Philosophy E-123 Classics of American Thought First Required Writing Assignment

October 31, 2006 Florine Cleary

2. In section two of part three of A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards argues against those who “say that all love arises from self-love; and that it is impossible in the nature of things, for any man to have any love to God, or any other being, but that love to himself must be the foundation of it” (Hollinger and Capper anthology, p. 89). Set out Edwards’ argument or arguments against this view and assess it or them. Jonathan Edwards wishes to defend the existence of a pure spiritual love of God from those who would try to discount even love for God as being derived from selfinterest. He acknowledges that love is indeed most often found to depend on considerations of reciprocity and mutual benefit but this love he calls merely natural, “the love of wicked men”, “as much in the hearts of devils as angels”. I understand why Edwards wants to make the kind of love which God deserves less self-serving than that which typically exists between men. However in asking that men be inspired to love God in a way which ignores any impact He has on the lives of men I find him illogical. What then are we to love Him for?

Edwards holds that natural love is unfitting as the root of love for the supernatural or divine; in being concerned with worldly matters it cannot comprehend the spiritual and so falls short as a proper love by which to exalt God. Edwards goes so far as to call this natural love “worthless in the sight of God” taking as examples the testing of Job and preachings of Christ1. The proper love of God is a spiritual love, by which Edwards means that at its foundation it is without considerations of the self; it arises from

Personally I find these examples only support that your love for God should be able to withstand and understand that he is good and worthy of love even if he is not manifesting his goodness for your immediate benefit.

contemplation of God’s excellence in itself. That which is beyond the natural inspires it. Edwards argues that this spiritual, saintly love would cause one to unite one’s interests with those of God and so the fault his opponents find with those who worship and glorify God and find their own happiness therein is a poor criticism, for this happiness is merely the resulting fruit of the original underlying spiritual love. For Edwards, the quality of love may be found in its origin, the gradations range from the self-less to the selfish, but a love of God that is not rooted in self-love is possible and it makes no sense to argue that the enjoyment of God’s manifestations and grace, even the glorification of Him renders the core selfish. Edwards moves on to further clarify the disparity between perfect spiritual love and mere natural love in our affections. He does not so much offer proof that the saints and elect do have spiritual love for God as examine why a spiritual love is of greater worth than natural love. Perhaps he believes that its potentiality lies in its perfection. But assuming spiritual love exists in the hearts of men because we consider some men holy and spiritual love is the most holy species of love does not inspire confidence in its actuality. One ends up feeling that if it exists it is because God is both deserving and desirous of such a supernatural love from men2. Putting aside that Edwards does not seem overly concerned with proving the actuality of this spiritual love in the hearts of men, and occupies himself primarily with why it is the highest species of love, I find myself questioning whether he dismissed too soon his opponent’s argument that all love is rooted in consideration of the self and, I think, perhaps even rightly so.


Can God (as we conceive him) however be deserving of love just for his power and can he be desirous of anything from us in which we have no self-interest?

How does love arise without any relation to the self? What does it mean to love something solely for its innate Excellency? Edwards would have man fall in love with God on purely objective grounds and from this purely objective love find the good that God performs (for us) of secondary importance in our valuation. That man may find himself full of awe before the powers of God is understandable, but to be full of awe before God does not seem to me to be the same as to love Him. Wherein do we find the cause for this “amiableness” to the great power? We find the power “transcendently excellent” because it is in some way relevant to us, to love one must be affected and in such a way that it seems fitting to harbor positive feelings. What if the only manifestations of God’s power were harmful to us or what if they just never resulted in anything meaningful to our lives? If there were an unjust God or even a God whose only actions and reasons were absurd, would we be logical to love him or esteem those who do? If there were a God who did not make us in his image and concerned himself only with squirrels3 (who are made in his image), if the Sermon on the Mount were conducted by a squirrel and for the benefit of squirrels, if exodus were entirely about squirrels and a squirrel Christ had died to redeem the souls of all squirrels to a squirrel heaven, and humans had no mention or place in scripture would we not think it odd for someone to love and praise the squirrel God who has really never acknowledged our existence from the moment we came to be and apparently our creation was only to keep the squirrels company and show squirrel God’s magnificent diversity of creation. Yes it would be self-less of the man to love the squirrel God but would that ever happen (if it did might not we consider this love somewhat absurd). Our conception of


Acorns being manna from heaven.

God (especially the Judeo-Christian conception) is very much dependent on our beliefs that we are in some way special.

Of course Edwards is not talking about the squirrel God – I talk of it only to show how difficult it is to filter out anything of relevance to us and yet still find God excellent and worthy of love. It makes little sense to me to talk about entirely objective grounds for loving God, for it is in his infinite relevance that he may be called excellent. How is one to think of God in His capacity as the creator, the judge, and the lord of all and hold oneself and the ramifications of this entirely separate? The awe is from contemplation of the great power, but the love is inextricably linked to the belief that God is good. It is in His goodness that He is “transcendently excellent” and deserving of love and praise. The powers that awe must affect us in some way, and they must affect us in a positive way for them to be termed good and excellent. I think that what Edwards really wishes to do is to stress the importance of not being “mercenary” about loving God, to remove oneself as far as possible and appreciate God for being eternally good, and not depend on that benevolence manifesting in too personal a way to be deserving of love. I believe that what Edwards wants to emphasize is that you should be humble and delightfully surprised at the good that comes to you, and not consider it your due or trade your love for benefits. It seems odd to require that to love God truly you must ignore at least at the root of your love his goodness. Loving God just for his omnipotence seems unworthy of praise. in love between men it is laudable to stress the importance of extending your affections to those who do not feel such for you. The point of Luke 6:32 is that it is more

beneficial to man in general to extend your love to include those who do not as yet love you, that God desires you to be selfless in this way for the good of all. I wish to say again that I do not really think Edwards would want us to have the sort of groundless (or only stemming from awe of power) love for God that I have made his spiritual love to be. Edwards concept of God is that He is innately good, that His powers are innately good, that His purpose and goals are good. For Edwards God’s powers are symbolic of His superiority and that superiority is dependant on that, beyond the considerations of men, God is identical with what is good. We are to love God for His goodness without expecting that goodness to always trickle down to us for what we consider to be our benefit.