Edwards, Assurance, and the Beauty of God
I’ve never really read Jonathan Edwards (I know, I know, shame on me), but I’m presently reading Gerald McDermott’s brief guide to The Great Theologians (IVP), and he includes a chapter introducing several major points in Edwards’ thought. One issue struck me particularly. According to McDermott,
“Edwards said that what distinguishes the regenerate from the unregenerate is that the former see the beauty of holiness. The latter see only God’s holiness. This is why the devils in hell see that God is holy, but remain in hell. The regenerate love that holiness because they see its beauty. So it is aesthetic vision that separates the saved from the unsaved” (120).
As I first read this, it occurred to me that this statement has huge implications for Christian assurance of salvation. All Christians long for certainty of their right standing before God. Most (if not all) have at one time or another wondered whether their experience of salvation was indeed authentic. The question is often answered in terms of obedience. After all, Jesus said that those who love him will obey him. And while that is of course true, indwelling sin remains even after we are justified. So, if our obedience is not an infallible indicator of Christian assurance, what are we to do?
McDermott’s reading of Edwards suggests that the regenerate see God’s holiness as beautiful, and that this is precisely what separates them from the unregenerate. If correct, this should mean that the Christian can find some measure of assurance by considering whether he finds God’s holiness to be beautiful or attractive. I find this to be greatly comforting because, even when I stumble, I know that I have loved and longed for the holiness of godly character. Nothing is more desirable than the altogether perfect and pure holiness of the triune God. Indeed, the beauty of his holiness is unspeakable. Even when we find ourselves grieving over indwelling sin, this aesthetic approach to assurance means that assurance can be maintained because grief over sin comes from a failure to reflect that which we find supremely beautiful, namely divine holiness. I suspect this is part of what it means for God’s Spirit to testify with our spirits that we are his children.
So, Christian, when you find yourself asking how you know that the regenerating Spirit of God dwells in you, consider whether you find God’s holiness beautiful. Does your heart long to properly reflect God’s great glory? Do you desire to see the beauty of God’s holiness? If so, then you may be sure that you belong to him!