Jonathan Edwards has traditionally been
characterized as the author of "Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God." While
human sinfulness is an important theme in Edwards work (cf. Original Sin), it
is by no means the dominant one. The larger part of Edwards corpus is concerned with
Gods beauty, the validity of religious experience, and the effectiveness of virtue.
The following is an attempt to set out some of these major ideas of Edwards in a few
central areas God, Nature, Ethics, the Human Person (Mind, Will,
and Affections), and Aesthetics. These
notes are fragmentary in nature, tending to overlap at a number of places since
Edwards thought is fairly systematic. This is not an attempt to set out the full
scope of Edwards thought.
According to Edwards, God is Trinity (three in one, one in three), and the Trinity is
relational in his love. Because the Trinity derives from the divine communitys
self-understanding in God, God communicates this love to the whole creation, offering it a
chance to be a part of this divine life of love. Nature is created by God out of his
divine fullness, and Nature acts as a sign of the divine reality. Nature's message has been
distorted by the corruption of creation, and it needs revelation to clarify its message.
Likewise, the ethical life is founded on agreement with God. Virtue is derived from
selfless love: first from God, then for others. Sin is the refusal to
consent to God's Being and purposes; it insists
on a private vision of its own. As we consent more to Gods desires, we develop
habits of character, discovering more of whom we really are and are intended to be. To
understand how this happens, one needs to understand the relationship of the mind, will,
and affections, which for Edwards are three ways of looking at an integrated whole.
Because God is relational, the mind and creation are also relational; they are designed
to work together. Our delight comes in discerning this pattern of relationship. The will
is not a free faculty. It always acts on the minds understanding. When the mind
perceives something as its greatest good, the will chooses that good. God gives to the
understanding redeemed affections. The affections are necessary to grasp anything. If you
understand something only mentally, you have not really understood. As one loves
relationally, one truly only
understands God, truth, goodness, and beauty.
At the center, then, of Edwards thought is a profound cosmic aesthetic of
relationship and selfless community. Gods beauty is an objective reality which we
always experience subjectively. True beauty is achieved by consenting to God, who offers
us perfect delight, experienced both as an excellent image in Christ (offered in the
natural world and human beings) and as an indwelling principle in the Holy Spirit.
Gods beauty governs and redeems the world. As we consent to Gods love, we
experience relationship with him and his community of followers, who ultimately act upon
that love in both this world and in the infinite, progressive capacity of heaven.
1. God is a triune unity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Son is the perfect idea,
the self-knowledge of the Father. The Holy Spirit is the personal delight of the Father
and the Son in their mutual love, a consent so perfect it results in a third personal
2. Gods mutual self-love is equal, perfect, self-sufficient, and infinite. As
such, it is a perfect model of consent.
3. Gods character is finally two parts, both persons of the
Trinity: 1) a fullness of his understand or
knowledge which he gives to all (the Son), and 2) a fullness of his will or his absolute
virtue and perfect joy and happiness (the Holy Spirit). Alternatively, Gods
perfections can be divided between his moral perfections (holiness) and his natural
attributes greatness, power, and knowledge.
4. Gods relational beauty is the perfect image of his holiness.
5. Gods nature is Primary Being from whom all Secondary Being (ala the
creation) derives its existence.
6. God is distinct from the creation, yet everywhere within it. Gods full
transcendence is not compromised by his full immanence.
7. God is "an infinite fountain of good" who emanates all subsidiary goods.
Gods diffusive nature gives a plentitude of good to creation.
8. God "enlarges himself" in a fullness of self-giving, therefore opening up
a space for our participation in the Trinitys life and nature. To receive holiness,
happiness, or knowledge is to receive of God himself. To know and to delight in God is to
carry out a form of Gods own nature, for the Trinity delights in himself.
(Main Sources Miscellanies, Concerning the End for Which God Created the
World, The Nature of True Virtue)
1. While Nature is beautiful in and of itself, its source of beauty begins in its
2. God is an artist/architect who creates the creation from out of his own delight.
Concern with an audience is secondary, because God is a triune being, needing no outside
audience to be fulfilled. Yet he does not begrudge his creatures joy in the
relational structure of creation.
3. Nature is a pedagogical image of spiritual and divine reality; an image mirrors or
reflects its likeness to its original, ala God; it becomes a shadow only when
compared to the real original.
4. Nature is a visible sign of Gods glory, but due to the fall, nature is an
unfocused message; it, therefore, is always subservient to holy revelation in scripture.
5. Only the redeemed through grace can have true insight into Natures full
(Main Sources Beauty of the World, Images of Divine Things)
1. All virtue is summed up in the principle of love.
2. Love is not only a response to Gods love and beauty, but a cooperation with
Gods being. We help express Gods beauty and love in the world.
3. True virtue begins with an absolute love for or consent to God and then moves outward
to love all beings as an expression of that primary love.
4. Love of benevolence is a concern for anothers well-being. Love of complacence
is love of beauty for its own self. Only in God are these one, for the Trinitys love
for himself is a love of Primary Being as well.
5. Virtue loves God primarily for himself and only secondarily for what his beauty and
glory can do for the viewer.
6. If virtues object is not general being, particular affections tend to separate
themselves from and become an enemy of general being. Sin is self-love cut off from any
greater love for God or others.
7. But love for all particular beings is the expression of love for Being, even if that
particular love is not always directly aware of its ground in the love of God.
8. While such a love is not disinterested, benevolence to created beings always has the
end of Gods (re)union with Creation in mind.
9. Virtue itself is the beauty of a minds moral qualities and acts, which arise
from a certain disposition of character.
10. We praise and blame someone for their habit of character not for arbitrary moral
11. The human person is more fully realized through the exercise of aesthetic-ethical
habits; knowing and doing are tied to being.
12. You learn more of who you are as you consent to know and do the good, Our consent
follows as a necessity of our true being, which should be love.
13. Heaven itself is progressive and infinite, moving forward in greater and
(Main Sources Charity and Its Fruits, The Nature of True Virtue)
The Human Person Mind
1. Mind and matter are non-dualistic, even if they are separate elements; both are
relational in structure. Therefore, they are created to work together.
2. Sensation comes into the mind ready for relationships, because Being itself (being
Trinitarian) is relational.
3. The mind arranges its ideas according to patterns or habits of
1) harmony and
2) cause and effect,
and 3) contiguity across time and space.
4. The mind refuses to experience reality in a chaotic fashion; instead, ideas are
worked into a pattern. Strictly speaking, there is no Nothing, only counter-being,
being that refuses to consent to Gods Primary Being.
5. Yet this pattern is already inherent in the realm and structure of being itself.
6. The mind does not abstract from particulars so much as experience the two in
transition. While one does ascend meditatively in hierarchical fashion to focus on God,
one does not leave the rest behind. One recognizes that the secondary aspects of mind and
beauty are grounded in the Primary Being of God.
7. A person acts on the discernment of the patterns of reality because they are
relational; the relational mind recognizes the possibilities of being integrated in every
idea in the world.
8. Our delight arises from the perception and experience of this relational, harmonious
nature. Beauty is part of the fabric of being, both primary beauty which is relationship
with God and others, and secondary beauty which is formal in its principles of proportion
9. Christ is thus our ultimate delight, being the infinite and full expression of the
relationship between divine beauty and natural beauty.
10. The redeemed mind becomes a channel of this image, becomes an idea of beauty.
(Main Sources The Mind, of Being, Miscellania)
The Human Person The Will
1. The will is the minds ability to choose.
2. The will chooses what the soul prefers or inclines towards; with two or more equally
preferred choices, no volition is exercised. The will has no freedom of its own. It always
depends on the understanding.
3. The will is focused upon an object because the soul is motivated by that object as
a perceived good.
4. A motive is "an apprehension of understanding," a perception of some
effect or value in the object.
5. The object with the greatest perceived, direct good carries with it the stronger
motive for the soul.
6. One can have a moral inability to do an action; likewise, one can be constrained to
a action as a necessary result from a cause.
7. We will what we are, for moral causes are the grounds of our character; our
"quality of mind," inherent habits and dispositions.
8. The elect, because of a new understanding and habit of mind brought about by the
presence of grace in the indwelling Holy Spirit, will the good, thereby reflecting their
new natures. (NOTE: The Personal Narrative is meant to represent a new ontological
(Main Sources The Freedom of the Will, Religious Affections)
The Human Person Affections
1. Affections are the inclinations of the habits of the soul, particularly those with
strong likes and dislikes.
2. Affections of the soul are not strictly the bodily passions; however, spiritual affections of
the soul do influence bodily responses.
3. The affections are tied directly to clear understanding and the minds
character; if no affections result, then no real understanding is present.
4. To do Gods will in the world, the soul needs to be affected strongly with love
of God, for the affections are the cause of actions.
5. Yet religious affections in most believers are a mixed bag of natural and spiritual
inclinations; therefore, the strength of a habitual inclination (our character) is what we
are judged by, because any affection can be falsely imitated with an outward display of
emotions for a short time.
6. As a result, the visible churchs acceptance of members on the basis of their
confession of their conversion is no final guarantee of the validity of that confession.
Such a confession is accepted on good faith (so to speak).
7. Likewise, excessive self-examination is no real, final guarantee of a
believers true spiritual state, though self-examination is a recommended practice.
8. There are twelve signs to help distinguish true from false religious affections:
1) Spiritual affections arise from spiritual influence only. The believer has an
entirely new and different kind of perception from a previous, unconverted awareness. (The
new absorbs the old; it doesnt entirely displace it.) This spiritual awareness is
not the use of the natural imagination alone to apprehend Christ through
mental pictures, because
such pictures can be had by anyone (including Christs enemies); neither is it simply
an imaginative reaction to the beauties of scriptural language and images which can happen
with any text. These must be accompanied by a greater sense of commitment.
2) One has a transcendent love of God and the things of God apart from any self-love or
interest. Such love results from knowing the divine beauty of God in Christ. One is
grateful to God in Christ for his goodness, beauty and grace, especially concerning
salvation. Such a response is inherently relational.
3) You have a love for divine beauty which is founded on the excellence of holiness.
This beauty is apprehended by a new spiritual sense of Gods beauty in itself, rather
than any profit it will being to the self.
4) Such a sense wells up from the minds new enlightenment towards divine things;
this sense participates rather than simply observes. The new understanding is already
pre-inclined with a nascent form of the apprehension of the beauty of God. An
aesthetic-ethical taste for Gods beauty is developed from this new disposition. Affection
must precede imagination.
5) A reasonable certainty of the divine comes through a complete holistic engagement of the
self, rather than any simple, natural education. This is especially the case with
Gods beauty, which is unique and directly affecting to the soul.
6) Accompanied by a humility, such a sense denies any self-benefit, and through
self-denial, it opens up a space for glory and love. A simple legal awareness of
ones limited state is not enough; it must be a real, active involvement.
7) A conversion of the nature of the self follows, which is increasingly manifested
overtime through ones actions.
8) You express a Christ-like character of "love, meekness, quietness, forgiveness,
and mercy," which ironically strongly opposes evil.
9) The true affections have a "tenderness of spirit," which deepens the
consciences conviction of faith.
10) A balanced life follows, one that has a formal beauty of symmetry and proportion,
e.g. a balance of hope and fear or joy and mourning.
11) One continues to pursue the greater and deeper participation in God. You are never
self-satisfied; no experience is an end in itself.
12) Most importantly, one has a public practice of Christian faith, which is
directed by Christian rule,
b) ones primary concern and pursuit,
and c) continued in
until the end of life.
(The main theme of Edwards philosophy)
1. Beauty has a primary, objective component and a secondary, subjective component.
Beauty is an objective experience, yet that primary reality is always experienced by
humans as a subjective mode.
2. Primary beauty is the consent of being to Being and is a spiritual sense. It is
always relational between beings. Secondary Beauty is a formal experience of unity among
diversity, a natural sense.
3. Beauty can also be divided along general and particular, true and false, universal
and deformed lines.
4. True consent to Primary Being involves a passionate, engaged consent. One must enjoy
God to truly know him.
5. Deformity (not ugliness) is the opposite of conformity/consent (i.e.
6. Because the Trinitys being is ultimately relational (an integrated diversity),
truth always occurs in a committed encounter of consent.
7. Gods beauty and excellence are often (near) identical terms, for excellence is
the structure of beauty. Primary beauty has an intrinsic good in and of itself, while
secondary beauty has only an instrumental goodness (something good for me.)
8. The objective immediacy of Gods beauty is always experienced in a lively
subjective sense, so that the rational viewing of beauty is not enough.
9. Christs real, inherent beauty and goodness is experienced by humans as an
apparent, instrumental good for them.
10. Gods beauty as the Holy Spirit indwells humans as a real, vital principle,
one who changes and alters the inner person.
11. The revelation of Gods beauty, then, lays claim on humans, for this
revelation is constantly being revealed as their highest good and most perfect delight.
12. Gods triune beauty is naturally revelatory. The nature of God communicates.
13. The beauty of the natural world, the human form, and especially the human soul are
all manifestations of Christs beauty.
14. The Holy Spirit communicates beauty to the world, bringing order out of chaos. (cf.
15. Gods Beauty governs and redeems the world. The secondary principles of
proportion and harmony are the law of the natural world, which is but a shadow of the
spiritual and moral worlds real law. (cf. Image, Mind #62)
16. Primary Beautys perfect consent is the final end of redemption; likewise, it
is Gods means of redeeming the world. The Fall is secondary beautys attempt to
displace primary beauty as the central law of Creation. Yet when secondary beauty is used
to serve Primary beauty it becomes an instrumental means of redemption.
17. Redemption comes in a creatures (re)consent to Gods beauty. This comes
about as humans receive Gods communication of his absolute divine beauty through
Christ and the Holy Spirit.
18. Learning to delight in Gods holy beauty results in Christian love; the
community of God should be based around Gods beauty both in this life and especially
so in heaven, which is a world of infinite, expanding love. The visible church
on Earth should
model its heavenly reality.