Edwards potrait

Walter Schultz Explains Jonathan Edwards’s Dissertation on the End for Which God Created the World

Edwards potrait

There is no such thing as a deeper truth than this.

Walter Schultz, in the March issue of JETS, Volume 56, No. 1, page 122:

God’s original ultimate end in creating and sustaining the world is the pleasure he takes in his self-knowledge, holiness, and happiness eternally-increasing in a society of beings who are upheld in existence moment-by-moment ex nihilo. Before creating anything, God appraised this goal as being inherently valuable and esteemed and desired it as such. He then began to pursue this and continues to act toward it. God is moved to pursue this end solely by virtue of his eternally-occurrent supreme regard for himself as Trinity and for his capacity-attributes.

We Need Big-God Theology and Big-God Preaching

Edwards potrait

From John Piper,

[Edwards] asks: “What is this one great design that God has in view in all his works and dispensations?”

And answers: “’Tis to present to his Son a spouse in perfect glory from amongst sinful, miserable mankind, blessing all that comply with his will in this matter and destroying all his enemies that oppose it, and so to communicate and glorify himself through Jesus Christ, God-man.”

Read the entire post, “The Seedbed of Big-God Preaching.”

Trying to Track with Jonathan Edwards

I love Jonathan Edwards. Anytime you read him your mind is bound to grow. But it’s not necessarily easy. One helpful approach may be to paraphrase what he’s saying about every other sentence.  Something like this… from Religious Affections.

If we ought ever to exercise our affections at all, and if the Creator han’t unwisely constituted the human nature, in making these principles a part of it, when they are vain and useless; then they ought to be exercised about those objects which are most worthy of them.

We have affections because God made them. In his wisdom and goodness he created humans to have this capacity — a capacity to love, to have joy, to receive pleasure. And since God has made us with affections then it only makes sense that we would spend these affections on that which is most worthy of them.

But is there anything, which Christians can find in heaven or earth, so worthy to be the objects of their admiration and love, their earnest and longing desires, their hope, and their rejoicing, and their fervent zeal, as those things that are held forth to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Here we are with these affections in the midst of a world full of good things. But of all that is around us — in the heavens above or the earth on which we stand — is there anything worth all our admiration and love, our earnest, longing desires, all our hopes and rejoicing and zeal? Is anything here worth all that? For what are these things compared to the gospel of Jesus Christ?

In which, not only are things declared most worthy to affect us, but they are exhibited in the most affecting manner. The glory and beauty of the blessed Jehovah, which is most worthy in itself, to be the object of our admiration and love, is there exhibited in the most affecting manner that can be conceived of, as it appears shining in all its luster, in the face of an incarnate, infinitely loving, meek, compassionate, dying Redeemer.

The gospel of Jesus is better than all these things. It is more worthy to be the object of our affections by its inherent quality. It is more excellent, period. And yet, it is also superior to everything else because of its actual ability to affect us. So it goes like this: 1) it is worthy of our affections; and 2) it wields the unique power to actually win these affections. It captivates us like nothing else. It penetrates our being as only it can do. For this gospel shines before us. It doesn’t hold back. It is essentially a display, the glory of the triune God in the face of an incarnate, infinitely loving, meek, compassionate, dying Redeemer.

Blockquotes are from The Works of Jonathan Edwards, “Religious Affections,” (WJE Online Vol. 2)

A helpful resource on this particular Edwards’s work is Sam Storms’s, Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’s “Religious Affections.”

The Most Important Question We Could Ever Ask

In 1976 John Piper wrote an article asking a two-part question:

  • What is God’s goal in the history of mankind from its beginning at creation to its climax in the new heavens and new earth?
  • And how should we respond to this goal?

This is ultimate. We are in deep water. And yet the reasoning behind such a question is quite simple: in Jesus we are God’s children and children want to know their Father. Pastor John explains,

[Y]ou don’t really know a person until you know what moves him most deeply. It makes no sense to say that we know God when we are not acquainted with his strongest desire and with the goal that guides all his actions. But if we don’t know him, then we can’t worship him and we can’t imitate him. In other words, if we are to be faithful children of our heavenly Father who worship him and imitate him as we ought, then we must answer [this question].

The entire article, “The Glory of God as the Goal of History,”  has been recently transcribed and made available at Desiring God. It’s one of Pastor John’s earliest writings where the foundational pieces of Desiring God began to coalesce. It’s particularly interesting how the command to love our enemies (Piper’s Th. D. dissertation) is connected to the ultimate end of God’s glory.

(Check out the original post.)

Jonathan Edwards and the Six Dictates from the Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World

Dictate One : It does not presuppose any deficiency, need, or lack in God, or dependence on his creation for anything (32-33).
Edwards writes:

Because it is evident, by both scripture and reason, that God is infinitely, eternally, unchangeably, and independently glorious and happy; that he stands in no need of, cannot be profited by, or receive anything from the creature; or be truly hurt, or be the subject of any sufferings or impair of his glory and felicity from any other being (30).

Dictate Two: It is intrinsically valuable and capable of being attained by creation (34)
Edwards writes:

But whatever is in itself valuable, absolutely so, and that is capable of being sought and attained, is worthy to be made a last end of the divine operation (31)

Dictate Three: It is originally most valuable (35)
Edwards writes,

… if there by any thing which was superior in value to all others, that must be worthy to be God’s last end in the creation; and also worthy to be his highest end (32).

Dictate Four: God by definition must have an infinite and supreme regard to himself (36-44)
Edwards writes:

Therefore a proper regard to this Being, is what the fitness of regard does infinitely most consist in. — Hence if will follow — that the moral rectitude and fitness of the disposition, inclination, or affection of God’s heart, does chiefly consist in a respect or regard to himself infinitely above his regard to all other beings… (33).

Dictate Five: It is revealed in what God says and what he does (39)
Edwards writes:

If it be an infinitely amiable thing in God, that he should have a supreme regard to himself, then it is an amiable thing that he should act as having a chief regard to himself; or act in such a manner, as to show that he has such a regard; that what is highest in God’s heart, may be highest in his actions and conduct (34).

Later he writes,

… if that which God values ultimately, and for itself, appears in fact and experience, to be what he seeks by anything he does, he must regard it as an ultimate end. And therefore if he seeks it in creating the world, or any part of the world, ‘tis an ultimate end of the work of creation (39).

Dictate Six: It is an actual consequence or effect of the creation of the world (40)
Edwards writes:

We see that it is a good that God aimed at by the creation of the world; because he has actually attained it by that means. This is an evidence that he intended to attain, or aimed at it. For we may justly infer what God intends, by what he actually does; because he does nothing inadvertently, or without design. But whatever God intends to attain from a value for it; or in other words, whatever he aims at in his actions and works, that he values; he seeks that thing in those acts and works (40).

Aseity and Action: Created Intelligence Remains Bewildered

God is in himself replete, unoriginate love, the reciprocal fellowship and delight of the three and the utter repose and satisfaction of their love. God requires nothing other than himself. Yet his unoriginate love also originates. Why this should be so, we are incapable of telling, for though with much concentration we can begin to grasp that it is fitting that God should so act, created intelligence remains bewildered by the fact that God has indeed done so. What our intelligence cannot get behind or reduce any further is the outward movement of God’s love, God’s love under its special aspect of absolute creativity. God’s creative love is not the recognition, alteration or ennoblement of an antecedent object beside itself, but the bringing of an object into being, ex nihilo generosity by which life is given. (14)

The act of creation is a voluntary (not, again, a ‘physical’) act — a point at which some uses of the language of ’emanation’ stumble. Delicacy is required: the notion of the divine will has to be stripped of connotations of arbitrariness, so that we do not think of creation as a mere spasmodic exercise of God’s power not anchored in the divine ethos. But “will” need not mean this; properly speaking, it signifies determination to act according to nature, and so to act with supreme generosity in accord with and on the basis of God’s eternal love of himself in the procession of Son and Spirit from the Father. (15)

John Webster, Trinity and Creation, IJST, Vol 12.1 (Jan 2010)

How God Seeks the Good of the Creature

The Church is the “creature of grace” and exists as the result of God’s expressed identity. Essential to the Church is the derivative nature that she possesses inseparable from the activity of the very essence of God himself. It is this relation or union that makes the aim of God for his own end the same as his aim for the creature’s end. Edwards says this most explicitly when he writes

Thus’ tis easy to conceive, how God should seek the good of the creature, consisting in the creature’s knowledge and holiness, and even his happiness, from a supreme regard to himself; as his happiness arises from that which is an image and participation of God’s own beauty; and consists in the creature’s exercising a supreme regard to God and complacence in him; in beholding God’s glory, in esteeming and loving it, and rejoicing in it, and in his exercising and testifying love and supreme respect to God: which is the same thing with the creature’s exalting God as his chief good, and making him his supreme end (End of Creation, 232).

This could be summarized: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

He Who is their First Cause is Also their Last End

God as an end for himself and the creature’s good are one in the same. God initiated the existence of his creatures with himself as the ultimate aim of their existence. The union that the creature enjoys with God is composed of this reality — the very existence of the creature is essentially the aim of God to make himself their final end. This ‘union of purpose’ is therefore a ‘relation of essence’, as it were. The essence of God to emanate his perfection as the final cause of all his activity is the cause of the Church’s existence. There is both a union and a derivative nature that the creature enjoys forever. The immeasurable riches of God’s grace that is poured out upon the creature to deepen their union will never arrive at a moment when that union is “infinitely perfect” (Edwards, End of Creation, 241). There is an eternal uniting and an incessant derivation.

Grace is Shorthand for God’s Freedom in Our Utter Inability

The grace of God in bestowing this gift is most free. It was what God was under no obligation to bestow. He might have rejected fallen man, as he did the fallen angels. It was what we never did anything to merit: ’twas given while we were yet enemies, and before we had so much as repented. It was from the love of God that saw excellency in us to attract it; and it was without expectation of ever being rewarded for it… And ’tis from mere grace that the benefits of Christ are applied to such and such particular persons. Those that are called and sanctified are to attribute it alone to the good pleasure of God’s goodness, by which they are distinguished. He is sovereign and hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will, he hardens.

Jonathan Edwards, God Glorified in Man’s Dependence, 204.

Two Foundational Sentences

The Triune God’s ultimate purpose in creating, sustaining, judging, and redeeming the world is the mutual delight of himself and the Church in his identity expressed, in the accordance and realization of his eternal nature and pleasure.

The Triune God’s motive in creating, sustaining, judging, and redeeming the world is the pleasure he enjoys in expressing his identity as the abundant emanation of his infinite fullness, inseparable from his nature and pleasure as the utterly self-sufficient One who is essentially communicative.

Here are two foundational sentences improved, I think:

God’s ultimate purpose in creating, sustaining, judging, and redeeming the world is the welcomed delight of his identity expressed as it flows out of the delight he has for himself in the intra-trinitarian fellowship of the Father and Son, through the Holy Spirit, in accordance to and realization of his eternal nature and pleasure as the utterly self-sufficient One who is essentially communicative.

God’s motive in creating, sustaining, judging, and redeeming the world is the very delight that he enjoys in expressing his identity within the intra-trinitarian fellowship of the Father and Son, through the Holy Spirit, inseparable from his nature and pleasure as the utterly self-sufficient One who is essentially communicative.