Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

The Metaphysics of Jonathan Edwards's End of Creation

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

The Metaphysics of Jonathan Edwards's End of Creation

Article excerpt

Jonathan Edwards's argumentation in his 1765 dissertation Concerning the End for which God Created the World entails a particular version of emanationism, dispositionalism, idealism, antiplatonism, panentheism, continuous creationism, and occasionalism.1 This paper briefly describes Edwards's argumentation for God's end and motive in creation then summarizes each of these seven positions and how they logically follow.2 My aims are to present a précis of Edwards's theory of God and creation only in so far as it is expressed in End of Creation. He addressed many of these issues early in his career.3 However, too often Edwards's metaphysics is summarized from what he wrote earlier in his life without giving adequate attention to this mature work. Hence, a secondary aim of this paper is to offer an important and timely corrective to this lacuna in Edwardsian scholarship as space permits. Whether Edwards changed or refined his views from the 1720s to 1755 is not at issue in this paper, nor are questions regarding the historical influences on his thought or to what extent theological terms that apply to medieval or early Reformed theologians may also apply to Edwards's view as contained in End of Creation. Finally, for all of his conceptual and logical rigor, Edwards warns that the deliverances of reason regarding God are imperfect at best. Scripture is the "surest" guide to the reality of what God actually is and does. Nevertheless, Edwards's philosophical argumentation is conceptually precise and deductively valid. If his assumptions and definitions are accepted, as he expected them to be, then whatever they entail must also be accepted.4


Jonathan Edwards holds that God's "internal glory" is the knowledge, holiness (love), and blessedness (joy and happiness) that characterize God's intratrinitarian life. In chapter 1 he argues that God's end in creating and sustaining the world is for this internal glory to exist in, and be lived out by a society of redeemed beings. God's motivation for this is from God's disposition to "share" his internal glory which itself is grounded in and directed by God's eternally-occurrent supreme regard for himself. The argument proceeds from three assumptions:

(1) God is absolutely self-sufficient and independent;

(2) Creation is ex nihilo; and

(3) God has an ultimate end in creating the world.

The first two are expressed in one crucial paragraph, "God is infinitely, eternally, unchangeably, and independently glorious and happy. ... The notion of God's creating the world ... implies a being's receiving its existence, and all that belongs to its being, out of nothing."5 Edwards's commitment to God's aseity is reaffirmed when he writes, "God's making himself his end, in the manner that has been spoken of, argues no dependence; but is consistent with absolute independence and self-sufficience."6

These assumptions, however, present Edwards with a widely-known conceptual problem. Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) who, being infamous among Christian and Jewish theologians for his unorthodox views of God, claims that any idea of God's acting for an end in creation coupled with the assumption that God is absolutely self-sufficient and independent will be incoherent.7 The concept of acting to achieve an end entails that one acts in order to gain something one does not already possess. This means that in acting to achieve his end in creation God must be seeking to satisfy some kind of necessity. If so, God must not be absolutely selfsufficient and independent as assumed. Conversely, if God is self-sufficient, then God's creating is not an act and there can be no purpose in it.

Although it may appear that some of Edwards's opponents were not aware of this problem of coherently affirming both divine aseity and divine action because their views clearly founder on it, there is ample evidence (direct and indirect) that Edwards was well informed of it from various sources and fully apprised of its significance. …

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