Van Mastricht, Edwards, and the Economic Trinity
In a letter to his disciple, Joseph Bellamy, Jonathan Edwards praised Petrus Van Mastrict's Theologia Theoretico-Practica as being "much better than...any other Book in the world, excepting the Bible, in my opinion."1
I have long wanted to compare Mastricht's theology with that of Edwards' in order to see where the scholastic theologian of the Great Awakening was influenced by the great scholastic theologian of the Dutch Second Reformation. As I have been reading through volume 2 of Mastricht's work, I have been struck by the way in which both men constantly dealt with the importance of the economic Trinity. For instance, Edwards dealt extensively with the idea of the economic Trinity when speaking of the ad extra work of God in redemption. In his 1746 sermon, "Of God the Father," Edwards wrote,
"The three persons of the Trinity, in the great affair of our redemption, act as a society united to carry on a great affair; and as a society that has an established order in it...one being chief and head of the society and others in their order subject and dependent. There is one of ’em that is first in the affair and head of all; another acts as second in the affair and as an intermediate person between the first and the last; the other acts as last and as subject to, and dependent on, the other two. There is this order [that] is observed by the persons of the Trinity in their acting in all affairs appertaining to the glory of the Godhead [and the] creation of the world. But it is more especially conspicuous in the affair of man’s redemption. The persons of the Trinity thus acting as a society in an established order is what divines call the “economy of the persons of the Trinity,” comparing it to the order of a family. The word “economy” signifies family order."2
The idea that the persons in the Godhead are ordered in such a way in the work of redemption as to reflect an order of a family or society comes directly out of Van Mastrciht's section on "The Most Holy Trinity" (Theoretical Practical Theology, vol. 2). In entry 482 of his Miscellanies, Edwards relays his dependance on Mastricht. He wrote,
"Concerning the Economy of the Persons of the Trinity and the Church’s Communion with God. See Mastricht, Lib. II, cap. 24, § 11."3
Interestingly, the three editors (Beeke, Rester and Todd) of the new edition of Van Mastricht translation make the following important observation:
"By his own testimony (1.2.24. XI) Mastricht differs from his contemporaries in his more thorough treatment of the Trinitarian economy, which is woven into his broader consideration of God's personal subsistence in chapters 24-27. It is particularly striking how he describes the three persons as members of a familia, a "household" (broader than the English "family"), all having within the household economy, according to their distinct modes of subsisting, distinct economic offices, periods, attributes, and worship. He uses this teaching to answer questions in Trinitarian theology found vexing even today, and also to encourage believers to serve the divine persons with distinct devotion according to their distinct economy."
When he came to address the doctrine of the Trinity, Mastricht wasted no time in setting out his thoughts on the economic relation in which each person of the Godhead stands to one another. After speaking about the economic role of the Son in the work of redemption, he wrote the following about God the Father,
"In the economy, in which He is Lord, Creator, Lawgiver, and Father of the household, the Father is throughout Scripture called "God" by appropriation. Moreover, He is God not only with respect to men, nor only with respect to Christ as man or as the Mediator, the God-man, but also with respect to Christ as the Son, by reason of the order of subsisting, and especially with respect to the redemptive office, by which in the counsel of peace He was made a debtor to the Father for the guilt of the elect, and thus subject to him, as to God."4
Throughout the remainder of his section on "The Most Holy Trinity," Mastricht parsed, in great detail, distinctions and cautions that we must keep in mind as we discuss so important a subject. Having listed the many Scriptures that speak of the distinct economic tasks of the three persons, he gave the following two vital cautions:
"This distribution of the economic task requires a twin caution:
(1) That it be understood to have been made without any dependence or essential inequality, as we have already taught from John 5:26; (cf. v. 23; Phil. 2:6-7), though we do see that a sort of economic inequality results from it (John 14:28). And thus, (2) each person has this economic office of his own not by excluding the other persons. For which reason not only the Father, but also the rest of the persons, are Creator (Psalm 33:6), and not only is the Father called Judge (Gen. 17:25), but also the Son (John 5:22-23; 2 Thess. 1:7-8). Therefore, the ad extra operations, on account of the fact that they flow from the essence, are undivided, and they are worked only in a mode or order that is diverse."5
A reading of Mastricht on the economic roles and relations of each person of the Godhead yields a wealth of insight into the teaching of Scripture on the distinct operation of each person, while defining and defending the biblical teaching about the one indivisible divine essence of each person in the Godhead. It would aid the ministry and mission of the church, if pastors would steep themselves in both Mastricht and Edwards to gain a greater understanding of the importance of the economic Trinity.
1 Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society (Boston: The Society, 1902) p. 13
2. Jonathan Edwards, The “Miscellanies”: (Entry Nos. A–z, Aa–zz, 1–500) in The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2002), 524.
3. Jonathan Edwards, “Of God the Father,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2006), 146.
4. Petrus Van Mastricht Theoretical-Practical Theology (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2019) vol.2, p. 499
5. Ibid., p. 506