Conversion by Jonathan Edwards
'Tis most certain, both from Scripture and reason, that there must be a reception of Christ with the faculties of the soul in order to salvation by him, and that in this reception there is a believing of what we are taught in the gospel concerning him and salvation by him, and that it must be a consent of the will or an agreeableness between the disposition of the soul and those doctrines; so that the disposition is all that can be said to be absolutely necessary. The act cannot be proved to be absolutely necessary; that is, it can't be proved that there is not the disposition before there is an act because it
is said by some that [the fact that] a man can't be saved before he has actually believed, if he is come to years of discretion, is plain by Scripture. But I say, no plainer than that a man must actually live a holy life before he can be saved; for the Scripture in many places speak as plainly about the necessity of a holy life as of believing. But by those expressions concerning a holy life, we can understand nothing else but a disposition that would naturally exert itself in holy [living] upon occasion; so we say of the believing disposition.
And as sometimes a person has this disposition within 'em who have in times past felt the quickest: exercises of it, yet may not sensibly feel them for some time; so a man may have the disposition in him for some time before he ever sensibly feels them, for want of occasion and other reasons. 'Tis the disposition and principle is the thing God looks at. Supposing a man dies suddenly and not in the actual exercise of faith, 'tis his disposition that saves him; for if it were possible that the disposition was destroyed, the man would be damned and all the former acts of faith would signify nothing.
Those particular acts our divines describe may possibly be necessary thus, that it is impossible for such a disposition to be in the mind, in such circumstances, without its being exercised in such particular kind of actions; which must be determined by plain consequence of nature or else by Scripture. The Scripture indeed, in many invitations to Christ, doth make use of the words "come," "believe," "trust," "receive," which without doubt signify those actions that are aptly represented by these expressions. It need not be doubted but that many of the ancient Jews before Christ were saved without the sensible exertions of those acts in that manner which is represented as necessary by some divines, because they had not those occasions nor were under circumstances that would draw them out; though without doubt they had the disposition, which alone is absolutely necessary now, and at all times and in all circumstances is equally necessary.
This is furthermore certain and evident concerning conversion, or a true reception of Christ, if it be actual: there must be a dying unto sin and an emptying of self that Christ may be all in all, what in the Scripture is called "hating our own life."