Saturday, February 09, 2008

Jonathan Edwards on the Law and Grace

I don't know about any of the others of my fellow Rob Rufus fans but one aspect in particular of Rob's ministry that is emphasised again and again (and that I struggle with) is the position of the law and how it relates to New Covenant believers such as ourselves. Rob's passionate emphasis is that while the law is good (David: "Oh how I love Your law") it is of no use in promoting righteousness for us in practical day to day living. Unbelievably this is actually something new for me - even though I have been a Christian for 20 years or so. While my home church was allegedly Bible-believing and for the latter part of my time there, proudly "functionally cessationist" - they tended towards a position of theonomy. (For those who aren't quite sure of that word briefly it was the teaching of Christian Reconstructionists such as R J Rushdoony and Greg Bahnsen -both of whom came and spoke to my home church leaders).

For example Rushdoony said things like; "The foundations of a law-order must be protected" (p38).

When the Downs Bible Week was stopped back in 1989 and Terry Virgo and his team went on an "Enjoying God's Grace tour" around the cities, my senior pastor was so concerned that this teaching of grace would promote antinominanism, that he deliberately preached an extensive series on "Law" to counteract that in our church!

So you can understand that this re-structuring of the view of the law in my own mind is taking some time, and sometimes I will find myself listening to Rob's teaching when he swiftly moves through Romans and have to stop and listen to it again and again to allow it to sink in. I wonder if I am alone in that?! However I have been reading my new "Jonathan Edwards Blank Bible" and have got to his notes on Romans and was hugely interested in his insights into this very matter. Here's a few selected quotes;
1. Romans 5:13-14 - "For until the law, sin was in the world but sin is not imputed where there is no law".

"There are two things the Apostle would prove in these words, one of which establishes the other. First he would prove that all mankind were under the law God gave to Adam that revealed death to be the wages of sin. This is evident because sin, as bringing death, was in the world before there was any other legislation or solemn giving of law to mankind beside what was to Adam ... All mankind sinned and fell in Adam. This is evident by Adam's being the legal head of mankind which is the first thing insinuated".

Not unfortunately Jonathan Edwards doesn't go on to explore in great depth the "but now" aspect to this verse which Rob Rufus does in great depth. But I quoted a few days back the tremendous comfort and wonderful joy that there is in seeing the state of mankind as being under two Adams - it is that simple. As Edwards writes, we were under the first Adam and received his imputed sin and therefore his imputed death. But now!

I cannot emphasise this enough for my own personal security as much as everyone who reads this - Rob's wonderful quote shows that there is as MUCH security in LAST ADAM as there was in FIRST ADAM!

"If you are in first Adam, then you cannot "backslide" out of his fallen state through good works. Just so if you are in last Adam you cannot "backslide" out through unrighteous acts"

So will it do to sigh and to say; " sin nature can be quite hard to defeat sometimes"? I'm not sure. I can identify with that statement subjectively. But I'm not sure it truly matches up to the clear teaching in Romans. All mankind received the results of Adam's imputed sin. Therefore if we are in last Adam - the risen and reigning Jesus Christ - we surely just as certainly have received the results of Christ's imputed righteousness. Wow!! But actually Jonathan Edwards goes on in his notes to show that it is not enough to simply compare the two;

2. Romans 5:15: "The gift abounds more than the offence, for if it abounded only in an equality then, it would only just remove that death and misery that the offence brought and restore man to the state he was in before; but it doth much more than so".

"The conjunction "but" refers to the last words in the preceding verse, "who is the figure of Him that was to come" as much as to say, "But yet though Adam were the figure of Christ, yet the gift of benefit received by Christ is not exactly conformed or confined to the dimensions of the damage received by Adam's fall".

Once again Jonathan Edwards doesn't seem to go quite as much into the implications of this verse as I would like! He seems to follow a Puritan trend that they are much more happy talking about sin rather than the breath-taking implications of grace. This is quite okay - as I am coming to terms more and more with the fact that "progressive revelation" does seem to be an on-going thing. Which makes me breath-takingly happy to be alive now and to be as blessed as to have gifts of true grace teachers like Terry Virgo and Rob Rufus!

But here it seems clear to me that the verse in Romans is stating that Christ's finished work on the Cross (and on-going glorious work in heaven) does much more than simply "damage control". Very often in modern preaching you will hear the example given of how we find ourselves in hundreds of thousands of pounds (or dollars) worth of debt and then we go into the bank facing ruin, and the bank manager tells us the overdraft has been cleared! Yet that isn't enough - because that example simply makes our account stand at "£0"! Romans 5:15 suggests much more - that the debts are cleared and we have had MILLIONS put into our bank account from some mysterious benefactor!

Romans 7:4: "Ye are become dead to the law".

"This is one instance of St Paul's address. To have said, the law is dead would have shocked a Jew; therefore he wisely chooseth to say, 'You are dead to the law'. Which is in effect the same thing for the relation is dissolved which soever of the parties dieth".

I find this one of these incredible times when Scripture just leaves me breathless in it's meaning. We so often do not read Scripture and think of how the original recipients of the letter to the Romans would have received it. These Jews had grown up far more indoctrinated with the importance of the law than I ever did! Moses - their forefather - came down the mountain with the tablets of stone after an encounter with God! And here is Paul saying that we are now DEAD to the law!?

So if we are dead to the law then my mind goes straight back to Romans 5:14; "sin is not imputed where there is no law". We have got to deal with these Scriptures honestly! Even if the implications for our lives are indeed life-changing! For my own sake, I need to spell this out logically;

Sin is not imputed where there is no law. We are dead to law. Therefore by implication - can we say that sin is not imputed to us therefore? But rather righteousness from the living Son of God?!

Or have I missed a verse somewhere? Now I do want to go on and consider Romans 7 in a later post sometime because Jonathan Edwards notes on it aren't quite consistent with the glorious truth he is spelling out here. In short it seems he fits himself into the context of Romans 7 - but that is a whole new debate and train of thought. For today it is enough for me to go to work basking in this truth that Paul writes in the infalliable Word of God; "You have DIED to law". But he also writes; "Sin is NOT imputed where there is NO law". Therefore today I must realise that when God looks at me, He does not instantly see my sin but rather the "blood on the doorpost".

Hallelujah! WHAT a Saviour!


jul said...

GREAT post Dan, well thought out well written and GLORIOUS TRUTH!!!!!

Dan Bowen said...

Thanks!! :) I've been rejoicing all day - it's such basic truth but SO mind-blowing!!


PS: I know, the emoticon doesn't make me a man. But there we go!

John Lofton, Recovering Republican said...

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John Lofton, Editor
Recovering Republican

Mission Statement
“For the nation and kingdom that shall not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.” — Isaiah 60:12.

As Christians, we are commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ to teach all nations — including ours — to observe all things He has commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). This means bringing into captivity to Christ all areas of life and thought. This means destroying arguments that are against the knowledge of God (II Corinthians 10:5). In obedience to these commands of our Lord, this Web site is established. We covet your prayers for our success in obeying Him.

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More than 100 years ago, speaking of the secular, Christless conservatism of his time, the great Southern Presbyterian theologian, Robert L. Dabney, observed:

“[Its] history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution, to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward to perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt hath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted? Its impotency is not hard to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It tends to risk nothing serious for the sake of truth.”

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Jude 1:3 3

“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” (KJV)