Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jonathan Edwards on the Imputation of Sin (Part 2)

The Importance of John Locke
The Edwardsian assessment of Adamic Imputation can only be properly seen in light of 1) the previously discussed apologetic challenges from which his view arose, and 2) the Lockian view of personal identity, which Edwards rejected. The reason for Locke’s importance will become clearer once a brief investigation has been completed. However, it is helpful to have an understanding of the fact that Edwards looks, and sounds just like his predecessors within the Reformed tradition, with regard to imputation. In an unpublished sermon on Romans 5:12-21, we read:
As this place in general is plain and full, so the doctrine of the corruption of nature, as derived from Adam, and also the imputation of his first sin, are both clearly taught in it. The imputation of Adam’s one transgression is indeed most directly and frequently asserted.

In another unpublished manuscript on Luke 13:5, Edwards refers to Adam’s sin, saying that Adam was our “representative who stood in our room.” Here, we see in Edwards’ writings, a strong tendency to use the language of the traditional Reformed view of imputation reflected in the previously discussed Federal Head view. It is only when pressed about the unfairness of God’s so constituting the nature of humanity, that Edwards elaborates, and thus, distinguishes his views – in a sense – from his predecessors.

Locke’s View of Personal Identity
It is perhaps impossible for us to gauge the immense influence of John Locke upon the thought of this great Puritan genius. In order to do so, we would have to read not only the hundreds of published sermons and books which we have available, but it would be best if we could also read the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of unpublished manuscripts which are, to this day, being compiled and transcripted by Edwardsian scholars at Yale.

One who is well versed in the writings of Edwards is aware of a strong influence that came in the form of the philosophical writings of John Locke, who died two years before Edwards was born. According to one of Edwards’ journals, he was so excited when he picked up An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding that as a teenager he read it through several times. As an empiricist, Locke did not believe in pre-existing notions or innate ideas. For Locke, all ideas are obtained either through the senses, or by reflection upon ideas – which still arrive via the sensory organs. This concept, in particular, impressed itself upon Edwards. Edwardsian scholars John Gerstner and Perry Miller believe that in many respects Edwards “christianized” the somewhat secular thought of the British empiricist.

Locke believed that a person’s identity consisted in this: continuation of consciousness. As long as a person held preserved memories of their own past, with no break in consciousness, then that person’s identity could be established or held certain. To be sure, there are many other aspects to Lockean identity. For example, Locke believed that transmigration of the soul was possible. Transmigration is the idea that a person’s soul could leave their body, and become united to another body. The person’s identity would remain the same, however, since the person’s consciousness never ceases operation. Entire books could (and probably have been) be written on the subject, but for the present purposes, this short summary will do nicely.

One of the very first recorded writings of Edwards was in a piece from his youth entitled 'The Mind'. Here, one quite plainly and simply sees the clear influence of Locke taking shape. Edwards writes:
Well might Mr. Locke say that identity of person consisted in identity of consciousness; for he might have said that identity of spirit, too, consisted in the same consciousness. A mind or spirit is nothing else but consciousness, and what is included in it. The same consciousness is to all intents and purposes the very same spirit or substance, as much as the same particle of matter can be the same with itself at different times (Edwards Works 1, cclxiv).

In this early writing, Edwards expresses a sympathetic tendency towards Locke’s view of personal identity. Here, one finds Edwards’ initial doctrine of personality, one that – as we shall see – Edwards eventually rejected in toto.

Edwards Rejects Lockean Personality
The contents of the following quote – though lengthy – are wholly relevant and extremely crucial to our understanding of Edwards’ own rendition of personal identity.
Identity of person is what seems never yet to have been explained. It is a mistake that it consists in sameness or identity of consciousness, if by sameness of consciousness be meant having the same ideas hereafter that I have now, with a notion or apprehension that I had had them before, just in the same manner as I now have the same ideas that I had in time past by memory.

Here, Edwards has offered us a somewhat fair representation of the view he is about to reject. The quote continues:

It is possible without doubt in the nature of things for God to annihilate me, and after my annihilation to create another being that shall have the same in his mind that I have, and with the like apprehension that he had had them before in like manner as a person has by memory; and yet I be in no way concerned in it, having no reason to fear what that being shall suffer, or to hope for what he shall enjoy. Can anyone deny that it is possible, after my annihilation, to create two beings in the universe, both of them having my ideas communicated to them with such a notion of their having had them before, after the manner of memory, and yet be ignorant one of another? And in such case, will anyone say that both these are one and the same person, as they must be if they are both the same person with me? It is possible there may be two such beings, each having all the ideas that are now in my mind in the same manner that I should have by memory if my own being were continued, and yet these two beings not only be ignorant one of another, but also be in a very different state, one in a state of enjoyment and pleasure, and the other in a state of great suffering and torment…Will anyone say that [these], in such a case, [are] the same person with me, when I know nothing of [their] suffering and am never the better for [their] joys? (Gerstner 325-326).

There is one more piece to this puzzle, which has kindly been put in place by John Gerstner in Volume 2 of his Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards. In his section on Edwardsian imputation, Gerstner quotes the above mentioned section of Edwards and then makes this crucial analysis:
It would seem that Edwards came to rest with respect to personal identity with the above doctrine that it is divinely constituted. It is closely related to the doctrine of continuous creation. Just as the only real difference between creation and providence is that creation is referred to the first time that God brought things into being, while providence is the term for all subsequent times, so the only difference between Adam’s sin and his posterity’s is that Adam’s is simply the first. His posterity’s sin is the same as his because their personal identity is the same, but it is the second, third, fourth etc. – a difference not in the thing itself but in the number of the thing (193).

For Jonathan Edwards, you and I were created as persons identified with Adam. In Edwards’ illustration, he is annihilated and two individuals with the same memories and consciousness that he had were created. Edwards argues persuasively that these two individuals would not be the same person, for they would not share consciousness but would instead live, one completely oblivious to the other. For Edwards, they would not be the same person, though they were identified with a particular person at one time: namely in the example, Jonathan Edwards. To be sure, this quote is not a refutation of Lockian personality, but is instead a rejection. Such a distinction is important, because it was not Edwards intention to refute, but instead to simply consider his definition inadequate.

What we find in the above-mentioned quote is a summary of Edwards’ thought that is concise and yet complex; the idea that our own personal identity is tied into the doctrine of continual creation. Writing about his own doctrine of continuous creation, Edwards wrote:
…God’s upholding created substance, or causing its existence in each successive moment, is altogether equivalent to an immediate production out of nothing, at each moment… (193).

But how does this teaching intersect with personal identity and imputation? Each person is at each moment being created by God. This means that the only way that any individual exists is by divine appointment. “We are constantly being recreated. God is constantly constituting our identity. Why be surprised if God appointed an identity of the human race with a particular individual? God alone is the Creator and identifier of men” (197).

The reason why Locke’s personal identity is so important in that it is through Edwards’ rejection of it that we find his basis for how God might identify humanity with Adam and his first sin. Let us now turn our attention to how Edwards applied this teaching.

To Be Continued...Next: The Conclusion of Edwards' View of Imputation

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