Jonathan Edwards on the Oeconomy of the Trinity

From Observations Concerning the Scripture Oeconomy of the Trinity, and Covenant of Redemption (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1880), 21-36. Quoted in Reformed Reader, edited by William Stacy Johnson and John H. Leith. Text taken from here. (Update: I found it here too. See also here.)


We should be careful that we do not go upon uncertain grounds, and fix uncertain determinations in things of so high a nature. The following things seem to be what we have pretty plain reason to determine with respect to those things.

  1. That there is a subordination of the Persons of the Trinity, in their actings with respect to the creature ; that one acts from another, and under another, and with a dependance on another, in their actings, and particularly in what they act in the affairs of man’s redemption. So that the Father in that affair acts as Head of the Trinity, and the Son under Him, and the Holy Spirit under them both.
  2. It is very manifest, that the Persons of the Trinity are not inferiour one to another in glory and excellency of nature. The Son, for instance, is not inferiour to the Father in glory; for He is the brightness of His glory, the very image of the Father, the express and perfect image of His person. And therefore the Father’s infinite happiness is in Him, and the way that the Father enjoys the glory of the deity is in enjoying Him. And though there be a priority of subsistence, and a kind of dependance of the Son, in His subsistence, on the Father ; because with respect to His subsistence, He is wholly from the Father and is begotten by Him ; yet this is more properly called priority than superiority, as we ordinarily use such terms. There is dependance without inferiority of deity; be- cause in the Son the deity, the whole deity and glory of the Father, is as it were repeated or duplicated. Every thing in the Father is repeated, or expressed again, and that fully : so that there is properly no inferiority.
  3. From hence it seems manifest, that the other Persons’ acting under the Father does not arise from any natural subjection, as we should understand such an expression accord- ing to the common idiom of speech ; for thus a natural subjection would be understood to imply either an obligation to compliance and conformity to another as a superiour and one more excellent, and so most worthy to be a rule for another to conform to ; or an obligation to conformity to another’s will, arising from a dependence on another’s will for being or well-being. But neither of these can be the case with respect to the Persons of the Trinity, for one is not superiour to another in excellency : neither is one in any respect dependant on another’s will for being or well- being. For though one proceeds from an- other, and so may be said to be in some respects dependant on another, yet it is no dependance of one on the will of another. For it is no voluntary, but a necessary proceeding ; and therefore infers no proper subjection of one to the will of another.
  4. Though a subordination of the Persons of the Trinity in their actings, be not from any proper natural subjection one to another, and so must be conceived of as in some respect established by mutual free agreement, whereby the Persons of the Trinity, of their own will, have as it were formed themselves into a society, for carrying on the great design of glorifying the deity and communi- cating its fulness, in which is established a certain oeconomy and order of acting; yet this agreement establishing this Oeconomy is not to be looked upon as meerly arbitrary, founded on nothing but the meer pleasure of the members of this society; nor meerly a determination and constitution of wisdom come into from a view to certain ends which it is very convenient for the obtaining. But there is a natural decency or fitness in that order and oeconomy that is established. It is fit that the order of the acting of the Per- sons of the Trinity should be agreeable to the order of their subsisting. That as the Father is first in the order of subsisting, so He should be first in the order of acting. That as the other two Persons are from the Father in their subsistence, and as to their sub- sistence naturally originated from Him and are dependant on Him ; so that in all that they act they should originate from Him, act from Him and in a dependance on Him. That as the Father with respect to the subsistences is the Fountain of the deity, wholly and entirely so ; so He should be the fountain in all the acts of the deity. This is fit and decent in itself. Though it is not proper to say, decency obliges the Persons of the Trinity to come into this order and oeconomy ; yet it may be said that decency requires it, and that therefore the Persons of the Trinity all consent to this order, and establish it by agreement, as they all naturally delight in what is in itself fit, suitable and beautiful. Therefore,
  5. This order or oeconomy of the Persons of the Trinity with respect to their actions ad extra, is to be conceived of as prior to the covenant of redemption : as we must con- ceive of God’s determination to glorify and communicate Himself as prior to the method that His wisdom pitches upon as tending best to effect this. For God’s determining to glorify and communicate Himself must be conceived of as flowing from God’s nature ; or we must look upon God from the infinite fullness and goodness of His nature, as natu- rally disposed to cause the beams of His glory to shine forth, and His goodness to flow forth, yet we must look on the particu- lar method that shall be chosen by divine wisdom to do this as not so directly and im- mediately owing to the natural disposition of the divine nature, as the determination of wisdom intervening, choosing the means of glorifying that disposition of nature. We must conceive of God’s natural inclination as being exercised before wisdom is set to work to find out a particular excellent method to gratify that natural inclination. Therefore this particular invention of wisdom, of God’s glorifying and communicating Himself by the redemption of a certain number of fallen inhabitants of this globe of earth, is a thing diverse from God’s natural inclination to glo- rify and communicate Himself in general, and superadded to it or subservient to it. And therefore, that particular constitution or covenant among the Persons of the Trinity about this particular affair, must be looked upon as in the order of nature after that dis- position of the Godhead to glorify and com- municate itself, and so after the will of the Persons of the Trinity to act, in so doing, in that order that is in itself fit and decent, and what the order of their subsisting requires. We must distinguish between the covenant of redemption, that is an establishment of wisdom wonderfully contriving a particular method for the most conveniently obtaining a great end, and that establishment that is founded in fitness and decency and the nat- ural order of the eternal and necessary sub- sistance of the Persons of the Trinity. And this must be conceived of as prior to the other. It is evident by the Scripture, that there is an eternal covenant between some of the Persons of the Trinity, about that particular affair of men’s redemption ; and therefore that some things that appertain to the par- ticular office of some of the Persons and their particular order and manner of acting in this affair, do result from a particular new- agreement; and not meerly from the order already fixed in a preceding establishment founded in the nature of things, together with the new determination of redeeming mankind. There is something else new be- sides a new particular determination of a work to be done for God’s glorying and com- municating Himself. There is a particular covenant entered into about that very affair, settling something new concerning the part that some at least of the Persons are to act in that affair.
  6. That the Oeconomy of the Persons of the Trinity, establishing that order of their acting that is agreeable to the order of their subsisting, is entirely diverse from the covenant of redemption and prior to it, not only appears from the nature of things ; but ap- pears evidently from the Scripture, being plainly deduced from the following things evidently collected thence.
    1. It is the determination of God the Father, whether there shall be any such thing admitted as redemption of sinners. It is His law, majesty and authority, as supreme Ruler, Legislatour and Judge, that is contemned. He is every where represented as the Per- son who, (in the place that He stands in among the Persons of the Trinity), is espe- cially injured by sin, and who is therefore the Person whose wrath is enkindled, and whose justice and vengeance are to be executed, and must be satisfied. And therefore, it is at His will and determination whether He will on any terms forgive sinners; and so whether there shall be any redemption of them allowed any more than of fallen angels. But we must conceive of the determination that a redemp- tion shall be allowed for fallen men, as pre- ceding the covenant or agreement of the Persons of the Trinity relating to the particular manner and means of it; and conse- quently, that the Father, who determines whether a redemption shall be allowed or no, acts as the Head of the society of the Trin- ity, and in the capacity of supreme Lord and one that sustains the dignity and maintains the rights of the Godhead antecedently to the covenant of redemption ; and consequently, that that Oeconomy by which He stands in this capacity is prior to that covenant.
    2. Nothing is more plain from Scripture than that the Father chooses the Person that shall be the Redeemer, and appoints Him ; and that the Son has His authority in His office wholly from Him : which makes it evi- dent, that that Oeconomy by which the Father is Head of the Trinity, is prior to the cove- nant of redemption. For He acts as such in the very making of that covenant, in choos- ing the Person of the Redeemer to be cove- nanted with about that work. The Father is the Head of the Trinity, and is invested with a right to act as such, before the Son is in- vested with the office of a Mediator. Because the Father, in the exercise of His Headship, invests the Son with that office. By which it is evident, that that establishment, by which the Father is invested with His character as Head of the Trinity, precedes that which in- vests the Son with His character of Media- tor; and therefore precedes the covenant of redemption; which is the establishment that invests the Son with that character. If the Son were invested with the office of a media- tor by the same establishment and agreement of the Persons of the Trinity by which the Father is invested with power to act as Head of the Trinity, then the Father could not be said to elect and appoint the Son to His office of Mediator, and invest Him with au- thority for it, any more than the Son elects and invests the Father with His character of Head of the Trinity ; or any more than the Holy Ghost elects both the Son and the Father to their several oeconomical offices ; and the Son would receive His powers to be a mediator no more from the Father, than from the Holy Ghost. Because in this scheme it is supposed, that, prior to the covenant of re- demption, all the Persons act as upon a level, and each Person, by one common agreement in that covenant of redemption, is invested with His proper office; the Father with that of Head, the Son with that of Mediator, the Spirit with that of common emissary and con- summatour of the designs of the other two. So that by this supposition no one has His office by the particular appointment of any one singly, or more than another; but all alike by common consent ; there being no antecedent establishment giving one any power or Headship over another, to author- ize or appoint another.
    3. That the forementioned Oeconomy of the Persons of the Trinity is diverse from all that is established in the covenant of redemp- tion and prior to it, is further confirmed by this, that this Oeconomy remains after the work of redemption is finished, and every thing appertaining to it brought to its ulti- mate consummation, and the Redeemer shall present all that were to be redeemed to the Father in perfect glory, having His work compleatly finished upon them, and so shall resign up that dominion that He received of the Father subservient to this work, agree- ably to what had been stipulated in the cove- nant of redemption. Then the oeconomical order of the Persons of the Trinity shall yet remain, whereby the Father acts as Head of the society and supreme Lord of all, and the Son and the Spirit [shall be] 1 subject unto Him. Yea, this oeconomical order shall not only remain, but shall then and on that occa- sion become more visible and conspicuous, and the establishment of things by the cove- nant of redemption shall then, as it were, give place to this Oeconomy as prior; for thus the apostle represents the matter, 1 Cor. xv. 24- 28. ” Then cometh the end when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He shall have put down all rule, and all authority, and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For He hath put all things under His feet. But when He saith all things are put under Him, it is manifest wards to Him, were not prior to the covenant in which these promises are made and these things made over, the Father could have no power to make such promises, and grant such things to the Son : nor would it be done by the Father any more than by the Holy Spirit ; for it would be done equally by all the Per- sons of the Trinity acting conjunctly.