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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Excellency of Christ

By Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758)

WHEN we behold a beautiful body, a lovely proportion and beautiful harmony of features, delightful airs of countenance and voice, and sweet motions and gestures, 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, that could be made to have the same sounds and 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, those 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 it is certainly because there is an analogy between such a countenance and such airs 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 conversation and behavior, but of those simple and natural motions and airs. So it appears, because the same habitudes and actings of mind do beget [airs and movements] 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 require a more discerning, feeling mind to perceive it than the other. Those have their airs, too, as well as the body and countenance of man, which have a strange kind of agreement with 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 seem to be love and complacency in flowers and bespangled meadows; this makes lovers so much delight 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 this 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, a glimpse, of his excellencies to bodies, which, as we have shown, are but the shadows of beings, 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 the beauty of face and sweet airs in men 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 see only the emanations of the sweet benevolence of Jesus Christ. When we behold the fragrant rose and lily, we see this 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 beauty and loveliness. The crystal rivers and murmuring streams are the footsteps of his favor, grace, and beauty. 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 in the blue sky, 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 hovering 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 so often compared to those things and called by their names,—as, the Sun of Righteousness, the Morning Star, the Rose of Sharon, the Lily of the Valley, 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. I. From hence it is evident that man is in a fallen state; and 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. II. There will be a future state wherein man will have them according to his capacity. How great a happiness will it be in Heaven for the saints to enjoy the society of each other, since one may see so much of the loveliness of Christ in those things which are only shadows of beings. With what joy are philosophers filled in beholding the aspectable world. How sweet will it be to behold the proper image and communications of Christ’s excellency in intelligent beings, having so much of the beauty of Christ upon them as Christians shall have in heaven. What beautiful and fragrant flowers will those be, reflecting all the sweetnesses of the Son of God! How will Christ delight to walk in this garden among those beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies!