The Spirit of Power and Love: Jonathan Edwards and Pentecostals on the Spirit (and Holiness)

 

SPIRIT AS LOVE

Jonathan Edwards’s can assist Pentecostals to further develop their understanding of the Holy Spirit. Edwards believes that Scripture confirms his view that the Spirit is the love of God. 1 John 4:8 states that “God is love,” which implies, for Edwards, that “the divine nature and essence does subsist in love.” In the same chapter, verse 12 states that “if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us” and the previous chapter makes clear that God “abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us” (1 John 3:24, also 4:13).

In this passage, it seems that God’s love dwelling in believers and the Spirit dwelling in believers is the same thing. Hence, Edwards believes, this passage “confirms not only that the divine nature subsists in love, but also that this love is the Spirit, for it is the Spirit of God by which God dwells in his saints.”[1]

Aside from various discussions of implicit references to the Spirit throughout Scripture, Edwards observes that “scripture seems in many places to speak of love in Christians as if it were the same with the Spirit of God in them.”[2] For example: Romans 5:5—“God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (similarly, Col 1:8, 2 Cor 6:6, Phil 2:1).

PENTECOSTALS ON THE SPIRIT

Unlike Edwards who emphasizes that the Spirit is the love of God, Pentecostals have tended to associate the Spirit with power. In my youth, next to John 3:16, the verse that was most prominent in Pentecostal preaching was Acts 1:8: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”

One can find, nevertheless, some association of the Spirit and love Pentecostal theology. One testimony in the Apostolic Faith paper (published out of the Azusa St. Revival in the early 1900s) recounts an experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit saying, “Jesus and I are united. He baptized me with love.” Among contemporary Pentecostal theology, Frank Macchia contends that “Spirit baptism is a baptism into the love of God that sanctifies, renews, and empowers until Spirit baptism turns all of creation into the final dwelling place of God.”[3]

SPIRIT OF LOVE AND HOLINESS

Edwards’ emphasis on the Spirit as the love of God provides a foundation for Pentecostals to expand their view of Christian holiness beyond simply purity or a fleeing from “worldliness.”  For Edwards, the Spirit becomes the “vital principle” dwelling within believers and believers therefore participate in the nature of the Spirit, which is love. This union between the Spirit of love and Christians leads believers to affections and actions of love. The result, Edwards writes, is that “all creature holiness consists essentially and summarily in love to God and love to other creatures.”[4]


If you are interested, you can read Edwards himself for free online. Regarding the Spirit, I recommend starting here with Edwards’ Discourse on the Trinity, pages 121(bottom)-131.


 

[1] Jonathan Edwards, Discourse on the Trinity, 122.

[2] Jonathan Edwards, Treatise on Grace, 185.

[3] Frank Macchia, Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 60.

[4] Jonathan Edwards, Treatise on Grace, 186.

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One thought on “The Spirit of Power and Love: Jonathan Edwards and Pentecostals on the Spirit (and Holiness)

  1. I very much agree with the concept of love in this context. I would, however, continue to hold to my deep Pentecostal roots of speaking in tongues as being the “initial” evidence.

    However, as Christians, I believe our lives revolve around 2 constants: 1) power and 2) love.

    I’m not sure we can separate them as some are wont to do. But I am convinced that the love of God freely flows, and should, through both these constants in equal measure and at all times.

    He is the God of power (creation) and He is the God of love( the Cross). One without the other does not make sense.

    I think Edwards would agree.

    James