The Excellencies of God - Part II
Typical of Edwards’ preaching style was to follow the exposition of some doctrine with the application, or what he often called the “improvement”. This is especially needful when the doctrine is the excellencies of God, for such are the “foundation of all religion” (425). If we don’t “believe the perfections of God, we shall never worship him and love him as he ought to be worshipped and loved” (425).
Edwards proceeds to cite seven “uses” of this doctrine of God. Again, I’ll try to be brief in my summation of them.
First, if God is such an excellent being “how dreadful is sin against [him]” (426). This is an important point, for it serves as the foundation for Edwards’ doctrine of the reality of eternal punishment. Opponents of the latter are often heard to say, “How can God punish infinitely that which is finite?” Ah, says Edwards, you fail to see that “the aggravations of sin are really infinite, infinite in greatness and almost infinite in number, for it is committed against an infinitely great and powerful God, one that has infinite authority: this alone is an infinite aggravation of sin, but then it is committed also against an infinitely lovely and excellent God” (426). It is the nature of God, then, that renders every sin “an infinite evil” (426).
Second, “how dreadful must his wrath be!” (426) Though unpopular, God’s wrath is not for that reason unreal. “Without doubt, it makes God angry to see that he is slighted, and his laws trampled upon, by poor dust and ashes that he has made, and that depend upon him for life and breath and all things” (426). “O what is a worm, to bear the weight of the anger of so great a being?” (427)
Before I address the third application, let me confess what many of you already know: I probably go a bit overboard when it comes to Jonathan Edwards! But it’s his fault. If he didn’t consistently make such profound and eternally significant statements, I wouldn’t go overboard in drawing your attention to them. That said, here’s another. In fact, this has to rank in the top three or four utterances I’ve ever read in his writings. It is deserving of far more attention than I can give it here. It comes in the form of his third application and consists of but one paragraph:
“How hath he honored us, in that he hath made us to glorify and enjoy him to all eternity; how are we dignified by our Maker, who hath made us for so high and excellent an end! He has made other creatures for his own glory, but they are passive in it: the sun glorifies God by shining, and the trees by growing, and all things by performing the laws of nature which God has given them. But God has made us actually to glorify, to behold his excellencies and to admire them, and to be made forever happy in the enjoyment of them” (427).
Why is this so profound? I suggest you purchase John Piper’s new book entitled, “God is the Gospel” (Crossway) and you will find out. The entire book is the attempt to unpack the meaning and implications for Christian life of that first sentence. If you ask the average Christian, “How do you know God loves you?” they will often be heard to say something along the lines of: “Because he goes to such great lengths to make much of me. He enhances my sense of self-esteem;” etc. This is the typical notion of love: you are loved when someone makes much of you, when they make sacrifices or toil to elevate you and honor you.
But listen again to what Edwards said. Let me paraphrase it. “Here is how God has honored us: he has made us and gone to indescribable lengths with great pain to himself to enable us to enjoy him forever. This is the dignity God has bestowed on us, not that he makes much of us but that he graciously supplies us with all things necessary so that we might find unending delight in making much of him!”
How could it be otherwise? If God is as excellent as Edwards insists, if God is as gloriously ineffable and unfathomably majestic as Scripture contends, he wouldn’t love us unless he did whatever was necessary to bring us into the knowledge and experience and enjoyment of himself. All other, lesser gifts, such as being made much of, would not be the ultimate expression of divine love. God is the gospel! Having God is the good news! All other, necessarily lesser, gifts are good only to the extent that they facilitate the higher, indeed highest, goal of getting God! Making himself known to us in Jesus and working through his Spirit to bring us into white-hot admiration and enjoyment of who he is (that’s worship, by the way) is the ultimate and unparalleled act of love.
I haven’t read John’s book yet, but I think this is something of what he will say in it. Now, back to Edwards.
Fourth, if God “be so great and glorious, what an amazing thing it is that he should take upon him the human nature and die for men!” (427) In other words, the excellencies of God make the doctrine of the Incarnation of Christ all the more magnificent. This was no angel who took human flesh and was spit upon and treated with contempt. It was God the Son! The infinitely excellent second person of the Trinity, who forever is now also a man!
Fifth, “how highly are we privileged, in that he hath made known himself to us” (428). Just think of those born in lands without the knowledge of the one true God, who bow down before “molten gold and silver, or carved wood and stone, because they know of no God that is more excellent!” (428) We are so undeservedly favored and ought to be eternally thankful “that we are born where the true God is known” (428).
Sixth, “how great must be the happiness of the enjoyment of him” (428). In fact, “there is inexpressibly more pleasure and delight in the enjoyment of God, than in the enjoyment of the most excellent, dear, and entire friends upon earth” (429), and that for several reasons. For one thing, God is “transcendently more amiable” than the best of earthly friends. If people now take delight in their fellow mortals, “with what ecstasies, with what sweet rapture, will the sweet glories and beauties of the blessed God be beheld and enjoyed!” (429)
Furthermore, God loves us with far greater love than the love we receive from our fellow creatures. This love is mutual, such that “the glorified saint shall be all transformed to love to God, and shall be all transformed to joy at the thought of God’s so dearly loving him” (429). And no matter how close we may be to those in this life, we will experience “the closest union with God”, shall be “embraced in God’s arms”; indeed, “the very soul of the saint shall be united to God, and God shall be in them, in their very souls, by his glorious presence” (429).
No matter how much we enjoy friends in this life, it pales in comparison with our enjoyment of God, which “will be entire, to the constant full satisfaction of the enlarged desires of the soul, and it shall be constant and without interruption, shall continue to the same height, and shall rise and increase to all eternity” (429). Just think of it: “the sweet relish of these enjoyments shall never decrease or be diminished” (429). On earth, the greatest of joys eventually grows old and loses its capacity to enthrall. But “in heaven the joys will be so full, and so great, and so sweet, that the relish of them shall hold; and there will be as high, as sweet, and [as] ravishing delight in the enjoyment of God at the end of millions of ages, as there was the first hour” (429-30).
Now, back to the seventh of his applications. “How excellent are they who are sanctified, and have their souls conformed to him” (430). In other words, if God is as ineffably glorious and excellent as Scripture says, what will it be to be conformed to this divine image!
“Holiness,” says Edwards, “is the very beauty and loveliness of Jehovah himself. ‘Tis the excellency of his excellencies, the beauty of his beauties, the perfection of his infinite perfections, and the glory of his attributes. What an honor, then, must it be to a creature who is infinitely below God, and less than he, to be beautified and adorned with this beauty, with that beauty which is the highest beauty of God himself, even holiness” (430).
In conclusion, let me skip over much of what Edwards says to tell you what is incomparably great news: “All his attributes are on your side!” (434) His power and holiness and love and knowledge and justice and greatness, indeed each and every and all attributes “are on your side”! Not against you. Not to be feared. Not to be avoided. But on your side! To be enjoyed and savored and known and relished, forever. Edwards concludes:
“This God, to whom there is none in heaven to be compared, nor any among the sons of the mighty to be likened; this God who is from everlasting to everlasting, an infinitely powerful, wise, holy, and lovely being, who is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, is your God: he is reconciled to you and is become your friend; there is a friendship between you and the Almighty; you are become acquainted with him, and he has made known himself to you, and communicates himself to you, converses with you as a friend, dwells with you, and in you, by his Holy Spirit. Yea, he has taken you into a nearer relation to him: he is become your father, and owns you for his child, and doth by you, and will do by you, as a child; he cares for you, will see that you are provided [for], will see that you never shall want anything that will be useful to you. He has made you one of his heirs, and a co-heir with his Son, and will bestow an inheritance upon you, as it is bestowed upon a child of the King of Kings” (435).
Thinking of this, pondering this, “is enough to make you despise all worldly afflictions and adversities, and even death itself, and to trample them under your feet” (435). Amen.