In our last post, we considered how Christ’s righteousness relates to our rewards. It is ultimately a subject concerning degrees of glory in heaven. It articulates a critical answer to the discussion concerning the relationship and place of justification and works, or faith and rewards.
Jonathan Edwards argues that since God supremely delights in His own glory His delight in creation is proportionate to the manifestation of His glory in it. This affords sufficient cause for those justified in Christ to earnestly pursue higher degrees of glory with their redeemed lives.
God’s Glory and Man’s Joy
One hindrance to a healthy pursuit of God’s glory is that we tend to view the idea of personal rewards as some kind of mercenary endeavor. As though we seek after a reward that is quite unrelated to the activity for which it is given. There is a great difference between the act of marrying for one’s money and marrying for love. As C. S. Lewis said, “The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation.” A saint’s faithfulness and rewards are on the same continuum, which is best defined in terms of love and joy.
We tend to disconnect and insulate the glory of God and our joy. It is as though the glory of God and personal delight were two unrelated conceptions. In the heart of the redeemed, this ought not be. Of distinguishing import is the blessed fact that in reconciling sinners to Himself through Christ crucified, God restores the human soul to a place where giving glory and honor to God increasingly acts in concert with personal delight. God’s glory and the joy of the redeemed are on the same continuum.
God has so wisely ordered all things for His glory that both our motivation and greatest good are intimately linked to His glory.
Faith Loves and Labors
This is where the subject concerning degrees of glory comes in. God presents two irreducible realities: (a) nothing we can do can merit God’s forgiveness and righteousness, and (b) loving God abundantly reaps abundant reward.
It is the design of God in wisdom that the pursuit of God produces our greatest joy. That loving what is truly most lovely results in our deepest satisfaction. That honoring what is truly most honorable reaps our highest honor of all.
In the Bible, there is the teaching of equality in grace apart from works (Matt 20:1-16; Luke 23:43; Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:5), and there is the teaching of inequality through grace with works (Matt 5:10-12, 22; 6:19-20; 10:42; 16:27; 18:4; 19:29; 25:28-29; Luke 6:38; Mark 9:41; 1 Cor 3:14-15; Gal 6:7-10; Hos 10:12; 2 Cor 9:6).
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. –Ephesians 2:8-10
As redemption relates to eternal life so rewards relate to the enjoyment of God in that life. Merit, entitlement, and boasting are excluded.
Stewardship of Grace
Different degrees of glory trace their foundation to different degrees of grace. Both the place of any given member of the body and its capacity to do good is determined by God. Not only this, but all enabling assistance to perform and improve are also owing to grace. So the degree of grace given is the first determining factor in proportioning the saints’ future degrees of glory.
Building on this foundation of grace, Edwards identified four other chief considerations.
First are the degrees of the exercises and fruits of grace. Just as sin is perfected by the act, so is grace when voluntarily and overtly exercised. Greater reward will correspond to greater fruit.
Second are the degrees of good done by the exercise and fruits of grace. The reward will be in some measure proportioned to the good accomplished by the deed—the effects of the act, not just the act, are considered. By virtue of the greatest good that could be realized, Edwards drew particular attention to evangelistic labors and argued that the greatest of rewards belong to the labors that effect the conversion of souls.
Third are the degrees of a person’s self-denial and suffering. ‘For when grace is exercised and manifested in this manner, it is especially to the glory of God, for hereby the creature makes a sacrifice of himself and all things to the Creator.’ The more God is glorified, the greater the reward.
Fourth are the degrees of humility. ‘They that have the greatest humility shall be most exalted, and shall be greatest in the kingdom of heaven; and they that are greatest in the kingdom of heaven are most humble.’
So degrees of glory relate to our stewardship of grace, and our motivation to love and joy. For Edwards, degrees of glory cannot rightly be conceived apart from the grace of God and the experience of love and joy.
Edwards answered objections to his view with stunning insight.
Objection: No saint deserves more happiness than another since all is of free grace. To this, Edwards again points to the good pleasure of God:
Though all be from free grace, yet this is one way in which the freedom and sovereignty of grace is manifested in distinguishing some from others. The way in which God manifests his sovereignty, is by distinguishing those that desire no distinction; that the distinction should be of God, and not of ourselves; as is evident by what the Apostle says. 1 Corinthians 4:7, ‘Who maketh thee to differ?’ And though the good works of the saints deserve no reward, yet God of his free grace has been pleased to promise a reward to them, to encourage them to diligence in his work and service; as a kind father will encourage and reward what is done by a little child, wherein it shows respect to its father, though its doings are but the doings of a little child, and are no profit to its father. Though what the best the saints do is exceeding polluted, and deserves nothing, but if God beheld the pollution would deserve his wrath; yet for Christ’s sake he beholds not the pollution, and accepts the sincerity, and testifies his acceptance by a glorious reward.
Objection: How can there be any different degrees of glory among those who are equally justified? To this, he again delineates between redemption and rewards.
How we should be saved only upon the account of Christ’s righteousness, and yet have greater degrees of glory in reward of our good works, may be yet better understood, if we consider that Christ and the whole church of saints are one body, of which he is the head, and they members of different place and capacity. Now the whole body, head and members, have communion in Christ’s righteousness; they are all partakers of the benefit of it; Christ himself, the head, is rewarded for it, and every member is partaker of the benefit and reward. But it does by no means follow, that every part should equally partake of the benefit, but every part in proportion to its place and capacity: the head partakes of far more than the other parts, because ’tis of a far greater capacity, and the more noble members partake of more than the inferior. As it is in a natural body that enjoys perfect health, the head and the heart and lungs have a greater share of it, they have it more seated in them, than the hands and feet, because they are parts of greater capacity; so in the mystical body of Christ, all the members are partakers of the benefit, of the righteousness of the head, but ’tis according to their different capacity and place they have in the body.
Objection: How can there be differences among those who are perfectly blessed? To this, Edwards notes that perfect happiness and degrees of happiness will obviously coexist. No saint will ever have the same degree of happiness as God and yet every saint will be perfectly happy. The solution to this difficult is given by the notion of capacities.
The happiness of all the saints shall be perfect in two respects, viz. first, as they shall be so happy as to be perfectly free from all trouble and all evil; and, second, as everyone’s capacity shall be filled with happiness, but yet the capacity may be different. Every vessel may be full, and yet some may hold more than others. If many vessels were cast into the sea, everyone would be full; but yet bigger vessels would hold more than little ones. He that is full of happiness, he has perfection of happiness: his capacity being full, he is satisfied, and craves no more. But yet another man’s perfection of happiness may exceed his.
Objection: Differences among the saints in heaven would diminish the happiness of those that are in the lower degrees of glory. To this, Edwards promptly issues the reminder that all tendencies to envy and every inclination to self-centeredness will be exhaustively eradicated in heaven. In fact, he argues that the differences will serve only to promote greater exchanges of love and happiness. On the one hand, ‘the exaltation of some in glory above others, will be so far from diminishing anything of the perfect happiness and joy of the rest that are inferior, that they will be the happier for it.’ And on the other hand, ‘the superior in glory will be so far from slighting those who are inferior, that they will have more abundant love to them, greater degrees of love in proportion to their superior knowledge and happiness; the higher in glory, the more like Christ in this respect.’
No principles will be remaining in their hearts, whence this should be any diminution of their happiness. It won’t diminish, because they won’t have enough; for they shall be full, and their capacity, and so their cravings, satisfied. And then there shall be no remainders of a spirit of envy. There shall be such perfect love, that through the whole society there will admit of no shadow of any such things, no remains of pride. [And then there shall be] perfect humility: they shall [be] fully contented in their lesser degrees of glory. …
Those that are higher in glory will be lower in humility. For as we have observed that a finite perfection of happiness admits of degrees, so does a finite perfection of holiness, and so of humility, which is a great part of creature holiness; and those that are highest in happiness, will be also in holiness. …
The seeing the superior happiness of others not only won’t diminish [them], but such will be their love, that it will rather add to it. They not only will not be grieved to be [lower than them], but so perfectly will they love them, that they will greatly rejoice in it, that they are so happy.
Thus, as God’s glory and grace are not at odds, neither should be man’s glorifying God and delighting in God. Our supreme joy, satisfaction, and affection are intended—through Christ crucified—to be one with our purpose, stewardship, and worship.
May God be glorified in our delights and may we increasingly seek to be delighted in God.