Edwards, Justification, and Theosis

Edwards on Justification

Edwards was aware that the topic of Justification by faith could easily be misunderstood, for he writes,
Here, if I may humbly express what seems evident to me, though faith be indeed the condition of justification so as nothing else is, yet this matter is not clearly and sufficiently explained by saying that faith is the condition of justification; and that because the word seems ambiguous, both in common use, and also as used in divinity. In one sense, Christ alone performs the condition of our justification and salvation; in another sense, faith is the condition of justification; in another sense, other qualifications and acts are conditions of salvation and justification too. There seems to be a great deal of ambiguity in such expressions as are commonly used…

To parse Edwards’s view of Justification by Faith with brevity we must clarify a few of Edwards’s unique features. Edwards held to an interesting view of theosis. His view is unique, and so theosis may not be the best word for his theological position. Perhaps we should call it “sharing in the divine nature,” or, “being taken into the triune life and love of God.” When reference to Edwards’s view is mentioned, think “sharing in the intra-trinitarian life and love of God.” C.S. Lewis captures this point with regard to repentance quite nicely:
Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death, is not something God demands of you before He will take you back and which He could let you off if He chose: it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like. If you ask God to take you back without it, you are really asking Him to let you go back without going back. It cannot happen. Very well, then, we must go through with it. But the same badness which makes us need it, makes us unable to do it. (Unable to Repent) Can we do it if God helps us? Yes, but what do we mean when we talk of God helping us? We mean God putting into us a bit of Himself, so to speak. He lends us a little of His reasoning powers and that is how we think: He puts a little of His love into us and that is how we love one another. When you teach a child writing, you hold its hand while it forms the letters: that is, it forms the letters because you are forming them.

This aspect of God sharing his own nature is very significant for Edwards’s view of redemption and justification. In Edwards’s theology there is a key function of the Holy Spirit in the role of the believer’s redemption that is significantly different from that of Owen. In order to make this difference plain, a brief but very rewarding probe to the very heart of Edwarsean theology will now be undertaken.
First, Edwards’s had a unique and robust understanding of the Trinity. His discourse on the Trinity is the greatest document that has ever been written on the subject by many theologians’ estimation. Edwards taught that God’s personhood was established through perichoresis. That the divine essence subsisted in God’s own Understanding and Affections. Edwards on the Trinity writes,
In order to clear up this matter, let it be considered, that the whole divine essence is supposed truly and properly to subsist in each of these three – viz. God, and his understanding, and love – and that there is such a wonderful union between them that they are after an ineffable and inconceivable manner one in another; so that one hath another, and they have communion in one another, and are as it were predicable one of another … . And the Father understands because the Son, who is the divine understanding, is in him. The Father loves because the Holy Ghost is in him … . So the Holy Ghost, or the divine essence subsisting in divine love, understands because the Son, the divine idea, is in him… It may be thus expressed: the Son is the Deity generated by God’s understanding, or having an idea of himself; the Holy Ghost is the divine essence flowing out, or breathed forth, infinite love and delight. Or, which is the same, the Son is God’s idea of himself, and the Spirit is God’s love to and delight in himself.

Many are not aware of this, but Edwards’s view of the Trinity functioned as a heuristic key for his understanding the whole biblical and historical narrative of the world.
To put it simply: the second person of the Trinity is the Divine Idea and the complete and perfect Self-Understanding of God. While the third person of the Trinity is the Affections and perfect Love of God. For the purpose of this analysis, let it be known that Edwards posits that redemption is not about God merely imparting to us an understanding of himself, nor is it imparting to us holy affections. For Edwards, the understanding wherewith we come to know God in redemption is God’s own understanding of himself shared with us; namely, being united to the second person of the Trinity- the knowledge of God himself. Additionally, the way in which we come to love God, and trust him, is by having God’s own love and trust infused into our very being; being united to the third person of the Trinity and therefore in effect loving God with God’s own love for himself.
Edwards in “The End For Which God Created the World,” from now on “The End of Creation,” explores God’s motivation for all that he does. One question that he considers at length is the question “why did God create the world?” His Answer: the glory of God. Edwards explores the biblical basis for this in Section 3, but in Section 2 he explores it systematically. Here is a relevant quote from Kyle Strobel, probably the leading conservative theologian on Jonathan Edwards in the world today.
By making himself the end for which he created the world, God’s plan of redemption is from him, by him and ultimately in him. God, in other words, is not merely the type of all things valuable, leaving everything good, beautiful and true in the world as antitype. God is the only thing which is truly good, beautiful and true, and everything that is so participates, in some manner, in him. The answer for fallen humanity, as will be seen below, is conformity to God through participation in his knowledge and love – theosis. This is how Edwards answers the objection that God, if he were truly unchangeable, infinitely happy and sufficient, would not derive pleasure from the creature’s praise or happiness. God delights in the creature’s happiness and praise because it is an actual instance of his own happiness, glory and delight. It is also the case that God’s being for himself is his being for the creature. God knows that his own life is the greatest, happiest, most infinite goodness in existence, and therefore by making this his end, he wills the creature’s good, that they too might know this goodness. In other words, God cannot be selfish because his own life is the storehouse of goodness, excellency, love and virtue. Therefore, God’s original ultimate end is in view of himself diffused, or his fullness existing economically, and based on that, the consequential ultimate end is that creatures can receive that communication in knowledge and love (corresponding to Son and Spirit).

Now, it must be noted that both Edwards and Owen are robust Calvinists. Therefore, both recognize the need for regeneration as a prerequisite for saving faith and/or justification. It is here at this point where some of this will begin to come together. Justification is not an end in itself. It is a key part of God’s redemptive plan. The goal of that plan can be seen from different perspectives. At some level the goal must be to get us to God. Jesus died to “bring us to God.” This is known sometimes as the beatific vision. One writer describes Owen like this:
For Owen the content of the beatific vision is primarily Jesus Christ … acknowledged by faith now, apprehended in its fullness in eternity. Beholding the glory of God is beholding the glory of the person of Christ in the mystery of the union of the two natures.’ In other words, Christ is, and will always be, the visible image of the invisible God.
In the matter of Justification, referring to Christ as the proper object of saving faith, Owen writes,
I say, therefore, that the Lord Jesus Christ himself, as the ordinance of God, in his work of mediation for the recovery and salvation of lost sinners, and as unto that end proposed in the promise of the gospel, is the adequate, proper object of justifying faith, or of saving faith in its work and duty with respect unto our justification.

That is, for Owen, the proper object of saving faith is also the proper object of the beatific vision. But one must ask, how do human beings come to see Christ? Edwards adheres to Francis Turretin and Owen’s view, advancing the idea that God is invisible, and therefore, physical sight is not the decisive faculty of perception. However, contra Turretin, Edwards sides with Owen to say that God will be seen by our physical eyesight. Owen vehemently rejects anything that suggests that physical sight will not play a significant role in the beatific. “Edwards thus follows Owen’s insistence on the role of Christ, but he refuses to limit the beatific to that reality alone. Seeing God, for Edwards, is not having an apprehension by hearsay (testimony), by speculative reasoning, or even having an immediate apprehension of God that does not happify.”
What sort of apprehension is Edwards referring to. In “Religious Affections” Edwards writes,
This [new sense] is in its whole nature diverse from any former kinds of sensation of the mind, as tasting is diverse from any of the other five senses, and something is perceived by a true saint in the exercise of this new sense of mind, in spiritual and divine things, as entirely different from anything that is perceived in them by natural men, as the sweet taste of honey is diverse from the ideas men get of honey by looking on it or feeling of it.

Edwards elaborates on what enables this beatific vision with trinitarian language. ‘The central role the Spirit plays in regeneration is not unlike his role within the Trinity. … Edwards conceived the entire scope of redemption to be, in one sense, an “externalization” of the Trinity, the Trinity turned “inside-out.” This new sense is the Spirit Himself sharing his own affections for the Son of God with God’s adopted children by infusing and joining himself to the believer. This is what must take place if faith in Christ is to be genuine, according to Edwards.
So, a quick consideration of the different views and emphases of the two great theologians is in order. The work of the new faculty imparted by the Spirit at regeneration in Owen’s theology does the same work that Edwards’s pneumatology does, in terms of illumination and imparting a new nature. For Owen the Spirit’s infusing is basic, but very different form Edwards. For Edwards the Spirit does not impart a new nature, the Spirit infuses himself into the soul of the believer, where he then “functions as a new principle of life and holiness. Owen, furthermore, speaks of the Spirit’s creating the new saving light of illumination, whereas for Edwards, the Spirit is that light.” Take note of this, that for Owen the Spirit creates life, and imparts to us the necessary faculties to see and savor God. For Edwards, it is The Spirit Himself who is the light that infuses himself to the soul of the believer; so that is not impartation, but the actual participation in the intra-trinitarian life of God. The trust and love and surrender we posses is actually the Spirit’s own trust, love and surrender infused into us.
Edwards defines justification like this: “To be justified, is to be approved by God as a proper subject of pardon, with a right to eternal life.” What makes a person a ‘proper subject of pardon’? Edwards says faith, but he goes through painstaking troubles to say that it is a “tasting faith,” or a faith that ascertains the beauty and excellencies of Christ in the great truths of the gospel. That is, it is the faith that is the product of union with the Holy Ghost. It is the Holy Ghost’s own love and adoration of the Son that erupts in the heart of the sinner. Particularly noteworthy, it is the virtue of faith specifically that renders a person as a proper subject of pardon. The Spirit’s union with the sinner produces many things. However, it is faith, as the single virtue, that expressly and sufficiently establishes the right to eternal life and to pardon. Why is this the case?
There are many answers to the question: Why is faith the perfect virtue for establishing a person’s right to pardon? One potential answer is that faith is contrasted with works, and faith points to the fact that salvation is something that God does, not something that we do. However, the relevant purpose here is that faith points to an insufficiency of the subject, and to a super sufficiency of the object. Coupled with the fact that the Spirit exists to exalt the sufficiency of the Son and the Father, he is especially concerned to bring about our redemption in ways that will highlight the all-sufficiency of Christ. Why then are saints deemed proper subjects of pardon? Answer: Because the Spirit’s uniting himself to them creates in them a ‘habitus’ or disposition that is intentionally positioned to exalt the all-sufficiency and glory of Christ in their redemption; the very thing the Spirit does by nature. This is in part what God’s universal purpose is in all of creation. “This communication [of God’s nature] does not emanate without purpose, and its purpose does not go unfulfilled [The Spirit and Son ensure this]; God’s flowing out in emanation finds its return in remanation through creaturely spiritual vision and affection [via the Holy Ghost’s union with sinners]. This is a trinitarian affair and was God’s very purpose in creating.” So, consider the huge portrait. God, in creation, diffuses his glory onto the canvas of creation, particularly in his image bearers. His image bearers fall, and thus God, embarks on a rescue mission in which he will, once again, significantly diffuse himself to them and thus restore in them an ability to once again receive God’s nature into themselves. This then was meant to exponentially increase existentially until God’s image bearers turned all of the Glory that God had diffused from himself, into white hot praise and adoration at which time the Glory of God that had been emanated from him returns to him through remanation. This remanation is accomplished by the Second and Third persons of the Trinity pulling humanity into themselves, thus externalizing the inner life of the Triune God and turning it inside out. Where then does believer’s works fit in with all of this?