A Hearth on Fire
I have recently finished Fred Sanders’ excellent book on the Trinity entitled The Deep Things of God. It is one of the best I have read on a truth that “changes everything” (as the subtitle suggests) but a truth that most Christians place on the outer fringe of what their faith is about or their minds can comprehend. Sanders does a remarkable job of leading us past all the red herrings and through all the false bottoms that so often prevent us from seeing how central, and how comprehensible this doctrine truly is. I would encourage you to get it and read it!
The part of the book that prompted this blog post, however, was a journal entry Sanders records from Susanna Wesley. He brings in evangelical witnesses throughout the book to help us see how the theology he is discussing has played out in history. Here is Susanna’s entry in her devotional journal from around 1711:
Consider the infinite boundless goodness of the ever blessed Trinity! Adore the stupendous mystery of divine love! That God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost should all concur in the work of man’s redemption! What but pure goodness could move or excite God, who is perfect essential blessedness! That cannot possibly receive any accession of perfection or happiness from His creatures. What, I say, but love, but goodness, but infinite incomprehensible love and goodness could move Him to provide such a remedy for the fatal lapse of his sinful unworthy creatures?
The point of reflection that brought forth this private praise was the connection she saw between the self-sufficiency of God as Trinity and the graciousness of grace – His reaching out to us in total freedom. She then turns, in a 1737 letter, to exhort a friend with a similar theme:
Join with me in adoring the infinite and incomprehensible love of God. He is the great God…the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity and created not angels and men because He wanted them, for He is being itself, and as such must necessarily be infinitely happy in the glorious perfections of His nature from everlasting to everlasting; and as He did not create, so neither did He redeem because He needed us; but He loved us because He loved us, He would have mercy because He would have mercy.
This well-formed Trinitarian theology even leads her to accuse the famous Aristotle of falling into error when he argues that the world must have existed eternally along with God. She reflected that, “This error seems grounded on a true notion of the goodness of God [which Aristotle] truly supposes must eternally be communicating good to something or other.” It is true, in other words, that the Supreme Being is infinitely good and that His goodness is of such a kind to be always inclined to give itself away to others. Without any further information, this understanding would demand a co-eternal world to be the recipient of God’s self-giving goodness. Susanna found this idea totally unacceptable, however, because the Bible provides further revelation!
It was his [Aristotle’s] want of the knowledge of revealed religion that led him into [this error]. For had he ever heard of that great article of our Christian faith concerning the Holy Trinity, he had then perceived the almighty Goodness eternally communicating being and all the fullness of the Godhead to the divine Logos, His uncreated Word, between whose existence and that of the Father there is not one moment assignable.
Susanna makes her point very well! My point, however, in highlighting these three quotes is a more general one – it is to stir you to regular and rigorous and recorded theological reflection by her example! Think about this: the author of these quotes was a full-time homeschooling mother of 19 children (though 9 died as infants)! Much of what she wrote was not for publication in papers, letters, or books, but would remain in the privacy of her devotional journal. This means the depth of reflection that led to these worshipful insights was not because it was her profession (as a professor or pastor) and not because it was for publication. She read and reflected and wrote to feed her own soul on the greatness and graciousness of God! And she wrote, no doubt, to feed the souls of her own children out of the overflow of what she saw – little John being around 7 years old when she penned these thoughts.
It would a terrible thing, especially for the mothers among us, whom I hope most to encourage in this post, to feel pressured by this example to replicate Susanna’s ability. There is nothing innately spiritual about 18th century language or skirmishing with great philosophers! It would be no less devastating for the men to attempt to reproduce the ministry of her youngest sons, John and Charles! Unrealistic expectation and pressure – leading to despair – is what I hope doesn’t happen! What I hope will happen as a result of sitting with the fruit of Susanna’s thinking is, first, that you will catch a glimpse of the connection between God’s greatness in Himself and His goodness toward you! The gospel has a Trinitarian foundation! Get Sanders’ book and dive in!
But second, and most important, I hope Susanna’s example will stir you up and strengthen your resolve to think regular, careful, worshipful thoughts about the God of the Bible. Let Susanna’s example teach you that He is worthy of that kind of rigorous worship, whether or not what it produces ever sees the light of publication. And let her example stir you to think these thoughts with your pen in your hand so when the doorbell rings or the diaper has to be changed or the dog needs to be let out, you can come back and pick up later right where you left off. What might God be pleased to show us, and to show our children through us, if we pressed into the revelation He makes of Himself in His Word in this “Wesleyan” way?