Edwards: Part 6 – The Imputation of Sin

Welcome back, hardy reader! ;)We are nearing the end of our current series, so hang in there!

Englightened 18th Century thinkers did not believe there was any “justice” in holding the entire human race guilty for sin they had not personally committed. Edwards countered with the Biblical doctrine that sin involved a person’s inclinations, NOT just their isolated acts of sin. [the Sin vs Sins issue] Reusing the acorn and oak analogy, he illustrated how man’s corrupt propensity to sin was itself a fault, a “blight”, even before any specific sinful act might occur. Every new branch on a tree would partake of the tree’s disease, even before the “blight” might become visible.

Edwards departed here from the Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter 6:3) which regarded the imputation of sin as a judicial act distinct from the corrupted nature. Edwards wrote, “They [our first parents] being the root of all mankind, the guilt of [Adam’s] sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature (was) conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.” Acorns will always produce oaks. A tree diseased with “blight” will only produce infected branches.


13 comments on “Edwards: Part 6 – The Imputation of Sin

  1. Ian says:


    I went and looked in my copy of the Confession -something all we good reformers have readily on hand πŸ˜‰ -and took a look at chapter 6 to compare it to Edwards. I think you quoted Edwards as saying exactly what the WCF says.

    WCF VI, 3-4

    3. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by ordinary generation.

    4. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.

    It seems that this actually falls in line with Edward’s oaks/acorns thing, so I am interested in what he did say, or how he disagreed with the Confession.

  2. Beth'sMomToo says:

    Hmmm…I didn’t look at the Confession, but quoted Marsden on it. So it could be more of Marsden’s analysis. I haven’t noticed in what I’ve read of Edwards’ that HE says he disagrees with the Confession. This just goes to prove – ALWAYS check original sources! I wonder if Marsden JUST looked at #3 (that’s the one he quoted). That one speaks of “guilt”. He may have made a leap from that by taking it out of context. Reading further it looks like you’re right.

    I mentioned it because I thought it was an important thing to consider when analyzing Edwards’ point, and I wanted to cite the exact spot referred to.
    [Overall I was really impressed with Marsden, but it looks as if he erred on this one.]

    So thanks for reminding me:
    1)Always check the original source
    2)Context…context…context…(and I thought I had THAT one down! ;)It’s just as true of all writing as it is of Scripture, as you’ve pointed out.

  3. Ian says:

    Ya, I figured it was the author’s error.

    So, just to be sure I understand you correctly, am I right in thinking that you are saying that it is the power and consequence of sin, distinct from its act and circumstance, that is passed on to all generations from Adam? And if so, would you say, then, that you agree with the Confession on this point?

    Also, how would you handle the judicial aspect of sin guiltiness?

    – BTW, I should mention that I do not necessarily agree with the Confession on all points of this subject as it handles it in chapter 6 as a whole. I could get myself into trouble on this one though πŸ˜‰

  4. Beth'sMomToo says:

    Remember I’m the “reporter” in this series, though I do personally find much of what I can understand of Edwards to be really interesting. [He did get carried away with prophecy, I thought. You notice I haven’t included any of this. He was guilty of doing what SOME Dispensationalists are accused (and guilty) of doing – fulfilling Scripture with current events.]

    So, yes, I personally do believe it is the sin nature, not individually committed sins (which are really the fruit of the sin nature) that separates mankind from God. And, yes, I personally believe Romans 5-6 is very clear that you are either unregenerate, a slave of sin and “in Adam” OR regenerate, a slave of God and “in Christ”.

    As to the Confession, you know we don’t study it like you do, so I really don’t feel qualified to analyze the exact wording. But my kids were raised on the Shorter Catechism and I can’t SEE any disagreement in the part you wrote out and what Edwards was saying. It looks like it’s saying what I just wrote.

    But why do I feel like you’re leading me into a trap? πŸ˜‰ Oh, btw, in the introduction Marsden gave me the impression that he is Reformed. So I was hoping you might be able to shed some light on why he thought Edwards was departing from the Confession here. Any ideas? [I’m a lot better at telling you what the Bible says, then what different Confessions say.]

  5. Doug Wilcox says:

    Actually, although it may not be within your original purposes, a discussion of Edwards’ prognostication (or current-events-based interpretation of prophecy) might be most interesting.

    It’s fascinating how people get carried away with End Times prophecy. I find it interesting, but always keep in mind that the number of prophecies yet to be fulfilled before the Second Coming is (::: momentous pause :::) absolutely zero.

    We know return to our regularly scheduled discussion, despite my attempts to subvert it …

  6. Beth'sMomToo says:

    …not going there…

  7. Doug Wilcox says:

    Hmm. I suppose I’m going to read in your footsteps, then, if I can’t get you to abandon the sublime for the merely interesting.

  8. Ian says:


    I think you may misunderstand how I (and the vast majority of proponents of reformed theology) study the Confession. We do not consider it anything more than a summary of the beliefs of the reformed faith, compiled by non-inspired men through rigorous study of and discourse about the Scriptures. It really is no different than the doctrinal statement of a church. It is neither inerrant nor infalible. In fact, I am in disagreement with more than a few parts of it. And I’m not leading you into a trap. I was just wondering if your opinion of the issue changed in light of Marsden’s apparent misquoting of Edwards. I guess I also wanted to defend us reformers a little by pointing out that the confession does not, at least in VI; 3, regard the imputation of sin as merely judicial. And I think that you are more qualified than many to comment on the WCF. You have a wonderful analytic ability, and you have shared it with us many times. Commenting on the WCF is no different than commenting on any other book or study guide or doctrinal statement. Although, I guess to do so properly it would help to have the Scripture references that the statements of the Confession were derived from. I might be able to help you out with that. Or you could get a copy for yourself πŸ˜‰

    Also, I admittedly don’t know a lot about other confessions. I know some of the basic differences, but no specifics. I would say that I, too, am better at relaying what I believe the Scriptures to be saying than I am at speaking about confessions. In fact, my study of the Westminster Confession, as an aid to my study of the Bible as the only true, all sufficient, inspired word of God, has helped my in my ability to search and speak of the Scriptures.

    As far as Marsden goes: I’m not familiar with him at all. I’ve heard the name, but that’s about it. I would have to read the book in question to comment on his view of Edwards. Edwards was reformed, so if Marsden is reformed as well, there certainly must have been a departure by Edwards from the common reformed view of some point on this issue for him to make such a comment; but, with Marsden’s misquote, it is almost impossible to say what that departure was or on which point it was made, at least from my standpoint. Perhaps Marsden meant to say that Edwards thought the imputation of sin to be judicial, as the WCF clearly does not in the quoted chapter and paragraph.

    Now, on a personal note, I would say that while it is the sin nature that is inherited from Adam, there is a clear judicial aspect of our sin state before God. Christ was both a propitiatory and expiatory sacrifice, freeing us not only from the penalty of sin itself, but also from the reason of the penalty; our sins did not dissappear, they were paid for. God’s wrath was not simply diverted, it was satisfied.

  9. Beth'sMomToo says:

    Very nicely put. That’s sort of like the two aspects of salvation- the removal of the penalty for sins AND the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. (Isn’t Bible study great? There’s always more…and more…and more…)

    I got the feeling from the book that it was HIS (Marsden’s) interpretation of what the Confession said. I will continue to read Edwards and keep you apprised if I see anything significantly related to this.

  10. Beth'sMomToo says:

    Oh…and this is off the top of my head, but I think the Greek for “propitiation” and “expiation” is the SAME word! I’ll check on it and get back to you…. (It seems I came across this while translating Romans 6. Tim, do you know?)

  11. Beth'sMomToo says:

    OK, Ian…think about this and see if you come to the same conclusion you did before:

    “Christ was both a propitiatory and expiatory sacrifice, freeing us not only from the penalty of sin itself, but also from the reason of the penalty”

    It’s the SAME word – hilasmos/hilaschomai (noun/verb). It’s found in Rom.3:25, Heb.2:17,
    1Jn.2:2 & 4:10.

    You have treated it as two different words, but it’s only one word, which means, briefly, “to appease, conciliate, expiate”. Your conclusion may be accurate, but how will you substantiate it? (just in case you didn’t have enough to do…but I think this is worth a little contemplation in order to have it clear in our heads)

  12. Ian says:


    I was aware that it was the same word. There has been much debate over the years, however, as to what this word actually means. Is it simply expiation, the removal of the penalty of sin? Or is it propitiation, the satisfaction of the penalty by another, which carries with it the effect of expiation for those whom the propitiation was made? I believe that the latter is more harmonious with the whole of Scripture; that Christ paid the penalty of sin in full for His people, satisfying, and therefore removing, the wrath of God from them. I used both words in my comment to stress the point that God’s wrath was not simply diverted, but satisfied. I guess I could have just used propiation, but wanted to be sure to cover all my bases.

  13. Beth'sMomToo says:

    I would defend what you originally wrote by giving “hilasmos” as paying the penalty of sin, which you said. But I think you were ALSO correct when you said we were also freed “from the reason of the penalty”, and I would point to Romans 5 & 6 for that. (if you meant what I think you did) Both are really important points!

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