Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Jonathan Edwards' Ethic of Virtue and Love (Part 3)

Edwards Addresses Contemporary Ethicists

Edwards finds an inconsistency in some of the modern ethicists (of his own day), namely that “they do not wholly exclude a regard to the Deity out of their schemes of morality, but yet mention it so slightly, that they leave me room and reason to suspect they esteem it a less important and subordinate part of true morality; and insist on benevolence to the created system” (126). In other words, by his estimation, the philosophers of Edwards’ day paid mere lip-service to God and yet really made God no part of their ethical theory. He offers many criticisms, but for our purposes I will mention three of them:

1. Such a system of independence from general being sets one as an enemy against the public.
2. Such a system of independence from general being has a tendency to enmity against being in general.
3. Such a system would actually become an opposition to being in general, for to regard oneself as higher than (for example) one’s prince is to commit treason.

His conclusion of the criticisms he offers is that “no affection limited to any private system, not depending on nor subordinate to being in general, can be of the nature of true virtue.”

Implications for God

Edwards concludes that just as we, finite humans, must have a benevolent love for God, the greatest of all beings, so God must have himself as the supreme object of his affection. He states, “The virtue of the divine mind must consist primarily in love to himself, or in the mutual love and friendship which subsists eternally and necessarily between the several persons in the Godhead, or that infinitely strong propensity there is in these divine persons one to another” (127).

Now, here comes a statement that may shock some of us modern evangelicals who think that we are the center of God’s world: “It will also follow, from the foregoing things, that God’s goodness and love to created beings, is derived from and subordinate to his love to himself.” God naturally and properly must love himself and regard himself as more important than mortal men! So, we see, that not only do men have a virtue ethic, but that there is also a virtue ethic for God: love of self.

Next, Edwards states that God’s “supreme, governing, and ultimate end” is his own glory. This is the reason for which God created, and it is the goal in all events of history. Every event tends towards this goal. What does this “glory” consist of? His answer: “The expression of God’s perfections in their proper effects, - the manifestation of God’s glory to created understandings, - the communication of the infinite fullness of God to the creature, - the creature’s highest esteem of God, love to, and joy in him, - and in the proper exercise and expressions of these.”

Does this precedence of God’s glory have implications for us as humans? Does this mean that we are not important, that we are disposable, that we are only means to an end? Edwards does not think so. His answer is essentially that God, by seeking his own glory and his own love of Himself is actually seeking the good of us as his creatures, because to know and pursue God’s glory is the most pleasing and joyful thing that we can ever do. Thus, by Edwards’ estimate, God can seek his own glory as the end of creation and also give us our greatest and most fulfilling pleasures of having Him as well!


Edwards concludes chapter two of The Nature of True Virtue by commenting on the inadequacy of the modern secular ethic:
Those schemes of religion or moral philosophy, which have not a supreme regard to God, and love to him, laid as the foundation, are not true schemes of philosophy, but are fundamentally and essentially defective, and there is nothing of the nature of true virtue or religion in them. And it may be asserted in general, that nothing is of the nature of true virtue, in which God is not the first and the last; or which, with regard to their exercises in general, have not their first foundation and source in apprehensions of God’s supreme dignity and glory, and in answerable esteem and love of him, and have not respect to God as the supreme end.
For Jonathan Edwards, God is the most important person, the greatest person, the most beautiful person, and the most complete person. He is the only person who is worthy of our worship, and to do anything less (or to construct an ethic which does not hold a supreme regard to Him) is to act inconsistently with the nature of true virtue.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Before posting please read our Comment Policy here.

Think hard about this: the world is watching!