the Beauty of Holiness (Edwards)

by Frank Jones


“Strikingly, Edwards speaks of divine beauty not only in terms of holiness but also in terms of happiness. I call this striking because our instinct even as believers is to set holiness and happiness over against one another. For Edwards, it is both or neither. The two rise and fall together. ‘Men are apt to drink in strange notions of holiness from our childhood,’ he said in a sermon preached at age nineteen, ‘as if it were a melancholy, morose, sour, unpleasant thing.’ A dear friend recently e-mailed me and said in blessed honesty, ‘By far the greatest functional heresy I believe is that holiness is boring and lustful selfishness is fun.’ If we were to let others peer into how our hearts are really functioning, that statement would ring true for just about all of us as we roll out of bed into another day. And it is a great triumph of the enemy that we would think so. For in truth there is nothing more thrilling, more solid, more exhilarating, more humanity-restoring, more radiantly joyous, than holiness.

In another sermon Edwards sets this as his central doctrine: ‘It is a thing truly happifying to the soul of men to see God.’ Note that just as beauty has to do with sight , so Edwards here speaks of the happifying of souls that see God. This is key to Edwards’s whole theology of Christian living: what do we see? Elsewhere in this sermon he refers to the ‘beatific, happifying sight of God.’ God’s beauty happifies us. It nestles us into joy. Seeing him— apprehending with the eyes of the heart his lovely holiness— we are changed. Edwards even argues in a sermon on James 1: 17 that the reason no one can see God and live is not God’s wrath or justice, but because ‘God is arrayed with an infinite brightness’ that ‘fills with excess of joy and delight,’ so that ‘the joy and pleasure in beholding would be too strong for a frail nature.’ … One further point should be made about divine beauty: God is the only place true beauty is found. There simply is nowhere else and no one else who has it. All true beauty in the universe is found either in God himself or in the direct reflection of God. ‘All the beauty to be found throughout the whole creation, is but the reflection of the diffused beams of that Being.’” (Ortlund, Dane C. Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God (Theologians on the Christian Life) (pp. 26-27). Crossway. Kindle Edition.)