Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Thorny Issue: Excursus

I have really enjoyed reading Michael’s posts on this “thorny issue” in Edwards’s thought regarding the new spiritual sense he speaks of in A Divine and Supernatural Light. In the last post, Michael called our attention to Fiering’s line that this new spiritual sense is “an infused habit that is identical to holy love and holiness” (Norman S. Fiering, Jonathan Edwards's Moral Thought and Its British Context, 126).

As Michael said, this is an important line to understand. I want to focus on the latter half of the statement, that this infused habit “is identical to love and holiness.” I’ve been reading through Edwards’s Letters and Personal Writings, volume 16 in the Yale series, and there is a particular letter that I think can help further illumine the question at hand.

In letter 66, “To an Unknown Correspondent” (Works, 16, 199-203), Edwards responds to several questions raised by his recent publication of Religious Affections. One of these questions deals with Edwards’s view of the Christian’s partaking of the divine nature as stated in 2 Peter 1:4. In this particular instance, Edwards is responding to a misunderstanding by this unknown correspondent who had taken Edwards’s saying that the Spirit communicates himself to the human’s soul in the Spirit’s “own proper nature” (201; this phraseology is also included in the quotation in Michael’s third post) as equaling the Spirit’s communicating or transferring his very essence to the human soul.

Edwards responds by drawing a distinction between the ideas of nature and essence, concluding that, “That property which is natural to anyone and is eminently his character, I think, is, without abuse of language or going cross to the common use of it, called his proper nature, though [it] is not just the same with his essence” (202). He moves on to put forth that holiness is the attribute which gets closest to the idea of the very nature of the Holy Spirit, and this for two reasons:

“(1) As ‘tis his peculiar beauty and glory and so may in a special manner be called his nature, as brightness may in a peculiar manner be said to be the nature of the sun, and [as] that which is in a peculiar manner the nature of honey is its sweetness. (2) ‘Tis the proper character of the Spirit above all other things, in that office and work of his wherein we are concerned with him. This is that in his nature which he especially manifests and exercises in his office, acts, and operations towards us; and therefore this in his nature is singled out from all other things to denote him by, as he is revealed [to] us; so his name by which he is called in Scripture is the Holy Ghost. And this is that in his nature which he communicates something of to the saints.” (202-203).

So Edwards sees this new spiritual sense as a communication of the very nature of the Holy Spirit to the human. This communication of nature is not to be confused with a communication of the divine essence anymore than rays of light and heat from the sun are a communication of the essence, or being, of the sun to that upon which they fall. Rather, when this “divine and supernatural light” is “immediately imparted to the soul,” it is the communication of the holiness of the Holy Spirit through which the person becomes a partaker of the divine nature, though “immensely less in degree” (303).

This look at the communication of the nature of the Holy Spirit doesn’t answer the question of the nature of the communication of the same, but I think it could be a good jumping off point, particularly in light of Fiering’s comment above. That the infused habit is identical to holy love or holiness becomes more profound and clear when it is understood that it is the very holiness of the Holy Spirit, not some other thing which is merely akin to his holiness, that is communicated or infused to the person. How this holiness is actually communicated to the soul and how the immediate nature of this communication occurs I will leave to Michael.


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