My thoughts (and quotes) from the third point of Part III

III] Those affections that are truly holy, are primarily founded on the loveliness of the moral excellency of divine things. (In other words, holy affections of the elect are excited by/founded on/taken up with what is morally excellent. In this point, Edwards introduces us to the idea that the elect are given a supernatural sense that helps them taste and relish the beauty of God’s holiness)

Two things registered in my mind after I read this passage. Firstly, I understood that it was possible for some people, who do not have some basic signs of being regenerated (especially that they are not interested in the serious study of the word of God), to be filled with gratitude and praise to God, and involve themselves in many ‘Christian’ activities. Secondly, that we all need to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling albeit with joyful amazement that it has been given to us to relish the beauty of His holiness.

To start with, Edwards points out why we need to be careful in defining the term ‘moral virtue,’ by pointing out that the common meaning of the word refers to natural virtues such as honesty, justice, generosity, and good nature. The term does not include virtues whose source is spiritual or divine like holy faith, love, humility, and heavenly mindedness.

So Edwards explains the following four terms to avoid confusion:

  • Moral good: That which is the opposite of sin and that which makes voluntary agents act as they ought so as to make them most fit and suitable and lovely. (Example, The perfect and glorious holiness and goodness and flaming love for God that the angels in heaven have)
  • Moral evil: That which is sinful and the opposite of what is right.
  • Natural good: That which suits nature without relation to a standard of right or wrong. (Example, Attributes like strength, knowledge and greatness.)
  • Natural evil: That which is contrary to mere nature, that is hateful to men, devils, and angels alike, including natural defects.

The rest of the passage lays down several facts that point to the fact that holy affections of the elect are excited with what is morally excellent.

  • God has natural attributes such as His power, His knowledge, His omnipresence, and His awful majesty. God’s moral attributes are those attributes which God exercises as a moral agent . . . such as His righteousness, truth, faithfulness, and goodness; or in one word, His holiness.
  • Holiness sums up all thes virtues of a good man. Holiness in man is but the image of God’s holiness; there are not more virtues belonging to the image than are in the Original.
  • Holy persons, in the exercise of holy affections do love divine things primarily for their holiness.
    • They love God . . . for the beauty of His holiness
  • Natural perfections are either excellent or otherwise, depending on whether they are joined with moral excellency or not
    • The loveliness of angels, for all their strength and natural perfections, would be no more lovely than the devils were it not for their holiness.
  • A true love to God must begin with a delight in His holiness, and not in any other attribute.
  • The beauty of all divine things consists in their holiness:
    • beauty of saints
    • beauty and brightness of angels of heaven
    • beauty of the Christian religion
    • excellency of the word of God
    • amiableness and beauty of the Lord Jesus
    • glory of the gospel
    • spiritual beauty of its doctrines
    • spiritual beauty of the way of salvation by Jesus Christ
    • glory of heaven
  • There is given to those that are regenerated a new supernatural sense, that is as it were a certain divine spiritual taste.
    The Scripture often represents the beauty of sweetness of holiness as the grand object of a spiritual taste and spiritual appetite.

  • A holy love has a holy object.
    . . . it is the nature of wickedness chiefly to oppose and hate holiness, so it must be the nature of holiness chiefly to tend to, and delight in holiness
  • The holy nature of the saints and angels in heaven . . . is principally engaged by the holiness of divine things
  • The holiness of God is the beauty that engages saints on earth.
  • Natural men have no sense of the goodness and excellency of holy things . . . they have no taste for that kind of good . . . it is wholly hid from them.
    But the saints by the mighty power of God, have it discovered to them; they have that supernatural, most noble and divine sense given them, by which they perceive it; and it is this that captivates their hearts, and delights them above all things. . .
    which above all others attracts and engages his soul, and that wherein above all things he places his happiness, and which he looks to for solace and entertainment to his mind in this world and full satisfaction and blessedness in another.
  • This gives us a good test to examine the genuineness of our affections.
    Does God’s grace and love appear lovely to you primarily because you have been saved by it from eternal damnation?
    Or does it appear lovely because of a supreme delight in the beauty of moral excellency?
    Sadly, there are many high affections, great seeming love and rapturous joys, which have nothing of this holy relish belonging to them.
    Men can have a great sense of the awful greatness and terrible majesty of God; for this is only God’s natural perfection . . . and yet be entirely blind to the beauty of His moral perfection, and have nothing of that spiritual taste which relishes this divine sweetness.

  • It is possible for those who are wholly without grace to have a clear sight and very great and affecting sense of God’s greatness, His mighty power, and awful majesty; But they cannot see the beauty of His holiness because they do not have that sense of taste.

    • The devils are perfectly destitute of any sense or relish of the beauty of holiness, yet they have a very great knowledge of the natural glory of God . . . and therefore tremble before Him.
    • All mankind will one day behold this great glory of God, on the day of judgment. Christ will manifest His infinite greatness and awful majesty to everyone in a most open, clear, and convincing manner, and in a light that none can resist.
    • God made Himself known to the wicked congregation at Mount Sinai in this way, deeply affecting them with it, so that all the people in the camp trembled.
    • Nebuchadnezzar and Darius were both given a taste of the awful majesty of God that greatly affected them.
  • There are thus those who see the beauty of God’s holiness and those that do not:

    • Those who see the beauty of God’s holiness: It is this sight only that will melt and humble the hearts of men, wean them from the world, draw them to God, and effectually change them.
    • Those who do not see the beauty of God’s holiness: The enmity of the heart will remain in its full strength. No love will be enkindled; the will . . . will remain inflexible
  • What happens when so-called Christians, who are not of the elect get a sense of the awful greatness of God?
    • It can terrify them and also elevate them and raise their joy and praise.
    • But if they also receive a special kindness from God, then this will naturally raise his gratitude and praise the higher.
    • If this be the case, imagine what will be the result if they also imagine that this great God has made them His children and special favourites.

[Tim Challies has a blog feature called Reading Classics, where he and many other online friends read a selected Christian classic in a synchronized way and share their views. The classic being studied currently is The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards.]

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