A Treatise on Grace

It’s mid-morning and I’m enjoying a morning coffee at Le Petit Café in the university district of Ljubljana, Slovenia. I arrived to the background sound of Amazing Grace in English playing on their sound system. It’s remarkably apropos because of my focus here for today: Jonathan Edwards’ Treatise on Grace. I drew from it yesterday as I spoke to some Christian workers who are involved in a lively Slovene ministry.

What about God’s grace does Edwards offer? At the heart of his Treatise is a portrayal of grace as a “who” rather than a “what”. In particular that God’s Spirit is the gift of grace who lives in believers and brings God’s love to us. He is the basis for our new life in Christ and the one who sustains us as we grow in faith.

This isn’t standard doctrinal fare for many of us so let me say more. The Spirit, Edwards tells us, is God’s love: the very uniting person of the triune communion who communicates the love between the Father and the Son. So that just as the Son is the Word of the communion, the Spirit is God’s breath and voice who speaks the depths of the Father to the Son, and the Son to the Father.

The unending mutual exchange of care binds the Father to the Son so that “love” is the proper term for God’s triadic being. He doesn’t use love, or seek love: instead God “is love”. In the Spirit’s function of searching the depths of the Father and the Son in order to offer the one to the other, he is that love in the most immediate sense as the carrier of the divine bond of love. Listen to Edwards on this.

For the Holy Spirit is that love of God and Christ that is breathed forth primarily towards each other, and flows out secondarily towards the creature.”

So we received the overflow of God’s expansive love as the Spirit comes to us and pours out God’s love in our hearts.

What’s so amazing about grace, then, is that he—that is, the Spirit who brings God’s love to us in a Spirit-to-spirit bond—is always telling us that God loves us. We need only to listen in order for grace to begin changing us.

If, however, we think of grace as a quality we search for and seek after, the focus moves to our own efforts to gather and apply grace. And with that comes a sense of enormous responsibility to achieve the character and behaviors we think God requires of all who receive this commodity. Some even speak of it as “enabling grace” as if grace is a charged battery-pack given to the elect to succeed in keeping God’s commandments.

Edwards believed in a more biblical basis for finding success in keeping God’s ways: by sharing God’s Spirit with God, so that our motivations operate in a Heart-to-heart exchange. Once again let’s listen to Edwards:

Hence our communion with God the Father and God the Son consists in our partaking of the Holy Spirit, which is their Spirit: for to have communion or fellowship with another is to partake with them of their good in their fullness in union and society with them.”

This, then, is the ultimate expression of God’s grace: he gives us his own source of motivations, his living Love, and invites us to respond to him.

I hope all of us enjoy his gracious presence with us today. It’s an amazing grace!



  1. Brenda

    Ron, I have never heard such a powerful description of God’s triune nature. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. R N Frost

    Thanks, Brenda, but I’ll deflect all credit to Edwards who, in turn, would insist that it all be redirected to God in light of his wonderful self-sharing.

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