Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The soul-shrinking effect of sin

In Lecture VIII of Charity and Its Fruits, Jonathan Edwards scrutinizes selfishness and contrasts it in light of charity. As Edwards notes, "The ruin that the fall brought upon the soul of man consists very much in his losing the nobler and more benevolent principles of his nature, and falling wholly under the power and government of self-love." Selfishness became an inseparable part of the human condition at the fall.

This selfishness was opposed to the way in which he was created by God; "exalted, and noble, and generous." Rather, " the mind of man shrank from its primitive greatness and expandedness, to an exceeding smallness and contractedness." This idea, the soul-shrinking effect of sin, is particularly seen in acts of selfishness.

Despite being endowed at creation with a rich, vibrant, and loving soul that was after God's own image,
soon afterward
these noble principles were immediately lost, and all this excellent enlargedness of man's soul was gone; and thenceforward he himself shrank, as it were, into a little space, circumscribed and closely shut up within itself to the exclusion of all things else. Sin, like some powerful astringent, contracted his soul to the very small dimensions of selfishness.
Edwards gives us a description of the size and shape and volume of selfishness: small. That is one of the effects sin has on us. It is a contracting, constraining, constricting cancer that minimizes, and, if left uncured, leads us to death.

Edwards continues looking at the outcomes of man's love affair with himself.
God was forsaken, and fellow creatures forsaken, and man retired within himself, and became totally governed by narrow and selfish principles and feelings. Self-love became absolute master of his soul, and the more noble and spiritual principles of his being took wings and flew away.
Fortunately, that was not the end of the story. Edwards began at the beginning of the metanarrative of the Bible with Creation. He relates the second part of the over-arching story of mankind, the fall of man. But Edwards continues with Scripture's story arc, not leaving us mired in sin, rather encouraging us with the next part of God's unfolding plan, redemption.

Edwards writes,
But God, in mercy to miserable man, entered on the work of redemption, and, by the glorious gospel of his Son, began the work of bringing the soul of man out of its confinement and contractedness, and back again to those noble and divine principles by which it was animated and governed at first. And it is through the cross of Christ that he is doing this; for our union with Christ gives us participation in his nature.
And so, the remedy for our shrinking soul is union with our saving Sovereign through his Son. Edwards explains this majestic and merciful movement of God as an enlargement, an extensiveness, and a filling out of the Christian.
And so Christianity restores an excellent enlargement, and extensiveness, and liberality to the soul, and again possesses it with that divine love or charity that we read of in the text, whereby it again embraces its fellow creatures, and is devoted to and swallowed up in the Creator. And thus charity, which is the sum of the Christian spirit, so partakes of the glorious fullness of the divine nature, that she "seeketh not her own," or is contrary to selfish spirit.
I'm sure Edwards would agree that the final eradication of the soul-shrinking effects of sin will come in the final phase of the world's history-the consummation-where we will meet Christ and he will reconcile all things. Then, and only then, will humanity reach the full stature of Christ. This largess of largness is the final chapter of the story of man and the story of God.

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