On Edwards’ ‘Trilogy’: A Reflective Synthesis

In his book, Jonathan Edwards and the Bible, Robert E. Brown proposes: “[Edwards’] End for Which God Created the World, Nature of True Virtue, and ‘History of the Work of Redemption’ form a tightly woven trilogy intended to address the serious challenges to traditional Christian thought in contemporary religious rationalism” (144). The following insights comprise a reflective synthesis of the aforementioned works, evidencing warrant to Brown’s description.

If given the opportunity to ask Jonathan Edwards why God created the world, he might possibly answer: There is but one double-sided end for which God created the world—God’s glory and man’s happiness. This one end for which he created the world, is both “the end of the virtue of God’s people” and “the end of the work of redemption” (Y9:500-501). Indeed, the means by which God aims to accomplish this end is the work of redemption. More particularly, from all eternity, “the persons of the Trinity were as it were confederated in a design and a covenant of redemption” (Y9:118). The Triune God carries on this work from the fall of man to the end of the world. And, as this general work of redemption continues throughout history, the special work of true virtue is consequentially affected in God’s people—to the praise and glory of God.

From Jonathan Edwards’ God-entranced perspective, he conceives God’s being and existence as prior to any of his acts or designs. And, God’s being and existence must be presupposed as the ground of his acts or designs. So, in this case, he asks, what is the design of God’s act of creation in relation to his making himself his end (Y8:469)? Edwards answers, by showing that from the very fullness of God’s being, he wanted to communicate himself to his creatures in these emanations: 1) divine knowledge; 2) virtue/holiness; 3) happiness. When divine knowledge is communicated to the creature, it is God’s own knowledge of himself that the creature receives. And so, since God’s glory is the object of this knowledge, he delights in the manifestation of it in the creature as it reflects his own glory (Y8:441). When the emanation of God’s fullness communicates virtue and holiness to the creature, “the creature hereby partakes of God’s own moral excellency, which is properly the beauty of the divine nature” (Y8:442). And as God delights in his own beauty, he must also necessarily delight in the creature’s holiness and virtue. Here, Edwards shows how “True Virtue should first be read as [his] ethics of creation,” as he considers “wherein this holiness in the creature consists…in love [primarily to God], which is the comprehension of all true virtue” (Y8:34, 442). Lastly, the happiness that God communicates to his creatures from his fullness, is that happiness which consists of joy in himself. So, when his creatures rejoice in God, he himself is magnified and exalted, since “joy, or the exulting of the heart in God’s glory, is one thing that belongs to praise” (Y8:442). And, God’s glory or praise of his glory is spoken of as “the end of the work of redemption” (Y:487).

So, to conclude this brief reflective synthesis of Edwards’ ‘trilogy,’ I wholeheartedly agree with Edwards when he says, “the glory of God is the ultimate end of the work of redemption” which is “that work by which good men are, as it were, created, or brought into being, as good men, or as restored to holiness and happiness [i.e., true virtue]” (Y8:488-489).


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