Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Jonathan Edwards on the Trinity

Consisting of an Inquiry into the Nature and Essence of the Most Excellent
and Glorious Godhead, and the Relation of the Persons thereof to One Another, 
Taken up for Explanatory Reflection by one of the most Brilliant 
and Profound Theologians in History
"The Best of Human Reason Perplexed by Divine Perfection"

This post wouldn't be complete without a Puritan-style title, for it features one of the greatest of their line. Following a complex essay on the nature of the Trinity, written in his characteristic, mind-bendingly logical style, Edwards concludes thus:

"But I don't pretend fully to explain how these things are and I am sensible a hundred other objections may be made and puzzling doubts and questions raised that I can't solve. I am far from pretending to explaining the Trinity so as to render it no longer a mystery. I think it to be the highest and deepest of all divine mysteries still, notwithstanding anything that I have said or conceived about it. I don't intend to explain the Trinity. But Scripture with reason may lead to say something further of it than has been wont to be said, tho there are still left many things pertaining to it incomprehensible. It seems to me that what I have here supposed concerning the Trinity is exceeding analogous to the Gospel scheme and agreeable to the tenour of the whole New Testament and abundantly illustrative of Gospel doctrines, as might be particularly shewn, would it not exceedingly lengthen out this discourse."

(from Edwards' Essay on the Trinity, as reproduced in Jonathan Edwards: Representative Selections, with Introduction, Bibliography, and Notes, Revised Edition, by Clarence H. Faust and Thomas H. Johnston, New York: Hill and Wang, 1935 & 1962, page 381)

Note the principles of Edwards' theological method:

1. Edwards accepted the fact that there are theological mysteries that cannot be fully explained.
2. Edwards acknowledged, even after extensive study and attempts to harmonize, that there were not only a few things, but "many things ... incomprehensible," pertaining to the Trinity.
3. Edwards recognized there were logical holes in his presentation, and admitted that his own reasoning was not sufficient to fill in these logical holes.
4. Edwards nonetheless accepted "Scripture and reason" as the guiding principles of his theological inquiry.
5. Edwards tested his reasoning by comparing it to the "Gospel scheme" and evaluating its agreeableness to the "whole tenour of the New Testament." He practiced Gospel-centered, Biblical reasoning within the accepted mystery of the Biblical revelation.
6. Edwards stood by the doctrine of the Trinity, not because he could present it in a perfectly coherent fashion, but on the firmer ground of Biblical revelation taken as far as reason could go with it.
7. Edwards wisely chose not to remove any part of the doctrine in order to make it fit within the bounds of his own intellectual capacities.

It is instructive to note that, in Edwards, the affirmation of mystery did not lead to a repudiation of logic, or the slightest mitigation of logical inquiry. Rather, Edwards humbly acknowledged the limitations of human reason while upholding the supreme reasonableness of the Scriptures themselves.

Let us likewise affirm the mysteries of Scripture, and both the necessity and limitations of human reason, in all our study of the Truth of God.


  1. This is so good, because the mysteries remind us (hopefully) of the majesty and sovereignty of the God we serve, and our incapability as creatures to fully comprehend Him. Trouble is, in our sinfulness, instead of giving God glory for these mysteries, we (as a race) blame and repudiate Him because we can't explain Him. Silly humans :)

  2. Blaine,

    Amen, brother!

    The more I learn of God's ways and the Truth of His Word, the more I am amazed by His incomprehensible greatness. The stereoscopic view of God's Truth - revealed and unrevealed, spoken and secret, explained and unexplained, clear and mysterious, straightforward and paradoxical - paints a beautiful picture of His perfection, transcendence and wisdom. He truly manages all of the knowledge in the universe with impeccable discernment. I think Edwards was totally captivated by this, with his keen mind working overtime to take it all in. He knew how to describe mysteries intricately, yet without explaining them away in the process. The redeemed mind is able to accept things that are inconceivable to those lost in darkness, while our sinful pride protests that God must fit into a rationalistic box. Yes, we are silly humans.


  3. Who would want to place their life unreservedly in the hands of a god we can fully explain? I can't even explain how my car works, much less my life and relationship to God and others. A very convenient but foolish idea. When I'm thinking clearly I'm quite content with the God who acknowledges, reflects and compliments the mysteries I see all around me, and feel under no compulsion to explain everything I see or experience. I leave that to the scientists, preferably those who are not snug in the straightjacket of agenda.
    I'm happy to see a site like this where others can seek and sometimes find peace through faith in God without demanding all the answers.

    1. Thank you for your insightful comments! Encouraging and very much appreciated.

      Grace & peace,


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