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Sermons from Galeton Community Church

The Grace of God in the New Covenant

January 5, 2020 Series: Covenant of Grace & Visible Church

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The following was read in place of today's sermon:

 

THE GRACE OF GOD IN THE NEW COVENANT

(Edited by Matthew Hoskinson)

No. 153, 1730

An important early statement on the nature of justification, this sermon draws on entries in the “Miscellanies” and in the “Faith” notebook. Looking backward, it echoes Edwards’ Master’s Quaestio of 1723, and looking ahead, provides the basic argument, writ small, for the 1734 discourse on Justification by Faith Alone.

The text, Rom. 4:16, has Paul asserting that Abraham was justified by faith, and Edwards’ exposition draws out and affirms that assertion. The doctrinal section is built around a series of questions: what is justification? What is justifying faith? What is it to be justified by faith alone? How does the grace of the new covenant, or covenant of grace, appear in this justification? For Edwards, in keeping with the Reformed and Puritan tradition, justification is having righteousness before God, both negatively (personal freedom from guilt) and positively (fulfilling of the law by Christ). Drawing on his continuing effort to define faith in his thematic notebook, he states that it is “a sense or conviction of the reality and excellency of Jesus Christ as Savior,” and uniting or cleaving to him as such. Edwards explains each element of this definition in separate points. Justification by faith alone means that faith is not a condition of salvation, nor are works. God’s grace in the new covenant appears in its being a gift to worthless offenders who can offer nothing in return.

Edwards’ Application begins by denouncing all who “derogate” from the glory of the new covenant, including Socinians and Arminians. He warns of self-righteousness, which is contrary to salvation by faith alone. Those truly justified will praise God for their state, while those who are not should examine themselves and seek faith in Christ.

The manuscript is ten duodecimo leaves. The History of Redemption symbol appears at the top of the first page. Edwards made some later additions and other revision, possibly for a repreaching.

THE GRACE OF GOD IN THE NEW COVENANT

Romans 4:16.

Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace.

The Apostle in this chapter is arguing for the truth of the doctrine of justification by faith only, from the instance of Abraham. He mentions this instance as that which would be most likely to be of weight with the Jews, the principal opposers of this doctrine, because that was the thing that they so highly valued themselves upon, that they were the children of Abraham, and supposed that they had a right to the blessings of the covenant of Abraham, by virtue of their being circumcised and observance of other legal rites that were peculiar to the children of Abraham according to the flesh.

The Apostle therefore, to convince them, shows that Abraham himself, to whom God first gave the ordinance of circumcision, was not justified by works, but by faith only. And this he evinces several ways:

  1. In that the scripture says expressly that “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness” [Rom. 4:3]. And,
  2. That he was justified before circumcision, the work which the Jews above all others built upon for justification. V. 10, “How was it reckoned then, when he was in circumcision or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision but in uncircumcision.” And then in v. 11, he argues that circumcision was so far from being that by which he was justified, that it was a seal of the justification which he had already received. It was a seal of the righteousness of faith which he had, yet being uncircumcised. And then,
  3. He argues that Abraham was justified, not by the works of the law but by faith, because “the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith” [v. 13]. ’Tis in this promise that God’s covenant with Abraham chiefly consisted. And this covenant and promise was not through the law; or, which is the same thing, Abraham received a title to the blessing promised by the works of the law. And that is evident, because if the promise were made through the law, the promise would be of no effect, because “the law worketh wrath” [Rom. 4:15]. There are none of the seed of Abraham that ever could perfectly keep the law; and so if the promise was made through the law, the promise never would have been fulfilled to our soul, as in the 13th, 14th, and 15th verses. But the promise being not through the law but of faith, and so a promise of sovereign grace that surmounts our transgressions and unworthiness, it is sure to all the seed; whereas otherwise, none of the seed of Abraham would have obtained it. As this verse of our text: “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end that the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham,; who is the father of us all.”

DOCTRINE.

That the grace of God in the new covenant eminently appears, in that it proposes justification only by faith.

The goodness of God appeared in the first covenant, which proposed justification by works. It was an act of God’s goodness and condescension towards man to enter into any covenant at all with him, and that he would become engaged to give eternal life to him upon his perfect obedience.

But the second covenant that God has entered into with us, since we broke the first, may by way of distinction be called the covenant of grace. The free and sovereign and rich grace of God appears in it in a manner very distinguishing, and the grace of God in it appears eminently in this, that it proposes justification by faith alone.

In order to clear up this Doctrine, we will,

  1. Inquire, What is justification. And next,
  2. What is justifying faith. And,

III. What is meant when it is said, we are justified by faith alone. And,

  1. How [the] grace of the new covenant eminently appears in this way of justification.

[I.] Upon the first of these inquiries, viz., What is justification, I shall not insist, but shall only say that nothing else seems to be intended by it in the New Testament, than a man’s being looked upon by God as having righteousness belonging to him, and God’s accordingly judging of it meet that he should be dealt with as such.

There is a twofold righteousness thereof. There is a negative righteousness, which consists only in a freedom from guilt: such a righteousness as thus had Adam {before he sinned}. And therefore, when God justifies a man, he looks upon [him] as being free from guilt; and therefore, one part of the justification of fallen man consists in the pardon of sin, or imputing Christ’s death and sufferings and satisfaction.

And then there is a positive righteousness, which is something more than a mere freedom from guilt, and consists in the actual fulfillment of a law: such as Adam would have had, if he had withstood the temptation, and had persevered in obedience. Therefore, another part of our justification consists in the imputation of Christ’s perfect obedience to us.

If God looks upon a man as having such a righteousness, both negative and positive, belonging to him, he therein justifies him, what way soever he comes to have this righteousness belonging to him: whether he has performed it himself personally, as our first parents would have been justified had they stood, and as the elect angels have been justified; or whether because some other person has performed it for him, whose act God sees meet to accept for him, as fallen men are justified.

And to justification there appertains not only God’s determination that righteousness belongs to [them], but his ajudging to them an answerable treatment, that is, principally, a deliverance from hell, and the bestowment of his favor and eternal life.

  1. The next inquiry is concerning the nature of justifying faith, what it is. We don’t here speak of the grace of faith in its most general extent. Faith in its more general nature is a sense and conviction of God’s sufficiency and truth, and so of the truth and goodness of all revelation. Thus ’tis by faith that we believe that the worlds were made, Heb. 11:3. But this act of faith is not justifying.

But we now inquire, What is that faith that is justifying: A sense and conviction of the reality and excellency of Christ as a Savior, that entirely inclines and unites the heart to him. That is, the act of the whole soul in it, of every faculty, entirely embracing and acquiescing in the gospel, that reveals Jesus Christ as our Savior. The whole soul that truly believes in Christ, accords and symphonizes with the revelation of Christ as our Redeemer.

There is an entire yielding of the mind and heart to it, and a closing with it, with the belief, with the inclination and affection. It being the complex act of the whole soul, and of each faculty together, it is difficult perfectly to define it. We will therefore briefly consider it by the parts:

First. There is in justifying faith an entire sense and conviction of the reality of Christ as a Savior; the understanding embraces and acquiesces [in it] as true. There is a full conviction of the truth of the gospel, and a realizing sense of things that are declared in it concerning Jesus the Redeemer and his salvation; that what we are told in the gospel concerning Jesus’ acts and sufferings are true, and that, that Jesus is indeed the Son of God, and that he is the Savior of mankind; that the way of salvation by him declared in the Word of God is the very way of life, and that what God tells us of the designs of his grace in Christ is true; that the promises of the gospel are really true; that the account we have of the scheme and contrivance for the redemption of mankind is no fable, but a great reality.

A believing the truth of the gospel, or a conviction of the reality of Christ (as a Savior}, is a main thing that is constitutive of justifying faith. And as is evident by many passages of Scripture, as particularly, John 20:31, “these things are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name”; and John 8:24, “I said therefore unto you, that ye should die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins”; and 2 Thess. 2:13, “God hath chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.”

But it is not any kind of believing the truth of the gospel that is justifying. For there may be a sort of assent to the truth of the gospel, without any true grace: for the devils believe and tremble [Jas. 2:19], and persons have a belief from education, and have the thing appearing plausible from moral arguments. But these things will never make the soul have a sense of the reality and certainty of the gospel.

He that savingly believes the gospel, believes it from its intrinsic evidence. They see those intrinsic characters of divinity in it, that they do as it were see it to be divine; they see that it is from God, for they see God in it. Thus the disciples: they believed and were sure that their Master was the Christ, the Son of the living God, John 6:69. Not that they were convinced by so much ratiocination merely, for flesh and blood had not revealed it to ’em, as Christ tells Peter, Matt. 16:17; but the Father in Heaven had revealed to them the divine glory of their Master.

But this brings me to the

Second thing in justifying faith, viz., a sense and conviction of the excellency of Christ as a Savior. There is in faith a sense of the goodness, as well as a sense of truth. Therefore, justifying in Scriptures is sometimes called a knowing of Christ, because it is a being acquainted with his excellency as Savior. So that is generally understood, Is. 53:11, “by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many”; and John 17:3, “this is eternal life, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”

’Tis not so much a sense of the excellency of Christ’s person absolutely considered as his excellency as a Savior, though that includes a sense of the excellency of his person. This includes a sense of his necessity, of the need we stand in of this Savior. We ben’t sensible of his excellency as our Savior, if we think he is a needless Savior. There is therefore a sense of our helplessness and unworthiness. Matt. 15:27–28, “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith.” So also Luke 7:6, etc.—the centurion says, “I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof.” Christ says upon it, “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.”

Here also belongs a sense of Christ’s sufficiency as a Savior, his fitness for the work. The sufficiency of a Savior is great part of his excellency. Thus the woman that had the issue of blood said within herself, “If I may but touch the hem of his garment, I shall be whole”; and Christ bids her, “Be of good comfort,” for her faith had made her whole, Matt. 9:21–22. And so, Rom. 4:20, Abraham’s faith is commended, that he was fully persuaded that what God had promised, he was able also to perform.

There is a sense of the sufficiency of Christ’s righteousness, of his power and grace, John 16:8, “when that Holy Ghost is come, he shall convince the world of righteousness, of judgment.”

To the excellency of Christ as a Savior belongs also the excellency of his way of salvation. The believing soul has a sense and conviction of this. The way of salvation by the mediation and righteousness of Christ appears glorious and lovely in his eyes, and such as is suitable to his case, excellently adapted to the needs of his soul. And the person of the Savior appears excellent; as it did to Thomas, when his faith was drawn forth and he said, “My Lord and my God” [John 20:28]. And [Christ appears excellent in] his salvation that he wrought out, the blessedness he purchased, which consists much in holiness and the enjoyment of God. The unbelief of the Jews in the wilderness is described by their despising the pleasant land [Ps. 106:24], and the faith of God’s people partly consists in that, that they embrace with high esteem the salvation and glory that Christ has purchased.

Third. And lastly, this sense and conviction entirely inclines and unites the heart to Christ as Savior. It is evident by the Word of God, that justifying faith is not only an act of the understanding, but also of the heart and inclination. There is consent as well as assent. Matt. 23:37, “how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not!” ’Tis a gladly receiving the gospel, Acts 2:41.

’Tis often called an obeying the gospel, or obeying “from the heart the form of doctrine” [Rom. 6:17], which signifies something more than the assent of the understanding: it implies a yielding of the whole soul. ’Tis a receiving the love of the truth, 2 Thess. 2:10. ’Tis that that is opposite to a disallowing or rejecting of Christ, as is evident by 1 Pet. 2:7, “To you which believe he is precious: but to them which are disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner.”

A true conviction of the reality and excellency {of Christ as Savior}, causes an adherence of the soul to him. It brings the soul, that before was remote, to close with him; and therefore ’tis expressed by coming to Christ, by looking to him, by opening the door to let him in, by hearing his voice and following him. To believe is to have the heart drawn to Christ. John 6:44, “None can come to me, unless the Father draw him.” The believing soul rests in Christ as being a Savior entirely suitable to his inclination. He is satisfied; he hungers no more, nor thirsts any more. The heart cleaves to him, and rests in him in dependence. ’Tis a trusting in him. Rom. 15:12, “in him shall the gentiles trust”; 2 Tim. 1:12, “I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day.” Therefore, it was typified by a flying to the city of refuge of old [Heb. 6:18].

We are come now, in the

III. [Third] place, to inquire, What is meant when it is said, we are justified by faith only. This inquiry divides itself into two, viz.:

First. How we are justified by faith. And,

Second. How we are not justified by works.

First. What is meant when it is said, we are justified by faith. ’Tis generally here said that faith justifies as the condition. God has fixed this as the condition of justification. But this don’t perfectly explain the matter, because there is something of ambiguity in the expression. In one sense of the word, Christ alone performs the condition of our justification. He has performed that which God looks upon as necessary to belong to the fallen creature, in order to its being a meet thing that he should be freed from an obligation to punishment, and have a right to eternal life.

And in another sense of the word, there are other graces besides faith are the condition of justification, if we mean by “condition” anything that may be put into a conditional proposition, or that with which we shall be justified, and without which we shall not. So is love to God, and so is repentance, and so is a spirit of obedience a condition of justification; and therefore, we often find these things put into conditional propositions in Scripture: as, “he that confesseth and forsaketh his sin shall find mercy” [Prov. 28:13]; “the Lord hath promised a crown of life to them that love him” [Jas. 1:12]; “if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” [Matt. 6:14]. Therefore, I

Answer. Faith is that in them which God has respect to, upon the account of which God judges it meet that they should be looked upon as having Christ’s righteousness belonging to ’em. God sees it meet, that some men rather than others should have Christ’s righteousness imputed to ’em, or should be looked upon as having Christ’s righteousness actually belonging to ’em. And this is the qualification that God has respect to in our own faith, upon the account of which God in his wisdom sees it proper that they should have an actual communion with Christ in his righteousness; and that because faith is that grace that is most directly and immediately uniting of the soul to Christ as a Savior, it is the proper act of reception of him, or closing with him, as a Savior.

And though we can’t be justified without other graces, and shall be justified with them, yet we are not yet justified by ’em, because they are not what God has respect to, upon the account of which he judges it proper that men should be looked upon as being in Christ, and so having an interest in his righteousness.

Secondly. It may be inquired, How we are not justified by works. This inquiry had need to be made in order to our knowing how far faith influences in the matter of justification, because the act of faith itself is a work. Therefore, I

Answer. When it is said, we are not justified by work, nothing else is implied than that nothing that we do procures justification of God for us, by virtue of the goodness or comeliness of it. ’Tis not by reason of any influence [that] the loveliness of anything we do has to move God’s favorable respect, or any attracting or uniting influence it has with him, that should incline him to abate of his anger or to receive into favor.

In the first covenant, respect was had to the goodness or loveliness of works in fixing them as the condition of life. But ’tis not so under the second covenant.

God don’t justify us by faith upon the account of its loveliness, but only because ’tis that by which we receive Christ and our souls are united to him; and, having so received and being so united, God judges it proper in his wisdom and sovereignty that we should be looked upon as being in him, and so having his righteousness ours.

  1. We are come to show how the free grace of the new covenant eminently appears, in that it proposes justification only by faith. We are taught that we are justified freely through grace, Rom. 3:24. And it appears in this, that we are justified only by faith. Eph. 2:7–8, “That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness towards us through Jesus Christ. For by grace are ye saved through faith.” And that will appear, if we consider wherein the freedom of grace, or of a gift, does consist.

Now there are these three things that contribute to the freedom of a gift:

First. When a gift is given to an offender, without satisfaction made by him. But our being justified by faith in the satisfaction of another, evidently shows that it is not so upon the account of any satisfaction made by ourselves.

Second. When it is given without the givers receiving or expecting any profit by it. This also appears by our being justified only by faith. It shows God has not been in time past obliged by the receipt of any benefit from us. It is not given in recompense for any kindness we have done God: for then it is not only and merely by faith, but works. It shows it is not from any expectation of benefit hereafter: for God gives us salvation only for receiving, inasmuch as faith is only the soul’s receiving of Christ and his salvation.

Third. When it is given without worthiness or without any excellency in our persons or actions, to move the giver to love and beneficence. For it certainly shows the more abundant and overflowing goodness or inclination to communicate good, by how much the less loveliness and worthiness there is to attract beneficence. For one with but little goodness, may be drawn by abundant beauty to do good; but he whose goodness is more abundant, can find in his heart to do good to the less deserving.

Justification’s being only by faith, shows that it is not for any excellency or loveliness of ours, seeing that it is only for receiving. By salvation being offered to everyone that believes, it is as it were offered to everyone that will accept of it, without any consideration had of their worthiness or unworthiness. Rev. 22:17, “whosoever will, let him come and take of the waters of life freely.”

APPLICATION.

  1. How much do those doctrines derogate from the glory of the new covenant, that maintain justification in any other way than that of faith alone. Notwithstanding the Scripture is so plain and full in this matter, there have been, and are, many that maintain contrary doctrine. Though they own the Scripture to be the Word of God, and that it is true, yet they pervert its meaning by their subtil explications; they so explain it as to make it speak what they would have. The great part of the churches of Rome do deny this doctrine; the Socinians do deny it. ’Tis also vehemently opposed and ridiculed by the Arminians, in the sense in which it has been explained. They maintain justification upon the account of sincere obedience. They hold that, seeing we have broken the first covenant that proposed perfect obedience as the condition of justification, that now God has given us another covenant wherein sincere obedience is proposed in the room: and herein they suppose the grace of the new covenant appears, that seeing we have made ourselves unable to perform perfect obedience, that God will take up with sincere though imperfect obedience in the room of it. They suppose that Christ has satisfied for the imperfections of our obedience, and purchased an abatement of the strictness of the terms of justification—viz., the perfection of obedience for us—and made God willing to accept of imperfect in the room of it. They hold indeed that faith has something to do in the affair of justification, but ’tis as a good work as a principal part of evangelical obedience, and not merely as a reception of Christ.

But if our Doctrine be true, they do exceedingly derogate from the glory of the gospel or new covenant, which so much consists in the grace of it. It was a great and main design of God in the gospel to magnify the riches and sovereignty of his grace. Doubtless, therefore, such doctrines are very displeasing to God.

  1. How much do they dishonor the gospel, that trust in their own righteousness for to recommend them to God’s acceptance. They rob the gospel of its main glory. Thus do all they that entertain hopes of recommending themselves to God’s acceptance by any excellency or loveliness of their persons or actions. Their practice therein is directly opposite to this Doctrine, whether they directly expect by their goodness or loveliness to move God to pass by all their sins, and to accept them to eternal life; or only hope to move God to abate something of his anger, and to make him something more placable, and to draw his pity.

If they only expect that God should be moved by their works to be willing to give ’em faith, that so they may have something to be justified by, or that Christ may be more willing to accept of them when they do come to him by faith: if they only do thus, yet this is in effect trusting in their own righteousness for justification, because if God be inclined by their righteousness to give ’em faith that he may justify them and accept them into his favor, that argues that he has already in some measure accepted them to favor for their own righteousness’ sake, inasmuch as upon the account of that he is inclined to show them mercy, to give ’em faith in order to it. So if he be more ready to accept of ’em when they come to [him] by faith for their goodness, then he doesn’t accept them merely because they believe and so come to him, but partly for their own excellency.

III. What cause have we, that have the new covenant revealed to us, to praise God, seeing that his grace so appears in the manner of justification proposed by it. We that have justification offered to us only for our acceptance of Christ, notwithstanding all our unworthiness and provocations, that God is willing freely to pardon us, and accept us into favor, and bestow eternal life upon us, upon the account of the righteousness of another that we were at no pains to work out, and upon the account of sufferings that we had no share in the sense of: what reason have we to come and praise God the Father, who provided such a redemption for us, and in this way justifies us, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our righteousness.

  1. This Doctrine should put us upon examining ourselves, whether ever we exercised a justifying faith, that we may know whether we are the subjects of this wonderful grace of the new covenant. And let us try ourselves by that description that has been given of justifying faith: have we ever had a sense and conviction of the reality and excellency of Christ as a Savior as has entirely moved {and inclined and united our hearts to him}? Doth the gospel, which reveals these things about the Savior, seem real and certain to us, from the evident characters of truth and divinity which we see in it, or from the divine glory of it which has been revealed to our souls?

Have we ever seen the excellent fullness of Christ? Have we been convinced of the loveliness and suitableness of the way of salvation? Have we had such a sense of those things, as has entirely inclined us to Christ Jesus and to his way of salvation? Has it caused us with our whole hearts to adhere to it, and acquiesce and take complacence in it?

Let us not deceive ourselves by any kind of assent of the understanding to the gospel, without an answerable according and symphonizing of the inclination and will, and yielding of the whole soul.

And on the other hand, let us not deceive ourselves with any joys and affections that are not accompanied with such a conviction of the understanding of the truth and reality of the gospel, from the discoveries of its glory.

  1. Let us earnestly seek faith in Jesus Christ, which is the qualification that God has a primary respect to in imparting Christ’s righteousness unto men. And that we may be successful therein, let us especially do these three things:

First. Let us labor after those things that are preparatory to it, viz., a sense of our sinfulness and misery, [and a] conviction [of the] law. Think much of divine threatenings, our exposedness to damnation daily, the dreadfulness of Gods anger, {and} our own helplessness.

Second. Let us well improve the means of it, [viz.,] the Word and ordinances.

Third. Let us earnestly seek it of the Author of it. Let us be much and earnest in prayer to God: for faith is the gift of God. Eph. 2:8, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Let us beg earnestly of God, that he would command the light to shine into our dark hearts, and “fulfill in us all the good pleasure of [his] righteousness, and the work of faith with power,” 2 Thess. 1:11.[1]

 

[1] Jonathan Edwards, “The Grace of God in the New Covenant,” in Jonathan Edwards Sermons, ed. Matthew Hoskinson (New Haven, CT: The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University, 1730), Ro 4:16.

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