Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Major Works - Justification by Faith Alone

The publication in 1738 of Justification by Faith Alone, as a part of Discourses on Various Important Subjects (Boston, 1738) (Works, 19, 147-242) marked a significant moment in Jonathan Edwards’ public protest against the encroachment of Anglican Arminian theology within New England. In this moderately long and complex discourse he sought to incorporate over a decade of thought and teaching into a detailed argument refuting the specific claims of Arminian thought. The discourse should not be considered a complete statement on the subject. For example, Edwards does not develop at any length his ideas on the nature of saving faith. Indeed, it is evident that he later viewed the discourse as a stepping-stone to a full treatment of the doctrine (Works, 21, 340).

Several key themes emerge in the discourse, each carefully aligned to the specific polemical context. First, the impossibility of justification on the basis of works performed by a sinner. Second, the centrality of Jesus Christ and his obedience in the divine plan of salvation. Finally, the absolute necessity of evangelical obedience on the part of those justified by faith.

This discourse has divided interpreters of Edwards’ Reformed understanding of salvation: the issue being the level of continuity or discontinuity between Edwards and his Puritan fathers. The publication of the “Miscellanies” and sermons from the period holds out the possibility that an interpretive consensus regarding this controversial pre-Awakening text may yet develop.

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