Saturday, August 20, 2005

A Sense of God’s Excellency

In addition to Piper’s mini-biography of Jonathan Edwards that I mentioned earlier on my blog, I have read three full-length biographies of this amazing man. For those interested in Edward’s life, both Iain Murray’s Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography and George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life are fantastic. Needless to say, I am always interested in reading more about Edwards’ life. I find his person fascinating and his theology deep and compelling. Consequently, I was excited to learn when I began to read Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War that E. Brooks Holifield devotes an entire chapter to my favorite theologian. I have not finished the chapter, yet, but I thought that I would share a paragraph that really caught my attention.

Dr. Holifield writes, “Like his Puritan predecessors, Edwards was interested mainly in a form of knowing that moved the will as well as the understanding. Only through this kind of ideal apprehension, which Edwards described as ‘sensible,’ could a person grasp the beauty of an object, or feel pleasure in it, or have longing for it. Some forms of sensible ideal apprehension grasped only natural objects, such as the beauty of a landscape, but to grasp the beauty of God required an ideal apprehension that was actual (consisting of more than assent to words), sensible (rather than speculative) and spiritual (created by the immediate activity of the Spirit). To know God in this way was to ‘have a sense’ of Gods’ excellency, or of the beauty of God as an end in itself. This intuitive perception of the divine excellency was the deepest form of divine knowledge available to human beings.”

To see and know God in this way is the goal of both my corporate and personal worship. In either case, the Holy Sprit must take the Words of God that are heard or read and make those things real, understandable, and beautiful to my entire being – my mind, will, and emotions. Here is how Edwards states it in his own words:

There is a divine and superlative glory in these things; an excellency that is of a vastly higher kind, and more sublime nature than in other things; a glory greatly distinguishing them from all that is earthly and temporal. He that is spiritually enlightened truly apprehends and sees it, or has a sense of it. He does not merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but he has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart. There is not only a rational belief that God is holy, and that holiness is a good thing, but there is a sense of the loveliness of God's holiness. There is not only a speculatively judging that God is gracious, but a sense how amiable God is upon that account, or a sense of the beauty of this divine attribute.

There is a twofold understanding or knowledge of good that God has made the mind of man capable of. The first, that which is merely speculative and notional; as when a person only speculatively judges that any thing is, which, by the agreement of mankind, is called good or excellent, viz., that which is most to general advantage, and between which and a reward there is a suitableness, and the like. And the other is, that which consists in the sense of the heart: as when there is a sense of the beauty, amiableness, or sweetness of a thing; so that the heart is sensible of pleasure and delight in the presence of the idea of it. In the former is exercised merely the speculative faculty, or the understanding, strictly so called, or as spoken of in distinction from the will or disposition of the soul. In the latter, the will, or inclination, or heart, are mainly concerned.

Thus there is a difference between having an opinion, that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness. A man may have the former, that knows not how honey tastes; but a man cannot have the latter unless he has an idea of the taste of honey in his mind. So there is a difference between believing that a person is beautiful, and having a sense of his beauty. The former may be obtained by hearsay, but the latter only by seeing the countenance. There is a wide difference between mere speculative rational judging any thing to be excellent, and having a sense of its sweetness and beauty. The former rests only in the head, speculation only is concerned in it; but the heart is concerned in the latter. When the heart is sensible of the beauty and amiableness of a thing, it necessarily feels pleasure in the apprehension. It is implied in a person's being heartily sensible of the loveliness of a thing, that the idea of it is sweet and pleasant to his soul; which is a far different thing from having a rational opinion that it is excellent.


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