Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on Jonathan Edwards. Previous post.

In my previous post, we examined together how Jonathan Edwards, in his Trinitarian theology, interacted with both the Western psychological model of the Trinity and the Eastern social model of the Trinity. We see Edwards bringing both of these models together in his work on the covenants rooted in God’s delight. Edwards, reflecting the psychological model, describes God’s delight in Himself:

When we speak of God’s happiness, the account that 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. And accordingly it must be supposed that God perpetually and eternally has a most perfect idea of himself, as it were an exact image and representation of himself ever before him and in actual view. And from hence arises a most pure and perfect energy in the Godhead, which is the divine love, complacence and joy.1

This internal happiness in God is independent of the creature, yet this infinite, boundless self-satisfaction leads to creation. In other words, God’s own inner (ad intra) happy fullness is expressed in creation (ad extra).2 At the same time, the desire to share this delight and love with His creatures is grounded in the fact not only of the fullness of the love itself, but the three persons enjoying that love. Sounding yet again quite social, Edwards observes:

Christ has brought it to pass, that those that the Father has given him should be brought into the household of God, that he and his Father and they should be as it were one society, one family; that his people should be in a sort admitted into that society of the three persons in the Godhead. In this family or household, God [is] the Father, Jesus Christ is his own natural and eternally begotten Son. The saints, they also are children in the family; the church is the daughter of God, being the spouse of his Son. They all have communion in the same spirit, the Holy Ghost.3

I am not sure how much scrutiny this would withstand, but I like to think of Edwards’ use of the psychological model of the Trinity in relation to the covenant as covenant conceived, and his more social sounding passages as covenant conspired between the three persons for the ingathering of the redeemed into the happy society that is the Trinity. From a thirty-thousand-foot perspective, we can look down upon the Trinitarian contours of Edwards’ tri-covenantal program.

Covenant of Redemption

Edwards has a clear doctrine of the eternity-time-past, pretemporal, intra-Trinitarian covenant:

That it is not meant that nothing was done in order to it before the fall of man. There were many things done in order to the Work of Redemption before that. Some things were done before the world was created, yea from all eternity. The persons of the Trinity were as it were confederated in a design and a covenant of redemption, in which covenant the Father appointed the Son and the Son had undertaken their work, and all things to be accomplished in their work were stipulated and agreed.4

The covenant of redemption carried a lot of theological freight for Edwards’ theological program and preaching: “And so all the decrees of God do some way or other belong to that eternal covenant of redemption that was between the Father and the Son before the foundation of the world.”5

God’s own eternal self-awareness, delight, and self-love, which brims over in intentional communication in creation, gloriously brings the elect into the society that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Covenant of Works

Edwards also posited a clear, binding covenant with the first Adam:

No. 30. COVENANT. With reference to what has been before spoken of the covenant [No. 2]. Covenant is taken very variously in Scripture, sometimes for a divine promise, sometimes for a divine promise on conditions. But if we speak of the covenant God has made with man stating the condition of eternal life, God never made but one with man, to wit, the covenant of works; which never yet was abrogated, but is a covenant stands in full force to all eternity without the failing of one tittle. The covenant of grace is not another covenant made with man upon the abrogation of this, but a covenant made with Christ to fulfill it. And for this end came Christ into the world, to fulfill the law, or covenant of works, for all that receive him.6

No. 367. For Christ only fulfilled the covenant of works for us, and performed that obedience which Adam should have performed.7

Covenant of Grace

Commissioned, as it were, in the covenant of redemption, the last Adam fulfills the stipulations of the covenant of works so that we might enjoy the benefits of the covenant of grace:

Every command that Christ obeyed may be reduced to that great and everlasting law of God that is contained in the covenant of works, that eternal rule of righteousness that God had established between himself and mankind. Christ came into the world to fulfill and answer the covenant of works, that is the covenant that is to stand forever as a rule of judgment, and that is the covenant that we had broken, and that was the covenant that must be fulfilled.8

While the covenant of grace is inextricably bound with the covenant of redemption, it is nevertheless crucial to distinguish the two covenants:

Nos. 617, 825, 1091. If, by the covenant of grace, we understand the covenant between God the Father and men, [it] is no other than a revelation of part of the covenant of redemption to men, even that part of [it] that contains promises of blessings to men, renewing the same promises to believers as in Christ, and as it were parts of him, that had before been made to Christ for them; if it be understood as the covenant between Christ and believers, 'tis the marriage covenant. The covenant between God the Father and believers is, in some respect, the same with the covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son-as much as the covenant God made with Abraham, when he bid him depart out of his own country, etc., and made him such promises concerning himself and his seed, was the same with the covenant that God made afterwards in the wilderness with Abraham's seed. ’Tis no more than a revelation of part of a covenant made already, and renewing of the same promises over again.9

Edwards was nothing if not careful and precise regarding his articulation of covenant theology. He even took issue with Thomas Boston’s (1676–1732) tendency to conflate the covenants of redemption and grace as though they were basically synonymous. Edwards understood that the conditions of obedience in the two were different and could not be fulfilled by the same parties. In the covenant of redemption, the task before Christ was to come to earth in obedience to the Father and obey what the first Adam had broken in the covenant of works. In the covenant of grace, the condition for the elect in Christ is faith in the mediator, who made the covenant of grace possible in the first place.

In all of this, the Trinitarian trajectory of Edwards becomes clear. God’s own eternal self-awareness, delight, and self-love, which brims over in intentional communication in creation, gloriously brings the elect into the society that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. On that great and last day, when the consummation of the covenant is manifest, the scope of this satisfaction is going to be staggering: “And now shall Christ the great Redeemer be most perfectly glorified, and God the Father shall be glorified in him, and the Holy Ghost shall [be] most fully glorified in the perfection of his work in the hearts of all the church.”10


  1. Jonathan Edwards, “Discourse on the Trinity,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 21, Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith, ed. Sang Hyun Lee (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002), 113. ↩︎
  2. Lest one assume this is commensurate with some form of pantheism, a charge J. Oliver Buswell laid at Edwards’ feet, see Charles Hodge’s fivefold test for pantheism, which Edwards passes with flying colors: Systematic Theology in Three Volumes, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1979), I.333–34. ↩︎
  3. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 18: The “Miscellanies,” 501–873, ed. Ava Chamberlain (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000), 110. ↩︎
  4. Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 9: A History of the Work of Redemption, ed. John F. Wilson (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989), 118. ↩︎
  5. Ibid., 513. ↩︎
  6. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 13: The “Miscellanies,” a–500, ed. John F. Wilson (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994), 217. ↩︎
  7. Ibid., 438. ↩︎
  8. Works, 9:308–9. ↩︎
  9. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 20, The “Miscellanies,” 833–1152, ed. Amy Plantinga Pauw (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002), 167. ↩︎
  10. Works, 9:509. ↩︎

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