Christ’s Satisfaction and Merit

With Adriaan Neele teaching a ThM class on Jonathan Edwards this week it seems appropriate to carry on with another short extract from A History of the Work of Redemption.

Here is Edwards explaining the nature of the price that Christ paid for our redemption: ‘the price that Christ laid down does two things: it pays our debt and so satisfies by its intrinsic value and agreement between the Father and Son; it procures a title for us to happiness and so it merits. The satisfaction of Christ is to free us from misery, and the merit of Christ is to purchase happiness for us.’

Note here the distinction between paying/satisfaction on the one hand and procuring/merit on the other. The Latin term satisfactio is sometimes used in the history of the church without drawing this distinction, so that satisfaction includes both paying the penalty for sin and meriting the procural of blessings. By contrast, Edwards here follows those who use the term more narrowly for the payment of the penalty. Christ paid the price of sin to satisfy the debt we owed, and he merited our happiness by his obedience. Some dislike the idea that we need the second aspect because they think that the payment itself sufficed to save. The distinction can be defended by crude mathematical analogies (‘payment returned us to zero, merit boosted us to ten’), but that is unhelpful. It is better to construe the requisite work of Christ in terms of the parallel with Adam. An Adam with his sins removed is an Adam back in the garden and as yet untested. He has not withstood the assault of the devil. Adam needed to establish his obedience by crushing the serpent who attacked his wife. This is one reason why Christ needed to merit as well as to pay: to be Adam not only in bearing his sin but in obeying where he failed to obey, and thus in procuring the eschatological blessing that Adam forfeited, and more.

Note too the nice pairing: ‘it satisfies by its intrinsic value and agreement between the Father and Son’. Edwards here recognizes both that the incarnate Son of God had an intrinsic value and that who he was and what he did was determined in the covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son. Neither must be neglected in false dichotomies between the intrinsic and the covenantal, as if one excluded the other.

There is a lot going on in this short but densely packed extract. It may appear remote, but these are matters at the heart of salvation: the understanding of what Christ did for us, and the basis on which it satisfied.