The Glory of God
J.I.Packer expounds on Jonathan Edwards’ treatise on The Glory of God
Edwards inherited a dispute among the learned: Was God’s goal in creation his own glory, as Reformed theology maintained, or man’s happiness, as Arminians and Deists thought? In his Dissertation on the End for Which God Created the World, posthumously published, Edwards resolved this question with startling brilliance. As his son, Jonathan Edwards, Jr., put it:
It was said that, as God is a benevolent being . . . he could not but form creatures for the purpose of making them happy. Many passages of Scripture were quoted in support of this opinion. On the other hand, numerous and very explicit declarations of Scripture were produced to prove that God made all things for his own glory. Mr. Edwards was the first, who clearly showed, that both these were the ultimate end of the creation . . . and that they are really one and the same thing. (Sereno E. Dwight, “Memoirs,” in Works, 1:cxcii)
Edwards clinched his case on this by surveying the biblical use of the word “glory” (Hebrew, kabod; Greek, LXX and NT, doxa). Having stated correctly that etymologically kabod implies “weight, greatness, abundance” and in use often conveys the thought of “God in fullness,” Edwards traces the term thus:
Sometimes it is used to signify what is internal, inherent, or in the possession of a person [i.e., glory that belongs to someone]: and sometimes for emanation, exhibition, or communication of this internal glory [i.e., glory that appears to someone]: and sometimes for the knowledge, or sense of these [communications], in those to whom the exhibition or communication is made [i.e., glory that is seen, or discerned, by someone]; or an expression of this knowledge, sense, or effect [i.e., glory that is given to someone, by praise and thanks in joy and love]. (Edwards, “The End for Which God Created the World,” in Works, 1:116)
And the conclusion he offers — on the basis of both biblical texts that speak of glory and of glorifying in these four distinct though connected ways and also analytical argument surrounding this exegesis — is that God’s internal and intrinsic glory consists of his knowledge (omniscience with wisdom) plus his holiness (spontaneous virtuous love, linked with hatred of sin) plus his joy (supreme endless happiness); and that his glory (wise, holy, happy love) flows out from him, like water from a fountain, in loving spontaneity (grace), first in creation and then in redemption, both of which are so set forth to us so as to prompt praise; and that in our responsive, Spirit-led glorifying of God, God glorifies and satisfies himself, achieving that which was his purpose from the start.
The chief end of man, as the famous first answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism memorably puts it, is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. God so made us that in praising, thanking, loving, and serving him, we find our own supreme happiness and enjoyment of God in a way that otherwise we would not and could not do. We reach our highest enjoyment of God in and by glorifying him, and we glorify him supremely in and by enjoying him. In fact, we enjoy him most when we glorify him most, and vice versa. And God’s single-yet-complex end, now in redemption as it was in creation, is his own happiness and joy in and through ours.
His great goal here and now is to glorify himself through glorifying, and being glorified by, rational human beings who out of their fallenness come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Thus the emanation (outflow) of divine glory in the form of creative and redemptive action results in a remanation (returning flow) of glory to God in the form of celebratory devotion. And so God’s goal for himself (Father, Son, and Spirit, the “they” who are “he” within the Triune unity), the goal that includes his goal for all Christian humankind, is achieved by means of a singly unitary process, which itself is ongoing and unending.
“We reach our highest enjoyment of God in and by glorifying him, and we glorify him supremely in and by enjoying him.”
The unimaginable endlessness of this reciprocal sequencing that is in truth the end for which God created the world can only be indicated formulaically and analogically (to use a couple of non-Edwardsean terms).
This is done for us in a normative way in Revelation 21, and C.S. Lewis most tellingly did it at the close of his final Narnia story, The Last Battle, where the children have been brought through a rail crash into the real Narnia that is to be their home forever. The key sentences are these:
Then Aslan [the Christ-like lion] turned to them and said:
“You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be . . . all of you are (as you used to call it in the Shadowlands) dead. The term is over; the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”
. . . We can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. (Lewis, The Last Battle[Penguin, 1964], 165)
This picks up exactly, in mythical-parabolic terms, the point that Edwards, in his more prosaic way, was concerned to make. Amy Plantinga Pauw capsules it as follows:
Because “heaven is a progressive state,” the heavenly joy of the saints, and even of the triune God, will forever continue to increase. . . . Saints can look forward to an unending expansion of their knowledge and love of God, as their capacities are stretched by what they receive . . . there is no intrinsic limit to their joy in heaven. . . . As the saints continue to increase in knowledge and love of God, God receives more and more glory. This heavenly reciprocity will never cease, because the glory God deserves is infinite, and the capacity of the saints to perceive God’s glory and praise him for it is ever increasing. (Pauw, “The Supreme Harmony of All”: The Trinitarian Theology of Jonathan Edwards[Eerdmans, 2002], 180-181)
Here, finally, is how Edwards himself, in his rather more severe and abstract manner, sums the matter up. (“The creature” in what follows is the believer.)
And though the emanation of God’s fulness, intended in the creation, is to the creature as its object; and though the creature is the subject of the fulness communicated, which is the creature’s good; yet it does not necessarily follow that, even in doing so, God did not make himself his end. It comes to the same thing. God’s respect to the creature’s good, and his respect to himself, is not a divided respect; but both are united in one, as the happiness of the creature aimed at is happiness in union with himself. . . . The more happiness the greater union. . . . And as the happiness will be increasing to eternity, the union will become more and more strict [i.e., closely bound] and perfect; nearer and more like to that between God the Father and the Son; who are so united, that their interest is perfectly one. . . .
Let the most perfect union with God be represented by something at an infinite height above us; and the eternally increasing union of the saints with God, by something that is ascending constantly towards that infinite height . . . and that is to continue thus to move to all eternity. (Edwards, “The End for Which God Created the World,” 120)
The two-way street of this unceasing process, says Edwards, embodies and expresses the true end for which God created the world: namely, the endless advancement of his glory, in union with us, through the endless advancement of ours, in union with him.
Those who have in any measure tasted the refreshment and joy of heart that flow from faith in, friendship with, and worship of the holy Three (or shall I say the holy One, or One-in-Three) will latch on to Edwards’s thinking here as a complete answer to any who fancy that the Christian heaven would be static and dull, and will themselves look forward to the awaiting glory with ever-growing eagerness.
Resource: J.I. Packer
from the book:
“A God-Entranced Vision of All Things”
The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards by John Piper and Justin Tayor