Papers from Hillsdale College (1998)
REL 319 -- Eighteenth Century Theology:
Jonathan Edwards and American Puritanism

Jonathan Edwards on Faith

by Jettie Fields

Many long standing questions concerning faith and salvation have faced the church over time; such as what is faith, in what sense perseverance in faith is necessary for salvation, why is our faith tried, who governs over our salvation, etc. Jonathan Edwards attempted to define and clarify the meaning of faith and its means to justification, by writing discourses such as "Concerning Faith", "Justification by Faith Alone", and some "Miscellanies". These documents aid in discovering what faith truly is, and what it brings us. Through an examination of these discourses the basis, means, and results of salvation, according to Edwards, can be found. These things prove their importance in both the converted and unregenerate people's lives; which is why every sermon was a salvation sermon for Jonathan Edwards.

In order better to understand Edwards' beliefs on faith, one must first examine the underlying principle of predestination and free will. Edwards accepted the fact that free will and predestination existed at the same time; since both are preached, as truth, in the Bible. The understanding that the two can work together is often difficult, but in Romans 8:29,30, it explains " For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified." The preceding verse shows us that God, do to his foreknowledge, has predestined those he calls. Which, reaffirms the fact that it is he who does the act of justification, and not us, by our own virtue or works. Edwards understood the will as that which the mind chooses as the ultimate good. Moreover, your desire is explained in three-fold; natural, physical, and moral. A natural necessity has nothing to do with the will, it is like a wound that hurts, the will cannot stop the pain. Next, a physical desire is something which the body is physically capable of doing; such as picking up a piece of pie. On the other hand, a moral necessity has everything to do with the character and will of a person. Therefore, the will cannot be completely free because it is bound by its moral abilities. For, one would not be capable of overstepping their moral boundaries to do something out of their character. Furthermore, the will is free in its natural and physical tendencies, but as for moral ones, God has control because he gives us our preferences. So, when God offers his grace to us, we have the natural and physical choice to refuse it, but our moral tendencies should choose God, if he gives us that preference. This underlying theology will help to explain both God and man's role in the means to salvation.

Grace is the key element for salvation, for without it, one would have no faith. Grace is a free gift from God, which he has absolutely no obligation to bestow within us. Man stands in need of grace in order to be delivered from God's wrath and the punishments of hell. So grace gives man dependency on God, because through his grace he rescues us from our sinfulness and gives us righteousness. Moreover, because of his sovereignty, God delivers those whom he chooses for salvation; for it is written in Exodus 33:19 "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion". This verse illustrates God's sovereignty in grace. For no man shall ever know the mind of God and therefore, as his creation, we have no right to question his will to choose only the elect.

After establishing God's sovereignty and his calling upon the souls of man, Edwards distinguishes between two types of grace: common and saving. First, common grace, by definition, "is used to signify that kind of action or influence of the Spirit of God, to which are owing those religious or moral attainments that are common to both saints and sinners, and so signifies as much as common assistance" (Helm 25). Therefore, common grace offered by the Spirit of God acts as a faculty of the soul to do more fully that which he would do by nature (Johnson 103). But, what is important to understand is that those to whom he offers only common grace will not persevere, and therefore, are not saved. Furthermore, a man with only common grace lacks in communion or fellowship with Christ, which is the essence of Christianity. Common faith is described best in James 2:18, which says, "But someone will say, `You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder".

Second, Edwards says saving grace, "is used to signify that peculiar kind or degree of operation or influence of God's Spirit, whence saving actions and attainments do arise in the godly, or, or which is the same thing, special and saving assistance; or else to signify that distinguishing saving virtue itself, which is the fruit of this assistance" (Helm 25). Further, saving grace is only given to those who God calls, or his elect. God's power preserves the elect in his grace, until salvation (Helm 96). Because of this preservation, man becomes more dependent on God, in turn, giving God glory; which is his ultimate end. Therefore, when man experiences saving grace, he not only rationally believes God is glorious, but he senses God's glory in his heart, for he has had a glimpse of God and his divine light (Johnson 106). This glimpse of God is irresistible and man will choose it, if God offers it to him. So, it is through saving grace that one finds faith and is justified.

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Eph 2:8). Once we have established that grace is the gift of God for the means of bringing us to faith, one must then establish: what is faith? Faith is "the soul's entirely embracing the revelation of Jesus Christ as our Savior" (qtd. In Piper 79). From this, one finds that the "soul's revelation" represents the saving grace which God offers the elect. Consequently, "embracing" this revelation is the principle meaning behind faith. Edwards, again, makes a distinction between common and saving faith. Common faith, much like common grace is the inherent nature of man to have ordinary beliefs regarding God and religion. Common faith comes by natural means, not spiritual revelation. A man possessing common faith has no knowledge or perception of spiritual things, they are blinded to the love of God. Therefore, without the perception of spiritual things, common faith has no communion or fellowship with Christ, because Christ is not "in" them (Helm 27). Moreover, the natural man may have the fruits but they lack in the understanding of God because the Holy Spirit does not dwell in them (Helm 28). So, in order to have the holiness and happiness of God's existence one must have communion with him; this is saving faith.

Saving faith consists of man's total response to Christ; "entirely embracing the revelation". Moreover, saving faith is the supernatural way to come to the Lord, "no man can say that `Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (I Cor 12:2). So, the nature and essence of saving faith is an assent of the mind and inclination and will of the soul; receiving of Christ. Thus, if faith is not seated in the will it is not true, saving faith. Therefore, the basis for Edward's conception of faith is a union with Jesus Christ. This has its base in the scriptures, Galations 2:20 says, " I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me". So, not only do Christians have a union with Christ, but Christ lives in them, through their faith and will to accept it. Thus, reaffirming that when Christ is "in" you, and you have experienced saving grace, he will preserve you in that grace in order to fulfill his glory. "For nothing brings more glory to God than to take man from the hands of the devil and save him and bring him to the grace and holiness of God" (Johnson 97). Hence, perseverance in faith, or saving faith, is the essential means to justification; common faith will not save you. Furthermore, the primary difference in the faiths is that saving faith, at its weakest, may have doubts, yet it is never said to fail (Faith 594). Because of its infallibility, one may have justification through the blood of Jesus Christ.

Our union with Christ is the basis of justification, according to Edwards. Thus, faith alone is the sole means to justification. Edwards gives three reasons proving that faith alone justifies the elect, in "Justification by Faith Alone": 1) true christians (those who possess saving faith) have a peculiar relationship with Christ, 2) first one must be in Christ, then He will make righteous or justify them, 3) Christ's being in us gives us the right to heaven; faith is that act which unites us with Christ-the soul comes to Christ, by his calling, and we choose to receive him. The act of justification is two-fold, "the pardon of sins through Christ's satisfaction and being accepted through obedience" (qtd in Gerstner 76). So, first, we become free of guilt by receiving God's pardon. The word "pardon", according to Miscellany 812, signifies "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". Thus is reinstated the fact that it is not by our own work that we are justified, but by the work of Christ in us. Second, because God pardons us from our sins, he also inputs righteousness in us, in order that we might be accepted by him. This proves that there cannot be justification without pardon and righteousness. Christ achieves his own righteousness, which then becomes ours, by uniting with him. Furthermore, justification is being approved of God as free from guilt, hence, it entitles one to a positive reward because he makes us just and righteous. Edwards, therefore, sees no other way for justification except through faith, by righteousness.

Once one is justified, God bestows in them, true virtue and righteousness which comes as a divine end to the means of justification and grace (Davidson 88). "You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did"( James 2:22). Thus, God's grace moves us to glorify him with our actions, hence making our faith complete. Therefore, the rewards of faith are not only grace, justification, and salvation; but, faith also gives us peace.

"The Peace with which Christ gives his True Followers" outlines Christ's last discourse to his disciples before his death. The sermon comes from John 14:27 which states, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you, not as the world giveth, give I unto you". Edwards' sermon gives us a taste for the enjoyment and comfort that one finds in Christ, after receiving justification. In order to understand this text, Edwards distinguishes between the three statements Jesus made. First, "peace I leave with you" signifies the comfort that Christ gave while he was on earth, will not be taken away when he is gone. Second, "my peace I give you" tells his followers that he is giving up his own peace, which he possessed and enjoyed, to his people. Finally, "not as the world giveth, give I unto you" represents to the elect a sort of heavenly inheritance. Edwards carefully distinguishes between the peace which Christ gives and the peace that one finds in worldly pleasures. Because he lives in us, no earthly influence shall ever overstep our eternal inheritance, which is only found through faith in Him. Therefore, the peace which God gives us is equal to our justification. This is because peace arises from having your eyes open and seeing things as they are and not subjecting yourself to the delusions of the world. Finally, nothing can ever change or destroy the peace with which God gives his true followers.

The difference in the Spirit's operation in the converted and unregenerate man is essential to the understanding of faith, grace, justification, and the rewards of salvation. It is the power of god that converts us and gives us faith in Jesus Christ, then keeps us preserved in His grace. Man is, therefore, dependent on the Lord for all things. First, God, because of his foreknowledge, had predetermined the people whom he shall save. Next, God reveals himself through saving grace, so that man is offered the most precious free gift of salvation. It is only is man's choice to accept that gift of grace, that he has faith. Thus, through test and trials of that faith, those who persevere shall have saving faith, which brings justification. And, the faith of true Christians being thus tried and proved true, is found to praise, honor, and glorify the Father; this being his ultimate end (Smith 139). Moreover, through ones faith in Him, one is brought to justification and salvation; which is God's testimony of love for His children. Therefore, Jonathan Edwards, in his discussions of the means to salvation, reaffirms that man is alive in Christ; evident in Ephesians 2:4-10:

Works Cited

Davidson, Edward. Jonathan Edwards : `The Narrative of a Puritan Mind'. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1968

Edwards, Jonathan. "Concerning Faith". The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Vol. 2 Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1997. 578-596.

Edwards, Jonathan. "Justification by Faith Alone." The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Vol. 1 Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1995.622-654.

Edwards, Jonathan. "Miscellanies." The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Vol.2 . Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1997. 417, 812.

Edwards, Jonathan. "The Peace which Christ gives His True Followers". The Works of Jonathan Edwards. Vol.2. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1997. 89-93.

Gerstner, John H. Jonathan Edwards: A Mini-Theology. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1987

Helm, Paul. Jonathan Edwards: Treatise on Grace. Greenwood, SC: Attic Press, 1971

Holy Bible. New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986

Johnson, Thomas H. Jonathan Edwards: Selections. New York: Hill and Wang, 1935

Piper, John. The Supremacy of God in Preaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990

Smith, John E. A Jonathan Edwards Reader. London: Yale UP, 1995

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Last updated: 25 May 1998