Jonathan Edwards & C.S. Lewis on the Holy Spirit

As theologians wrote on the Trinity throughout Church history the centrality of the Trinity has become clearer and clearer. One such trinitarian model, the psychological model, came to the surface.[1] Joe Rigney does a wonderful job of explaining this view of the Trinity stating that “in the Godhead, there is God in His direct existence (Father), God’s self reflection or contemplation of Himself (Son), and God’s love and delight for Himself (Holy Spirit)…there is God, God’s idea of God, and God’s love for His idea of Himself.”[2] Before you write this view of the Trinity off as crazy, too perplexing, or even a kind of teaching taken from the psychologist Freud (which it’s not!), take note of the following passages. Colossians 1:15 says Jesus is the ‘image of the invisible God’ and Hebrews 1:3 says Jesus is the exact imprint (or representation) of God’s nature. This is why Jesus says when you’ve seen Him you really have seen the Father (John 14:7-11). Taking these passages together we understand that for all eternity God has had an image of Himself. This image is the exact imprint or representation of His nature. Because this image of God is the exact imprint of God it has pleased God to make known the glories and beauty of His own character to the world through this image, which is His Son.

What then do we make of the Holy Spirit in this description of the Trinity? The Spirit, in the above paragraph is described as ‘God’s love for His idea of Himself.’ Or to say it another way the Spirit is the very love and delight which the Father and the Son have in each other. This love that flows between the Father and the Son is deep and infinite and wonderful and exuberant. Jesus Himself speaks of this love when He mentions the ‘glory’ the Father gave Him because He loved Him before the foundation of the world in John 17:24. This love, flowing back and forth between Father and Son, is so substantial that it stands out on its own as the third Person in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. That love then bursts out of the fellowship of the Father and Son and pours over onto us at the moment of conversion. We see this in Romans 5:5 when it says “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” It is the Spirit who is the very love of God which, from being poured into us, brings all of God’s delight in God into the soul of man.

Many theologians through history have described the Spirit like this. In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis expressed it like this, “The union between the Father and the Son is such a live concrete thing that this union itself is also a Person. I know this is almost inconceivable, but look at it thus. You know that among human beings, when they get together in a family, or a club, or a trade union, people talk about the ‘spirit’ of that family, club, or trade union. They talk about its ‘spirit’ because the individual members, when they are together, do really develop particular ways of talking and behaving which they would not have if they were apart. It is as if a sort of communal personality came into existence. Of course, it is not a real person: it is only rather like a person. But that is just one of the differences between God and us. What grows out of the joint life of the Father and the Son is a real Person, is in fact the Third of the three Persons who are God. This Third Person is called, in technical language, the Holy Ghost or the ‘spirit’ of God. Do not be worried or surprised if you find it (or Him) rather vaguer or more shadowy in your mind than the other two. I think there is a reason why that must be so. In the Christian life you are not usually looking at Him. He is always acting through you. If you think of the Father as something ‘out there’, in front of you, and of the Son as someone standing at your side, helping you to pray, trying to turn you into another son, then you have to think of the third Person as something inside you, or behind you…God is love, and that love works through men-especially through the whole community of Christians. But this spirit of love is, from all eternity, a love going on between the Father and the Son.”[3]

Jonathan Edwards said it like this years before Lewis did in his own Puritan manner. “The Godhead being thus begotten by God’s loving an idea of Himself and shewing forth in a distinct subsistence or person in that idea, there proceeds a most pure act, and an infinitely holy and sacred energy arises between the Father and Son in mutually loving and delighting in each other, for their love and joy is mutual, Proverbs 8:30 – “I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him.” This is the eternal and most perfect and essential act of the divine nature, wherein the Godhead acts to an infinite degree and in the most perfect manner possible. The Deity becomes all act, the Divine essence itself flows out and is, as it were, breathed forth in love and joy. So that the Godhead therein stands forth in yet another manner of subsistence, and there proceeds the third person in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, viz. the deity in act, for there is no other act but the act of the will.”[4]

Edwards went on to conclude the following about the Trinity as a whole, “The Father is the deity subsisting in the prime, unoriginated and most absolute manner, or the deity in its direct existence. The Son is the deity generated by God’s understanding, or having an idea of Himself and subsisting in that idea. The Holy Ghost is the deity subsisting in act, or the divine essence flowing out and breathed forth in God’s infinite love to and delight in Himself. And I believe the whole Divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the Divine idea and Divine love, and that each of them are distinct persons.”[5]

Since the Holy Spirit is the love which flows out from and breathes forth between the Father and the Son, see the beauty in Jesus’ words in John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” In context ‘these things’ refers to all Jesus taught in 15:1-10, but the substance of Edwards and Lewis and all we’ve mentioned before fits within this statement as well. The reason our joy is full is because the joy Jesus gives to and places within us, is none other than the Holy Spirit Himself. So be encouraged, and behold our God. Look at the Father: infinite in His wisdom, wondrous in His majesty, and perfect in His purpose. Look at the Son: humble in His incarnation and death, exalted in His resurrection and ascension, and ever faithful in His intercession for us. And look at the Spirit enlightening in His illumination, consoling in His comfort, strengthening in His sanctifying support.

[1] This model is described in the writings of Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, and even shows up in C.S. Lewis on a few occasions, I first read of it in Joe Rigney’s book The Things of Earth, page 37-39.

[2] Joe Rigney, The Things of Earth, page 37

[3] Lewis, Mere Christianity, page 175-176.

[4] Edwards, An Essay on the Trinity, page 108.

[5] Edwards, An Essay on the Trinity, page 118.

9 thoughts on “Jonathan Edwards & C.S. Lewis on the Holy Spirit

  1. Both are profound descriptions of the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity. But they fall short in the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer (which, I’m sure was not their intention to comment on).

  2. Seems strange to describe the Holy Spirit as the personification of the love between the Father and the Son. That would mean that the Spirit is a by product of their relationship; that He cannot exist on His own? Am I missing something here?

    1. Hey Michael,
      I understand there might be confusion at this point. Some believe this position I’ve discussed teaches that the Holy Spirit was created at a particular time by the Father and the Son. Some believe this position teaches a kind of subordinationism within the Trinity, that the Father is the fountainhead of both the Son and the Spirit. Others believe this position teaches the Holy Spirit is more like a kind of ‘force’ than a Person among the Godhead. Still others believe these theologians, though well intended, are pressing into areas of theological knowledge we simply cannot know and should not pursue. Because of these common perceptions about the psychological model/analogy it has become something of a minority position in our present day amid Trinitarian thought even though it was not a minority position within the history of the Church. There are cautions to take note of in each of these thoughts, but I still think there’s much for us learn. This post intends to explain what the role of the Person of the Spirit is among the Trinitarian community. Before discussing who the Holy Spirit is for us, in us, or through us it’s fitting we first discuss the Spirit’s role in relation to the rest of the Godhead. This pattern of discussing the nature of the inter-Trinitarian relationships among themselves before discussing the nature of the Trinitarian relationship with mankind is, at present, more of an Eastern theological method than a Western method. But we would do well to remember this analogy was first developed by the father of western civilization, Augustine. If Augustine, on this point, was correct perhaps we’re in need of an adjustment today and should return to more historically minded theology.


  3. An easy way to clarify this is to look at the nature of God’s love. Since He and the Son have always existed, and God is immutable, His love for Himself has always existed and never changed, the Spirit would also be eternal and exist in His own right. Its not like a watchmaker, who has to put the pieces together one by one, which then assembles the watch. The Father, Son and Spirit have existed eternally. Which means The love of God for Himself (the Spirit) has always been there as well. This would not be a byproduct because that would mean He was created.
    Its impossible to fully comprehend this with our finite minds though.

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