John Edwards (1637-1716) on God’s justice and rewards

John_Edwards

 

There is righteousness in God’s rewarding. The Apostle tells us, that he that comes unto God must not only believe that he is, but that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Heb. 11:6). There is, as our Saviour informs us, a difference of rewards, there is a prophet’s reward, and a righteous man’s reward (Matt. 10:41), i.e. God will reward, but in a different manner, those who shew kindness to either of these. Yea we are told in the same chapter, that he who refreshes a disciple with a cup of cold water, shall be recompensed for it. Whence we may infer, that no good action (be it never so mean) shall go unrewarded. Now, ‘tis plain that God’s justice is shewed in this, for else the Apostle would not have said (Heb. 6:20) God is not unjust to forget the labour of love. And (2 Thess. 1:6) It is a righteous or just thing with God, to recompense to you that are troubled, rest. It is manifest therefore, that God acts according to the laws of justice and righteousness, when he rewards the good services of the faithful in this life. And he doth so when he crowns them with everlasting glory in the mansions of the blessed, as we may gather from 2 Thess. 4:8, There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge shall give me at that day. By the tenor of the New Covenant, there is assured unto all believers eternal happiness, both as God is merciful, and as he is just. That the crown is laid up for them, is the product of divine mercy, that it is actually given to them, at the great day of accounts, argues God to be righteous, for seeing he hath engaged by his promise to bestow heaven upon them, it becomes an act of justice or righteousness to perform his word and promise: though to make this promise to them at first, was an act of mere grace and favour. So that the remunerative justice of God is not to be measured by the rules and proportions of human justice, which is according to men’s merits: but God’s giving a reward to holy men (none of whom are in a capacity to deserve anything at his hands; yea whose daily failings render them obnoxious to him) is to be reckoned as an act of mercifulness and liberality.

– John Edwards (1637-1716), Theologia Reformata, vol. 1 (1713), p. 100-101.

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John Edwards (1637-1716) on the necessity of doctrinal preaching

John_Edwards

 

Knowledge is as necessary as practice in religion, yea even in the Christian religion. Which I will evince from these three propositions:

1. Knowledge is a necessary ingredient or part of Christianity, and consequently unless divine principles and truths be taught us, which are the true matter of our knowledge, our Christianity is imperfect. There wants a main and essential part of it, such a part as is absolutely requisite to make the other parts useful. For this is certain, that the practical parts of Christianity will be wholly insignificant, if they be separated from this. The reason is plain, because fearing and loving of God and keeping his commandments, are duties that can’t be practised aright without a due knowledge. Therefore a preacher must make his people knowing in religion. This is not his trade, as some reproachfully term it, but it is that which the nature of his high calling and office requires of him. For truth is a talent committed to us, and we are the trustees of this precious depositum. All our hearers have a right to share in this sacred treasure, and we must with faithfulness impart it to them. We must beware of imaginary draughts of Christianity, of false schemes of the Gospel, of which there are sundry extant at this day. These we must carefully avoid, and be very frequent in insisting on the fundamental articles of our faith, because our religion consists in true principles as well as right practice.

2. We ought to be very solicitous and careful in this matter, because, if our knowledge and our principles be corrupted, our practice will be so too. It cannot be otherwise, because the former have so great and so immediate an influence on the latter. Knowledge and belief are the foundations of Christianity, and a Christian life is the superstructure that is erected on them: whence it follows that he who supplants the Christian truth, undermines the life of religion, and effectually subverts its morals. By overturning the faith he destroys the practical part of Christianity, And truly on some accounts the corruption of the Christian doctrines, and error in judgment are worse than in manners, for the depraving of the understanding, the leading faculty of the soul, is in some respects more dangerous than a debauching of the will, I mean as to some particular instances. Yea, ‘tis certain that even an indifferency about the principal truths of religion is of pernicious consequence, as every day’s experience informs us, for from this cold and indifferent temper many slip into atheism and all manner of irreligion and immorality. Wherefore there is a necessity of our being right in our opinions as to religious matters.

3. Knowledge of divine truths is a necessary condition of our happiness, and on that account (as well as the others before-mentioned) the preacher is obliged to instruct and inform men’s minds about the doctrinal part of religion. We must know then that our religion and our happiness answer to one another. As we cannot be said to be religious without understanding and knowledge, so neither can we be happy without them, for they are necessary ingredients of both. Which will easily be granted by those who have a true notion of happiness, which consists in the perfecting our understandings, as well as our wills and actions. Which confutes that prevailing opinion before-mentioned, that men of all persuasions and sects may be saved, which cannot be true if a right knowledge be necessary to happiness. And this is the profess’d doctrine of our Church [i.e. the Church of England] in her eighteenth article. Besides, it is required of us in order to our future blessedness, that we make open profession of our faith, with the mouth confession is made unto salvation, saith the Apostle in Rom. 10:10, and certainly this implies that we are bound to know the articles of our faith, and the doctrines and truths of our most holy religion. And this implies without doubt that we are to explain these to the people, and to study to remove from them all ignorance of the necessary points of religion, and to help them to a true and right understanding of all the fundamental and essential doctrines of Christianity. Our place and function exact this of us [as preachers], and we should be unfaithful to men’s souls if we should neglect this.

In brief, we must instruct the people in the sacred truths of the Gospel, and the whole body of its principles, or else we cannot lay claim to that character of being good ministers of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and good doctrine, that is well acquainted with and imparting unto others the knowledge of the principles of Christianity.

– John Edwards (1637-1716), The Preacher, 1:50-53.

For more on this theme, see this series of three years ago from the later Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) on why all Christians must endeavour to become proficient in theology.

John Edwards (1637-1716) on justifying faith and personally applying Christ’s merits

John_Edwards

Reformed divines generally consider justifying faith to consist of three elements: knowledge (notitia), assent (assensus), and trust (fiducia). A person can have a bare theoretical knowledge of the truths of the Gospel (notitia), and cognitively agree with or assent to them as being true (assensus), both of which are necessary to justifying faith; but it is only when these are accompanied by a turning away from yourself to trust entirely in Christ and his merits alone for salvation (fiducia), i.e. personally applying his merits to yourself by faith, that faith becomes justifying faith. John Edwards (1637-1716) stresses the necessity of this personal application of Christ in his The Doctrin [sic] of Faith and Justification set in a True Light, p. 107-109:

We smile at the Athenian, who being shew’d a map of the world, presently look’d where his house stood, and when he could not find that there, he found fault with the map, as an imperfect representation of the world; for (as he thought) if it had been a complete one, it must needs have had in it his little dwelling at Athens. This, indeed, might argue silliness in the poor man; but apply this to religion, and the business of our souls, and the salvation of them, and then such kind of acting will not be folly, but exceeding great wisdom and prudence. The Holy Scriptures, but especially the Gospel, is the map which we Christians are presented with; it is continually before our eyes, and we are invited to survey the several parts and climates of it. Here is great salvation tendered to us; wherever we cast our eyes, there are manifest discoveries of the love of God in Christ, of his designs of mercy to lost souls, of his glorious purposes to save sinners. But the whole Gospel is no better than an unknown land, to the person that is not particularly interested in it; and therefore that which we are chiefly to mind, is whether we are comprehended in this map of life, and whether besides the general belief of the Gospel, we can particularly apply and appropriate Christ’s purposes of mercy to ourselves. This is the special and peculiar act of justifying faith, and therefore in this we should think ourselves most of all concerned. For as it is with food, physick [i.e. medicine] and apparel, if the first be not eaten, it cannot nourish us; if the second be not taken, it cannot cure us; and if the last be not put on and worn, it cannot warm us: so neither can the mercy of God in Christ be really advantageous to us, unless it be by some proper instrument applied and made use of. The great and precious promises, in which God’s mercies are contain’d and convey’d, are generally propounded to the righteous; but it is a true and operative faith which makes the particular and special application of them to ourselves.

This was represented of old in the Mosaic sacrifices for sin; they were first slain and offer’d, and then the blood of them was sprinkled. This was absolutely necessary, in order to the expiation of sin. Unless those that offer’d the sin-offering had the blood of it sprinkled upon them, they remain’d unpurified. Which occasion’d that of the Psalmist, Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean, for the hyssop was made use of in sprinkling the blood. And we find that this sprinkling or application of the blood of the sacrifices is mention’d expressly by the sacred writers of the New Testament, and it is applied to the sufferings of Christ, to let us know, that the shedding of the blood of Christ on the cross will not avail us, except there be added this sprinkling of it upon us, this applying the virtue and merit of his sufferings. And this is done by faith: for by it all things that Christ hath done or suffer’d for us as a Mediator, are applied to us. Him God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, Rom. 3:25. Whence I gather, that it is faith that makes Christ’s undertakings effectual. God is not actually reconcil’d to us, till by faith we lay hold on Jesus. We are saved by his meritorious sufferings; but not unless they be applied and appropriated unto us by faith; namely, when every one of us can particularly say, from an inward sense and persuasion in his heart, and from a secret virtue and change which he feels there, “the Son of God hath loved me, and given himself for me, Christ was born for me, suffer’d and died for me, rose again for me, ascended into heaven, and there intercedeth for me; in a word, all his undertakings were for me and my everlasting benefit.”

Later on, on p. 209-210, he adds this beautiful bit:

…the act of faith whereby we apply the righteousness of Christ to our own souls in particular, cannot but convey an infinite joy to us: for see how it is in secular and worldly matters, if I can cast mine eye on a small parcel of land, and say with truth, that these few acres of ground are mine, that they belong to me as the right owner, this is far more grateful and pleasant to me, than if I should mount a hill, and take a view of a much larger tract of ground; nay, if I should come down, and have the liberty to ride or walk in it, to feed my eye, and almost lose it in surveying its vast extent, but then after all must say, this belongs to my neighbour, not a foot of these fair fields is mine. If it be thus in temporal and worldly things, it is much more in those that are spiritual. If I can only say, there are great and precious promises in the Gospel, there are vast privileges purchased by Christ’s undertakings, sinners may partake of all benefits and blessings by his blood; but if I cannot add, that I have an interest and propriety in them, I have no ground in rejoicing. What comfort is it to a man to be told, that the sun shines, when he is pent up in a dungeon, where he never sees the light, or feels the warmth of the sun? But if I can say, and say it truly and on good grounds, that I have a portion in those undertakings, I am particularly concerned in the death and merits of Christ, I have a share in the promises of the Gospel, I can, and do apply his meritorious righteousness to my soul, I rest on Christ, not only as a perfect Saviour, but as my Saviour; if I can say this, I have reason to rejoice and be exceeding glad.

John Edwards (1637-1716): None predestined to eternal life who are not also predestined to be conformed to Christ

John_Edwards

 

This [i.e predestination] is a doctrine of great use and advantage, if we believe the Church [of England] in her foresaid Article of predestination; where she tells us, that it is full of sweet, pleasant and unspeakable comfort to godly persons; that it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal salvation, to be enjoyed through Christ; and that it doth fervently kindle their love to God. It is an effectual antidote against pride and an undue opinion of our own worth and ability: and it is a powerful motive to obedience and good works; for God hath chosen us in Christ before the foundations of the world, that we should be holy and without blame (Eph. 1:4). Which last thing is sufficient to acquaint us with the perverse spirit of our adversaries: they all agree to assert, that the doctrine of absolute predestination tends to the promoting of an unholy and vicious life. For if persons (say they) be predestinated to eternal glory and happiness, they have free leave to live as they list, and they may do it without any danger: for if they be preordained to happiness, they cannot possibly miss of it, whatever their behaviour is. This is proclaim’d aloud by all Arminian writers and preachers, and they have taught every one of their disciples and followers to object this against the decree of election. But this shews, that they wilfully reject and contradict the foresaid text of the Apostle, which acquaints us that the election of certain persons from eternity was in order to their sanctification; they were chosen that they should be holy. And the same Apostle informs us, that whom God did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29).

God hath predestinated no man to eternal life, whom he hath not also predestinated to be conform’d to Christ in righteousness and holiness. This is the election which we assert; and we see that it is so far from promoting a vicious and unholy life (as the Arminian sect have the confidence and hardiness to aver), that there cannot possibly be any holiness in men’s lives without this election, and the effectual grace of God which follows it; both which are the great source of all personal righteousness and sanctity.

– John Edwards (1637-1716), The Arminian Doctrines Condemn’d, p. 131-132

John Edwards (1637-1716): It is vain and senseless to confine the doctrine of predestination to schools and universities

John_Edwards

 

In 1622, King James I issued instructions to the English clergy under the title Directions Concerning Preachers through Archbishop George Abbot, in order to restrict preaching on controversial issues. One of these directions reads as follows:

“That no preacher of what title soever under the degree of a bishop, or dean at the least, do from henceforth presume to preach in any popular auditory the deep points of predestination, election, reprobation or of the universality, efficacy, resistibility or irresistibility of God’s grace; but leave those themes to be handled by learned men, and that moderately and modestly by way of use and application, rather than by way of positive doctrine, as being fitter for the schools and universities, than for simple auditories.”

The Church of England divine John Edwards (1637-1716), whose works are crammed with a Reformed Orthodox understanding of predestination, criticized the king’s instruction in vol. 2 of his work titled The Preacher (p. 131-136, spelling modernized in places):

1. I do not see how it can be presumption to preach of these points [of doctrine] in the pulpit, seeing the Holy Scripture so often mentions them. Surely it can be no fault to deliver those doctrines, even in a popular auditory, when the Holy Bible, which is put into the hands of the people, delivers these sacred truths to us. May we not hear the same things from the preacher’s lips which we have from the mouths and pens of the inspired prophets and apostles? I believe I shall never be convinced that a minister of the Gospel, who is to take the matter [i.e. content] of his sermons from the Scriptures, is to be blamed for handling those very doctrines which he finds there; and especially seeing they are represented there as necessary to be believed, and of the foundation of the Christian religion.

2. It is observable that these doctrines of predestination, election, reprobation, etc., were held to be Orthodox in those times (viz. at the close of King James the First’s reign) by our Church [i.e. the Church of England]. For we see here that no fault is found in them, yea, it is supposed that the things themselves are true, and according to Scripture, otherwise no persons would be allow’d to preach and handle them: but some are here allow’d and authorized to do it. Now seeing they are own’d to be Orthodox, it is very strange and unaccountable that they may not be preached by all the ministers and dispensers of the Gospel. Have any men power to cull and pick out of the Bible such and such particular doctrines for the pastors of the Church to discourse of, and to order that others shall be debarred the pulpit? If any warrant can be shewed for this, I shall be silent, but till then I must profess myself bound to believe that the whole will of God, that is, all doctrines in the Scriptures relating to salvation, are to be preach’d to the people by the faithful ambassadors of Christ. In the Form of ordering Priests in our Church, we find that the Bishop delivers to every one of them the Bible, saying, Take thou authority to preach the Word of God, but he doth not confine them to certain texts, and certain doctrines, and give them authority to preach only on them. No: the Bible in general is their storehouse, and they may furnish themselves with all sorts of divine truths, and communicate them to their hearers.

3. How vain and senseless is that, that a popular auditory must hear nothing of these doctrines of predestination, etc., but the schools and universities may ring of them? As if there were nothing but matter of dispute and controversy in these evangelical matters. This is a great mistake, for there is solid, undoubted and incontestable truth in them, abstract from all debates and disputes. And the vulgar and illiterate are as capable of this as the most learned, and therefore they ought not to be excluded from hearing these doctrines, yea, they are hugely concerned in them, because by means of these they have an occasion of improving their spiritual knowledge, of strengthening their faith, of heightening their love and affection towards the Holy Jesus, of admiring the sovereignty, and extolling the peculiar grace and bounty of God. Is there any reason then to confine these doctrines to the schools and universities?

4. That is very silly and weak that none but a bishop or dean must preach of predestination and election, and the like doctrines, that none but cathedral men must venture upon these points: as if the Gospel, which delivers these doctrines, had commission’d those persons, and none else, to treat of them. This is a palpable imposing on the Christian world, this is a plain lessening and debasing the commission of Christ’s ambassadors, this is an unwarrantable confining the ministers of the Gospel, and the Gospel itself. Besides that it is a foolish intimation that a title or a dignity makes a man an able minister of Christ Jesus. But I think no more need to be said to expose this folly.

There are those that look upon these doctrines as wholly indifferent, and therefore advise that nothing should be said of them in the pulpit. But these men that talk thus, have either read the Scripture, or they have not: if they have, they can’t but see that these doctrines are not of an indifferent nature; if they have not, it is to be presumed that they have little regard to those sacred writings, and look upon them as indifferent, as well as these points: and perhaps they reckon all as such, and think one persuasion as true as another. This sceptical sort of gentlemen, I hope, our clergy will have nothing to do with, and consequently will not listen to what they say of the foresaid doctrines.

Some others would have us believe that the doctrine of the decrees, and of divine concourse, and of the power of grace, etc., are philosophical speculations, and therefore are not fit for the people. And sometimes they call them philosophical disputes and philosophical hypotheses. At other times they are said to be scholastical notions, and therefore are not to be regarded: as one among us lately was against the applying the epithet idolatrous to the Church of Rome, because it was (he said) a Scholastick term.

There are others of our order that refuse to discourse to the people on any of these points, because they carry some difficulty with them, and they pretend that they are loth to perplex their hearers’ minds. But this is a mere pretence, for on the same account some of the articles of our religion, which they themselves own necessary to be taught, are to be laid aside, as the doctrine of the Trinity, the Incarnation of the Son of God, etc. Therefore it is evident that the eternal decrees and the other truths so often mentioned ought to be preached, tho’ they be difficult. This must not deter us from delivering what is truth, and what is adjusted to the Word of God. And yet here this ought to be inserted, that about the way and manner of handling these points there is caution and prudence to be observed. The mere disputative part should not be undertaken ordinarily in our sermons. The abstruse speculations that may arise from these doctrines are not to be the subject of our discourses to the people: but the substantial part of them must be. For this being plainly and expressly contained in the Scriptures, we are obliged to discourse of it, as well as of other truths contained in that Holy Volume. And let me tell you, if this were commonly treated of, with judgment and care, and with shewing what are the useful inferences that naturally flow from it, it would be easily apprehended, and readily embraced, and our auditors would call for frequent instructions and applications relating to these divine subjects.

Well then, be persuaded of the necessity of acquainting your flock with these truths. We have Philistines that stop up these walls, but do you open them, and let your people have free admission to them. Nay, account it no other than sacrilege to rob the Church of these holy doctrines, which are her right and due. They being part of the Word of God (as I said before), take heed that as you do not add to it, so you do not diminish ought from it, Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6; Rev. 22:18.

John Edwards (1637-1716) on the believer’s union with Christ as the foundation of double imputation

John_Edwards

 

In his The Doctrin [sic] of Faith and Justification set in a True Light, the Reformed Conformist John Edwards (1637-1716) extensively discusses the doctrine of double imputation, or, to use his parlance, mutual imputation. That is, the mutual imputation of the sin of believers to Christ on the cross and the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience to believers. Concerning the latter imputation, Edwards writes (spelling modernized):

“By Christ’s obedience we are esteemed by God as obedient: and in Christ’s undergoing the penalty of disobedience, we are looked upon as undergoing that penalty ourselves […] God accounts of it as if we had satisfied in our own persons.” (p. 292-293)

He goes on to discuss how this mutual imputation is founded on believers’ union with Christ by faith (p. 294):

“Believers are virtually the same with Christ: they are accounted as one person with him, and he with them. This near conjunction, or rather identity, is set forth by that of husband and wife (Eph. 5:31), of the head and its members (Eph. 4:15; Col. 2:19), of the vine and its branches (Rom. 11:17; John 15:1-2). As the husband and wife are but one legal person, as the head and members make but one body, and the vine and branches but one tree, so Christ and the regenerate are reckoned the same. They are not only one body (1 Cor. 12:13), but one Spirit (1 Cor. 6:17). Yea, as the Father and Christ are one, so Christ and believers are one. That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us (John 17:21). That they may be one, even as we are one (v. 22). It must be a very true, real and strict union that is expressed to us by so many ways. Now, this near and intimate conjunction between Christ and his chosen, is the foundation of the reciprocal transferring of sin and righteousness. For Christ, and the faithful, being by their near union become one mystical person, there must needs flow from thence this interchangeable communication. By virtue of this coalition it is, that believers are reckoned to have done and suffered the very same things that Christ did and suffered. Not only their sins are transferred on him, but his obedience and death are esteemed as theirs. This is the natural result of Christ’s being made, by the Divine appointment and constitution, one person with us.”

John Edwards (1637-1716) on the wrong and right ends of studying divinity

John_Edwards

“…when we apply our selves to the study of divinity, if we do not propound to our selves pure and upright ends, we shall miscarry in our enquiry into those divine truths. Want of true intention in these sacred studies doth oftentimes blast them. Some are busy in their searches after divine knowledge, but it is to satisfy their curious and inquisitive humors. Or they intend to make their reading and studying subservient to nice quarrels and controversies. They read many authors, and devour many books, that they may talk and dispute, and nourish and maintain that principle of opposition which is in them. Or, they desire to know more than others out of a principle of pride and ostentation: they know, to be known, and to conciliate applause. Or, they make the study of divinity serviceable only to their preferment, which is no uncommon thing with this rank of men. Or there are some other sinister designs which they are governed by.

But the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world are different, as on several other accounts, so in regard of the end. It is no wonder then that those who in their search after religion and truth are led only by by-ends (such as curiosity, affectation of disputes, pride, ambition, or covetousness) never attain to a spiritual discerning of the most important doctrines of Christianity, and the saving truths of the Gospel, and to any relish of the goodness and excellency which are in them: it is no wonder that these are hid and sealed up from them.

But the right and true ends whereby men should be acted in their pursuit after divine knowledge are of another nature. They should make God’s glory the first and chief end of all: and next to that they should desire to know the truth, that they may acquaint themselves with their particular duties, and that they may live and practice according to their knowledge: also that they may be beneficial to those who are of weak understandings and mean capacities: that they may edify the Church of Christ, and set forward the conversion and salvation of mankind. These are godly intentions which should be prosecuted in the discharge of the pastoral office: the want of which it is to be feared is one root of that defection and degeneracy in the doctrines of Christianity which I’m complaining of. For an upright and well-designing mind is the best refiner of our thoughts and notions in religion: and a man of simplicity of heart will understand more than an Angelick or Seraphick Doctor. But on the other side, the truth is hidden from those men’s eyes whose aims are corrupt and unwarrantable, selfish and worldly; as we may remember that one of the reasons assign’d by our Saviour why the persons he spoke to did not understand his doctrine, was because they sought their own glory, John 7:18.”

– John Edwards (1637-1716), The Preacher, Vol. 2, p. 78-80