Tag Archives: Jonathan Edwards

Love and Wrath—Pt. 4

For the sake of review, let me catch us up from the previous posts. I’m attempting to show that the way you see God’s attributes is a direct reflection of your doctrine of God and how you understand the Trinity. The theology of Jonathan Edwards helps us, especially in the area of God’s attributes. As seen in the last post, Edwards argued that the beauty and harmony of God is seen in his love and wrath—and not only in these two, but the totality of who He is. In today’s Christian culture, over emphasizing, or wrongly emphasizing God’s love to the detriment of His other attributes is prevalent and I believe that we must reorient our focus because if we take away or redefine number of God’s attributes, at what point are we trading the God of Christianity with some other false, lesser God?

God’s End Goal

So, we have seen  Edwards’ Trinitarianism and that he saw the beauty and harmony of God in that He is both loving and just. Now we turn to see how Edward’s believed God displayed his attributes and why. Edwards begins with the love of God as His motive for His creative act. He writes, “When God considers of making anything for himself, he presents himself before himself and views himself as his end.” When Edwards used the term “end,” he could mean chief, ultimate, or subordinate end. However, when God is spoken of as acting toward “His end,” he always has what is chief, ultimate, and unsubordinated in mind. This aspect of his theology is crucial in understanding the “love and wrath” question for two reasons. First, he emphasizes that God’s act in creating and redeeming is rooted in the inter-Trinitarian divine love. God’s chief end is the magnification of His own name. God delights first and foremost in Himself and his attributes, which means that no subordinate end can overwhelm His chief end. Second, because God is concerned with His own glory as His chief end, the happiness of His creatures cannot be His chief end. God is love; it does not necessarily follow that because He is love He must redeem all, or else He is not love. God’s love for the redeemed, as well as His wrath towards sinners, work harmoniously towards God’s chief end, which is His glory and the presentation of His essence and attributes. The creation of man, God’s condescension, and redemptive work was not chiefly, or ultimately aimed at the happiness of the creature, but was God’s delight in displaying His essence and attributes.

Edwards anticipated the objection that accompanies this line of reasoning, which is, “How can God chiefly seek His own good and not be a divine egotist?” First, God delights in what is supremely valuable and because there is nothing more valuable than Himself, He must first seek Himself. Second, for God to delight first in Himself is not contrary to human happiness, because He is the creature’s happiness. It was according to God’s good pleasure that motivated Him to create, condescend, and redeem, but it was also for the good of His creatures as a subordinate end. It is God’s regard and love for Himself that drives His communication of Himself, which results in benefits for creatures.

Love Demands Wrath

It is clear that Edwards believed that God’s Trinitarian divine love is what motivated Him to seek the good of His creatures. However, it is the same love that provokes God’s wrath. God cannot, on account of His chief end and value, seek the happiness of creatures at the expense of His glory. The happiness of creatures is not God’s chief end, but rather it is the praise of His excellency. Edwards believed that God seeks to exercise all of His attributes for an attribute cannot be praised unless it is exercised. Therefore, he believed that the Holy Trinity decreed the law in eternity past in order that God’s justice might be served in the giving and execution of it. The presence of a law reveals a certain demand for justice, for if there were no need for justice, there would be no law. Edwards defended God’s justification in the eternal punishment of sinners by stating that men are guilty of infinite evil in multiple ways. First, men are guilty of infinite evil by despising the infinite word and law of God. Creatures have an obligation to love that which is lovely, but have failed and have committed heinous evil by means of rejecting God’s law. Second, men are guilty of infinite evil in their rejection of God’s love. As previously mentioned, God’s love is not His attempt at some sort of emotional connection with man, but is the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. So, to reject God’s love is to reject the gift of the Holy Spirit, which was purchased by the blood of Christ. To reject the gift is to reject the purchaser, and to reject the purchaser is to reject the one who sent Him. For Edwards, it is impossible to reject God’s love without also rejecting His essence and excellency. Third, men are guilty of infinite evil in their treatment of others. Edwards taught that God was justified in the eternal punishment of the wicked because one person’s unbelief can negatively influence and hinder the belief of another who follows their example of unbelief.  Unbelief was not simply a matter of opinion or taste, but Edwards perceived it as reckless and leading others astray. Finally, men are guilty of infinite evil in their treatment of self. Here he asks, “Is God obliged to give you eternal happiness when you care not about your happiness or His glory?” Edwards believed that men have condemned themselves on their fool’s errand to find happiness for their soul in something other than the excellency of God.

The condemnation of man is not simply the sum of poor decision-making throughout life, but an utter rejection of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Man is ultimately condemned because he hates God and has failed to recognize Him as supremely valuable. The Holy Trinity simply cannot allow this sort of blatant rejection to exist in the created system. For God to dispense mercy even to those who reject Him would not be compatible with His chief end, nor would it be loving. First, it would not be loving toward the Son. The inter-Trinitarian love of God motivates His wrath toward wicked men because to reject the Son is to the reject the Father who sent the Son. The Son is the Father’s eternal object of love who perfectly loves and obeys the Father’s will. Were God to dismiss justice would in a sense be an act of approval towards those who have rejected the Son. Second, it would not be loving toward His people. Edwards believed that the atonement of Christ secured a people who were set apart for God’s glory, meaning they had received the person and benefits of Christ by faith. He taught that wrath toward the wicked is necessary for the happiness of God’s people, which appears to be a reference to God destroying all the enemies of Christ and His bride. This is related to God’s chief end, which is first and foremost, the glory of His name, and, secondly, the happiness of His creatures. For Edwards, in order for the faithful to receive the happiness that results from the glory of God, the wicked must be cut off and crushed as enemies of Christ. Thus, the love of God is not incompatible with divine wrath, but demands it. Edwards perceived these two seemingly estranged attributes as working together in harmony in order that all of God’s attributes might be praised and His chief end pursued.

Hopefully the next post will provide some closure and tie up Edwards argument. Check back then!

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Love and Wrath – Part 3

Yesterday’s post gave a brief look at Jonathan Edwards’ Trinitarianism. I encourage you to read his Discourse on the Trinity, or any work of his for that matter. His writings are saturated with his theology of the Trinity. It’s awesome. Edwards basically states three truths that lay the foundation for how he will ultimately think about the love and wrath question: 1) God is infinitely happy in the enjoyment of Himself, 2) God’s thoughts rest first upon Himself, and 3) God’s love is first shared within Himself. These things make God seem like he is self-obsessed or selfish, but when viewed as an inner-Trinitarian operation, it becomes clear that, for Edwards, God is the author and the first recipient of His love. But, let’s look a little further into how Edwards viewed the attributes of God.

Divine Excellency

Even though Edwards was steeped in the Reformed tradition, he parted ways on some points, such as divine simplicity. The doctrine of divine simplicity is one way that the Western and Reformed traditions answer the question of the compatibility of God’s attributes, such as His love and wrath. Essentially, God is “simple,” meaning that it is impossible to make Him into a composition of parts, nor can there be any distinction between His being and His attributes. Therefore, all of God’s attributes are God. Thus, when these traditions speak of God as loving, they mean that He is love, and when they speak of Him as just, they mean that He is justice. In addition, simplicity states that when God acts, He does so in accordance with all of His attributes. So, we can’t look at an act of God and say, “Oh, here He is loving,” and at another act and say, “Here He is being just.” God is both loving and just in all of his actions.

For more on this topic see the work God Without Parts by James Dolezal. Click here for a review of this work by my friend Nathaniel Claiborne. His blog is excellent by the way.

But, Edwards had difficulty reconciling multiplicity (The Father, His idea, and His love) with simplicity, so he brought an aesthetic approach to understanding God’s attributes and being. He did not totally dismiss divine simplicity, but redefined it and put his own spin on it. Edwards focused on the beauty of a relational ontology among the three persons who work in harmony, both in their being and in their attributes. In other words, where the West sought to focus on the unity of God, Edwards appears to have stood with the Eastern Orthodox Church, focusing on the three persons. Where the West chose to focus on the unity and simplicity of God, the East emphasized the plurality and distinct persons of the Godhead. Despite the emphasis on the distinct divine persons, Edwards remained orthodox in his thoughts regarding the homoousia (God’s unity of essence). For him, it displayed the excellency of God that He was radically diverse in persons, yet harmonious in essence.This principle also carries over to the divine attributes, as each of them, whether love or wrath, worked in harmony. Again, Edwards did not look to divine simplicity in order to see the harmony of seemingly disjointed attributes, but to the beauty of the divine essence.

“These attributes being thus united in the divine nature and not interfering one with another is what is a great part of their glory: God’s awful and terrible attributes, and his mild and gentle attributes. They reflect glory one on the other; and ‘tis the glory of God that those attributes should always be exercised and expressed in a consistence and harmony one with the other (WJE, Sermons and Discourses 1703-1733, 159).”

Edwards’ Trinitarian theology is described as the “supreme harmony of all,” as the persons of the Godhead are distinct, yet fully bound and united in their shared essence and love. Likewise, the divine attributes are in absolute harmony, though they may seem incompatible because they are united in the beauty and harmony of the divine essence.

So here is another piece of the love and wrath puzzle as Edwards saw it. Tomorrow will focus on God’s end goal as described in Edwards’ work, The End For Which God Created The World. In the end, hopefully this will all come together. In hindsight I probably should have tried to summarize this a little better, but you know what they say about hindsight.

If you’re interesting in looking more into Edwards’ Trinitarianism, the book above by Plantiga-Pauw really helped me out. Just click the image for more info.
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Love and Wrath – Part II

In the last post I introduced the framework for a way to go about thinking on God’s love and wrath by using the theology of Jonathan Edwards. How exactly do these seemingly contradictory attributes fit together? Christians have long confessed, “God is love,” that He defines love and exudes love to His creatures. First John repeats this phrase twice and emphasizes the overwhelming reality that the Creator God is not passive towards creation, but is actively engaged. However, as J.I. Packer has pointed out, the attribute far more ascribed to God in the Scriptures is His holiness, and because of that He is just, seeking retribution for those who have despised Him. But we must think about this: throughout the history of the church there have  been those who have questioned the compatibility of love and wrath, which at times has resulted in a misguided over-emphasis on one of these attributes at the expense of the other. For the most part, the fault comes by way of an over emphasis on God’s love, leading to a rejection of eternal judgment based on the belief that an all-loving, all-powerful God would not, and could not condemn any man or woman for eternity, much less a multitude of people. Here is where I have heard countless straw-man arguments that say something like, “For any person to suffer eternally in hell would necessitate a failure on God’s part, which would lead to the reality that God is either not all-loving, or not all-powerful.” Edwards has a way of answering this question, but we have to begin at his theological starting point—the beauty (or harmony) of God.

To get a handle on what Edwards meant when he talked about God’s beauty, we must start with the baseline Christian belief that God is Trinity. For Edwards the Trinity is like the wind in the sails of his theological ship. It dictates your view of creation, salvation, Jesus Christ, and how the attributes of God fit together. In his Discourse on the Trinity, Edwards lays the groundwork for how he understands the divine nature and how the Triune God exercises all of the divine attributes in perfect harmony, rather than exalting one at the expense of the other.

1. God is infinitely happy in the enjoyment of Himself

God rejoices, loves, enjoys, and is satisfied in His own “essence and perfections.” In other words, God stands alone as His own ultimate end and He is in no way in need of creatures to fulfill or gratify Him. He is eternally at rest. The uppermost of God’s affections and the object of His thoughts can be none other than Himself.

2. God’s thoughts primarily rest upon Himself

because God’s thoughts are primarily and ultimately upon Himself, it stands to reason that the thoughts that God has about Himself are perfect, and results in an actual, identical image of Himself. This is Edwards understanding of Jesus as the divine Logos, the word, reason, and thought of God that is perfect to the extent that there is a duplicity of persons. In His eternal thinking upon Himself, the Father begets the Son. So, when Edwards describes God being eternally satisfied and happy within Himself, he is not describing simple self-love, but love that is given and received in the duplicity of persons in the Godhead.

3. God’s love is first shared within Himself

from the satisfaction, happiness, and love that exists between the duplicity of persons, the Father and the Son, arises a pure and divine energy that embodies the love of God in a third person, the Holy Spirit. So, being eternally generated from the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is, for all intents and purposes, the very love that is shared between them. This, of course, has major implications for the life of the believer because Christians are commanded to love God and love their neighbor. Edwards recognizes that this command is impossible without the very love of God indwelling and compelling the believer to carry out this role. Thus, when Christians are told that the Holy Spirit indwells them, it is the love of God that has been put within them. For Edwards, there is no distinction between the love of God and the third person of the Trinity. Essentially, God’s dwelling in Christians and His love within us is the same thing. Edwards sums up his view of the Trinity this way:

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 to 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 (WJE, Trinity, 131).

Edwards makes it abundantly clear that love is intricately infused into the divine communion of the Father, His idea (Son), and His love (Holy Spirit). The belief that God is love is not lost on Edwards, but it is actually the framework upon which he builds his entire theology. The very idea that God is love necessitates an eternal object. God is the only eternal object, thus, God must be the originator and object of His love. However, this is not to be categorized as self-infatuation or selfishness, but mutual self-giving that occurs within the perfect unity of the three persons of the Trinity.

So there is a little bit of an intro into how Edwards saw the Trinity—as he originator and original recipient of divine love. Tomorrow I will dive in a little deeper into how he saw the divine attributes working together in harmony. This is where his view on seemingly opposed attributes will become a little more clear. I will look at his view of divine simplicity, which is one of the most interesting and confusing aspects of doctrine that I have encountered. It should be fun… or painful. I guess it could be painfully fun—for me at least.

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Love and Wrath

Jonathan Edwards is one of my heroes in the faith. He was one of the great revivalist preachers and apologists during the First Great Awakening, an immense movement of God in Colonial America that pervaded multiple aspects of colonial life. It brought a renewed emphasis on righteous living, religious devotion, and even served as a bridge between the cultural division between blacks and whites.[i] More importantly, the First Great Awakening was a revival whereby thousands of people were converted and there was a renewed prominence given to the nature and character of God.

Today, Edwards is often polarized as a “Hell, fire, and brimstone” preacher because of sermons such as, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” and “The Justifice of God in the Damnation of Sinners.” (I’ve written briefly elsewhere about Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. You can read it here) However, it is unfair to caricature Edwards as such a man without allowing him the opportunity to speak for himself. These sermons do not exist in a vacuum and it is important to be familiar with Edwards the man in order to fairly assess his theology.

Edwards: The Man (1703-1758)

Timothy Edwards fathered eleven children, and only one boy, Jonathan. From his early childhood, his father, who was a Congregational pastor in their hometown of Windsor, Connecticut, trained him for the pastrate.[ii] Even as a boy, Jonathan took an interest in spiritual things, often secluding himself from other children his age in order to spend time in prayer. I read one story that said when Edwards was nine years old he built a fort. This is common behavior for a boy—I built forts too. However, Edwards’ fort was specifically built for prayer.

At the age of fifteen, Edwards became a student at Yale (1717) and under the leadership of Rector Timothy Cutler, he was forced to grapple with his Calvinist roots on an intellectual level.[iii] He had grown to believe in the sovereignty of God, but it brought him great distress. He wrestled deeply with divine sovereignty, man’s inability to be righteous, and human accountability to live righteously. In other words, Edwards could not understand how God could be good, yet condemn his creatures when they were not able to exercise faith on their own.[iv]

These were not simply theological musings of a slightly interested man, but, on the contrary, Edwards viewed the answers to these questions as determining all manner of life, for it appears that he believed the content of one’s theology determines worldview and lifestyle. All theological training aside, Edwards believed the answers to his questions would determine the direction and fate of his own soul. It was not until a few years later that he had a conversion experience, which revolved around the overwhelming glory and beauty of God.[v] Rather than hell, wrath, and fury, the glory and beauty of God became the major themes in his theology. When he was able to reconcile his discomfort with the beauty of God he finally experienced comfort in his soul. The beauty and excellency of God brought a metaphysical shift (a reinterpretation of reality), which allowed Edwards to view God’s attributes as working in harmony—especially seemingly contrary attributes such as love and wrath.

So, while it appears that he was a preacher who had a certain affinity for preaching the wrath of God and the destruction of the wicked, Edwards spent much more time depicting the beauty and excellency of the Triune God.[vi] This foundational reality ultimately led Edwards to his answer regarding the love and wrath of God.

In the coming days I hope to show how Edwards’ answer serves as an example of how our understanding of the inner workings of God’s attributes, specifically His love and wrath, ultimately reflects our Doctrine of God.


[i] Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 91.

[ii] John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory: With Complete Text of The End For Which God Created the World, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998, 51.

[iii] George M. Marsden, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 18-19.

[iv] Ibid., 18-19.

[v] Justo L. Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought: From the Protestant Reformation to the Twentieth Century, vol. III, Revised ed. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1975), 317.

[vi] Noll, 95-96.

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Holy Love—Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

On July 8, 1741 Jonathan Edwards preached the famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” on the precipice of the 1st Great Awakening. The text from which he was preaching  is found in Deuteronomy 32:35 and it reads, “Their foot shall slide in due time.” The way in which Edwards describes God in this sermon is troubling to many, and I would argue that if they walk away with a troubled view of God, rather than the state of their soul, they have missed his point. However, it is easy to see how some can misinterpret Edwards when he uses illustrations such as these:

Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out ofhell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock. 

And again,

The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood.

And again,

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.

Taking into account sayings like these, it is easy to see why some have caricatured  Jonathan Edwards as a hell, fire, and brimstone preacher—as if some sense of pleasure arises in him because this fate awaits many. However, I will argue that this sermon is ultimately about God’s love, tender mercy, and compassion. It is ultimately about His abounding grace and His forbearance towards those who have greatly offended Him. He later says,

And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God…How can you rest one moment in such a condition?

And again,

When God beholds the ineffable extremity of your case, and sees your torment to be so vastly disproportioned to your strength, and sees how your poor soul is crushed, and sinks down, as it were, into an infinite gloom; he will have no compassion upon you, he will not forbear the executions of his wrath, or in the least lighten his hand; there shall be no moderation or mercy, nor will God then at all stay his rough wind; he will have no regard to your welfare, nor be at all careful lest you should suffer too much in any other sense, than only that you shall not suffer beyond what strict justice requires. Nothing shall be withheld, because it is so hard for you to bear. Ezek. 8:18. “Therefore will I also deal in fury: mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity; and though they cry in mine ears with a loud voice, yet I will not hear them.” Now God stands ready to pity you; this is a day of mercy; you may cry now with some encouragement of obtaining mercy.

Ultimately, this sermon is not about God’s hatred toward sinners, although that is definitely present. It is about the reality that the only thing that keeps us from being launched into eternal damnation and separation from the Creator is His good pleasure. The God who has every right to not show pity toward rebels stands ready to show pity through the blood of His son.

Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation. Let every one fly out of Sodom: “Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.

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