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Economy of Love with Degrees of Glory

Nothing will rob you of the joy of God’s grace like a low view of God, of Christ’s sacrifice, and of the glory of heaven.

To set our minds on the things above, to lay up our treasures in heaven and not on the earth, and to consider what is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, being reserved for us in heaven—these things are not auxiliary or ancillary or supplementary to the Christian life, they are essential to your joy, purpose, endurance, usefulness, and holiness.

While the joy of our salvation in Christ crucified begins in this life, we must daily renew our minds Godward in the reality that we currently live in a fallen and cursed world, beset with temptation, sin, and evil. We are pilgrims in a foreign land, citizens of heaven on an earthly sojourn, being in not of the world. The blessed glory of our salvation is yet future; we are not home yet. Jonathan Edwards describes the Christian yearning this way:

They remain in a joyful expectation of their more full and complete blessedness at the resurrection. As the wicked have not their full punishment until after the resurrection, so neither have the saints their complete happiness. Though they have attained to such exceeding glory, yet they are not yet arrived at its highest degrees, for that is reserved for their final state. The reward which the saints receive after the resurrection, is often spoken of as their chief reward. This is the reward that Christ has promised.

We Christians often fail to sincerely and practically set our minds on the things above, where Christ is seated (Col 3:1). Sometimes we become so preoccupied in the things below, where death reigns. We are often earthly minded and overwhelmed by the present trials that will have no reach into our future. Sometimes we hold the promise of heaven at a distance, unwittingly fearing that it may be too great to be true. Edwards put it this way: “this glory and blessedness are so great and wonderful that it seems too great to be given to such creatures as men are; it seems almost incredible that God should so exalt and advance worms of the dust.” He answered this tendency with tremendous insight:

The death and sufferings of Christ made every thing credible that belongs to this blessedness. If God has not thought his own Son too much for us, what will he think too much for us? If God did not spare him, but gave him even to be made a reproach, and a curse, and a victim to death for us, no blessedness, however great, can be incredible which is the fruit of this. Rom. 8:32. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” If God would so contrive to show his love in the manner and means of procuring our happiness, nothing can be incredible in the degree of the happiness itself: if nothing be too much to be given to man, and to be done for man in the manner of procuring his happiness, nothing will be too much to be given to him as the happiness procured, and no degree of happiness too great for him to enjoy. If all that God does about it be consistent, his infinite wisdom will also work to make their happiness and glory great in the degree of it.

Edwards elaborated on the happiness of the redeemed in heaven in view of perfection and degrees of glory:

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.

Yet his most profound insight relates the economy of love with degrees of glory. In answer to the objection that differences among the redeemed in heaven could not possibly be conceived to be in harmony with the virtues of heaven, Edwards offers a wonderful picture of love:

And when there is perfect satisfaction, there is no room for envy. And they will have no temptation to envy those who are above them in glory from their superiors being lifted up with pride. We are apt to conceive that those who are more holy, and more happy than others in heaven, will be elated and lifted up in their spirit above others. Whereas their being above them in holiness implies their being superior to them in humility; for their superior humility is part of their superior holiness. Though all are perfectly free from pride, yet as some will have greater degrees of divine knowledge than others, will have larger capacities to see more of the divine perfections, so they will see more of their own comparative littleness and nothingness, and therefore will be lowest abased in humility. And besides, the inferior in glory will have no temptation to envy those who are higher. For those who are highest will not only be more beloved by the lower saints for their higher holiness, but they will also have more of a spirit of love to others. They will love those who are below them more than other saints of less capacity. They who are in highest degrees of glory will be of largest capacity, and so of greatest knowledge, and will see most of God’s loveliness, and consequently will have love to God and love to saints most abounding in their hearts. So that those who are lower in glory will not envy those who are above them. They will be most beloved of those who are highest in glory, and 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. So that they will love them more than those who are their equals. And what puts it beyond doubt that seeing the superior happiness of others will be no damp to their happiness is this, that the superior happiness which they have consists in their greater humility, and their greater love to them, and to God and Christ, whom they will look upon as themselves. Such a sweet and perfect harmony will there be in the heavenly society, and perfect love reigning in every heart towards everyone without control, and without alloy, or any interruption. And no envy, or malice, or revenge, or contempt, or selfishness shall enter there, but shall be kept as far off as earth and hell are from heaven.

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Meditations

Degrees of Glory

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.

Objections?

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.

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Meditations

Christ’s Righteousness and Our Rewards

The thought of ‘rewards’ for the undeserving seems contradictory. And it is, if rewards and ill desert are conceived on the same horizon. The ground of our salvation and our good works are as insulated as heaven is from hell. The two shall not be confused in the heart of the one who treasures Christ.

No one wrote more extensively or reflected more deeply upon this subject than did Jonathan Edwards. It is a theological meditation on the concept of degrees of glory. With ‘degrees’ Edwards signified a quantitative measure or grade, and with ‘glory’ he referred to God’s excellency, dignity, and worth reflected, magnified, and enjoyed. So a higher degree of glory in the creature corresponds to a higher manifestation and personal enjoyment of God.

As redemption relates to eternal life so rewards relate to the enjoyment of God in that life. Merit, entitlement, and boasting are excluded.

Not only is salvation not merited, neither are rewards. Edwards insisted that the giving of rewards was a free and sovereign act of God based not on the saints’ merit but on God’s good pleasure: “he gives higher degrees of glory as a reward to the higher degrees of good works, not because it deserves it but because it pleases him.” He maintains that “the best the saints do is exceedingly polluted, and deserves nothing.” Persistently, Edwards held that merit cannot ‘meddle’ with the matter.

According to Edwards, degrees of glory approximate rewards in heaven. He reasoned, “if the good works of the saints are rewarded in heaven it will inevitably follow that there are different degrees of glory.” That God rewards the good works of the saints is a plain teaching in Scripture (1 Cor 3:9-15; 9:16-27). The deeds of the saints will be examined and rewarded accordingly (Rom 14:12; 2 Cor 5:10). But this examination is distinct from judgment against unatoned sin (Rom 8:1). Redemption is entirely by grace alone, accomplished by Christ alone, and received by faith alone. Yet, for the redeemed, works have an important place in the economy of glorifying God:

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

Edwards said, “I would premise negatively that there are no degrees of imputed righteousness, but that all saints are alike justified in the sight of God by the righteousness of Christ. As there are no degrees in the same person with respect to this but he is as much justified the first moment of his conversion as ever he is how much soever he may increase in holiness afterwards.”

Elsewhere, he explains, “Christ by his righteousness purchased for everyone perfect happiness; that is, he merited that their capacity should be filled with happiness. But this does not hinder but that the saints, being of various capacities, may have various degrees of happiness, and yet all their happiness be the fruit of Christ’s purchase.”

Christ secured the guarantee that each of His redeemed would experience perfect joy and love before God–a truly redeemed life perfectly restored to its perfect design. But we are not to presume that this great gift of grace negates all degrees of personal interest, investment, and  labor. The more you crave God, the more satisfying God will be. Christ purchased us to be stewards; we can blame no one but ourselves for poor stewardship. And our stewardship of grace is linked to our capacity to enjoy God. Edwards says, “But the purchase of Christ did not decide how large the vessel should be.”

Christ secured the perfection of our joy, and calls us to be stewards over the joy of our perfection in Christ. Edwards contends, “He purchased eternal life, that is perfect happiness, or which is the same thing, that everyone’s capacity should be filled. The saints are like so many vessels of different sizes cast into a sea of happiness, where each vessel is full: this is eternal life, for a man forever to have his capacity filled.”

Rightly understood, this doctrine is a present encouragement to Godward living. To this end, Edwards was not afraid to appeal to the motives of the heart and self-interest of the saint, especially with rewards of happiness in God.

The key to understanding degrees of glory is the authenticity of delight in God. Glorifying God is the only fitting response from the soul that sees Him for who He is. When we value most what is most valuable, when we delight most in what is most delightful, when we love most what is most lovely, we do what is right because of delight.

So the reward is in answer to our pursuit of God, not rewards.  And this itself is a stewardship of grace:

We ought to seek [higher degrees of glory], because God has revealed and offered it in his Word to that end, that we might seek it. Those things that God offers we ought to seek, otherwise we shall show a contempt of the offer that God makes. It would be a great sin for us to show such a slight of any of the blessings God has offered to stir us up to our duty, as not to seek after them. It shows the wonderful grace and love of God, that he will offer such high and superior degrees of glory for such imperfect, miserable services as we perform. But if now, when God has offered them, we won’t so much as seek after them, we shall show a great contempt of this wonderful grace.

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