The Holy Spirit as the Bond of Union in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards -- By: Robert W. Caldwell III

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 12:3 (Summer 2003)
Article: The Holy Spirit as the Bond of Union in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards
Author: Robert W. Caldwell III


The Holy Spirit as the Bond of Union in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards

Robert W. Caldwell III

Ever since international attention was turned to his Northampton ministry in the late 1730s, Jonathan Edwards (1703–58) has remained a prominent fixture in the psyche of American Christianity. Until recently, most American high school students were exposed to his classic revival sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Cod,” which represents a quintessential example of a fiery Puritan sermon in colonial American literature. Today, many American evangelicals know him for his great discernment in the realm of religious psychology where he distinguished true and holy “religious affections” from false religious enthusiasm and emotionalism.

It may come as a surprise, however, that his life-long fascination with the nature of religious experience was part of a wider theological vision he pursued throughout his life, a vision anchored in the bedrock of a trinitarian theology which prominently featured the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Edwards was convinced that pneumatology, or the study of the Holy Spirit, was considerably neglected in the theology of his day. Because the Spirit is equally God within the Trinity, consubstantial with the Father and the Son, he ought to receive equal attention in theological discourse, as well as equal honor by individual Christians in their devotional lives. Edwards’ strategy to remedy this situation was to amplify the

theme of the Holy Spirit as the bond of union in his theology. He conceived of the Holy Spirit as the personal divine love of the Godhead, a love which binds the Father and Son together in a union of infinite affection. This affection, Edwards goes on to point out, can be communicated to the hearts of created beings in such a way that they too can be united to God.

In this study we will examine Edwards’ understanding of the Holy Spirit as the bond of union in his theology, noting particularly how he envisioned the Spirit as the bond of union not only of the Trinity, but also of the Christian’s union with Christ. Along the way we will observe how deeply both his trinitarianism and pneumatology shaped his theology.

Trinity: The Spirit as the Bond of Union in the Godhead

To begin our study, we must first survey Jonathan Edwards’ understanding of the Trinity. Edwards’ trinitarianism follows a line of reasoning that is similar to Augustine, who saw analogies between the psychological makeup of human beings (mind, understanding, will/affection), and the three persons of the Trinity. For Edwards, the Trinity consists in God, his infinite self-reflection or idea of himself, and the infinite love he has for hi...

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