Monday, February 28, 2011

Jonathan Edwards' Ethic of Virtue and Love (Part 2)

Edwards gives us an immediate application of his teaching, which we explored in Part 1 of this series. This next conclusion he presents does not usurp or supersede the previously stated definition of true virtue as “benevolence toward being in general” but instead clarifies (or more properly, offers us an insight into the implications of the previously constructed argument).

“From what has been said, it is evident that the true virtue must chiefly consist in LOVE TO GOD; the Being of beings, infinitely the greatest and best” (125). As is Edwards’ style, he will now explain how he gets to this conclusion, followed by the implications of this implication.

First of all, we must remember that true virtue has two grounds: benevolence and being. First of all, God is maximally benevolent: “For God is infinitely the greatest Being, so he is allowed to be infinitely the most beautiful and excellent: and all the beauty to be found throughout the whole creation, is but the reflection of the diffused beams of that Being who has an infinite fullness of brightness and glory.” Here we see that God is the most benevolent of all beings.

Second of all, God possesses the most being: “God has infinitely the greatest share of existence. So that all other being, even the whole universe, is as nothing in comparison to the Divine Being.” Edwards’ conclusion of this implication is that
he that has true virtue must necessarily have a supreme love to God, both of benevolence and complacence. And all true virtue must radically and essentially consist in this. Because God is not only infinitely greater and more excellent than all other being, but he is the head of the universal system of existence; the foundation and fountain of all being and all beauty; from whom all is perfectly derived, and on whom all is most absolutely and perfectly dependent; of whom and through whom and to whom is all being and all perfection; and whose being and beauty are, as it were, the sum and comprehension of all existence and excellence: much more than the sun is the fountain and summary comprehension of all the light and brightness of the day.
Edwards anticipates a possible objection: “We should love our fellow creatures and not God, because our goodness does not extend to God and we cannot be profitable to Him.” Edwards answers twofold: First, “If [God] be above any need of us…it will dispose us to rejoice in His prosperity.” This is a brilliant answer, as Edwards’ ethic as set forth thus far is really concerned with man and how he should act, not with how man may benefit God.

His second answer is that “Though we are not able to give anything to God, we may be the instruments of promoting his glory in which He takes true and proper delight.” Then, Edwards directs his readers to his writing titled The End for Which God Created the World, where he proves from both philosophy and then heavily from Scripture that God’s own glory is the reason why He created the world. Here he also answers this argument by saying that God’s creation for His own glory does not represent a deficiency, but that rather, creation overflows from God’s abundance, just like water overflows from a fountain, not out of a lack but out of an abundance.

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