The Cosmos Blazons the Excellency of the Logos
Jonathan Edwards, in his “Miscellanies,” no. 108, meditates on the image of the excellency and perfection of Jesus Christ as proclaimed in the majestic forms and sensations and beings in Creation. Though we know him primarily as a theorist, or a philosopher, Edwards was a lifelong empiricist, in the sense that he never seemed to tire of sitting down to observe slowly and carefully the handiwork of the Almighty. Spirit, give me a heart — and eyes! — dripping with love for Christ like you did this faithful saint now in the bliss of the blessed “future state,” in the presence of beauty and excellency incomparable!
When we behold a beautiful body, a lovely proportion, a beautiful harmony of features of face, delightful airs of countenance and voice, and sweet motion and gesture, we are charmed with it; not under the notion of a corporeal, but a mental beauty. For if there could be a statue that should have exactly the same, could be made to have the same sound, and have the same motions precisely, we should not be so delighted with it; we should not fall entirely in love with the image, if we knew certainly that it had no perception or understanding. The reason is, we are apt to look upon this agreeableness, these airs, to be emanations of perfections of the mind, and immediate effects of internal purity and sweetness.
Especially it is so, when we love the person for the airs of voice, countenance and gesture; which have much greater power upon us, than barely colors and proportion of dimensions. And ’tis certainly because there is an analogy between such a countenance and such airs, and these and those excellencies of the mind—a sort of I know not what in them, that is agreeable and does consent with such mental perfections—so that we cannot think of such habitudes of mind without having an idea of them at the same time. Nor can it be only from custom, for the same dispositions and actings of mind naturally beget such kind of airs of countenance and gesture; otherwise, they never would have come into custom. (I speak not here of the ceremonies of behavior, but of those simple and natural motions and airs.) So it appears, because the same habitudes and actings of mind do beget airs in general the same amongst all nations in all ages.
And there is really likewise an analogy, or consent, between the beauty of the skies, trees, fields, flowers, etc. and spiritual excellencies; though the agreement be more hid and requires a more discerning, feeling mind to perceive it than the other. These have their airs too, as well as the body or countenance of man, which have a strange kind of agreement with such and such mental beauties. This makes it natural in such frames of mind to think of them, and fancy ourselves in the midst of them. Thus there seems to be love and complacency in flowers and bespangled meadows; this makes lovers delight so much in them. So there is a rejoicing in the green trees and fields, [and] majesty in thunder beyond all other noises whatever.
Now we have shown, that the Son of God created the world for his very end, to communicate himself in an image of his own excellency. He communicates himself properly only to spirits; and they only are capable of being proper images of his excellency, for they only are properly beings, as we have shown. Yet he communicates a sort of a shadow or glimpse of his excellencies to bodies, which, as we have shown, are but the shadows of being, and not real beings. He who by his immediate influence gives being every moment and by his Spirit actuates the world, because he inclines to communicate himself and his excellencies, doth doubtless communicate his excellency to bodies, as far as there is any consent or analogy. And though beauty of face and sweet airs in man are not always the effect of the corresponding excellencies of mind, yet the beauties of nature are really emanations, or shadows, of the excellencies of the Son of God.
So that when we are delighted with flowery meadows and gentle breezes of wind, we may consider that we only see the emanations of the sweet benevolence of Jesus Christ; when we behold the fragrant rose and lily, we see his love and purity. So the green trees and fields, and singing of birds, are the emanations of his infinite joy and benignity; the easiness and naturalness of trees and vines [are] shadows of his infinite beauty and loveliness; the crystal rivers and murmuring streams have the footsteps of his sweet grace and bounty. When we behold the light and brightness of the sun, the golden edges of an evening cloud, or the beauteous bow, we behold the adumbrations of his glory and goodness; and the blue skies, of his mildness and gentleness.
There are also many things wherein we may behold his awful majesty: in the sun in his strength, in comets, in thunder, in the towering thunder clouds, in ragged rocks and the brows of mountains. That beauteous light with which the world is filled in a clear day is a lively shadow of his spotless holiness and happiness, and delight in communicating himself.
And doubtless this is a reason that Christ is compared so often to those things and called by their names; as, the sun of righteousness, the morning star, the rose of Sharon and lily of the valleys, the apple tree amongst the trees of the wood, a bundle of myrrh, a roe, or a young hart. By this we may discover the beauty of many of those metaphors and similes, which to an unphilosophical person do seem so uncouth.
In like manner, when we behold the beauty of man’s body in its perfection, we still see like emanations of Christ’s divine perfections, although they do not always flow from the mental excellencies of the person that has them. But we see far the most proper image of the beauty of Christ, when we see beauty in the human soul.
Corol. 1. From hence ’tis evident that man is in a fallen state, that he has naturally scarcely anything of those sweet graces, which are an image of those which are in Christ; for no doubt, seeing that other creatures have an image of them according to their capacity, so all the rational and intelligent part of the world once had according to theirs.
Corol. 2. There will be a future state, wherein man will have [those graces] according to his capacity. How great a happiness will it be in heaven, for the saints to enjoy the society of each other! For if one may see so much of the loveliness of Christ in those things which are only shadows of being—with what joy are philosophers filled in beholding the aspectable world!—how sweet will it be to behold the proper images and communications of Christ’s excellencies in intelligent beings, having so much of the beauty of Christ upon them as Christians shall have in heaven.