BOOK REVIEW: Jonathan Edwards, Treatise on Grace and Other Posthumously Published Writings

James Clarke and Co. Ltd, 1971, 131 pgs.

Summary: A collection of important, but somewhat rare scholastic works of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) which tend to correct misunderstandings about Edward’s Trinitarianism and adherence to covenantal thought. These works were not included in the most available collection of Edwards’ writings.

Edited by and with an introduction by Paul Helm, but first printed and collected in the United States by E.C. Smyth in 1903. Helm’s introduction is, as always, clarifying and helpful.

The volume contains the “Treatise on Grace,” “Observations Concerning the Trinity and the Covenant of Redemption,” Appendix, and “An Essay on the Trinity.”

All of the works display Edwards’ understanding of the relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The Father thinks of himself and begets the Son, the Son and the Father love each other thus spirating the Spirit.

“Treatise on Grace”—Herein Edwards argues that common grace and saving grace differ, not in degree only, but in nature and kind. The saving work of the Spirit of God is an inward persuasion while the common grace work is an exterior work. The foundation of saving grace is the implanted love of God within the human heart through the Spirit of God: “Divine love, as it has God for its object, may be thus described. ’Tis the soul’s relish of the supreme excellency of the Divine nature, inclining the heart to God as the chief good” (49).

Common grace also comes from the Spirit of God, but is wholly different than saving grace: “There are many things in the minds of some natural men that are from the influence of the Spirit, but yet are by no means spiritual in the scriptural sense of the word … and so saving grace in the heart is said to be spiritual, and therein distinguished from all other influences of the Spirit, that it is of the nature of the Spirit of God” (55-56).

Edwards goes on to argue that while God is love (1 John 4:8), the Spirit of God is particularly to be considered the person of God who provides believers access to the love of God. Further, by being indwelt by the Spirit of God, we participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

“Observations Concerning the Trinity and the Covenant of Redemption”—Edwards’ argues against those who see the relationship between the Father and Son as merely caused by the plan of redemption rather than as necessary to the nature of the Godhead. He also lays out a traditional outline of covenant theology.

Appendix—Further quotes of Edwards collected by E.C. Smyth reinforcing his Reformed orthodox understanding of the Trinity and the covenants.

“An Essay on the Trinity”—Edwards argues and defends from Scripture that God the Father in being self-conscious of his own glory begat the Son or the Image of himself (Heb. 1:3; Gal. 1:13). The Father and Son in mutual adoration of their perfections then spirate the Spirit, or the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

The Godhead being thus begotten by God’s loving an idea of Himself and shewing forth in a distinct subsistence or person in that idea, there proceeds a most pure act, and an infinitely holy and sacred energy arises between the Father and Son in mutually loving and delighting in each other, for their love and joy is mutual, Prov. vii, 30,—“I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him”—This is the eternal and most perfect and essential act of the divine nature, wherein the Godhead acts to an infinite degree and in the most perfect manner possible. The Deity becomes all act, the Divine essence it self flows out and is as it were breathed forth in love and joy. So that the Godhead therin [sic] stands forth in yet another manner of subsistence, and there proceeds the third person in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, viz. the deity in act, for there is no other act but the act of the will (108).

Benefits/Detriments: These essays serve as the background to Shedd’s understanding of the Trinity as well as much of Piper’s theological framework for Desiring God and The Pleasures of God. While the essays are speculative to a degree, it is a rich and deep mediation and conclusions that I embrace as conforming to Scripture and reason.

Shane Walker is preaching pastor at First Baptist Church in Watertown, Wisconsin. This post appeared on the blog of Andover Baptist Church in Linthicum, Maryland.