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Justification: Pardon for Sin

Miscellanies by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

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Edwards talks about justification by faith.

812. Justification. Pardon for Sin. …Justification does not in strictness consist at all in pardon of sin but in an act or sentence approving of him as innocent and positively righteous, and so having a right to freedom from punishment and to the reward of positive righteousness. Pardon as the word is used in other cases signifies a forgiving one freely, though he is not innocent or has no right to be looked on as such. There is nothing of his own he has to offer that is equivalent to innocence, but he justly stands guilty, but notwithstanding his guilt he is freed from punishment. But the pardon we have by Christ is a freeing persons from the punishment of sin as an act of justice, and because they are looked upon and accepted as having that which is equivalent to innocence viz. satisfaction. It is called pardon because though in itself it be an act of justice, and strictly speaking, the person pardoned has no sin or guilt to be pardoned, yet considered with these preceding free and sovereign acts of God that are its foundation (viz. the free gift of Christ, the free establishment of the covenant of grace, and the free giving us repentance and faith in Christ for remission). I say considered with these things it is a most free and wonderfully gracious act and may well be called pardon.

What is done for a sinner on his repentance respecting sin consists in two things, viz., in accepting him as innocent, or as having that which is equivalent to innocence and in establishing a freedom from punishment consequent upon it. But in strictness that in his justification which respects sin consists only in the former, viz., in accepting him as innocent or positively just. And pardon most properly consists in the latter, viz., freeing him from punishment, which is consequent on satisfaction or acquired innocence. For it depends on it as its foundation. Justification consists in imputing righteousness. To pardon sin is to cease to be angry for sin. But imputing righteousness and ceasing to be angry are two things. One is the foundation of the other. God ceases to be angry with the sinner for his sin, because righteousness is imputed to him.

Mere pardon can in no propriety be called justification. If one that is called before a judge, and is tried whether he be guilty of such a crime and whether he be bound to the punishment of it, be acquitted in judgment as being found innocent and so under no obligation to punishment, then he may properly be said to be justified. But if he be found guilty and is condemned but afterward, as a justly condemned malefactor, is freely pardoned, whoever calls that justifying of him.

Hence we may see how that persons cannot be justified without a righteousness consistent with God’s truth, for it would be a false sentence. It would be to give sentence concerning a person that he is approvable as just that is not just and cannot be approved as such in a true judgment. To suppose a sinner pardoned without a righteousness implies no contradiction, but to justify without a righteousness is self-contradictory.

1093. Union with Christ. By virtue of the believer’s union with Christ, he does really possess all things…. I’ll tell you what I mean by possessing all things. I mean that God, three in one, all that he is, and all that he has, and all that he does, all that he has made or done, the whole universe, bodies and spirits, light, heaven, angels, men and devils, sun, moon, stars, land, sea, fish and fowls, all the silver and gold, kings and potentates, as well as mere men, are as much the Christian’s as the money in his pocket, the clothes he wears, or the house he dwells in, as the victuals he eats. Yea, they are more properly his, more advantageously, more his than if he commands all those things mentioned to be just in all respects as he pleased, at any time, by virtue of the union with Christ, because Christ, who certainly does thus possess all things, is entirely his, so that he possess it all…. only he has not the trouble of managing of it, but Christ to whom it is no trouble, manages it for him, a thousand times as much to his advantage as he could himself, if he had the managing of all…. And who would desire to possess all things more than to have all things managed just according to his will….

1111. God’s Sovereignty in Pardoning or Punishing. “Our relation to God, the maker and governor of the world, and what we have to expect from him, is essentially necessary to a just and perfect system of religion. This is self-evident, and therefore in vain we expect such a system from human wisdom. God alone can be the author of it, as he alone can declare whether he will pardon or punish the ungodliness and unrighteousness of mankind, which is in its own nature punishable. And if he is pleased to pardon sin, as he alone must choose, so he alone must show us the way his wisdom judges most proper to exercise this mercy. The reason of things, to an attentive mind, makes it evident enough that our present being stands in relation to some future state. But as our reason also tells us that a character of virtue must be necessary in order to our gaining eternal life, what man in all the world can conclude that he has exercised such a due degree of virtue that the Governor of the universe is obliged, in equity, to give him eternal glory, or that he is worthy that God should put him in possession of immortality? The certain and clear discovery of that state, in its proper circumstances, is what none of the philosophers have given us, nor indeed can give us. God only can open the future world and show what honor and glory he has prepared for the reward of sincere virtue, and what punishment he will inflict upon incurable vice.” Taylor in the Preface to his Paraphrase on Romans.

1206. God’s Sovereignty in Forgiveness and Reconciliation. The substance of what follows is taken from the Preface to the Religion of Jesus Delineated, page 11, etc.

All having sinned and incurred the divine displeasure, it was needful the philosopher should say and show what hope or expectation he has of the divine favor and forgiveness. For if there be no forgiveness with God, I am afraid there will be no religion. The philosopher’s light will be but small if he cannot descry the iniquity and rebellion of human nature against God. It will, I fear, be a false light if it does not descry, that iniquity and rebellion against an infinite God, the Creator and Preserver of all things, is an unmeasurable evil and indignity. He must not be an infinite God, as he is confessed to be, whose displeasure and punitive power are not dreaded and whose pardon and favor are not most highly valued.

If there is no prospect of pardon and reconciliation, despair sure will prevent repentance, and consequently religion, as also the wrath of the Almighty will blast the soul and deny the means, or a blessing on the means, that are to lead us to repentance.

We should be pleased now to hear what such a rational philosopher has to say in the discovery and assurance of divine forgiveness.

The pardon that is indulged by a mortal prince is an act of grace, and much more must the forgiveness of the supreme Governor of the world be so. How then the light of nature, or law of reason, will assure us of a free, gracious act of the eternal God, let the rationalist judge.

If the light of nature proclaims to the world forgiveness of sin, we should suppose that it is either a total or partial forgiveness. If it is only a partial forgiveness, then though we sit under the patience and forbearance of God at present, though we enjoy sun and rain and fruitful seasons in this world, we may be sent to fearful punishments in the next, may be remitted to a flaming purgatory, or at least to those low-spirited pleasures the poets fancied in the Elysian fields. The territories of the dead will be hung all in darkness. If a total remission be, by the philosopher’s light, opened to us, it will show us a discharge, in due time, from the penalty that is inflicted on the body, and a discharge from that will show us a dismission from the grave, and that dismission will be a resurrection from the dead, which neither old nor new philosophers say anything of. Strange there should be so deep a silence on so important a matter, and so necessary, as remission of sins is, in the religion of nature.

And here we should have been glad to have heard the philosopher consider the dismal phenomenon of death, and to have heard what he would argue concerning it. As whether it were the attendant of innocent nature, or of the guilty only. If of the innocent nature, would the good Creator make pure and honorable vessels so soon to be broken into pieces? If of the guilty only, how long has nature been thus guilty? Is there any history of the world that makes mention of an immortal people? And then how comes it to reign over those that have not actually sinned, and thereby contracted guilty? How great a part of mankind dies in infancy? And therefore how can they be supposed to have been set in a state of probation? If our primitive ancestors sinned, how comes it that penalty must be produced down to the latest posterity? Does natural light show that posterity may be punished for the transgressions of remote ancestors? And if it may, and such a visible penalty with all the forerunners and consequences of it continually lies upon mankind, how shall we be delivered from death and the grave? Or must we never be delivered from death and the grave? Does not the philosopher’s light here leave him, and the darkness call for some supernatural revelation? But what religion of nature shall we now have without REMISSION OF SINS?

It will doubtless be said that it is a man’s duty to repent, and that upon REPENTANCE, we may be assured God will pardon the sin and be reconciled.

But this important case should be a little farther considered. It may seem rational indeed to conceive that an offending creature is obliged to repent of his offense against his great and good Creator. Repentance may seem his first duty, or the first part of his return to his duty to his God. What can be accepted from an impenitent spirit?

But how does it appear, that REPENTANCE must needs obtain a PARDON? Or that all the penitent must needs be forgiven? For,

1. It will not be said that all temporal governors are obliged, in reason and equity, to pardon all the penitent criminals in all their dominions. Just execution may be due to the community. The honor and dignity of the government must be supported. It is supposed that the divine Legislator himself has forestalled his vicegerents, the secular princes, from the pardon of willful murder. Much less will he be obliged, by any of our regret and repentance, to pardon that and all other sins of such despicable subjects as we are.

2. A wise governor would scarce publish a law beforehand, in which he promised pardon and impunity to the most flagrant transgressions of all his laws, in case they should repent. Let us suppose there was once a state of innocence (and there must have been so, as long as we are sure that God made man good). We cannot rationally suppose that man, in that state, had a law in reason and nature, assuring him that in case he transgressed any of the law, or all the laws he was then under, he should, upon his repentance, be immediately pardoned. Such a pardoning law would be the ready way to supplant precedent laws, to make man negligent of his obedience to them, and to enervate the force of any penal sanction added to them. And if the light and law of reason did not, in the state of innocence, promise pardon to future penitent transgressors, how does it do it since? Reason was as clear then as it is now, and as much God’s law then as it is now. And the nature and perfections of God would be as much known then as now. It is true, reason does not say that the penitent shall be equally punished with the impenitent. So much duty as is performed in and by repentance, so much guilt will be prevented, which would be contracted by and for the omission of such duty. And thereupon, so far as the goodness of God leads us to repentance, it would lead us to a proportionable impunity. But it does not follow that the performance of a small part of duty, must procure the pardon of a great deal of sin. But,

3. What is this repentance that is supposed to be such an infallible security of the divine forgiveness? Is it a perfect abhorrence of all sin, and a perfect return to God, and to full obedience to him for the future? Were it so (though it would not compensate or atone for past impiety), yet more might be said on the behalf of it. But since it is an imperfect repentance, proceeding from an imperfect knowledge both of the evil of sin that has been committed, and of God against whom it has been committed, it is but an imperfect duty, and raises us but to an imperfect obedience. And so the repentance itself and the obedience to it leads us to, will both stand in need of forgiveness. Now that which itself stands in need of forgiveness, will scarce procure forgiveness for a deal of sin and impiety. May sin and repentance go on forever in a perpetual round? To allow this (says the learned Dean of Chichester), differs nothing from allowing liberty and impunity to sin without repentance (Disc. On Prophecy, page 58). At least to admit that repentance that must consist with future sin, and to forgive the sins that are intermixed with repentance, must be the act of sovereign, unobliged clemency and grace.

4. At what time must this repentance begin and commence? If early, and in youth, how shall I be assured that the sins and impenitence of thirty or forty years will be forgiven? Or will a long adjourned, late repentance be accepted with God, in order to a full forgiveness? How will the religion of nature assure me of that? Or has it nothing to say in this case? O how defective will it be! If I have sinned fifty years and have nothing but one month to live, will reason assure me that the repentance of one month, suppose it to be true, will obtain the forgiveness of all the sins of fifty years? What evidence of that? Sure I am, it is hard to persuade the sensible conscience that one notorious sin, such as murder, adultery, or blasphemy will upon any repentance be forgiven. And I have some reason to suspect that some gentlemen and persons of distinction, that have lived long in impiety, are driven from due thought of repentance and reformation by a terrified mind that tells them their sins are too many and too flagrant to be forgiven. And so there is no more to do, think they, but drink on and revel on, and despair and die. But if the light of nature does not assure us that a late repentance will be accepted to forgiveness, it does not assure us that repentance, as such, will be favored with such a blessing.

5. But if we are assured that forgiveness may, upon repentance, be somehow or other obtained, it should be considered whether that forgiveness must be an absolute, gratuitous one, or must be procured by some sufficient atonement made to the offended Majesty in heaven. If forgiveness must be absolute and gratuitous (that is, unobtained by propitiation, gratuitous to us it will be, whether so obtained or no), then

First. What meant the numerous expiations and expiatory sacrifices that were so generally made by mankind? Were they all contradictions to the law of truth? Did they implicitly confess that God had been offended? That there was some excellency or dignity pertaining to God that must be atoned? That by some bloody propitiation, he is really atoned? And did the law of truth deny all this? Or did the God of truth never give any attestation to the acceptableness of propitiatory sacrifice? And,

Second. Is there no perfection in the divine nature that, in case of sin, and designed forgiveness of sin, it would require an honorary propitiation made thereto? It might be proper to consider what the necessary purity and rectitude of that nature is, what the holiness and the justice is, and its contrariety to all moral evil and turpitude. It would be useful to inquire whether there be such a perfection as justice belonging to the divine nature. The philosopher must surely acknowledge that there is some divine attribute or perfection that we know not how to call better, than by the name of vindictive or punitive justice. The earth is full of divine judgments, or the awful demonstration of divine justice. Many are cut off in their sins, as if they were not to be forgiven. Many are so punished, as if it were designed that their sins should be read in their punishment. Upon commission of notorious sin, conscience is so terrified that many choose strangling and death, rather than the horrors of their own mind. And the author of the Religion of Nature Delineated says that if it be reasonable that the transgressions of reason should be punished, they will most certainly, one time or another, be punished.

Third. Consideration should be have whether there may not be pertaining to the divine Being something analogous to what, in superiors and person eminence, is called sense of honor, which in it regulation, is but a due care to act according to a person’s proper sphere and dignity. The divine Being cannot but be conscious of his own incomparable perfection and essential glory, of his transcendent dominion and authority, and of the vast obligation he has laid upon all intelligent beings, whose essence and powers he upholds, to regard his law and will. And if in this view of his own incomparable glory, he sees it unmeet and unsuitable to his matchless highness and grandeur, to forgive a world of impiety, idolatry, enmity, blasphemy, and all manner of abomination committed against himself, without a suitable, vast propitiation, [then] what has the world to say against it? Surely reason, or the nature of things, has something to say, that the religion of guilty nature should be founded on some great and glorious propitiation presented to the Majesty in heaven.

1226. The Justice of God. “If pardon and salvation are designed for the world, it is altogether meet that they should be proclaimed and promised. If they are not proclaimed and promised, there will be no sufficient assurance of them. Patience is not pardon, forbearance is not forgiveness, and if the divine patience administer some hope, yet the judgments of God upon the world will suggest as much anxiety and dread. And so, through fear of death and destruction, the self-conscious mind must be all its time subject to terror and bondage. If it be so hard for a sensible mind, now upon a public proclamation and promise to believe the forgiveness of sins, it would be much more difficult to believe it without any such security.

If pardon and salvation must be publicly proclaimed and promised to the guilty world, there will be an impediment or bar laid against it by the divine purity and justice. What sort of a Deity must that be that has an equal respect to good and evil? Universal rectitude requires that equity and equitable laws should be maintained and executed in the territories that are to be governed.

That there is vindictive justice in God seems evident from the following:

1. From the excellency and perfection of his nature by which he must hate all moral turpitude and all the workers of iniquity.

2. From his jealousy and concern for his own glory by which he will be displeased with all that is contrary thereto.

3. By the judgments which are continually executed in and upon the world for transgression and sometimes by such special judgments that have been an evident retaliation or have marked out the sin in the punishment.

4. By the dictate of natural conscience that often trembles upon the commission of great enormities and expects that great transgressions should meet with some signal token of divine vengeance. When the barbarians saw the venomous animal hanging on Paul’s hand, they concluded him some great criminal, whom though he had escaped from the rage of the sea, yet vengeance would not suffer to live.

5. By the offense which men usually take at divine providence, when it permits men to proceed and prosper in their notorious villanies.

6. By the early and universal practice of propitiatory sacrifices in the world. If they were at first instituted by God, then God would have an acknowledgment of our sin and his righteous displeasure in the atonement that was made him. If they were voluntarily taken up and practiced by men, there is an indication of mind and conscience that some deference must be paid to divine justice and that to such a degree that they were sometimes ready in their ungoverned imaginations to sacrifice the fruit of their body for the sin of their soul.

The righteousness of God being this evident in itself and acknowledged by the world that if man was to be pardoned by public edict and covenant, it was altogether congruous thereto that there should be some great valuable sacrifice slain and offered to God for the sin of the world. It was meet that there should be a public demonstration of the holiness and purity of God and of his hatred of sin, that the world may not be tempted to abuse his goodness and presume upon his mercy. It is meet that his dominion and authority should be supported that had been so rejected by the world, that his law, the rule of his government, should be asserted and maintained, that his honor and glory, after so much contempt and disgrace as the impious world had cast upon him, should be raised up and illustrated, that the pardoning edict, being founded in sacred blood, should be established and ratified, and that by a joint demonstration of justice and love, the world may be driven from sin and drawn to repentance and God. And here divine wisdom shines in reconciling righteousness and grace together and accomplishing our salvation in the way and method of an eternal redemption.

This sacrifice should be valuable above all created excellence and power. There is a world of most aggravated heinous offenses to be atoned for. It is an infinite majesty that has been offended. It is an infinite justice that is to be propitiated. It is an infinite impunity, an exemption from an endless punishment, an advancement to an endless felicity, that is to be procured. All that intelligent creation can do for the Creator is due to him on its own account. Let all the intelligent creatures take heed to themselves that they do not, by their own fault, fall under the displeasure of God. His majesty and justice may despise their interposition on the behalf of an apostatized, sinful world.” Religion of Jesus Delineated, p 135, etc.

Consider the following two works by Edwards that have been updated and republished for easy reading:

Ripe for Damnation: Sermons on the Book of Revelation – by Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758). Are you hungry for more of Edwards’ sermons? On the book of Revelation? These new works are not found anywhere on A Puritan’s Mind, and there are new ones not found in his large 2 volume works. 4 deal with the plight of the wicked, and 2 deal with the bliss of saints in heaven. These sermons are powerful, practical, and biblical, glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ, and contain 2 never before published sermons.

Justification by Faith Alone – by Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758). In this classic work, Edwards covers the intricacies of how believers are made righteous only through Christ’s merits, and that this justifying righteousness is equally imputed to all elect believers. This is accomplished by the condition of faith as an instrument.

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