Is Imputation Unjust? Jonathan Edwards on the Problem of Original Sin -- By: C. Samuel Storms

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 12:3 (Summer 2003)
Article: Is Imputation Unjust? Jonathan Edwards on the Problem of Original Sin
Author: C. Samuel Storms


Is Imputation Unjust? Jonathan Edwards on the Problem of Original Sin

C. Samuel Storms

Perhaps no one in the history of the Church (aside from Pelagius) was more vocal and persistent in objecting to the reformed doctrine of imputation and original sin than was John Taylor (1694–1761) of England. His views were made explicit in a volume he wrote in 1735 titled, The Scripture-Doctrine of Original Sin. Certainly the best testimony to the influence of Taylor’s work was that provided by Jonathan Edwards (1703–58):

According to my observation, no one book has done so much towards rooting out of these western parts of New England, the principles and scheme of religion maintained by our pious and excellent forefathers, the divines and Christians who first settled this country, and alienating the minds of many from what I think are evidently some of the main doctrines of the gospel, as that which Dr. Taylor has published against the doctrine of original sin.1

Taylor’s disdain for the reformed doctrine of imputation and original sin was grounded upon one foundational principle that he held to be inviolable: sin and guilt are entirely personal. One person’s sin is his alone and cannot be reckoned or charged to the account of another. Neither can guilt in any sense be corporate apart from the voluntary consent of all

persons involved. “A representative of moral action,” said Taylor, “is what I can by no means digest. A representative, the guilt of whose conduct shall be imputed to us, and whose sins shall corrupt and debauch our nature, is one of the greatest absurdities in all the system of corrupt religion.”2 Concerning Adam and Eve, he insisted that as the sin

they committed was personal, done only by them; so also must the real guilt be personal, and belong only to themselves; that is, no other could, in the eye of justice and equity, be blameable and punishable for that transgression, which was their own act and deed, and not the act and deed of any other man or woman in the world.3

Taylor argues that only the person who has a “consciousness” of sin can justly be held guilty for it. It is absurd to suppose that an infinitely righteous God would charge with a crime persons who had no hand or choice in its execution, indeed, a crime committed before they even existed. Such is possible only on the “purely imaginary”4 supposition that one man’s consciousness, and therefore liability of guilt, is...

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