You & me together

The Spirit is God’s bond of love. It’s who he is and what he does. Yet he’s fully personal, with feelings, intentions, and actions. He prefers transparency in his role of elevating others, in forming union, and sustaining unity. So the Father loves the Son, and the Son in turn loves the Father, with the Spirit as the agent of this exchanged love—see 1 Corinthian 2 on this. His love is a dispositional quality that goes unnoticed by undisposed human hearts. But when a heart has the Spirit within through regeneration, a new union and unity with others forms.

Right now I’m rereading Robert W. Caldwell’s, Communion in the Spirit: The Holy Spirit as the Bond of Union in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards. And our first paragraph captures some of what Jonathan Edwards wrote about in A Treatise on Grace. The latter book is mainly focused on the Spirit as Edwards weaves love and grace together as the ministry of God’s Spirit “poured out” in Christian hearts. He follows Augustine’s focus of transformation based on Romans 5:5.

This may be unfamiliar turf, which is why I come back to it so often. Pneumatology is soft in most Christian circles, reflecting the modest attention devoted to him by early Church Councils. In the fourth and fifth centuries the Father, Son, and Trinity, were given more notice. So while the Spirit was recognized as a member of the Trinity, and as co-equal to the Father and Son, his role never gained the creedal depth of the other Triune figures.

A revival of Trinitarian theology in recent decades offered new attention, and with that more students now see how crucial the Spirit is to human faith. He is more than a source of spiritual enablement for the elect, or a power behind spiritual gifts. These emphases just don’t engage the Scriptures as well as Edwards did in the 18th century. Or as well as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, or Sibbes all did before him. These men elevated the Spirit for giving and sustaining communion with God. He makes believers “partakers of the divine nature” [2 Peter 1:4].

In this post I want to chase a key feature of Edwards’ theology. How the Spirit is crucial in the triune nature of God, and also in humans, as the basis of being. He gives true being (or “eternal reality”) by bonding “persons” to each other in unbroken unity. In each case there is one being, not three individuals. The Father and Son are “one”—as are a husband and wife. And, too, the “you and me” of believers are all “one” as members of Christ’s body, the church.

Here is Edwards.

“But the Spirit that proceeds from the Father and the Son is the bond of this union, as it [he] is of all holy union between the Father and the Son, and between God and the creature, and between creatures among themselves” [“Treatise on Grace,” in JE Works, 21:186]. The Spirit, in other words, is the basis for every eternal being, including God. Not as some sort of mortar that binds building blocks together, but as the communing agent of that union. This union is what constitutes “being.” And Satan, by contrast, who despises the Spirit and the Trinity, is an ”unbeing” who rules a realm called death (or “unlife”) that Adam entered, with his offspring.

These claims recognize that the Spirit makes us one by his presence. Without him we miss Christ’s claim in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is the Spirit poured out by God in human hearts as his saving grace. He is God’s union and communion. This insight discards notions of love as happy sentiments or emotions. Love may stir these qualities, but love’s real work is granting God’s eternal life—as the one who “is love” in 1 John 4, thus sharing this love—what Jesus affirmed in John 3:16.

We may struggle with this insight because of Adam’s residual “incurving” from the Fall. We instinctively view “being” as capacities and substance. As in God’s divine attributes; or in human functions of thinking, choosing, and communicating. God, then, consists in his many functions.

But such a commodified view of God misses his true state as “Spirit”—with the Father, Son (as Logos), and Spirit all existing “before the creation”—as an immaterial, communing Spiritual reality. Each is distinct in various eternal roles (God’s immanent being). The Father, for instance, is treated as fountainhead, the Son as image, and the Spirit as communion. Or, in Paul’s benediction of 2 Corinthians 13:14, we have the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit…” All are one, but with unique distinctions.

Jesus pointed to this in John 17:24—”Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” This “before” speaks of pre-creation reality. Of the non-embodied Triune communion. And we, with new bodies suited for this existence, will get to share “glory” with Jesus.

How? Jesus entered human life by being formed in Mary by the Spirit. And we, too, enter his spiritual life by the Spirit’s formative work. And following death, we continue with him “in Christ” by the Spirit who unites us with Jesus and his eternal life. Our life, in other words, goes forward by the Spirit as we’re “born again” in Jesus by the Spirit, in accord with the Father’s love.

Jonathan Edwards addressed all this, yet it’s not what I learned in my student days. Only when I started to read Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, and then later figures in the Augustinian spiritual tradition in my doctoral studies did this biblical portrayal emerge. The seventeenth century English Puritan, Richard Sibbes, was my main mentor. And the Bible is their shared resource.

Yet the role of the Spirit still fights for attention. Why? I see how the theology of Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) is an ongoing problem. He tried to blend Aristotle’s God with Augustine’s God. And it doesn’t work. Aristotle’s God lacks the Son, the Spirit, and the Spirit’s bond of love. And it uses a caricature of the Father. Thomas affirmed the Trinity but he needed to mesh it with Aristotle’s substance ontology—as we find in Aristotle’s Metaphysics. This undermined the narrative of God in the Bible and his relational ontology. This involved bad logic—as in citing God as the “unmoved mover”—when Paul’s ministry was moved by God’s active love. The mutual movements of love are behind the communion of “glory” Christ enjoyed before the creation. The God who “is love” is eternally moving in his triune love, in place of the unmoved solidity of Aristotle’s attribute-based God. An alternative spirit is at work here; one who deceives and devours souls in opposition to the true Spirit who gives life and sustains God’s love forever.

The title of this post, “You and me together,” speaks of believers having a Triune God who shares his love with us and who forms our lives in a “one another” existence, and not as lonely “individuals.” We are known by our love. We keep in step with the Spirit whose fruit in our lives is God’s love. And our present bond of mutual love anticipates the glory Jesus will share with us forever. So, let’s thank God for his free grace: the indwelling Spirit who unites us with Jesus.


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