A few perhaps surprising gleanings from Jonathan Edwards’s comments on Romans, illustrative of the OPP, the Old Perspective on Paul. All from David Lovi and Benjamin Westerhoff, The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans .

Edwards recognizes, as Calvin did, that the only saving faith is persevering faith, and he puts the point daringly: “It seems to be because continuance of faith is necessary to continuance in justification, at least in part, that the Apostle expresses himself as he does, Romans 1:17 . . . . the righteousness of God is revealed, as we receive it and have the benefit of it, from faith, or by faith, unto faith. For ‘tis by faith that we perceive and know this righteousness, and do at first receive and embrace it, and do at first become interested in it. And being once interested in it, we have the continuance of faith in the future persevering exercises of it made sure to us, which is necessary in order to a suitable continuance [in a] justified state. And, faith continuing, our interest in God’s righteousness continues, and we are continued in a justified state, and shall certainly have the future eternal reward of righteousness” (8).

He recognizes that Romans 4:25 implies Christ’s own justification by which “God acquitted and discharged him hereby as having done and suffered for the sins of all the elect” (92). More fully,

“after Christ had taken man’s guilt upon him, he himself being our surety, could not be acquitted, till he had suffered, nor rewarded till he had obeyed: but he was not acquitted as a private person, but as our head, and believers are acquitted in his acquittance; nor was he accepted to a reward for his obedience as a private person, but as our head, and we are accepted to a reward in his acceptance.” Christ’s justification, Edwards says, includes “both his acquittance from our guilt, and his acceptance to the exaltation and glory that was the reward of his obedience.” When we believe, we “are admitted to partake with Christ in this his justification,” presumably participating both in His acquittal and his exaltation (93).

On Romans 6,:4, he comments that baptism was the rite “by which primitive converts were admitted into the church” and that it “was used as an exhibition and token of their being visibly regenerated, dead to sin, alive to God, having the old man crucified, being delivered from the reigning power of sin, being made free from sin, and become the servants of righteousness, those servants of God that have their fruit unto holiness whose end is everlasting life” (117). It is not clear what he means here by “exhibition and token” or by “visible’ regeneration, mortification, etc. Other comments on Romans 6 suggest that he is talking about “spiritual baptism” (119).

He makes this awkward but remarkable connection: “Pharaoh’s daughter came to wash herself in the same river into which Moses was cast. So if we would find Christ, and be the spiritual mothers of Christ, we must die with Christ” in the waters (118). Unfortunately - or, perhaps, fortunately - he doesn’t elaborate on what it might mean for us to be “mothers of Christ.”

Edwards recognizes that Romans 7 is not simply about the struggle of a sinner to do good, but that it specifically has to do with the condition of humanity under the law: Beginning with 7:14 and to the end of the chapter, “The Apostle . . . speaks in the name of the church of God or of the saints, under the disadvantages that the church was under while under the Mosaic dispensation that was so legal, and the church was treated as a servant, and had not so clear a revelation of gospel grace, and did not enjoy so much gospel liberty, and being much in bondage under the law had more occasion to prove the weakness of the law and its insufficiency to deliver from the power, either its power of influence over the heart and practice, or its power to condemn the person . . . . these things, which the Apostle here says of himself, represent the circumstances of the Jewish saints before the clear revelation of gospel.” Edwards recognizes that there are some saints whose experience matches Paul’s, but there are “saints in all ages in a legal frame, and when they too much forget gospel grace” (143).

Much more, but that is enough to whet appetites.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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