Category Archives: Glory of God

The Beauty of God’s Holiness

What is beauty?

This is an important question and one that Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) addresses in his classic book Religious Affections. There in his third point on the nature of holy affections he argues that personal delight in God’s holiness is the evidence of God’s active grace. This point, and how it connects to beauty, is one that needs to be unpacked.

To set up this point Edwards contrasts God’s natural attributes and his moral attributes. God’s (so called) natural attributes are his grandeur, strength, and power. It is entirely possible, Edwards writes, to stand amazed by these natural attributes and yet remain unconverted. “’Tis possible that those who are wholly without grace, should have a clear sight, and a very great and affecting sense of God’s greatness, his mighty power, and awful majesty; for this is what the devils have … [yet] they are perfectly destitute of any sense of relish of that kind of [his] beauty.”

He continues.

A sight of the awful greatness of God, may overpower men’s strength, and be more than they can endure; but if the moral beauty of God be hid, the enmity of the heart will remain in its full strength, no love will be enkindled, all will not be effectual to gain the will … whereas the first glimpse of the moral and spiritual glory of God shining into the heart, produces all these effects, as it were with omnipotent power, which nothing can withstand (2:264­–265).

For Edwards, genuine conversion is marked by something deeper than reverence for God’s natural attributes. A believer will actually find what no non-believer will find—delight in God’s moral attributes, namely his perfect holiness.

God’s holy beauty is where all genuine and saving Theology begins.

Edwards further develops his argument by revealing how holiness and beauty are inseparable. For example:

  • The Savior is altogether lovely because he is altogether holy (Rev. 3:7). “All the spiritual beauty of his human nature, consisting in his meekness, lowliness, patience, heavenliness, love to God, love to men, condescension to the mean and vile, and compassion to the miserable, etc. all is summed up in his holiness.”
  • Heaven is sweet because it is the holy Jerusalem where the holiness of Christ is celebrated (Isa. 63:15, Rev. 4:8, 21:2, 10–11).
  • God’s word is sweet because the doctrines are holy doctrines. This explains the Psalmist’s delight (Pss. 19:7-10; 119:140).
  • The gospel is a sweet because it is a holy gospel.

These themes merge even closer in three Old Testament passages that highlight the beauty, splendor, and attractiveness of God’s holiness (1 Chr. 16:29, Pss 29:2, 96:9):

Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness

These passages seem to rest at the core of Edwards’ argument. Divine holiness is the very definition of supreme beauty. And once the heart is given a sweet taste of God’s moral perfections, the redeemed heart cannot but be attracted to the beauty of God’s holiness.

As Gerald R. McDermott writes [Reformation and Revival, vol. 6:1, 109-10]:

This is what sets the saint apart from all others. Others may also see divine things, but they don’t see their beauty or glory. … The unregenerate may see or know divine things (some don’t ever see divine things at all) but they never see their beauty—which is the beauty of holiness. According to Edwards, this is the glory that the Bible says is the central thing that makes God and His ways attractive—that lures humans in love to Him. This is the light that makes the person of Jesus so ravishingly beautiful, that has drawn the hearts of millions to Himself for the last two millennia. This is the brightness that all saints see in comparison to which their own hearts appear filthy.

In our visually-driven world, where beauty is measured by a worldly fad or by some subjective visual response, these theological ideas carry enormous consequences.

For example, we learn that standards of aesthetic beauty in art and literature cannot ever be divorced from God’s moral holiness: holiness is beautiful. Sin cannot be anything other than ugliness. Or consider personal renewal. What we so often mistake as drudgery when we think about battling sin is actually our personal participation in God’s own striking holiness (1 Pet. 1:16). Which is why it’s not surprising that feminine beauty is shaped and defined by God’s holiness (1 Pet. 3:1–6). The implications to this beauty-holiness connection are nearly endless.

At its root, the point Jonathan Edwards makes in Religious Affections is an important one: the splendor of God’s holiness is the pinnacle of all beauty. And it is a beauty that should tug at the strings of our affections.

Faith in Jesus. Sight of Jesus.

Through his works, Puritan John Owen has become for me a reminder of the glorious person of Jesus Christ. Whatever we comprehend of Christ by faith now is but a mere outline of the glory of His person. Owen’s subtle reminders—and sometimes not-so-subtle reminders—turn my eyes to gaze upon the glorious person of Jesus Christ and to anticipate the day I’ll see him face-to-face. In other words, the cross should point our gaze heavenward, to set our minds above, where Christ is.

In the 12th chapter of Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ, Owen argues that the gospel message is a telescope that makes Christ visible, but provides us only with an imperfect outline of the glory of the person of Christ. This obscurity is due, not to the gospel’s lack of clarity, but due to the limits of faith and due to our personal sin and weakness. Owen uses this to stoke anticipation in us for the day when our faith in Jesus will be replaced by the sight of Jesus’ pure glory.

If I understand him correctly, Owen is telling us that to if we rightly understand the gospel, it will fuel in us a heartfelt desire to see Jesus. Owen seems to be saying to me, “Tony, don’t merely rejoice in justification and the wonderful doctrines of the gospel and all the benefits of Christ’s death. Look in closer. Look for Jesus. Rejoice in Him, and anticipate the day you will see Him with your own eyes.”

Hear directly from Owen:

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John Owen:

The view which we have of the glory of Christ by faith in this world is obscure, dark, and reflexive. So the apostle says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “now we see in a mirror dimly,”—“through” or by “a glass, in a riddle,” a parable, a dark saying. …

The shadow or image of this glory of Christ is drawn in the gospel, and therein we behold it as the likeness of a man represented unto us in a glass; and although it be obscure and imperfect in comparison of his own real, substantial glory, which is the object of vision in heaven, yet is it the only image and representation of himself which he has left, and given unto us in this world. But by this figurative expression of seeing in a glass, the apostle declares the comparative imperfection of our present view of the glory of Christ.

But the allusion may be taken from a telescope, whereby the sight of the eye is helped in beholding things at a great distance. By the aid of such glasses, men will discover stars or heavenly lights, which, by reason of their distance from us, the eye of itself is no way able to discern.

And those which we do see are more fully represented, though remote enough from being so perfectly. Such a glass is the gospel, without which we can make no discovery of Christ at all; but in the use of it we are far enough from beholding him in the just dimensions of his glory. …

But here it must be observed, that the description and representation of the Lord Christ and his glory in the gospel is not absolutely or in itself either dark or obscure; yea, it is perspicuous, plain, and direct. Christ is therein evidently set forth crucified, exalted, glorified. But the apostle does not here discourse concerning the way or means of the revelation of it unto us, but of the means or instrument whereby we comprehend that revelation. This is our faith, which, as it is in us, being weak and imperfect, we comprehend the representation that is made unto us of the glory of Christ as men do the sense of a dark saying, a riddle, a parable; that is imperfectly, and with difficulty.

On the account hereof we may say at present, how little a portion is it that we know of him! How imperfect are our conceptions of him! How weak are our minds in their management! There is no part of his glory that we can fully comprehend. And what we do comprehend,—there is a comprehension in faith, Ephesians 3:18,—we cannot abide in the steady contemplation of. For ever blessed be that sovereign grace, whence it is that He who “commanded light to shine out of darkness has shined into our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of his own glory in the face of Jesus Christ,” and therein of the glory of Christ himself;—that he has so revealed him unto us, as that we may love him, admire him, and obey him: but constantly, steadily, and clearly to behold his glory in this life we are not able; “for we walk by faith, and not by sight.”

Hence our sight of him here is as it were by glances, liable to be clouded and blocked. “Behold, there he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, looking through the lattice” (Song of Solomon 2:9). There is a great interposition between him and us, as a wall; and the means of the discovery of himself unto us, as through a window and lattice, include a great instability and imperfection in our view and apprehension of him. There is a wall between him and us, which yet he standeth behind. Our present mortal state is this wall, which must be demolished before we can see him as he is.

In the meantime he looketh through the windows of the ordinances of the Gospel. He gives us sometimes, when he is pleased to stand in those windows, a view of himself; but it is imperfect, as is our sight of a man through a window. The appearances of him at these windows are full of refreshment unto the souls of them that do believe. But our view of them is imperfect, transient, and does not abide—we are for the most part quickly left to bemoan what we have lost. And then our best is but to cry, “the heart panteth after the waterbrooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before thee?” When wilt thou again give me to see thee, though but as through the windows alas! What distress do we ofttimes sit down in, after these views of Christ and his glory! But he proceeds farther yet; and flourishes himself through the lattices. This displaying of the glory of Christ, called the flourishing of himself, is by the promises of the Gospel, as they are explained in the ministry of the Word. In them are represented unto us the desirable beauties and glories of Christ. How precious, how amiable is he, as represented in them! How are the souls of believers ravished with the views of them! Yet is this discovery of him also but as through a lattice. We see him but by parts, unsteadily and unevenly.

Such, I say, is the sight of the glory of Christ which we have in this world by faith. It is dark, it is but in part. It is but weak, transient, imperfect, partial.

—John Owen, Meditations and Discourses on the Glory of Christ. Chapter 12. Works 1:374-389.

Don’t Waste Your Sports

Sunday at Covenant Life Church, C.J. Mahaney delivered the sermon Don’t Waste Your Sports from 1 Corinthians 10:31. I highly recommend the message for athletes, fans, and parents.

Early in the message, C.J. made the following point:

“Participation in sports must be informed by the knowledge of God. We have a tendency, when considering the topic of glorifying God in sports, to proceed immediately to practical application and to prematurely consider specific ways we are called to glorify God in sports. But any practical consideration must first proceed from a theologically informed understanding of the character of God as revealed in Scripture and the person and work of Christ. We must begin our consideration of this topic—of every topic!—with God. Until we behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ we cannot accurately or authentically glorify God (2 Cor. 4:6). Before we play sports for the glory of God we must behold the glory of God. … And this morning I have asked Puritan theologian John Owen to assist me:

Because he is—that is, an infinitely glorious, good, wise, holy, powerful, righteous, self-subsisting, self-sufficient, all-sufficient Being, the fountain, cause, and author of life and being to all things, and of all that is good in every kind, the first cause, last end, and absolute sovereign Lord of all, the rest and all-satisfactory reward of all other beings—therefore he is to be adored and worshipped. Hence are we in our hearts, minds, and souls, to admire, adore, and love him. His praises are we to celebrate. In him we are to trust and fear, and so to resign ourselves and all our concerns unto his will and disposal, to regard him with all the acts of our minds and persons, answerable to the holy properties and excellencies of his nature. This is to glorify him as God.

No doubt some are asking, ‘What does a 17th-century Puritan (who didn’t have game) have to say to the modern athlete? How does this relate to my soccer game or cross-country meet?’ Here’s why: When I behold the glory of God prior to playing sports, my heart is affected and transformed. This makes all the difference when I step out onto the field or court. This knowledge of God positions me to glorify Him and not myself. Our participation in sports must be informed by the knowledge of God in order to keep us from turning sports into something ugly, rather than beautiful. This knowledge of God’s glory will keep us from wasting our sports.”

More information and MP3 download here.

Also, Stephen Altrogge, in attendance at Covenant Life Church for the message, just published the book, Game Day for the Glory of God: A Guide for Athletes, Fans, and Wannabes (Crossway, 2008). An excellent book on this topic!

Who does God worship?

tsslogo.jpgSermon excerpt
Rick Gamache

“Since saying that God loves Himself is so provocative, let me say this instead: God loves Jesus.

Jesus is at the center of God’s affection. That rolls off the tongue easier somehow. God loves Jesus. Well, yeah — only-begotten Son — of course He does! And there is lots of Scripture to back up the fact that God loves Jesus. Here are just a few.

Remember what happened at Jesus’ baptism. Here is how Matthew records it: “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (3:16-17). Now whose voice is that coming out of heaven? Obvious answer: It’s God the Father’s voice. And He is making it clear that He takes pleasure in His Son. Jesus is the source of pleasure for God and He loves Him. This is His beloved Son.

We can go on and on with texts like this. Here are a couple more.

John the Baptist says, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand” (John 3:35). In other words, the Father loves the Son so much that He gives Him supremacy in all things. That’s how much He loves the Son. He gives Him supremacy. He doesn’t do that for anyone else, only for the Son.

Right after Jesus has been transfigured only Peter, James and John are there. Their eyes are opened and Christ’s glory shines fourth brilliantly before them and they see it! And then in response to that display of Christ’s glory there is a voice from heaven again: “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him’” (Matt 17:5). In response to this manifestation of the glory of Christ, the Father says, “I love my Son. I take ultimate pleasure in My Son!”

Let’s turn and answer this question: In loving Jesus, was God the Father merely loving an amazingly holy and obedient man? Or is there anything extraordinary about the Son or the Father’s love for the Son? Is there anything extraordinary going on here?

Here is something extraordinary: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). This is more than merely a holy and obedient man, this is a man in whom dwells all the fullness of God. This is a God-man. And this God-man existed long before He was born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago which is why Jesus can say to the Father in John 17:24, “you loved me before the foundation of the world.” God loved Jesus before there was anything else, or anyone else to love. Before there was you or me to love, God loved the Son!

That’s why Hebrews 1:3 is so significant: “He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Jesus is God! This is why the apostle Paul says, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).

The glory of Jesus Christ, the glory of who He is and what He has done for His people is the glory of the Father. The glory of Jesus is the glory of the Father. We know the glory of God the Father by looking into the face of Jesus Christ.

And when the Father looks into the face of His Son Jesus, He too sees His own glory and He loves what He sees there. He takes pleasure in what He sees there. He worships what He sees there! He loves, He enjoys, He worships, Himself! God loves Jesus with an infinite and omnipotent love. He loves Him more than He loves anything or anyone else. And Jesus is God. So God’s love for Christ — who is God Himself — is an expression of the love He has for Himself.”

– Rick Gamache, Who does God worship?, excerpt from sermon (Dec. 9, 2007; Sovereign Grace Fellowship, Minneapolis, MN).

And there are other goodies in this sermon. Listen here:


Or download (11.1 MB):

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Related: Current debate, Is God a narcissist?

God Magnifying God: A contemporary debate

tsslogo.jpgThe motive of God, as displayed in Scripture, is central to Reformed theology (i.e. Calvinism). God acts for the sake of His own glory. Does this make God a narcissist?

Much of what is written on blogs sinks quietly into the electronic void (sometimes that’s a good thing). I think it’s worth our time to pause here to listen carefully to this contemporary debate.

It all started last Monday.

Ben Witherington initiates (11.20.07)

The recent discussion was ignited by Bible scholar Ben Witherington, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Asbury Theological Seminary. Witherington was reading Schriener’s new book (New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ) and came across Schriener’s thesis: “God magnifying himself through Jesus Christ by means of the Holy Spirit.”

Witherington took offense and wrote a critical blog post on Nov. 20th (“For God so loved Himself?” Is God a Narcissist?). In part he writes,

“There were various nuances and amplifications to the discussion, but the more one read, the more it appeared clear that God was being presented as a self-centered, self-referential being, whose basic motivation for what he does, including his motivation for saving people, is so that he might receive more glory. Even the sending of the Son and the work of the Spirit is said to be but a means to an end of God’s self-adulation and praise.”

Witherington defended his view of God as one who acts out of self-sacrifice for the good of others. God’s glory stems from His selflessness and sacrifice not his self-centeredness.

And Witherington ended his critique with a left hook.

“I suppose we should not be surprised that in a culture and age of narcissism, we would recreate God in our own self-centered image, but it is surprising when we find orthodox Christians, and even careful scholars doing this.”

Ouch.

With this one post, Witherington challenged centuries of Reformed theology and especially Jonathan Edwards. But his rifle also took dead aim at contemporary ministries of men like John Piper and Sam Storms.

Especially given Witherington’s scant exegetical basis for his arguments there were responses to be expected. And it didn’t take long for them to begin.

Denny Burk responds (11.21.07)

Denny Burk, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Criswell College in Dallas, was the first to respond. His response was centered around two main points.

1. Scripture does not present God’s “love” as an end in itself. God’s love and redemption shown towards sinners is frequently used to show that God acts in these things for His own glory (Exodus 9:16; 2 Samuel 7:26; Psalm 79:9; Isaiah 42:8; 48:9; Ezekiel 36:22, 32; John 17:5; Romans 9:17; 11:36; Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).

“God’s love (manifested supremely in Jesus Christ crucified and raised for sinners) is a means by which His glory is manifested to the world. This is the common Arminian error. They mistakenly regard God’s means (His love and redemptive acts) as ends in themselves. But the Bible simply does not bear this out. The ultimate end or purpose of everything is God’s glory.”

2. Calvinists do not call God “narcissistic” (an “inordinate fascination with oneself”). After citing Isaiah 42:8, Burk writes,

“When sinful humans exalt themselves, it is not loving because it is a distraction from the One who truly can meet the deepest needs of fallen humanity. It is a vice for sinful people to call others to admire them and so to distract them from admiring God. God is love. Therefore He must exalt Himself so as to draw people into worship. This is not narcissistic because it is no vice for Him to exalt the beauty of His own perfections for His creatures’ enjoyment and blessing. Witherington misses all of this, and like other Arminians, removes the firmest grounding that we have for God’s love — God’s own desire to exalt the glory of His own perfections.”

In other words, God acts in love towards sinner because He is motivated for His own glory. God magnifying His own glory is the foundation for the love given to me as a sinner.

Bottom line, Burk calls Witherington out on the simple fact that God’s love towards sinners in redemption is not at odds against God acting for His own glory. Sinners like myself enjoy God forever because God is most concerned about His eternal glory.

John Piper responds (11.24.07)

It was only a matter of time before Piper responded. Piper is John Piper is the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota and featured at desiringGod.org. Glorious and profound truths (like the motives of God!) are his lifelong study.

And his thoughts on Witherington’s critique? “Astonishing.”

As expected, Piper’s response was exegetical. Piper posted a list of passages under the title “Biblical Texts to Show God’s Zeal for His Own Glory.” These passages include Exodus 14:4; 1 Samuel 12:20-22; 2 Samuel 7:23; 2 Kings 19:34; Isaiah 43:6-7, 25; 48:9-11; 49:3; Jeremiah 13:11; Ezekiel 20:14; 36:22-23; Psalms 25:11; 106:7-8; Habakkuk 2:14; Matthew 5:16; John 5:44; 7:18; 12:27-28; 14:13; 16:14; 17:1, 24; Acts 12:23; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Romans 1:22-23; 3:23-26; 9:22-23, 17; 11:36; 15:7; Ephesians 1:4-6; Philippians 1:9,11; 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10; 1 Peter 2:12; 4:11; Revelation 21:23.

In succinct bullet points, Piper adds the following.

“God’s exaltation of his own glory is not narcissistic but loving, because it directs our attention away from ourselves to the one glorious reality that can satisfy our souls forever.”

“God’s self-glorification is not the alternative to our glorification but the foundation and goal of it, as Schreiner will make plain.”

“The real cultural bondage today is not that too many people are making God radically God-centered, but that most people cannot conceive of his being loving unless he is man-centered.”

And then came the zinger.

“To suggest that Tom Schreiner is ‘creating God in our own self-centered image’ because he says, with the apostle Paul, that God saves us ‘for the praise of his glory’ (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14) is less an indictment of Tom than of Ben.”

Sam Storms responds (11.26.07)

For such an important topic of debate, Piper’s response seemed a bit short. With a new generation of blog readers interested in Reformed theology and these topics of debate, bloggers need to clearly and carefully articulate issues for them.

So I was thankful to hear Sam Storms (a long-winded blogger) jump into the discussion. Storms — a scholar of Jonathan Edwards, former professor and the man featured by Enjoying God Ministries — took time to more fully explain how we benefit from God seeking to glorify Himself.

Storm’s “brief response” was likely the longest of the three.

Because God is our greatest good, God’s seeking to magnify His glory does not impede our good. This is a fascinating argument Jonathan Edwards presented. It’s worth reading Storm’s argument at length:

“The question I most often hear in response to this is that if God loves himself pre-eminently, how can he love me at all? How can we say that God is for us and that he desires our happiness if he is primarily for himself and his own glory? I want to argue that it is precisely because God loves himself that he loves you. Here’s how.

I assume you will agree that your greatest good consists of enjoying the most excellent Being in the universe. That Being, of course, is God. Therefore, the most loving and kind thing that God can do for you is to devote all his energy and effort to elicit from your heart praise of himself. Why? Because praise is the consummation of enjoyment. All enjoyment tends towards praise and adoration as its appointed end. In this way, God’s seeking his own glory and God’s seeking your good converge.

Listen again. Your greatest good is in the enjoyment of God. God’s greatest glory is in being enjoyed. So, for God to seek his glory in your worship of him is the most loving thing he can do for you. Only by seeking his glory pre-eminently can God seek your good passionately.

For God to work for your enjoyment of him (that’s his love for you) and for his glory in being enjoyed (that’s his love for himself) are not properly distinct.

So, God comes to you in his Word and says: ‘Here I am in all my glory: incomparable, infinite, immeasurable, unsurpassed. See me! Be satisfied with me! Enjoy me! Celebrate who I am! Experience the height and depth and width and breadth of savoring and relishing me!’

Does that sound like God pursuing his own glory? Yes.

But it also sounds like God loving you and me perfectly and passionately. The only way it is not real love is if there is something for us better than God: something more beautiful than God that he can show us, something more pleasing and satisfying than God with which he can fill our hearts, something more glorious and majestic than God with which we can occupy ourselves for eternity. But there is no such thing! Anywhere! Ever!”

Very well stated.

Conclusion

Like cutting open the chest and uncovering a beating heart, to understand that our sovereign God acts in all things, and at all times, for His own glory gets at the very heart of God’s motivation. I simply cannot think of a truth more clearly presented throughout Scripture, nor can I think of a more radical worldview-changing truth.

God always acts for His own glory.

If we take our eyes off God’s magnifying of Himself in all things, we will be tempted. We’ll be tempted to downplay the demands of the Law (because we will no longer view the Law as God’s preservation of His glory). We will misunderstand the work of Christ on the Cross (that Christ met the high standards of the Father’s glory). We will misunderstand our life purpose (we do all things to bring glory to God as an act of union with God Himself). And we will misunderstand Scripture’s picture of eternal worship (we will find it odd that we circle around the throne of the Father, the throne of the Son, the river of the Spirit and sing worship forever).

Here’s the irony. To view God’s motives of grace and salvation as ends terminating in our good is to reinterpret the biblical God by our own narcissistic hermeneutics. Our greatest good and eternal joy both stand squarely on God’s motive of magnifying Himself.

In summary, if we take our eyes off God in his magnifying of Himself, we will fail to understand everything else. But most sadly, we will miss our greatest pleasure – to glorify God by enjoying Him forever!

Here is the center of Calvinism, what we call Reformed theology.

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