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

The Essence of True Virtue

By Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758)

From ‘The Nature of True Virtue,’ Chapters i, ii

TRUE virtue most essentially consists in benevolence to being in general. Or perhaps, to speak more accurately, it is that consent, propensity, and union of heart to being in general, which is immediately exercised in a general good-will….

A benevolent propensity of heart to being in general, and a temper or disposition to love God supremely, are in effect the same thing…. However, every particular exercise of love to a creature may not sensibly arise from any exercise of love to God, or an explicit consideration of any similitude, conformity, union or relation to God, in the creature beloved.

The most proper evidence of love to a created being arising from that temper of mind wherein consists a supreme propensity of heart to God, seems to be the agreeableness of the kind and degree of our love to God’s end in our creation, and in the creation of all things, and the coincidence of the exercises of our love, in their manner, order, and measure, with the manner in which God himself exercises love to the creature in the creation and government of the world, and the way in which God, as the first cause and supreme disposer of all things, has respect to the creature’s happiness in subordination to himself as his own supreme end. For the true virtue of created beings is doubtless their highest excellency and their true goodness…. But the true goodness of a thing must be its agreeableness to its end, or its fitness to answer the design for which it was made. Therefore they are good moral agents whose temper of mind or propensity of heart is agreeable to the end for which God made moral agents….

A truly virtuous mind … above all things seeks the glory of God…. This consists in the expression of God’s perfections in their proper effects,—the manifestation of God’s glory to created understandings; the communication of the infinite fullness of God to the creature; the creature’s highest esteem of God, love to and joy in him; and in the proper exercises and expressions of these. And so far as virtuous mind exercises true virtue in benevolence to created beings, it chiefly seeks the good of the creature; consisting in its knowledge or view of God’s glory and beauty, its union with God, uniformity and love to him, and joy in him. And that disposition of heart, that consent, union, or propensity of mind to being in general which appears chiefly in such exercises, is virtue, truly so called; or in other words, true grace and real holiness. And no other disposition or affection but this is of the nature of virtue.