It’s time for Tuesdays with Edwards!
Some suppose that nothing more is intended in Scripture by justification than barely the remission of sins; if it be so it is very strange, if we consider the nature of the case; for ’tis most evident, and none will deny, that it is with respect to the rule, or law of God that we are under, that we are said in Scripture to be either justified or condemned. Now what is it to justify a person, as the subject of a law or rule, but to judge him, or look upon him, and approve him as standing right with respect to that rule? To justify a person in a particular case, is to approve of him as standing right, as subject to the law or rule in that case; and to justify in general, is to pass him in judgment, as standing right, in a state correspondent to the law or rule in general. But certainly in order to a person’s being looked on as standing right with respect to the rule in general, or in a state corresponding with the law of God, more is needful than what is negative, or a not having the guilt of sin; for whatever that law is, whether a new one, or an old one, yet doubtless something positive is needed in order to its being answered. We are no more justified by the voice of the law, or of him that judges according to it, by a mere pardon of sin, than Adam our first surety, was justified by the law, at the first point of his existence, before he had done the work, or fulfilled the obedience of the law, or had had so much as any trial whether he would fulfill it or no. If Adam had finished his course of perfect obedience, he would have been justified; and certainly his justification would have implied something more than what is merely negative; he would have been approved of, as having fulfilled the righteousness of the law, and accordingly would have been adjudged to the reward of it: so Christ our second surety (in whose justification all who believe in him, and whose surety he is, are virtually justified), was not justified till he had done the work the Father had appointed him, and kept the Father’s commandments, through all trials, and then in his resurrection he was justified: when he that had been put to death in the flesh was quickened by the Spirit (1 Peter 3:18), then he that was manifest in the flesh was justified in the Spirit (1 Timothy 3:16). But God when he justified him in raising him from the dead, did not only release him from his humiliation for sin, and acquit him from any further suffering or abasement for it, but admitted him to that eternal and immortal life, and to the beginning of that exaltation, that was the reward of what he had done. And indeed the justification of a believer is no other than his being admitted to communion in, or participation of the justification of this head and surety of all believers; for as Christ suffered the punishment of sin, not as a private person but as our surety, so when after this suffering he was raised from the dead, he was therein justified, not as a private person, but as the surety and representative of all that should believe in him; so that he was raised again not only for his own, but also for our justification, according to the Apostle. Romans 4:25, “Who was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification.” And therefore it is that the Apostle says as he does in Romans 8:34, “Who is he that condemneth? it is Christ that died, yea rather that is risen again.”
But that a believer’s justification implies not only remission of sins, or acquittance from the wrath due to it, but also an admittance to a title to that glory that is the reward of righteousness, is more directly taught in the Scripture, as particularly in Romans 5:1–2, where the Apostle mentions both these, as joint benefits implied in justification, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” So remission of sins, and inheritance among them that are sanctified, are mentioned together as what are jointly obtained by faith in Christ. Acts 26:18, “That they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them that are sanctified, through faith that is in me.” Both these are without doubt implied in that passing from death to life, which Christ speaks of as the fruit of faith, and which he opposes to condemnation. John 5:24, “Verily I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death to life.”
Jonathan Edwards, “Justification by Faith Alone,” in Sermons and Discourses, 1734-1738, ed. M.X. Lesser, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 19 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001) pages 150-151.