Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on Jonathan Edwards. Previous post.
Warning: Deep waters ahead. As duly noted in our previous study of Jonathan Edwards on the Trinity, it’s hard stuff. It really is. But it is everything. The triune God permeated Edwards’ deepest theologizing and his most delightful thoughts. Depth and delight were never far apart for him. Nor, are they for God. Edwards begins his Discourse on the Trinity, “When we speak of God’s happiness, the account we are wont to give of it is that God is infinitely happy in the enjoyment of himself, in perfectly beholding and infinitely loving, and rejoicing in, his own essence and perfections.” If God is infinitely happy in His own self-awareness, then Edwards invites us to get in on God’s own enjoyment of Himself. Despite naive caricatures of Edwards as a stoic, monolithically dour theoretician, he began his essay on the Godhead in 1730 with the earnest desire to connect Trinitarian orthodoxy (right belief) to Trinitarian orthopraxy (right living)—theology learned, doxology lived. Over the years, through the mid 1740s, he would add pages to his monograph. Eventually, it became a sort of collection of his thoughts, a working resource manual on the Trinity, a kind of Trinitarian treatise of treasures he could mine for sermon fodder and for material to use in his deeper theological writings. Perhaps the operative word here is “treasure.” Edwards found his deepest satisfaction in the Trinity.
This reminds me of that great London Baptist prince of preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–92). In my study are the colorful volumes of The New Park Street Pulpit and Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit. These two sets alone consist of sixty-three thick volumes, comprising 3,563 gospel-rich, meaty, doctrinal sermons. Even more have been discovered and reprinted in recent years. God surely must love His church, that we have access to such gold. Well, at age twenty-two, a young Spurgeon mounted his pulpit to deliver the leadoff sermon of what would become the very first of these massive volumes. That sermon was “The Immutability of God”:
The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity.
. . . Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead. It is to that subject that I invite you this morning.
Had Edwards lived a century later, he would have offered a measured, controlled “Amen” from the balcony of the New Park Street Chapel.
When you scan Spurgeon’s many volumes, Spurgeon’s exposition unfolds the Trinity’s delightful demonstration of saving power throughout the many thousands of pages of sermons. When you pull the last volume from the shelf, not surprisingly, one of the final sermons in the collection, “Our Magnificent Savior,” pictures the “Divine Spirit” teaching the saving purposes of the Father in giving His Son, as “Heaven’s Eternal Darling bleeds.” The Trinity threads through all of the sixty-three volumes, evidencing Spurgeon’s years of preaching a Trinitarian gospel.
The point here is that for Spurgeon, as for Edwards, Trinitarian theology was for life, precisely because it was the life-giving doctrine of the living God. Now, Edwards had an active, creative, speculative, voracious, yet biblically submitted mind. So, we shouldn’t be surprised that his doctrine of the Trinity showed his willingness not only to reach for words but to reach for very transcendence itself. Never one to content himself with generic repetition, the transatlantic, post-Enlightenment context in which he found himself meant he had to press in so that he could press on. What I mean is that he did not shy away from peering into the mystery of the ontological Trinity in order to attract people to the economic plan and provision of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The following observation is programmatic for Edwards:
And this I suppose to be that blessed Trinity that we read of in the holy Scriptures. The Father is the Deity subsisting in the prime, unoriginated and most absolute manner, or the Deity in its direct existence. The Son is the Deity generated by God’s understanding, or having an idea of himself, and subsisting in that idea. The Holy Ghost is the Deity subsisting in act, or the divine essence flowing out and breathed forth, in God’s infinite love and delight in himself. And I believe the whole divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the divine idea and divine love, and that therefore each of them are properly distinct persons.
Let’s unpack this statement together. Edwards viewed God as pure, infinite, self-existing Being. He also held that God is absolute excellence. For him, excellence is Being existing in relationship, or as he described it, “being consenting to being.” In a rather technical philosophical treatise, titled The Mind (begun as early as 1716, during his student years at Yale), he wrote: “Again, we have shown that one alone cannot be excellent, inasmuch as, in such case, there can be no consent. Therefore, if God is excellent, there must be a plurality in God; otherwise there can be no consent in him.” For God to be God, for God to be love, He has to be personal. For true personhood, there must be relationship or consent. Poignantly, Edwards says, “That in John, ‘God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16), shows that there are more persons than one in the Deity: for it shows love to be essential and necessary to the Deity, so that his nature consists in it; and this supposes that there is an eternal and necessary object, because all love respects another, that is, the beloved.”