The Doctrine of Justification in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards -- By: Samuel T. Logan, Jr.
WTJ 46:1 (Spr 1984) p. 26
The Doctrine of Justification
in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards
I. Exposition of Edwards
1. Background of Edwards’s Sermons on Justification
(1) In the fall of 1734, writes Jonathan Edwards in his “Introduction” to A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God, “began the great noise in this part of the country, about Arminianism, which seemed to appear with a very threatening aspect upon the interest of religion here.”1 With masterful understatement, Edwards continues, “There were some things said publicly on that occasion, concerning justification by faith alone.”2
The things “said publicly” were Edwards’s own sermons on that subject, sermons consciously preached to counter the perceived Arminian threat. Was Edwards’s perception of that threat accurate? Probably so, as Ola Winslow indicates in her summary of the situation into which Edwards spoke.
The battle was already at hand. By 1734 heresy had filtered into his own parish. Men were beginning to take sides. He set himself to resist the oncoming tide. The result was a series of sermons designed to combat point by point what he believed to be the false doctrines of his theological opponents. His refutation was in Calvinistic idiom: the sovereignty of God, his inexorable justice, particularly justification by faith alone. Some of the more influential members of his congregation, particularly Israel Williams, the “monarch of Hampshire”, opposed the bringing of so controversial a theme into the pulpit. Their opposition was strongly put, but
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Jonathan Edwards chose to disregard their protests. His decision was the beginning of disharmony in the parish. It was also the beginning of the revival. According to his scale of values he had suffered “open abuse” in a good cause.3
(2) Because this series of sermons in their published form constitutes Edwards’s most careful, most thorough exposition of the doctrine of justification by faith, a firm grasp of their cause and effect elucidates their content significantly. Edwards’s own further description of the events of late 1734 thus provides helpful insight.
Although great fault was found with meddling with the controversy in the pulpit, by such a person, and at that time—and though it was ridiculed by many elsewhere—yet it proved a word spoken in season here; and was most evidently attended with a very remarkable blessing of heaven to the souls of the people in this town. They rec...
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