The Nature of True Virtue – Essence (Pt. 4)

Essence: Part 1 // Essence: Part 2 // Essence: Part 3

Six Particulars in Regards to the Secondary Object of Virtuous Benevolence

Now, if that last paragraph was disconcerting, Edwards clarifies it with six particular observations.

1) Loving a being because of their beauty “necessarily arises from pure benevolence to being in general.”[1] If one loves ‘being in general,’ and thus consents to being, then he must love and agree with those that express the same inclination. “That which truly and sincerely seeks the good of others, must approve of, and love that which joins with him in seeking the good of others.”[2]

2) “This secondary ground of virtuous love is the thing wherein true moral or spiritual beauty primarily consists.[3] Spiritual beauty primarily consists in a love to being, and thus a love to those who are inclined towards the same love. This spiritual beauty concerns both the internal affections and the external actions.

3) “As all spiritual beauty lies in these virtuous principles and acts, so it is primarily on this account they are beautiful.[4] Because spiritual beauty primarily consists in the love to being in general, and thus a love to benevolent beings, its beauty is reckoned by its affections for and loving actions towards being. In a perfect and complete view of things, it is these principles and actions that primarily render a beauty observed.

4) “This spiritual beauty, which is but a secondary ground of virtuous benevolence, is the ground not only of benevolence, but complacence, and is the primary ground of the latter; that is, when the complacence is truly virtuous.”[5] Let the student build up to this: spiritual beauty primarily consists in a love to being in general, and thus a love to those that consent to the same love. Therefore, this love to those that consent to the same love is a love of complacence; yet it is the only ground of a love of complacence that is truly virtuous, because it is rooted in a love to being, as the beauty in the object is only determined by its love to being, not merely another being’s beauty. The secondary ground of virtuous benevolence, spiritual beauty, is the primary ground for a truly virtuous love of complacence.

5)“The degree of the amiableness of true virtue primarily consisting in consent, and a benevolent propensity of heart to being in general…is in proportion compounded of the greatness of the benevolent being, or the degree of being and the degree of benevolence.[6] The pleasantness of true virtue (the delight of it) is multiplied not by the degree of the subject’s affections, but rather by degree of the being. The more being, the more delight there will be in true virtue. “For there is more being that favors being; both together having more being than one alone.”[7]

6)“It is impossible that any one should truly relish this beauty, consisting in general benevolence, who has not that temper himself.”[8] If one is inclined to general benevolence, then he will be unavoidably attracted to love those with that same inclination (see particular 1). Therefore, if one does not have the inclination, he will not find it ‘truly’ attractive in another; he will not sincerely “relish this beauty.” One does not value in others what he does not himself value.


[1] Jonathan Edwards, The Nature of True Virtue (Ann Arbor Paperbacks) (University of Michigan Press, 1960), 10. All quotations will be from this edition.

[2] Ibid., 10-11.

[3] Ibid., 11.

[4] Ibid., 11.

[5] Ibid., 11.

[6] Ibid., 11-12.

[7] Ibid., 12.

[8] Ibid., 12.

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3 thoughts on “The Nature of True Virtue – Essence (Pt. 4)

  1. “…is in proportion compounded of the greatness of the benevolent being…”

    Loved that quote. I can’t wait until you get to chapter 2, my favorite chapter in the book.

    Just a question: in the 1960 Ann Arbor edition, does it preserve Edwards’ original italics? For example in the above quote “compounded” was italicized. I find that the italics definitely help me understand him better.

    • Chapter 2 was satisfying to say the least. It is as if Edwards was building a dam in chapter 1 so that his readers could experience an overwhelming “breakthrough”in chapter 2. It changes your whole virtuous perspective.

      No, the 1960 edition does not preserve the italics. It is a shame – as that would have really helped out.

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