Edwards’ Views on the Trinity

What were Edwards’ views on the Trinity? Whatever they were they have been a subject of controversy for over two centuries. During the latter part of his life, probably when he was laboring as a missionary to the Indians at Stockbridge, Edwards wrote a dissertation on the Trinity. He never published it, but sent it some of his ministerial correspondents to review in confidence. However, secrets are hard to keep and news of the existence of this manuscript leaked out along with rumors that it was not quite orthodox. After Edwards’ death his estate, particularly his literary executor, Samuel Hopkins, decided not to publish this particular manuscript along with his other post-humously published writings. This decision was severely criticized by New England Unitarians, who smelled blood and were looking for vindication from Edwards for their heretical views on the Trinity. But despite this pressure that continued for many years the manuscript was never published. The most that could be gleaned about its contents was that one of Edwards’s Scottish correspondents who had reviewed it did state that the contents of the manuscript in question, which he had reviewed, could be considered Sabaellian. (Note: Sabaellianism is the view that that there is really only one person in the Trinity and that the three “persons” in the Trinity are actually different aspects of that one person, even as heat and light are different aspects of the sun.)

The manuscript was eventually published around the turn of the century in a work entitled “An Unpublished Essay of Edwards on the Trinity with Remarks on Edwards and His Theology” by the Yale Professor and Church historian George P. Fisher. In this essay, in which Edwards seeks to construct a completely rational proof for the existence of the Trinity, he certainly takes a very unorthodox view. Edwards reasons that if one can create an exhaustively complete and totally faithful mental image of something than you have recreated it. He then reasons that God created such a mental image of himself. This mental image of himself Edwards proposes as being the Second Person of the Trinity. Edwards then postulates that God loved this image of himself and that the bond and the force of this love between God and this image became so overpowering that it became the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is thus reduced to a divine attribute, the Divine Self-Love, and the Son is reduced to a mere mental image of the Father. It is thus easy to comprehend why Edwards’ Scottish correspondent considered the sentiments expressed as being Sabaellian and that the Unitarians pressed for their publication as giving support for their own views with respect to the Trinity.

Since Edwards is so highly thought of as a paragon of Calvinist orthodoxy and many of his admirers may react in shock to these views of his I offer the following articles as documentation.

The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity

By B. B. Warfield

Dr. Warfield wrote an article on the Trinity which was published in 1915. In it he included a brief review of Edwards’ essay on the Trinity. I include the relevant excerpt as demonstrating that Warfield had reviewed this essay, had accepted it as genuine, and concurs in the above summation of its contents. Warfield rejected Edwards’ views although he did not condemn them as heterodox. However, from the man who accepted evolution and feminism, etc., perhaps that is all we could have expected.

An Unpublished Essay of Edwards on the Trinity

by George P. Fisher

Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1903