Jonathan Edwards and Samuel Clarke on Liberty and Necessity: A Matter of Distinction, and Why it Matters


  • Philip Fisk


Philosophy, Early Modern History


Scholars often set Edwards’s doctrine of “moral necessity” against the background of the anthropological concerns about the Amyraldians, as expressed by The Helvetic Consensus Formula, (1675).[1] But there are more immediate sources for understanding the background to Edwards’s use of the term “moral necessity,” not only as attributed to the human will, but also to the divine will. We find one such source in Edwards’s Freedom of the Will, namely, Samuel Clarke (1675–1729), Rector of St. James Westminster, whose work, A Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God, Edwards refers to and quotes, citing extensive paragraphs from Clarke about divine moral necessity in a footnote

[1]. ”The same distinction” by Amyraut between human “natural ability” and “moral ability,” was a century later made by New England Calvinists under the lead of Jonathan Edwards, who knew of the Saumur theology through the works of Stapfer,” in Philip Schaff, ed., David S. Schaff, rev., The History of Creeds, vol. 1, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes, (New York: Harper and Row, 1931; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), 481n3; Cf. E. Brooks Holifield, Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 121–2.