The Ceremonial Or Moral Law: Jonathan Edwards’s Old Perspective On An Old Error -- By: Craig Biehl

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 02:1 (Jan 2010)
Article: The Ceremonial Or Moral Law: Jonathan Edwards’s Old Perspective On An Old Error
Author: Craig Biehl

The Ceremonial Or Moral Law: Jonathan Edwards’s Old Perspective On An Old Error

Craig Biehl

But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth
the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

Romans 4:5

The thesis of Edwards’s masterful discourse, Justification by Faith Alone, is that “we are justified only by faith in Christ, and not by any manner of virtue or goodness of our own.” Introducing his thesis by a brief exposition of Romans 4:5, he writes:

1. “justification respects a man as ungodly…that God in the act of justification, has no regard to anything in the person justified…so that godliness in the person to be justified is not so antecedent to his justification as to be the ground of it,”

2. “by ‘him that worketh not’ in this verse, is not meant only one that don’t conform to the ceremonial law, because ‘he that worketh not,’ and ‘the ungodly’ are evidently synonymous expressions,” therefore “the grace of the gospel appears in that God in justification has no regard to any godliness of ours…that gospel grace consists in the rewards being given without works,”1

3. the faith that justifies “the ungodly” does not refer to “a course of obedience, or righteousness;”2 and,

4. “the subject of justification is looked upon as destitute of any righteousness in himself” and is counted as righteous apart from moral works, which works are not to be interpreted as “works of the ceremonial law” only.3

My limited purpose in this article is to present Edwards’s argument that Paul’s use of the terms “works of the law” had reference to moral works as well as ceremonial works. In light of the narrow intent, discussion of the historical context and Edwards’s overall understanding of justification will be minimal. The content and approach will be an exposition of the brief section within Justification by Faith Alone, where Edwards answers this question: are “works of the law” in the Pauline epistles limited to the ceremonial works of the “Mosaic dispensation,” or do they refer to moral obedience to the “whole law of God,” including the Ten Commandments?4

The Importance Of The Debate To Edwards

Edwards’s arguments in Justif...

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