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.