Broken Love

Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) offered some unique and helpful insights about the Holy Spirit in his “Treatise on Grace.” Right now I’m reading Robert W. Caldwell’s study, Communion in the Spirit: The Holy Spirit as the Bond of Union in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards, where he probes the “Treatise” in his second chapter.

As Edwards properly noticed—and Caldwell agrees—at many points in the Bible the Holy Spirit seems like the forgotten member of the Trinity. The bond of the Father and the Son is often featured while the Spirit is nowhere to be seen. The Father is said to love the Son, and the Son loves the Father, but nowhere in the Bible do we read of the Father or the Son loving the Spirit.

Let me offer an extended citation from Caldwell’s study and then I’ll comment.

“Edwards’s presentation of the Holy Spirit as the immanent love of the Godhead underscores the ‘hiddenness’ of the Spirit in the immanent Trinity. Love by nature highlights the object of its gaze, and does not call attention to itself. In the Trinity, the Spirit ‘highlights’ God the Father’s beloved, the divine Son, as well as the Son’s beloved, the Father. He is the mediator of their communion, the bond of their love, and the sacred energy of their union. Consequently while he is equal in dignity with the other two, he remains hidden in the sense that he does not call attention to himself as divine love” [p.47].

The Spirit, in other words, is the bonding presence of the Godhead who communicates the Father’s love for the Son to the Son; and the Son’s response of reciprocal love to the Father. And in the process he’s happy to remain all but out of sight. At the heart of the Spirit’s unique role in the Godhead is his work in communicating love, so that the Spirit “is” the love between the Father and the Son.

Any number of thoughts may come to mind for readers who haven’t explored this portrayal of the Triune communion. The question always has to be, is this aligned with Scriptures? With that question in mind it’s useful to read 1 Corinthians 2 where we read that “no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit” who then offers them to those who love God. Edwards catches the implicit reality that this role is eternal and intrinsic to the Triune communion in the sharing between the Father and the Son.

In John 16 we catch another glimpse of the Spirit’s selfless work, “whatever he hears [within the Godhead] he will speak … [and] He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” In the course of this sharing the Spirit refuses to draw any attention to himself.

Edwards is following in the tradition here of Augustine of Hippo in labeling the Spirit as God’s love—so that in the Trinity the Father is the lover, the Son is the beloved, and the Spirit is the love between them. This fits with John’s statement that “God is love”—1 John 4:8&16—with God’s communion characterized by the Spirit’s bonding work. He is no less personal than the Father and the Son, but his divine activity is located elsewhere, as in his pouring out God’s love in hearts (Romans 5:5) as he draws all who receive that love into saving faith.

My reason for raising this subject again—it’s not at all new here—is to pick up on Caldwell’s statement, “Love by nature highlights the object of its gaze, and does not call attention to itself.”

It’s a true and convicting claim. If we ask the question today, what do people love? And then ask, with that, what are the images or objects that are most widely viewed today? The answer is that we won’t find God’s Spirit at work in bringing the Son to the forefront. “Selfies” are just one clue.

He—the Spirit who is “the love of God”—is still offering us God’s love in his eternally selfless role of disclosing true love, but fewer and fewer are responding. So “true” love—God’s own love—is now broken. Without a focus on Christ—whose sacrifice is the ultimate expression of selfless love, conceived by the Father and fulfilled by the Son—we lose our orientation to the way God made us.

We were, after all, created in God’s image and likeness, as those made to love and be loved—with our delighted gaze on the “other” defining that love. The first couple was created to enjoy the same mutual love of the Triune communion. It came by way of the Spirit’s bonding presence in them. But that bond was broken by the Fall. And with the Spirit’s departure from Adam’s soul came his recrimination—“it’s the woman you gave me!”—in place of the mutual and reciprocal love Adam and Eve once shared.

So now a survey of both marital and societal expectations today will find themes of self-concern as the new measure of relationships. Self-concerns have replaced selfless-devotion as thematic measures of life. Men and women are increasingly conflicted in knowing how to negotiate “fair”—that is, self-protective—relationships; and suspicion is central to this broken version of love.

The one benefit of broken love is that the appearance of God’s love in human relationships and in marriages, especially, will offer a dramatic contrast to the world. Jesus promised this in John 13:35—“ By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Real love—God’s love—is a reality that won’t exist without the Spirit’s bonding presence.

So may all of us who love Jesus – with the Spirit’s selflessness guiding our new gaze – come to share Paul’s testimony of love: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” [Gal. 2:20].



  1. Gretchen

    When I was first exposed to the idea that the Spirit is the bond of love between the Father and Son, it was like a bomb going off (in a positive way!) in my understanding of the Trinity and the Spirit’s role in our relationship with Christ. And, it absolutely fits with the whole of Scripture. I’d like to pose a question, just because I struggled with this initially and think other readers might as well: What does this mean about the “personhood” of the Spirit? We talk about the three persons of the Trinity, so if the Spirit is the bond of love, how can He still be a distinct person of the Trinity?

  2. R N Frost

    Thanks, Gretchen – it’s an important question. The answer is that our question about the Spirit’s integrity as a divine person is separate from the question of his unique role in the Godhead. And Edwards, with Augustine before him, address his personhood in ways that reassure us. I encourage readers to pursue them on the question. Or to read Caldwell who also takes it up.

    Let me say, at least, that these writers believe the Spirit is fully one with the Father and the Son – and, as such, he is just as personal as the Son and Father. But he is neither the Father or the Son, but he is the Spirit of both the Father and the Son; and he facilitates the divine communion. As such all that is “in God” is also in the Spirit. Recall, too, how the scriptures tell us the Spirit “drove” Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted (Mk 1:12); and he can be “grieved” – which are both distinctively personal qualities.

    A second side of your question touches on what we think when we read in 1 Jn 4 that “God is love.” If love is only an emotion the soul happens to feel at times, this is a nonsensical statement. But if, as Edwards believed, love is actually a label for the mutual communion of the Triune God that relies on the Spirit’s ‘back-and-forth’ activities, then we need to rethink what “love” means.

  3. Gretchen

    Thanks, Ron. This is really helpful. I’ll have to check out Caldwell’s book!

  4. R N Frost

    If you get it and read it I’ll look forward to your review! It is, just to warn you, a very slightly moderated PhD dissertation so it can be demanding at points. But I’m sure you’ll appreciate it.

  5. Gretchen

    Oh no…another dissertation! I barely survived reading yours! 🙂 Seriously, though, it sounds like it would be worth the wrestle. Thanks.

  6. Huw

    Yes, thanks Ron. This is such a helpful read.

    Just to clarify, from what you write above, is it correct to say that the promise of death (“you will surely die”) for the man and woman prior to their turning from God in Genesis 3 (which of course the serpent flatly denies – “you will not surely die”) is the death of not having, or losing the Spirit?

  7. R N Frost

    Yes, Huw, I see death as separation from God’s life in the Spirit. The controversy between God and the serpent in Genesis 3 doesn’t make this explicit, of course, but their difference is certainly one of disagreement about what constitutes death. If death only represents a cessation of physical animation then the serpent would be correct in telling the first couple, ‘you won’t die.’ Not, at least, in the ‘day’ of their eating.

    Yet as a Trinitarian believer I see the “image and likeness of God” of Genesis 1 pointing to the architecture of human couples as similarly triune. I.e. the “male and female” are “one” by their union with the Spirit – with the Spirit as the bond of union both between the husband and wife and between God and the male-and-female “man.” This may help make better sense of the problem Paul identified in 1 Cor. 7:14 and the NT rejection of remarriages as “adultery” (i.e. in bringing another person into an already established union of “one”).

    So, too, in John 3 Jesus made a clear distinction between life “of the flesh” and life “of the Spirit” as he confronted Nicodemus with the latter’s lack of life apart from the Spirit. So the Pharisee was a walking dead man.

    This, of course, entails some major questions about NT distinctions between the OT and the NT, given the onset of the Spirit’s unique ministry in the NT. But I don’t see such questions as unsurmountable issues. But I suspect you already knew that!

  8. Eric Wilgus

    “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the [c]Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” John 16:7 NASB

    Interesting that Jesus did not say Holy Spirit rather the comforting Counselor. Those are words people can understand because they are qualities and roles people relate to. Since I believe Jesus loves me, I can be sure that Intercessor will be for me and must love me. Therefore if Jesus and the Holy Spirit (Comforter) love me, certainly our Lord who sent them loves.

    “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth;
    For I am God, and there is no other.” Is 45:22 NASB

    “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” Num 23:19 NASB

    Since Jesus saves what did God mean by saying “no other”? Was he excluding Jesus and the Holy Spirit do we believe Adonai?

    c. John 16:7 Gr Paracletos, one called alongside to help; or Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor

    Great visiting today; lets keep in touch. Do you post your ministry schedule somewhere?

  9. R N Frost

    Thanks for engaging here, Eric. And for good fellowship over breakfast this morning!

    The range of reflections the Spirit invites are, I suppose, never ending! Thanks for noting his ministry as our ‘Comforter.’ As Edwards noted, his ministry is uniquely other-centered, isn’t it.

    As for the “no other” in Isaiah, it helps to assume our Triune God is in view when “God” is mentioned in such an exclusive comment (remembering that the Trinity doesn’t mean “3 gods in a community”). The context – that the various idols of the day are not real gods at all – keeps us from looking for Trinitarian insights in the text. That said, indications of the divinity of Isaiah’s redeeming Servant can be found elsewhere.

    About my schedule, I let my supporters know what I’m up to in monthly updates. And I’m happy to share as we cross paths at church: thanks for asking!

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