Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on Jonathan Edwards. Next Post.
When my son, Luke, was a little boy, I would lie in bed with him sometimes to help him fall asleep and send him off with a prayer. One night, he asked, “Daddy, you pray to the Father like He is God, and you pray to Jesus like you think He is God. Which is it?” Being a professor of theology, I seized on this moment to launch a stimulating monologue on the doctrine of the Trinity. I’ll never forget the simple, childlike honesty of his response, “Man, this Trinity stuff is hard!” My son is now sixteen and taller than his daddy. And this Trinity stuff is still hard, isn’t it?
Theological Traveling Companions
One of the things I tell my students when I teach seminary classes is that pride will beat you out of the ministry, or the ministry will beat the pride out of you. I tell them they must not go at it alone, that they will need traveling companions. By this, I mean fellowship with family, brothers and sisters in the Lord, and fellow ministers. But I mean more than that. I want to draw them into the company of some of those in the great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 11–12)—saints who have gone on before us who, though dead, still speak. Where would I be, after all these years in ministry, were it not for Augustine calling me to God as my life and joy, as I journal through his Confessions? Where would I be were it not for Martin Luther showing me the strength of God in the weakness of the cross in most everything he wrote? Where would I be if John Calvin did not invite me to meditate on my union with Christ in his Institutes? Where would I be, apart from John Owen fortifying my battle with indwelling sin by guiding me in the realities of deep communion with God? Where would I be if that little boy Jack didn’t peer out the windows of Little Lea across the horizon to the crawling Castlereagh Hills of northern Belfast, later imaginatively incorporating that scene into an invitation to Narnia? Where would I be were not that great London Baptist Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, ready with a sermon tailor-made to lift my troubled soul, or John Newton with a letter he must have written to me, or Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, or Herman Bavinck taking me so much deeper still?
The Impact of Jonathan Edwards
Of all my traveling partners, there is one whose holy intoxication with the glory of God, whose constant vision of the beauty of Jesus, has done more for my own spiritual formation than anyone else, inviting me to see, to taste, to have the Trinity as the “cream of all my pleasures.” I am speaking of that powdered-wigged American Augustine, as he has been called, Jonathan Edwards. Born October 5, 1703, in East Windsor, Conn., this precocious young man flew through his studies at Yale and eventually became an associate minister alongside his maternal grandfather, the great Solomon Stoddard (1643–1729), in Northampton, Mass. Following Stoddard’s death, Edwards would help light the fuse for the First Great Awakening with a series of lectures on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. His preaching, known by many primarily through the startling imagery in his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” is a deep well of practical, experiential Calvinism. He wrote significant, weighty tomes of theological discourse, eventually moving to Stockbridge, Mass., to teach Native Americans how to speak English so that he could preach the most basic, childlike, but warm and wooing evangelistic sermons to them. The last several weeks of his life were spent as president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), where he died on March 22, 1758, due to complications from a smallpox vaccination.
Whether one reads an Edwards sermon, plunges into the cavernous depths of his treatise The Freedom of the Will, ventures into the labyrinthine corridors of his ethical writings, or reads a few of his extemporaneous notes-to-self, known as his Miscellanies, the power and purpose of the Trinity are never far away. I am inviting you to join me for a handful of articles, tracing the Trinity in the thought of Jonathan Edwards, specifically, how he thought in a Trinitarian fashion about things such as Christology, covenant theology, justification and sanctification, and even the hard work of prayer and the glories of heaven.