Jonathan Edwards and Justification

Josh Moody Crossway, Wheaton, IL July 31, 2012
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In his introductory chapter Moody, senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, argues that a treatment of Edwards’s view of justification is needed because contemporary leaders claim his position in support of a variety of views. So Moody assembled a cast of Edwardsean scholars to discuss Edwards’s view of justification. He asserts that “what the essays before us show is that Edwards’s view on justification was as thoroughly orthodox (or not, depending on your point of view) as Calvin’s or Luther’s. Yet, as ever, Edwards with his orthodoxy has more than a little dash of creativity, spice, and derring-do. That creativity can set you off in the wrong direction unless you consider carefully Edwards’s overall work and writing, and put him faithfully and properly into historical context” (p. 13).

In the opening essay “Edwards and Justification Today” Moody orients the reader to the issues of justification in contemporary discussions and identifies three reasons Edwards is variously interpreted: “his use of the word ‘infusion,’ his understanding of the order of salvation, and his discussion about faith and love” (p. 20). Moody argues that rather than using “infusion” in a Roman Catholic sense, for Edwards the term means “regeneration.” He demonstrates that Edwards’s description of the Spirit’s work prior to salvation does not deny salvation by grace through faith. Also Moody contends that Edwards’s understanding that love is the essence of faith is not the same as the Roman Catholic view that faith works through love. Moody concludes that Edwards makes important contributions to contemporary discussions of justification: “He emphasizes fairly strongly the ‘union with Christ’ motif, which is not that atypical, but he does so in ways that have a specific ‘Edwardsean’ flavor. The virtues have a ‘concatenation’ together. There is an ‘infusion’ of something real, a ‘sanctification’ in the soul. Faith, hope, and love are names that are interchangeably used for a common phenomenon in Scripture, a disposition” (pp. 42–43).

In “By Word and Spirit: Jonathan Edwards on Redemption, Justification, and Regeneration,” Kyle Strobel argues that “Edwards’s doctrine of redemption answers the problem raised in the account of the fall. In the fall, humankind lost not only an innocent standing before God, but also the Holy Spirit of God that had been infused into them as a holy supernatural principle of life. For fallen humanity to be redeemed, it needs to be declared righteous—that is, to secure a righteousness that includes both remission of sin as well as a positive righteousness imputed—and needs to have holiness (the Holy Spirit) infused as a new principle. For Edwards, Christ’s life, from incarnation to resurrection, is the culminating work of God to address this lack in sinful humanity” (p. 46).

Rhys Bezzant, in “The Gospel of Justification and Edwards’s Social Vision,” argues that Edwards understood that justification produces a means of transformation of society. “The gospel that Edwards preached was designed both to revive and to reform” (p. 73). In short, “Edwards is clear that there is neither personal revival, nor indeed social reform, without doctrinal revelation, which itself constitutes the primacy of ecclesial identity. It is not that Edwards only expressed the gospel in terms of God’s righteousness, justice, or justification, but that this nevertheless became for him a significant theological instrument in a sociological context that needed drastic restorative attention. His gospel of justification applied to a panoply of ailments was a powerful antidote, certainly individual yet also confidently social” (pp. 93–94).

In “Justification and Legal Obedience,” Samuel T. Logan Jr. examines the writings of Edwards on the nature of true spirituality. He demonstrates that “Edwards asserts a vitally important principle: the nature of the operations of God’s Spirit and the signs of the operations of God’s Spirit are directly related. To put it in the terms of the question with which we began this discussion, what causes a person to be a Christian and what signs identify a Christian are inextricably related” (p. 109). In short, “Edwards, in effect, asserts an essential unity between justification and sanctification, a unity which the justification disputants in the 1630s in Boston and many modern justification disputants may not have fully appreciated” (ibid.). Logan’s conclusion is particularly poignant: “Our ‘chief end’ must always be the same—to maximize glory and honor to our ‘beautiful Savior.’ When we or others think or do anything that fails the maximizing test, our ‘relish of God’ compels us to speak or to act or to do both. But ‘it is necessary’ that such speaking or acting itself embody all the things which Edwards says characterize genuinely gracious affections. Because that is what makes a person a Christian” (p. 127).

In “Justification by Faith Alone?” Douglas A. Sweeney argues that Edwards’s view of justification can be understood only by taking the controverted statements in the context of the whole of his work and that none of them can be understood apart from his ministerial context. Sweeney helpfully sorts through the corpus of Edwards’s sermons and theological works and concludes, “Edwards taught that those who persevere in faith and love will go to be with God in heaven. But he also said that faith alone unites such people to Christ, whose perfect righteousness alone can satisfy the law’s demands. Human righteousness is necessary, but only as a sign that one is savingly converted, united to the Savior—and only as the fruit of the Spirit’s presence in one’s life” (p. 150).

This short book is packed with excellent content. It covers much of Edwards’s body of work and makes it accessible for the nonspecialist in Edwardsean studies. In the context of contemporary conflicts over the doctrine of justification, especially when Edwards is used to defend a plurality of views, a work like this that places his writings within their historical context and explains how he used terms is invaluable. Edwards’s emphasis on salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone remains a helpful corrective to contrary views. Pastors and Christian leaders would do well to learn from him and to follow his example.

—Glenn R. Kreider

October 1, 2013
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2013 vol. 170 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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