The Nature of True Virtue – Love to God (Pt. 2)

I. THE ESSENCE OF TRUE VIRTUE

II. HOW LOVE RESPECTS THE DIVINE BEING AND CREATED BEINGS

Love to God (Pt. 1)

Objection: God Does Not Profit From Our Love to Him

Most people are unsettled with this understanding of virtue. Is this not a devaluation of love to our fellow beings? Are we discouraging charity to the needy? Moreover, being that God is perfectly content, perfectly happy, and does not need our love, why would we focus on God rather than our fellow man, who is starving, impoverished, etc.? Edwards addresses this objection.

  1. “A benevolent propensity of heart is exercised, not only in seeking to promote the happiness of the being towards whom it is exercised, but also in rejoicing in his happiness.”[1] The promotion of the being’s happiness is not the only impetus for one’s benevolence towards the being. A man is not simply virtuous towards a beggar because the beggar will be happier, but also because the man is able to rejoice in the beggar’s happiness. Benevolence also benefits the benefactor.
  2. “Though we are not able to give any thing to God, which we have of our own independently; yet we may be the instruments of promoting his glory, in which he takes true and proper delight.”[2] Yes, it is logical to see that we are not ‘giving’ anything to God, and thus not profiting Him in that sense, because it is only in Him we live and move and have our being. Nevertheless, an eternal fountain of goodness is capable of an infinite amount of instruments to praise and delight in its goodness. An eternal fountain is capable of infinite streams. In one sense, the emanation of God’s glory can be infinitely extended and manifested. The purport to promote God’s glory, therefore, can be a proper existential aim.

“If no benevolence is to be exercised towards God, because we cannot profit him, then for the same reason, neither is gratitude to be exercised towards him for his benefits to us: because we cannot requite him. But where is the man who believes a God and a providence, that will say this?”[3]

It may be best to assert simply that one does not love God as to profit Him, but rather, one loves God because He is worthy of such admiration. If God is truly commendable, then why would one search for an opportunity not to commend him? Praise is linked to an object’s praiseworthiness, love to a thing’s loveliness, and God is eternally worthy and lovely. If He exists and exerts such providence, no one acting in true virtue will deny God their love.

Now, says the objector, one is left with an egotistical megalomaniac for a God. As Edwards noted in his first answer to the objection, however, one also loves because the benefactor himself benefits in his benevolence – i.e. he rejoices in the happiness of the being. Edwards addressed this rebuttal more comprehensively in his previous treatise The End, but the essential truth is that God is glorified by his creatures delighting in Him, and thus the creatures’ well-being is in view.


[1] Jonathan Edwards, The Nature of True Virtue (Ann Arbor Paperbacks) (University of Michigan Press, 1960), 16.

[2] Ibid., 16. Edwards addressed this question directly and more comprehensively in the “prequel” to Nature of True Virtue; see ch. 1, sect. 4 in The End for Which God Created the World.

[3] Ibid., 16.

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4 thoughts on “The Nature of True Virtue – Love to God (Pt. 2)

  1. This reminds me of St. Irenaeus: “The glory of God is man fully alive…”. Our fullness is in loving loveliness and praising praiseworthiness and adoring the adorable – Who is God. God knows this and wants us to be fully truthful, fully joyful, fully alive.
    I’m glad to be reading these posts…

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