God in words, use respectful gestures, wear a demure countenance, and it may be tell of great affections and speak to their neighbors of many experiences they have had. And yet all the while, [there is] not a speck of true love, no real honor, no real regard to all that is revealed; no love to Christ, [and] a reigning enmity [to God]; and they all the time act the part of enemies, live in secret wickedness [and] avoid his honor and interest like Judas.
Now how do men like such treatment one from another? If men from some perverse design come and flatter [persons], but at the same time they plainly discern that they are secret enemies, that they have no true friendship but on the contrary are full of hatred, are secretly undermining them, are opposing their interest, are giving deadly wounds to their reputation by what [they] say behind their backs: don’t men greatly abhor and detest such a conduct in their neighbors?
VII. Men commonly treat the Most High with such unfaithfulness as they will not bear one from another. Men do greatly abhor treachery and perfidiousness when they are the objects, when it is discovered that men are not men of their word, that from time to time they make promises and break ’em, that there is no depending upon them and that they make light of the most solemn covenants, and that they commonly act quite the contrary to their pretenses and obligations. How disgraceful and odious is the character of such men.
But yet thus is the great God commonly treated by men: Christendom is full of treacherous professors that make vows and live in the breach of them, that from time to time promise strict obedience to God and to devote their lives to his service, but live for the most part a careless and wicked life. Omission of known duties…How common is it for men, when they are distressed, [they] will make vows…. How highly do men resent falseness in the marriage covenant. “Jealousy is the rage of a man,” is “cruel as the grave,”8 and yet […] Jeremiah 3:20, “As a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have you dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith the Lord.”
VIII. Men will not bear such ingratitude one from another as they are guilty of towards God. Ingratitude is a thing that is in a peculiar manner resented amongst men. If men have shown others peculiar kindness, have appeared for ’em when in great necessity and distress, have helped ’em, rescued [’em] when ready to perish, when no other appeared for ’em, and especially if not only delivered [’em] but done so much for ’em as to set ’em up in the world, have been the making of ’em: if after all they are treated ill, greatly injured, [then] they appear their enemies. What is more resented among men than such treatment as this?
The ill treatment of men under no circumstances whatsoever is wont to be so much resented as under the receipt of great kindness; but yet how commonly do men treat their Maker after such a manner as this, yea, with unspeakably greater ingratitude than this. From God they receive […]9
A man would look upon it [as] a peculiarly provoking instance of ingratitude if another should make use of those very things that are the fruits of his kindness [to attack him]. And how would men resent it if those that have received great kindness from ’em should not only be never the better to ’em for their kindness, but should be the worse? How would it be resented if a man should not only do much but suffer much, especially if this redeemer were some great person?
IX Men would exceedingly resent such obstinacy in injuriousness and ill treatment from their fellow creatures as they are guilty of towards God. If a servant or subject be not only disobedient to the most peremptory commands, but continuous in it, [and] goes on willfully—the commands repeated, many arguments used, the most solemn warnings [given]—and that with great ingratitude when, besides commands, threatenings and warnings, kind promises [are also made, it is likely that] many [acts of] kindness to [him will likewise prove] vain.
But with how much obstinacy do men everywhere continue in their disobedience and ingratitude to God! ‘Tis a lively representation of such obstinacy as is unanimous1 among men that we have in 2 Kings 17:12–15.
I. Use may be of Self-reflection. To put all upon reflection on themselves and comparing their own treatment of their Maker with that treatment they highly resent in their fellow creatures. Have you not resented it when you have seen others, as you supposed of an assuming disposition, [manifesting] contempt, disobedience, [and] great injustice [to you, or] have had a settled prejudice [and] set themselves against you? And if at any time you have found out others in an hypocritical and deceitful management towards you, [including] unfaithfulness, treachery, ingratitude, [and] obstinacy, doubtless you can remember some particular instances of past resentment wherein your spirit has been greatly stirred. And compare your own behavior towards God with those things in men which you have resented: have not you exalted yourself against God?2
Examine your conduct, particularly3 with this view. Examine particular sins which you have been guilty of: what contempt there was […] and if any of you have now at this present [time] any prejudice remaining towards any of your neighbors [or] any deep resentment that rests in your bosom. And inquire what it is for, and then compare this fault which you so resent with your own behavior towards God and towards the Lord Jesus Christ; and particularly inquire how it is now with you: what is your present disposition and behavior towards God, and inquire whether or no there ben’t the very same things implied in it. Examine the course you are now in. Examine your frame and behavior this very day.
II. Use may be of Convict. To convince sinners how justly they may be the objects of God’s indignation and wrath. When you highly resent those things in men that have been spoken of, it has appeared just to you. Those of you that now entertain [strong resentments against others], you think they deserve it; and is it not just that God should resent the same treatment in you towards him?
Consider, your treatment of God is not only the same in kind but infinitely more heinous and aggravated. You take it very heinously when any of your fellow creatures treats you with contempt, who are but a worm of the dust, [much less than] a prince, [for instance]; and [yet] when your equal [treats you with contempt, you are enraged]; yea, when your superiors [are disrespectful of you, you are also aroused]. But how heinous, then, is it [for] the great Jehovah, who is infinitely above [you]?
You look upon it [as] intolerable if those that are under your authority refuse to obey, [but all of them are,] as it were, your equals. God is infinitely more above the greatest prince on earth, [or the prince] as much below him, as your servant [is below you]. And then, besides, God’s right of authority and rule is infinitely stronger and more absolute [than that of any prince, for he has] given [you[ your being, upheld [you throughout your earthly existence, and he determines your] last end.
[Your contempt of God is] more heinous also on this account: his commands are in themselves perfectly holy, just, and good. You resent it when any treat you with injustice, [or] withhold from you what is yours; but what is this in comparison of your injustice towards God? You withhold what God [has] a thousand times greater right to: nothing that your neighbor can withhold is yours in any wise, as you and all that you have, and are, are God’s.
You esteem it very heinous and intolerable when any that you have not injured live in opposition of spirit, and set themselves against you. But it is infinitely more heinous [for you to live in opposition of spirit to God], who is infinitely lovely.
Do you peculiarly resent it when any are guilty of great ingratitude towards you? Is [God] many many4 [times]—infinitely—more aggravated [because his] kindness [is] infinitely greater, with infinitely more obliging circumstances: more free and independent, the objects of his kindness more unworthy?
You resent it greatly when your fellow creatures repeat acts [of hostility] and persist [in their contempt of you], but when were you ever treated with so much obstinacy [as God is by you]? Thus everyway [you consider it, man is more sinning than sinned against]. That sinners will thus resent the ill treatment of their fellow creatures and yet treat the Most High [despicably], without any sense of their own ill deserving, can be owing to nothing but this: they make infinitely more of themselves than of God. Those whom men esteem most honorable and worthy, they judge the most deserving of good treatment, and esteem their ill treatment the most heinous. So that this is really the case, owing to two things: first, a low thought of [God and Jesus Christ]; second, a magnifying [of] themselves. Were it not for these things, men would not object against the justice of that eternal punishment that God threatens. Were it not for a degree of this disposition, it would not seem too great a punishment.5
Obj. Against the force of the argument from God’s infinite worthiness to the justice of the eternal torments of hell, viz. that although God be infinitely excellent and worthy, yet natural men are blind and can’t see it. In order fully to remove this objection, I would observe that there is a twofold conviction of the worthiness of any being of respect: first, a rational conviction; second, a sensible view.
[Answ. I.] If the objection be from men’s being destitute of the latter,6 then I answer: This is the case with respect to all the exercises of an evil spirit towards men: contempt, hatred, revenge, [and] ingratitude. So it don’t seem a heinous thing in the offender; just so it is with regard to men’s ill spirit that they exercise towards God. And hence it don’t seem a heinous thing, [or] answerable to the greatness of the punishment. It shocks ’em to think of such a punishment. As to those offenses that appear very heinous to men, it don’t shock ’em to think of a very terrible punishment.
[Answ.] 2. As to a rational conviction of God’s infinite worthiness of respect, natural men may obtain [it] and yet remain in a natural state, just as it is with respect to those that hate and despise the most worthy men.
III. Use of Exh.
First. I would hence exhort to praise to God for his patience, forgiveness, and grace to us who have treated him so ill. ‘Tis because the Lord is God and not man (Hosea 11:9). Such as are the subject of the saving mercy of God in Christ, you have reason to confess that God’s ways of dealing with you are not as your ways, nor his thoughts [as your thoughts]. Isaiah 55:7–9, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.”
God’s thoughts and ways have been thus high above yours in three respects:
1. Above your ways towards men.
2. Above your ways towards God.
3. Above your ways towards yourself.
Second. Exh. To [get] more of a spirit of meekness and forgiveness. You may see from what has been said how much you stand in need of the forbearance and forgiveness of God, in that in so many instances you have offered to God that treatment that men are most ready highly to resent one in another. Whence it appears that we infinitely need that God should not resent our injuries, and treat us for them as we are wont to treat one another, but need that he should exercise ten thousand times more forbearance and forgiveness. Surely, if we stand in such necessity of this [forgiveness], and hope for it, and especially if we hope we have already attained it, it should make us ashamed of our resentment [as well as] our disposition to retain deep prejudices.
Alas, what is the debt our neighbors that have offended us must owe to us in comparison of the debt we [owe to God]: Do they owe us an hundred pence? We owe ten thousand talents. How reasonable is that which Christ teaches us in Matthew 18, [the] latter end: “O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” To refuse [to forgive our neighbors] is practically to disapprove of God’s forgiveness of us. We think it would be in us an unbecoming meanness.
Third. Exh. To exhort all to watchfulness and care to avoid such treatment of the Most High as has been spoken of: contempt [and] disobedience. […] If we look on such things in fellow creatures towards us as so intolerable, then how unreasonable shall we be if we continue [in the same way towards God]. How can we expect any other than that God will at last treat us as we treat him, and as we are disposed to treat others that offend us?
Thus God has threatened to treat all such as, notwithstanding all long-suffering, forbearance, and grace, will still go on [in contempt and disobedience]. Jeremiah 17:10, “I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to their ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” Galatians 6:7, “That which a man sows, that shall he also reap.” Psalms 18:25–26, “With the merciful I will show myself merciful; with an upright man I will show myself upright; with the pure I will show myself pure; and with the froward I will show myself froward.”7
1. In revising for repreaching, JE replaced “places” with “station.” ↩
2. In revising for repreaching, JE deleted “and staring.” ↩
3. In revising for repreaching, JE deleted “of money.” ↩
4. In revising for repreaching, JE relocated the scripture reference after the next sentence. ↩
5. MS: “master.” In revising for repreaching, JE caught the error and changed the word to “servant.” ↩
6. The sentence originally read: “committed to G. [-] be improved for Him.” In revising for repreaching, JE amended the sentence to its present reading. ↩
7. In revising for repreaching, JE deleted “opposition of spirit and behavior” and replaced it with “enmity.” ↩
8. Proverbs 6:34, Canticles 8:6. ↩
9. In the MS, this undeveloped head is followed by more than half a blank column. ↩
1. MS: “animous”[?]. ↩
2. JE drew four short horizontal lines following this point, probably indicating that he was to extemporize on it. ↩
3. MS: “Conduct in Particularly.” ↩
4. JE was writing very quickly here; his letter formation was poor. The MS could read “mercy mercy,” i.e. “[God’s] mercy infinitely more aggravated”; or “[God] is many many [times], infinitely more, aggravated.” ↩
5. Ed. italics. ↩
6. Ed. italics. ↩
7. JE only wrote down the last part of the scripture, changing the person from second to first; the previous part of the quote has been rendered to reflect the change in person. The last leaf of the MS is made from a fragment (with its left side sheared off) of a list of subscribers’ names, possibly for Humble Inquiry (see the notes to Saving Faith and Christian Obedience Arise from Godly Love for another portion of a similar list). Among the names is that of Thomas Wait, who in 1748 was brought up by JE on charges of fornication. The previous two signatures are made from a printed list of subscribers, with the names written perpendicular to the sermon text.
Jonathan Edwards , Sermons and Discourses, 1743-1758 (WJE Online Vol. 25) , Ed. Wilson H. Kimnach