One Anthem

This may be my favorite quote from the pen of Hannah More (1745–1833), the poet, reformer, and abolitionist, as published in The Works of Hannah More (New York; Harper & Bros., 1846), 1:434:

What a triumph for the humble Christian to be assured, that ‘the high and lofty One which inhabiteth eternity,’ condescends at the same time to dwell in the heart of the contrite — in his heart! To know that God is the God of his life, to know that he is even invited to take the Lord for his God. To close with God’s offers, to accept his invitations, to receive God as his portion, must surely be more pleasing to our heavenly Father, than separating our happiness from his glory.

To disconnect our interests from his goodness, is at once to detract from his perfections, and to obscure the brightness of our own hopes. The declarations of inspired writers are confirmed by the authority of the heavenly hosts. They proclaim that the glory of God and the happiness of his creatures, so far from interfering, are connected with each other. We know but of one anthem composed and sung by angels, and this most harmoniously combines ‘the glory of God in the highest with peace on earth and good will to men.’ …

This God is our God — God, even our own God, shall bless us. How delightful the appropriation! To glorify him as being in himself consummate excellence, and to love him from the feeling that this excellence is directed to our felicity! Here modesty would be ingratitude; disinterestedness rebellion.

This is a beautiful description of what we now call Christian Hedonism.

Every Wave Obeys

While researching my book on John Newton, I found a riveting letter he wrote at sea to his wife Polly, during the busy hurricane season of 1751. Here’s what he wrote (Works 5:377–8):

We have another heavy gale of wind, and it is not easy to sit fast, or to hold a pen; but, as the distance between us is lessening at the rate of seven or eight miles per hour, I am willing to fill up my paper as fast as I can.

I wish I had words to convey some idea of the scene around me: but it cannot be fully described. A faint conception may be formed from pictures, or prints, of a storm at sea.

Imagine to yourself an immense body of water behind you, higher than a house, and a chasm of equal depth just before you: both so apparently dangerous; that you could hardly determine which to venture; and both so near, as not to allow you a moment’s time to choose; for in the twinkling of an eye the ship descends into the pit which is gaping to receive her, and with equal swiftness ascends to the top on the other side, before the mountain that is behind can overtake her. And this is repeated as often as you can deliberately count to four.

It is indeed wonderful, that a ship will run incessantly over these hills and dales, for days and weeks together, (if the gale lasts so long,) without receiving the least damage, or taking any considerable quantity of water on board; and yet never be more than four or five yards from a sea, which, if it was quite to reach her, would perhaps disable her beyond recovery, if not beat her to pieces at a single blow.

Need we go farther for the proof of a Providence always near, always kind, kind to the unthankful and the evil? For, though these marks of his care are repeated every minute, they are seldom acknowledged by seamen. For my own part, I see dangers so numerous and imminent, that I should be always in anxiety and fear, could I not submit myself and all my concerns to Him who holds the waves of the sea in the hollow of his hand, as the prophet strongly expresses it; so that, when most enraged by the winds, I am sure they dare not rise a single inch beyond his permission.

Luminescence

Kyle Strobel, writing in the new book Advancing Trinitarian Theology: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics (148, 152):

In [Jonathan] Edwards’s conception, God is not so loquacious as he is luminescent. Creation certainly pours forth speech, as the Psalmist declares (Ps 19), but it is written by the effusive overflow of God’s beauty. This speech is seen and not heard (or only heard as it is seen). The visual takes precedence in Edwards’s theology because of his doctrine of God, his understanding of the beatific vision, and its orientation for faith. One day believers will see “face to face” (1 Cor 13:12), so the spiritual sight of faith is the anticipation — through a glass darkly — of God’s beatific glory. …

Edwards ends right where he begins — with a God who is infinite happiness, delight, and joy. God’s life is, as it were, the truly religious life; God’s life is one of affection, delight, and the vision that “happifies.” God is the great contemplative, we can say, captivated with truth divine by consenting in union with Truth itself — the Logos. As Edwards claims, God’s excellency “is the highest theme that ever man, that ever archangels, yes, that ever the man Christ Jesus, entered upon yet; yea, it is that theme which is, to speak after the manner of men, the highest contemplation, and the infinite happiness, of Jehovah himself.”

God’s life serves as the archetype for perfect knowledge and therefore casts knowledge in a specifically affectionate and contemplative mold. This is why religious affection is a central issue for Edwards’s understanding of Christian life, knowledge, and conversion. To know God, one must know him as God knows himself — by gazing upon his perfect image in the affection and beauty of the Spirit.