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Understanding Edwards' Systematic TheologyUnderstanding Edwards Systematic Theology Print E-mail
Written by Oshea Davis   
Monday, 01 April 2013

Understanding Edwards' Systematic Theology


Taken from my Book: "The Divine Decrees."

By Oshea Davis


       I would like to help my readers briefly understand Edwards better before we head into the essay.  For those who are well acquainted may still find this review helpful.

     My first quick tip is this.  Read the KJV and you will have a leg up on reading Edwards.  I edit J.E. sermons for Yale University and in my time doing this it appears J.E. had most of the bible memorized. I say this to point out the degree, which the KJV had on Edwards.  When he preached and wrote his rhythm was the rhythm of the KJV, simply because he was so steep in it.


     In any case, Edwards had a particular framework of systematic theology, which if you understood the basics, will help you read Edwards; he was consistent it seems, at least to me, in putting this framework into what he preached and wrote.

     J. Edwards would carefully write down most of his thinking about scripture, and these thoughts are called the Miscellanies, which are available at the Jonathan Edwards Center at the Yale University archives. From these thoughts, some became foundational to Edwards understanding and I will briefly deal with two. After compiling scriptures together, on the topic of God's glory, for close to a decade, Edwards wrote the book, The End for which God Created the World.  Although never a book, Edwards made a second work, which was an essay on the Trinity.   I read these as a teenager but after I began transcribing sermons for the, J.E. Center, I began to see how the foundation of these two works were carefully woven into his preaching.  J. Edwards worked hard to understand the foundations of systematic theology and after finding conclusions he was diligent to put this understanding in his writings and gospel preaching.

          Below are two quotes from Edwards, one from each work. 


The End for which God Created the world:


Now God's internal glory is either in His understanding or will.[1]  The glory or fullness of His understanding is His knowledge.  The internal glory and fullness of God, having its special place in His will, is His Holiness and happiness.  The whole of God's internal good or glory is in these three things: His (1) infinite knowledge, (1) His infinite Holiness, and (3) His infinite joy and happiness.

Indeed there are a great many attributes in God, according to our way of conceiving them: but all may be reduced to these; or to their degree, circumstances, and relations.

 We have no conception of God's power, different from the degree of these things, with a certain relation of them to effects.  God's infinity is not properly a distinct kind of good, but only expresses the degree of good there is in Him.  So God's eternity is not a distinct good; but is the duration of good.  His immutability is still the same good, without a negation of change.  So that, as I said, the fullness of the Godhead is the fullness of His (A) understanding, consisting in His (1) knowledge; and the fullness of His (B) will consisting in His (2) Holiness and (3) happiness.

Therefore, God's internal glory being shinned forth as His External glory consists in the communication of these 3 things.[2]  The communication of His knowledge is chiefly in giving the knowledge of Himself: for this is the knowledge in which the fullness of God's understanding chiefly consists.  Therefore, we see how the expression of God's glory to created understandings, and their seeing and knowing it, is not distinct from the expression of God's fullness, but clearly implied in it.  Again, the communication of God's holiness, is principally in communicating the love of Himself.[3]

Therefore, we see how, not only the creature's seeing and knowing God's Excellence, but also supremely esteeming and loving Him, does belong to the communication of God's fullness.  Furthermore, the communication of God's joy and happiness consists chiefly in communicating to the creature that happiness and joy, which consists in rejoicing in God, and in His glorious Excellency.  For indeed in such joy does God's own happiness principally consist.  In these things, (1) knowing God's Excellency, (2) loving God for it, and (3) rejoicing in it, and in the exercise and expression of these, consists God's honor and praise

God communicates Himself to the (1) understanding of the creature, in giving him the knowledge of His glory; and to the will of the creature, in giving him (2) holiness, consisting primarily in the love of God: and in giving the creature (3) happiness, chiefly consisting in joy in God.  These [three] are the sum of the displaying of Divine fullness called in Scripture, the glory of God.

The shinning forth or communication of the Divine fullness, consisting in the knowledge of God, love to Him, and joy in Him, has relation indeed both to God and the creature.  But it has relation to God as its fountain.  Indeed everything communicated is something of His internal fullness.  The water in the stream is something of the fountain, and the beams of the sun are something of the sun.  Yes, they have relation to God as their object.  For the knowledge communicated, is the knowledge of God.  The love communicated, is the love of God.  The happiness communicated, is joy in God. 

In the creature's knowing, esteeming, loving, rejoicing, and praising God, the glory of God is both displayed and acknowledged.  In this God's fullness is received and both returned.  Here is both displaying and re-displaying, or communication and re-communication.  God's radiance shines upon and into the creature [like the moon], and is reflected back to the radiant Sun.  The beams of glory come from God, are something of God, and are reflected back again to their original.  Therefore, the whole is of God, and in God, and to God.  He is the beginning, and the middle, and the end.  Amen!

If God Himself be, in any respect, properly capable of being His own end in the creation of the world, then it is reasonable to suppose that he had respect to Himself, as his last and highest end, in this work; because He is worthy in Himself to be so, being infinitely the greatest and best of beings.  All things else, with regard to worthiness, importance, and excellence, are perfectly as nothing in comparison to Him.  And therefore, if God values things according to their nature and proportions, He must necessarily have the greatest respect to Himself.  It would be against the perfection of His nature, His wisdom, holiness, and perfect goodness, seeing that He is disposed to do everything that is appropriate to be done, to suppose otherwise.

At least, a great part of the moral beauty of God...consists in His having the highest regard to that which is in itself highest and best.  The moral goodness of God must consist in a due respect to things that are objects of moral respect; that is, to intelligent beings capable of moral actions and relations.  Therefore it must chiefly consist in giving due respect to that Being to whom most is due; for God is infinitely the most worthy of regard.  The worthiness of others is as nothing to Him; so that to Him belongs all possible respect.  To Him belongs the whole of the respect that any intelligent being is capable of.  To Him belongs ALL the heart.  Therefore, if moral beauty of heart consists in paying esteem which is due, then appropriateness infinitely requires the greatest regard to be paid to God.   Furthermore, the denying of supreme regard here would be a conduct infinitely most inappropriate.  Consequently, it will follow, that the moral beauty of the nature, inclination, or affection of God CHIEFLY consists in a regard to HIMSELF, infinitely above His regard to all other beings; in other words, His holiness consists in this.[4]




"The Godhead being thus begotten by God loving an idea of Himself and showing 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.  (Proverb 8:30) "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 itself flows out and is as it were breathed forth in love and joy.  So that the Godhead therein stands forth in yet another manner of subsistence, and there proceeds the third Person in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, which is namely the Deity in act.  There is no other act but the act of the will.

Hereby is illustrated the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.  Proceeding from both the Father and the Son.  By this we see how it is possible for the Son to be begotten by the Father and the Holy Spirit to proceed from the Father and Son, and yet that all the Persons should be Co-eternal...

This I suppose is the blessed Trinity that we read of in the Holy Scriptures. The Father is the Deity subsisting in the prime, un-originated and most absolute manner, or the Deity in its direct existence.  The Son is the Deity generated or shinned out by God's understanding, or having an infinite delightful idea of Himself and subsisting in that idea.  The Holy Spirit is the Deity subsisting in act.  He is the Divine essence flowing out and breathed forth in God's Infinite love to and delight in Himself.  Furthermore, I believe the whole Divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the (1) Divine idea [Jesus Christ shined forth out of infinite perfection] and (2) Divine love [Holy Spirit breathed out of joy], and that each of them are properly distinct Persons...

The honor of the Father is that He is the fountain of the Deity as it is from Him Whom proceeds both the Divine wisdom and also excellency and happiness. The honor of the Son is equal for He is Himself the Divine wisdom and from Him proceeds the Divine excellency and happiness.  The honor of the Holy Spirit is equal for He is the beauty and happiness of both the other Persons...

But the Holy Spirit being the love and joy of God is His beauty and happiness.  Indeed, it is in our partaking of the same Holy Spirit that our communion with God consists: (II Cor. 13:14) "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all, Amen."  They are not different benefits but the same that the Apostle explains here.  In partaking of the Holy Spirit we possess and enjoy the love and grace of the Father and the Son, for the Holy Spirit is that love and grace...

The world was made for the Son of God especially.  For God made the world for Himself from love to Himself.  God loves Himself only in a reflex act.  He views Himself[5] and so loves Himself.  Therefore, He makes the world for Himself viewed and reflected on the same with Himself repeated or begotten in His own idea, and that is His Son.  When God considers of making any thing for Himself He presents Himself[6] before Himself and views Himself as His End, and that viewing Himself is the same as reflecting on Himself or having an idea of Himself, and to make the world for the Godhead therefore viewed and understood, is to make the world for the Godhead begotten and that is to make the world for the Son of God." [7]


       And so J.E. defines God's essence as His: (1) infinite-sovereign-immutable knowledge (i.e. word, logic), (2) infinite-sovereign-immutable moral beauty or holiness, and (3) infinite-sovereign-immutable joy and loving action. (Moral beauty, Wisdom and Love)

     We have seen this reality reflected in the aspect of the Godhead or Trinity.  The Father is the, infinite moral goodness or holiness (Exodus 34:5-7), The Son, the infinite knowledge expressed out in perfect logic (John 1:1), and The Spirit as the infinite action of joy shared between the Father and Son in fellowship (Luke 3:22 & compare "dove" to Songs of Solomon 2:4; 5:2).

     This understanding to Edwards was important. Often when you read Edwards' sermons, in the application section, he uses one or more of these three to encourage or rebuke his congregation in various ways or as streams from these three. That is, in light of the doctrine, how may he and his congregation grow in their moral beauty of God, their understanding of God, and joy of God? Or, how have they not been doing so?

     Furthermore, we also read how J.E. defined God's moral beauty and how it chiefly rests in the aspect that God values, loves and promotes Himself above all others.  He shows us that God being the greatest beauty, the greatest wisdom, and greatest joy, and that by an infinite degree, in order to act suitably, in light of this, must chiefly uphold and promote Himself infinitely above all others.  If God does not act this way then He would be acting in an infinitely improper or unrighteous manner by devaluing infinite beauty to only put in its place something infinitely less beautiful: by this God would comment an infinite lie (but God cannot lie) by honoring this thing (anything but God) as infinitely more beautiful than what it actually is.

     This understanding is the proper way to understand what "righteousness" means in relation to God.  In fact, this is a major continental divide in theology, and worth much prayer and meditation.  If you believe what the Bible says about God, that His righteousness is His action to uphold HIS glory and honor infinitely above all others and things, then your thoughts-like the Bible-will flow toward God, and if you disbelieve this testimony then your thoughts will inevitability flow toward man.

     However, God in His great love and wisdom designed reality in such a way that His pursuit to give His chosen ones endless-unstoppable joy is at the very same time the pursuit to glorify Himself above all others; by this God makes pursing our joy in Christ, through faith, a righteous act for Himself: which is precisely the underlining argument Paul is making in his letter to the Romans.   This is done in that His chosen ones acquire this endless joy by being grafted into His only begotten Son, so that their joy comes from (1)knowing, (2)becoming and (3)enjoying Christ.  By this Christ is exalted as the Supreme fountain. 

     Now, to insure the gravity of this goal and good pleasure, God caused the world to fall into sin so that He might send His Son to die for His chosen ones.  The result is that the Church not only finds the joy in knowing Christ, but does so only because Christ found them in their sin and filth and then died in their place to bring them to Himself as a spouse.  This great mercy or great COST given by God insures and brightens the supremacy of Christ, even more than freely given love, for it insures and enlarges the churches ability to (1) know, (2) become and (3) enjoy Christ more through it!

     Romans 8:29, "For whom God fore-LOVED, He also predestined to conformed to the image of His Son, so that He might become the first born of the dead."

     See, since God is the greatest beauty, God shows His greatest form of LOVE to created creatures by pointing and shaping them into what is the greatest beauty, which is Himself: or more specially, the "image of His Son."  If His Son is not the greatest beauty, when it is to Him we are given to and shaped after, then God did not love us with His deepest love, for in this case He held back something better.  But Christ is! 

     This verse also tells us that God's greatest love to us is in the same act fulfilling His greatest goal, to uphold and promote His glory.  For the verse reads, "so that" Christ might be first born from the dead.   The meaning of his phrasing might not be clear to some and so we will turn to Colossians 1:18-19 where the same thing is said but in more obvious rhetoric: "[Christ]is the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the Supremacy."


     One of Jonathan Edwards' main points for proving the election of the church is showing they were part of Christ's body and since Christ is elected to be in heaven with public supremacy then "all of Christ's body" will also be elected.  Some might wonder where Edwards is coming from with this in that this might seem like a new argument to them. 

     If one understands and takes into account Edwards' rudimentary understanding of the Godhead then this argument will be obvious why he presents it.  Consider what J.E. said regarding the Trinity.

     "When God considers of making any thing for Himself He presents Himself[8] before Himself and views Himself as His End, and that viewing Himself is the same as reflecting on Himself or having an idea of Himself, and to make the world for the Godhead therefore viewed and understood, is to make the world for the Godhead begotten and that is to make the world for the Son of God."

     Jesus is the reflected, perfect image of God that is always before God.  The Father is the sun and Christ is the light shining from it; and so, as the Father looks out He only sees anything though the light, or that is, through His Son.  God made the world for Himself, but more specifically He made it in infinite pleasure for His Son Jesus Christ; in one sense God made creation solely as a gift for His Son.

     In this consideration we see why, in the order of the decrees, its starts with not man, but His Son to have the highest public supremacy, for creation is a gift for His Son! The Father's gift is for His Son to have a public supremacy.  The world was created to give context to God's gift; that is, creation is the grounds and embodiment for His Son to have a public supremacy

     Likewise, human beings, in the order of God's decrees, have their reason for existence starting from this same purpose. In order to give Christ a "public" supremacy there needs to be a "perfect" type of audience for Christ to be loved, known and be emulated; and thus, by this elevate Christ as Supreme.  The father was not arbitrary in this decision.  The fountain and perfect example of love, is the love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father, through the infinite energy and motion of the Holy Spirit. This is the original love, which all other types of love is patterned after, started from and for, and then also terminated back into this original LOVE. Therefore, the perfect type of audience for Christ to receive the highest form of public supremacy is the type of audience that is united to Christ as Christ is united to the Father in the Spirit.  This is the starting and spring of human existence and of the election of the church of God.

     This was the original plan both for Christ and the church.  Adam was not God's original plan for mankind, because Adam was not created one with Christ, united to Him in the Spirit, as Christ is with the Father.  This only happened after the cross and will only completed in heaven with glorified saints living with Christ, full of the Spirit and united to Him as He is to the Father!   Adam in the garden, (and then the fall, and then the incarnation, (etc.)), was a starting point to get Christ and the church to the original goal of Christ fully displayed in public supremacy, by a church that is as united in love in the Spirit to Him as He is to the Father, (within the context and capacity of the public)!

     Christ is a perfect image of the Father in nature, in union and also in size; that is, the Father is infinite and so is the Son in holiness, knowledge and joy.  And so in crafting a perfect type of audience for His Son to have the highest form of public supremacy, this united audience to Christ, needs not only be united to Christ as Christ is to the Father, but also in size.  The Father wanting to give His Son the world as a gift for supremacy, in infinite wisdom designed in proportion to the "public Jesus Christ" how big the audience being united to Him needed to be, whether it be 3 dozen or 12 billion. 

     This is where election (election of love) started and why it was before the fall, and why there is an election of mercy in the Covenant of Grace, and finally why there a mirrored election/calling after the fall in Christ, in execution.  This sheds some light on the aspect, of why the woman being taken from man was to be united back together, is a reflection of Christ and the church.  The church started out, in a sense of being taken from Christ, in love, to be a perfect or audience, so as to best give Christ public supremacy.  The names of the elected church started here, as a perfect gift for Christ! The rest of the following decrees and the execution of history is a long series of steps to get the world and its audience to the place where it is this perfect conceived gift that the Father intended for His Son: that there be no need of a sun, because His Son will be the heavenly Sun and for His bride to know, image and enjoy Him as that radiant SUN, whom the Father knows and loves so much.  This was the original beautic vision the Father had for the world, which all those who believe will see and taste in full one day.

     "Oh Lord, come soon, like You promised! Bring Glory to your Name!  Show us the original heavenly vision that You had for the world before it was created!"

Since Christ is the exact image of the Father, then the supremacy of Christ is the supremacy of the Father.


[1] Edwards' looks at a person's will as both his emotions and moral holiness.  A person wills and chooses to do things based on the level of moral holiness in them and how strong this delight in moral goodness is, which in God is infinite.  By saying God's understanding(mind) and will(heart) Edwards is saying God's internal glory is the infinite beauty of His Soul.  And God's soul, according to Edwards, is infinite understanding, moral perfect-ness, and happiness, with infinite, perfect answerable communications and enjoyment of this by the Father, Son and Spirit with each other.  What this means is that God's glory is the outshining or showcasing, or the public expression of God's infinitely-beautiful and valuable soul; or that God's glory is the public expression of Himself.

[2]  God being infinite will therefore, automatically know Himself perfectly.  But in Jesus Christ as His perfect image God sees not just a mirror refection of Himself but His infinite beauty being imaged in as a living Person, who, if you would, with an infinitely beautiful face of love smiles and fellowship back with the Father.  Particularly this is where God's delight resides; so infinite is this delightful love that He is the Holy Spirit. 

Isaiah chapter 6 would lead us to reason that in short hand God's internal glory is summed up as merely His Holiness and His glory is the expression of this.  Whereas here Edwards is going a little deeper to say God's internal glory also would properly include His understanding and happiness along with His Holiness.  Seeing that Holiness, by definition of scripture means God's inner Nature, it would make sense for understanding and happiness to belong with this definition of internal glory as Holiness, as a short hand summary, as Isaiah 6:3 does.  The bible use Holiness in these three senses based on their context; (1) God's full internal glory (Isaiah 6:3), (2) the sum of just His moral perfection (Psalm 99),  (3) and the sum of His moral purity, particularly His angry justice against all sin and evil (Ezekiel 43:8). The Hebrew word for Holy means to be a cut above everything else, and with God it is in the sense of transcendence.   With only a little thought it is easy to see how closely these are similar with only minor variances.

This is why the whole univere and all traceable existence points to the center stage of the cross of Jesus Christ.  For here is where the internal glory of God was most specially expressed.  Here, the infinite internal mind, heart and happiness of God was glorified or shone froth with radiance wonder.  Here the infinite beautiful soul of God was seen for all public eyes.  Here the invisible God was made known most vividly.  God wisely uses grace though His Son as the best way to glorify or showcase His infinitely beautiful and valuable soul.  This is why in Ephesians 1:6 it is to the praise of the glory of His grace, for in this His internal glory is made gloriously visible the best.

[3] Edwards looks at holiness and love as being inter-changeable at times, which I believe the scriptures give warrant for. So that Holiness is perfect moral goodness, or as perfect moral love.  Love, well, loves that which is most beautiful and valuable.  God is burning in infinite beauty, which is shined forth as glory.  Love finds its home in and with God as its object.  Yet, holiness in the bible is also separating yourself from this world to only give your heart and strength to prize Him, which is what love is, with strong affection.

[4] As quoted from my book: When Infinite Existence goes public.  2012,  pg. 226, 232, 9

[5] Jesus Christ

[6] Christ Jesus

[7] Jonathan Edwards from his unpublished essay on the Trinity.  Emphases and light copyediting by Oshea Davis

[8] Christ Jesus

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