In his lecture on Jonathan Edwards, J.I. Packer summarizes five principles which shaped Edwards’ theological thinking.
1. God’s plan of grace as set out in the Westminster Confession is the beginning of the whole economy of divine saving love.
It began as a plan, an eternal decree of election and the first element in it was the Father’s election of the Son to be the Savior of the church. That is the element in God’s decree which in English theology has always been called the covenant of redemption, the agreement whereby the Father gave the Son the many whom He came into the world incarnate to redeem by his atoning death and to unite to himself in his risen life and to bring triumphantly to glory. The covenant of redemption is of great importance structurally in Edwards’ theology.
2. God is naturally unknown man to fallen man because fallen man is finite and now blind by reason of the inborn perversity of original sin which is our legacy from Adam.
So, it takes a divine supernatural light of the Holy Spirit with and through the Word to give knowledge of the reality of God to sinners and Edwards made a great deal of this. To understand words is not difficult if you know the language to which the words belong, but if your understanding of Christian theology is just a matter of words but not knowing the realities to which those words refer you are still in darkness. It takes a divine and supernatural light to bring you out of that darkness into a certainty of the reality of those things of which biblical words and sentences speak, and that awareness of their reality when it comes is as immediate and certain as seeing something.
3. God shows Himself through the history that Scripture records and interprets. Edwards’ hermeneutic of Scripture was historically focused.
George Marsden writes, “History according to Edwards is in essence the communication of God’s redemptive love in Christ. The history of redemption is the very purpose of creation. Nothing in human history has significance on its own, that is apart from the plan of God. Christ’s saving love is the center of all history and defined its meaning. Human events take on significance only as they are related to God’s redemptive action in bringing increasing number of human beings into the light of that love or as they illustrated human blindness in joining Satan’s warfare against all that is good. ” That is why Edwards wanted to write a systematic theology in the form of a history. God reveals Himself not simply by word but by action. He says what he is going to do and then he does and his doing of it reveals the meaning of his prediction that he is going to do it.
4. God is self-revealed as a Triune society bonded by love. and in some very bold reflections Edwards puts it this way, the personal Holy Spirit is Himself in His very nature the love that binds the Father and the Son to each other, and both to the Spirit to them.
Augustine had said something very like that. In Packer’s judgment Edwards says it in a more grounded and skillful way than Augustine. “Christ and His Father and Christians should be as it were one family, this is the divine goal. One family, His people, should be in a sort admitted into the society of the three persons in the Godhead.”
5. God remains when we have done all our Bible study and theological reflecting on the basis of the texts, God remains a transcendent mystery in the sense that there is more to Him than our human minds can ever grasp but yet if we look back and if we look around us and if we look ahead with the Bible in our hands, there is a great deal that we can see clearly.
If you want an illustration, imagine looking around and there is a long view that you can see ahead and behind and around until the rest is lost in a mist or fog. There is great clarity as far as it goes in the Bible and in this area of light which Scripture illumines, past, present, future, the themes that stand out are the sovereignty of God, the redeeming love of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and these are themes to which Edwards returns time and time again. On that phrase, God remains a transcendent mystery,we can see the way Edwards thought, by listening to the way Packer summarizes what he writes on the Trinity.”I am far from pretending to explaining the Trinity so as to render it no longer a mystery. I think it to be the highest and deepest of all divine mysteries still, notwithstanding anything that I have said or conceived about it. I don’t intend to explain the Trinity just to go up to the limit in understanding all that the Bible has to say about the Trinity.”