Holiness: The Absolute Need for Holiness? By Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards ((1703-1758) remains one of America’s greatest biblical theologians, While many may be familiar with many of his sermons, articles and books, we are excerpting portions of his sermon entitled The Way of Holiness. Edward’s sermon has thoroughly increased my understanding of, and passion for, biblical holiness.

We have thus far seen how Edwards defines holiness. First, holiness is a conformity of the heart and the life unto God. Second, holiness is a conformity to Jesus Christ. Third, holiness is a conformity to God’s laws and commands.

Edwards’ second major proposition is that those who do not possess this previously mentioned holiness, in all three categories, are not true believers in Jesus Christ. Edwards’ sermon text is as follows.

Those that have not this holiness are not in the way to heaven. Those that are not thus conformed to God, to Christ, and God’s commands, are not in the way to heaven and happiness; they are not traveling that road; the road they are in will never bring them there. Whatever hopes and expectations they may have, they will never reach heaven to eternity except they alter their course, turn about, and steer [towards] another point; for the way is a way of holiness, and the unclean shall not pass over it.

Christ said that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into heaven, but yet he left it absolutely possible with God that it might be; but he said positively and without exception that except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. None but those that are holy are in the way to heaven, whatever profession they may make, whatever church they may be in: for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.

Whatever external acts of religion they may perform, however they may be constant attendants on the public or family worship, and live outwardly moral lives; yea, what is more, if they speak with the tongues of men and angels, though they could prophesy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though they have faith that they can remove mountains; though they bestow all their goods to feed the poor, and though they give their very bodies to be burnt: yet if they have not charity or holiness ­ which is the same thing, for by charity is intended love to God as well as man ­ though they have and do all those things, yet they are nothing; they are as a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal (see I Cor. 13). It is good that we should be thoroughly convinced of the most absolute and indispensable necessity of a real, spiritual, active and vital yea, immortal ­ holiness.

Edwards was not advocating a works based salvation. Rather, he was echoing the biblical doctrine that true believers in Jesus Christ will evidence true saving faith by their good works (James 2:14-26). In other words, while justification is by grace alone, through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone, it is to be followed by sanctified and holy living and works done for the glory of God alone.

Soli deo Gloria!


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