Lessons on the Atonement from Jonathan Edwards, II...

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(Tim: second in a series by David Wegener) Building on his introduction in which he outlined the attack on the biblical doctrine of the Atonement common among Emergent and other heretics of our time, David Wegener here begins a series of posts summarizing Jonathan Edwards' writing on the Atonement. David teaches and is Academic Dean at the Theological College of Central Africa in Ndola, Zambia. Both Christ the Word in Toledo and Church of the Good Shepherd in Bloomington support David and his wife, Terri, in this work. If you're interested in corresponding with David, feel free to e-mail him. David and I commend his ministry highly and encourage our readers to add his work to your missions budget.

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1. Satisfaction for sin is necessary and rational.

Satisfaction and God’s justice and proportionality. “Justice requires that sin be punished, because sin deserves punishment” (565). There must be a link between the heinousness of the crime and the degree of punishment. God is infinite. Sin against God is infinitely heinous. So God must punish sin with an infinite punishment. Sin is infinitely hateful to God and stirs up infinite abhorrence and indignation. Because of the infinite nature of the crime, repentance bears no proportion to it. “Therefore we are not forgiven on repentance” (566). God is the supreme ruler of all things. He must “maintain order and decorum in His kingdom, and to see to it that decency and righteousness take place in all cases” (566). Thus, that perfection of His nature called His justice disposes God to punish sin as it deserves...

Satisfaction and God’s holiness. God’s holiness “is the infinite opposition of his nature to sin” (566). God’s holiness naturally and necessarily disposes Him to punish sin. “It does not become the Sovereign of the world, a being of infinite glory, purity and beauty, to suffer such a thing as sin, an infinitely uncomely disorder, an infinitely detestable pollution, to appear in the world subject to His government, without making an opposition to it, or giving some public manifestations and tokens of His infinite abhorrence of it. If he should do so, it would be countenancing it, which God cannot do” (566). If His infinite holiness and opposition to sin glorify God, then he is glorified “to be infinitely displeased with sin” (566).

Satisfaction and God’s honor. God’s honor is at stake in the punishment of sin. If sin is not punished with an infinite punishment, then the greatness, excellency and majesty of God’s being is dishonored. Is God a being worthy to be honored or feared? Should we dread His displeasure? Should we despise His wrath? Sin throws contempt on the majesty and greatness of God. Sin says, in effect, “God is not an excellent being, but an odious one.” Therefore … “it is no heinous thing to hate him” (567).

Satisfaction and God’s law. Sin must be punished with a just punishment because of the Law of God, which threatens such punishment. If God has given us a law, it must have sanctions; that is, there must be the threat of punishment. If there are no sanctions, it is really not a law; it is more like advice or counsel or a request. A law necessarily carries with it the idea of the lawgiver’s power over us. And if punishment is merely threatened, but not executed then the law loses its strength. Here are some reasons why the law of God must “be maintained and executed and not dispensed with or abrogated for the sake of the sinner” (568).

God’s law is to regulate the subject not vice versa. Since God is the Governor of this “universal commonwealth,” it follows that He must rule by published laws. These laws must be “fixed and settled” and not “vague and uncertain” (568). The design of Law is to regulate the subject; the law is not to be regulated by the subject, especially if the subject can be described as “wicked, vile, rebellious” (568). The purpose of the law is to prevent sin. It is not for sin to disannul the law.

God is sovereign not the sinner. When the sinner breaks the law, he finds fault with the law and says it is not a good law. If God lets the sinner off, it will have the appearance that He has given in to the objection of the sinner. The law is perfect and it is a reflection of the perfection of the Lawgiver. If the Lawgiver should make exceptions in the punishment of sinners who have broken the law, it would indicate that the Lawgiver lacked wisdom or foresight and that the Law was not perfect.

God’s authority cannot be compromised. If sin were not punished with an infinite punishment, then the authority of the Divine Lawgiver is diminished. Yet, His authority is absolute because of His ability to punish and condemn. His law cannot be set aside because of the sin of vile and rebellious sinners.

God is omniscient and true. God, the Divine Lawgiver, made threats in His law. If He knew that He would not execute the threats, then He made these threats contrary to the truth. And this is impossible, since God is omniscient and true. Therefore, if He made the threats of punishment in His law, He must carry them out.

2. Satisfaction for sin by the death of Christ is rational. 

If someone who was dependent on me and whom I loved should abuse me and continue in this abuse year after year, even though I asked him to stop his abuse, if such a one stopped his abuse, I would not forgive him except for “gospel considerations” (569). 

But if a beloved friend of mine, dear and true and constant in friendship, if such a friend was related to the abuser, and if my friend interceded for the abuser and went through much hard work and endured many sufferings to secure forgiveness for the one who abused me; and then if the abuser changed his mind and ran to my dear friend and sought my favor in the name of this friend, knowing how much this mediator had done and suffered on his behalf, then I would be inclined to forgive the abuser, provided this last aspect, that the abuser “be sensible how much his mediator had done and suffered” (569-70) to procure his forgiveness. For if the abuser didn’t know about this suffering or thought it a small thing, I should not be inclined to pardon him. 

“So a sense of Christ’s sufficiency seems necessary in faith” (570).  

Quotations and summary from The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 2 vols. 1974 [1834], Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, vol. 2: 565-578.