The following is a chapter from The End for Which God Created the World: Updated to Modern English. In this chapter, Jonathan Edwards is dealing with an objection that people sometimes raise against the idea that God created all things for his own glory. The objection says that if God aimed at his own glory then that would mean he is somehow incomplete or not perfect or even needy. The way Edwards deals with this objection is splendid, and is a major highlight of the entire book. Hope you enjoy it:
God made himself his own ultimate end in creating the world. But some object against this conclusion, stating that God seeking himself as his own ultimate end would be inconsistent with his own character.
When God seeks his own glory as his ultimate end, is that inconsistent with his being an absolutely independent and immutable being? This objection might be raised in particular against the idea that God is inclined to communicate his fullness and emanate his glory as his most glorious and complete state. The objector might believe that this idea is not consistent with God being self-existent from all eternity. He is absolutely perfect in himself and is infinitely and independently good. It doesn’t seem to make sense to the objector, then, that God aims at himself as his end in the creation of the world. This would seem to imply that God is aiming at his own interests or happiness, which cannot be easily reconciled with God already being perfectly and infinitely happy in himself.
The objector continues, stating that if it were possible that God needed anything, then it might make sense that God would make himself and his own interests his highest and last end in creating the world. But, alas, God doesn’t need anything.
Furthermore, if it were possible that the goodness of the creatures God has made might be able to extend to him (or that in some way they could be profitable to him), then there would be some reason and grounding for the conclusions that have been drawn so far. But this is simply not who God is, they say. He is above all need and could have no reason to add anything to himself or advance himself in any way. He cannot be made better or happier in any way, shape, or form.
This being true, what purpose would God have in making himself his own end? Why would he be interested in seeking to advance himself in any way by his works? Can you see how absurd it is to suppose such a thing? Why would God do such great things in order to obtain what he already possesses in a perfect way?
Additionally, the objector could say that from all eternity God has been in perfect and complete possession of all his holiness, perfections, and happiness. He has never needed to add to these things and does not need to add to them now. How then can we conceive of a reason that God would want to seek these things?
Answer 1: Wrong notions of God’s happiness
This objection arises partly because many people have come to believe wrong notions about God’s happiness. These wrong notions flow from a clouded attempt to understand God’s absolute self-sufficiency, independence, and immutability.
Indeed, it is true that God’s glory and happiness are exclusively in and of himself. He is infinite, and thus nothing can be added to him. He is unchangeable in his whole being as well as in every part of his being. Yes, he is completely independent of all that he has made, and he does not depend upon the creature in any way.
However, it does not follow from this that God is void of any real and proper delight in the things he does with respect to the creatures he has made. It does not follow that God takes no pleasure in the communications he extends to them. It does not follow from God’s perfect nature that he finds no happiness in the effects he produces in his creatures or in what he sees in their qualifications, dispositions, actions, and states. None of these conclusions are true. Rather, God may have real and proper happiness in seeing his creatures in a happy state. It could be truly pleasurable for him to observe their true pleasure.
But his happiness about their happiness may not be fundamentally different from the delight he has in himself, being a delight in his own infinite goodness. God’s delight in the delight of his creatures may simply be the exercise of his glorious propensity to spread out his glory and communicate himself. When this is done, it satisfies the inclinations of his own heart.
We must be sure to clarify the point. The delight God experiences in the happiness of his creatures cannot properly be said to be a delight that he receives from them. After all, their happiness is only the effect of his work in them. Their delight and joy comes as God communicates himself to them, not the other way around. God allows his creatures admittance to participate in his fullness. That is where their pleasure, delight, and joy are derived.
The illustration of the sun and the jewel helps us understand this point. As the sun shines through the jewel, it is the jewel that receives its light. The sun does not receive any light from the jewel. The jewel only shines as it participates in the brightness of the sun.
When it comes to people being holy creatures, God could certainly have a proper joy and delight in this that is consistent with his independence and self-sufficiency. He is the one, after all, who imparts this holiness to them, and again, this gratifies his inclination to communicate his own excellent fullness.
Certainly, God can experience delight as he beholds the beauty of holiness in them, which is an image of his own beauty. His must be a true and great pleasure as he observes an expression and manifestation of his own loveliness, which he has communicated to his creatures. In so doing, it is clear and evident that his happiness is actually in himself. He delights and finds pleasure in his own beauty as he delights and finds pleasure in the expression and reflected image of his beauty.
Look at it from the other point of view. If God did not find pleasure in the expression and image of his own beauty, it would be evidence that he did not delight in his own innate beauty. If God did not delight in the emanations and reflections of his holiness, it would mean that God had no happiness and joy in his own perfection. Thus we are to understand that God has real pleasure and real happiness in the holy love and praise of his saints. This is because their love and praise is the result of his communicating his holiness to them, which is then reflected back to him.
If we really understand this, then we should also understand that his pleasure and happiness in his saints and their holiness is not distinct from the pleasure and happiness that he has in himself. Rather, it is a true instance of it. Furthermore, God’s delight in the expression of his perfections does not detract from his being glorified in those expressions.
Think about it. God’s glory consists in his perfect qualities and in the exercise and expression of them and in the effects caused by their use. For example, God is wise by nature, thus he makes infinitely wise plans. God is also powerful, so he carries out great and mighty deeds. He is also just, leading him to act righteously in what he does. He is also good, which can be seen in how he communicates happiness.
In all these things, both in his nature and in his actions, God is glorified. He is honored and praised as he exhibits and communicates his nature through his actions. He is also honored and praised as people come to know of his perfections and the outworking of them.
Of course, as they come to know these things, people highly praise God himself as a result. When God delights in all this, it does not mean that he is delighting in something other than himself or something other than his own glory. To the contrary, when God delights in the emanation and brilliant shining of his glory, it is a necessary consequence of his delighting in himself and the glory of his own nature.
Additionally, nothing I have said argues at all that God has any dependence upon the creatures he has made in order to be happy. Again, though he experiences true pleasure in the holiness and happiness of the people he has made, his pleasure cannot properly be said to be something he receives from them. Rather, these are the things that he gives to them. They are entirely from him without exception.
Therefore, nothing is given to God in the sense that something is added to him. We must understand these things properly. God’s rejoicing in his creatures is fundamentally a rejoicing in his own acts and in his own glory expressed through those acts. His joy is not derived from the creature. It is dependent upon nothing else except his own actions, which are exerted with an absolute and independent power.
Yet it is true that, in some sense, God has more delight and pleasure as a result of the holiness and happiness of his creatures. This is because God would be less happy if he were less good. And he would be less happy if he did not have that perfection of his nature that deeply desires to spread abroad his own fullness and glory. His inclination to spread his glory is part of his perfect nature, so if he did not have the inclination, he would be less happy. Furthermore, he would be less happy if it were somehow possible for his good actions to be hindered or for his other perfections and their active outworking to be thwarted.
God has complete happiness precisely because he has all these perfections and cannot be hindered in exercising them as he sees fit. No person or thing can stop him from displaying his glorious works and presenting the inevitable results of such a display. And surely this is not because he is a dependent being! No, it is because he is independent that he can’t be hindered in his works.
With all this in mind, it appears clear that none of the conclusions in this work are inconsistent with what the Scriptures say about God’s nature, not in the least. For example, no conclusion made is inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture that God cannot be profited by the works of man. Nor is any conclusion inconsistent with the scriptural teaching that God receives nothing from us, either by our wisdom or our righteousness. Rather, all of the passages of Scripture that express these realities plainly mean no more than that God is absolutely independent of us. They teach that we have nothing in our own power. We have no resources of our own to give to God, and further, no part of his happiness is derived from man.
None of the conclusions I have drawn so far contradict these biblical truths in the least. Rather, it has been stated that the pleasure God has in the things mentioned is a pleasure in his spreading and communicating himself, his holiness, his happiness, and his glory to the creature. Nothing I have concluded would indicate that God in any way finds his pleasure from what he receives from the creature. Surely no argument can be made that God is impoverished and needy because he has an inclination to communicate his infinite fullness! Neither is there an argument that a fountain is empty and deficient because it is inclined to overflow! These notions are both absurd.
Back to the scriptural expressions mentioned before. Another thing these expressions signify is that God’s happiness cannot be added to or altered by anything that comes from the creature. Simply put, God’s created beings are unable to change him, increase him, or decrease him in any way.
None of the conclusions drawn so far infer something other than what the Bible teaches about this matter, not in the least. God’s making himself his own last end is in no way inconsistent with his eternality or the absolute unchanging nature of his pleasure and happiness. This is because God’s joy in communicating himself is without beginning or change. These communications and expressions were always equally present in his divine mind. Yes, he carries out the communications of himself in time, but his own knowledge of them is timeless. Yes, indeed, the exercises, operations, effects, and expressions of God’s glorious perfections – the very things he rejoices in – are taking place within time as we know it. But he beholds them all simultaneously, with equal clearness, certainty, and fullness in every respect. He sees them all at the same time, even now. God enjoys them all without variableness or succession as he beholds them perfectly in his own independent and immutable power and will.
So from God’s point of view, the joy he experiences in the operations of his perfections in time is eternal, absolutely perfect, unchanging, and independent. Neither his view nor his joy can be added to or diminished by the power or will of any creature. Furthermore, his eternal view and his infinite joy are both fully independent of anything mutable or contingent.
Answer 2: No better alternative
Some may not be satisfied with the preceding answer. These people may continue to insist that the objection is valid, that the idea of God having himself and his own glory as his ultimate end in creating the world is inconsistent with his perfect and unchanging nature.
I would challenge those who are not happy with the answer given above to come up with a better alternative. Can they devise a scheme that isn’t just as subject to the full force of this objection, if there is any force in it at all?
Think about it. If God had any ultimate end at all as his aim in creating the world, then there was some future thing he was aiming at. What is this thing? In creating the world, he designed things so that his last end would actually come to be. Whatever this last end is, it is agreeable to God and the inclination of his will. This end might be his own glory or, for the sake of argument, the happiness of his creatures or maybe some other end.
Now, if God is seeking this last end that is agreeable to him, that satisfies his desire, then he is certainly gratified when he accomplishes it. It seems obvious that this last end would be something he finds truly desirous, for it is the object of his will. Thus as something he finds truly desirous, his last end is the thing he takes a real delight and pleasure in.
But according to the objection, this can’t be. How can God have anything future that he desires or seeks after if he is already perfectly, eternally, and immutably satisfied in himself? In that case what remains for God to delight in or be further gratified by? There would be nothing at all, since God’s eternal and unchangeable delight is in himself as his own complete object of enjoyment. Thus the objector is caught by his own objection.
Therefore, we should carefully understand that whatever God’s last end is, he must have a real and proper pleasure in it. After all, he finds gratification in whatever is the object of his will. This is because whatever he wills after is satisfying to him in itself. Or it gratifies him because it would allow him to obtain something else that would be satisfying to him. But God’s last end is what he wills after for its own sake, as being satisfying to him in itself. It is the thing he delights in truly. It is the thing in which he finds some degree of genuine and proper pleasure.
In order to say otherwise, we would have to deny that God has a will at all with respect to anything brought about to pass in time! We would have to deny his work of creation! We would have to deny that any of his works of providence are truly voluntary! But we have many reasons to believe that God’s works in creating and governing the world are the fruits of his will and understanding.
Furthermore, surely we mean something real when we refer to the acts of God’s will. Thus if he has a will that indeed acts, then he is certainly not apathetic or indifferent about whether his will is fulfilled. In other words, it certainly matters to God whether his will achieves its purpose, and when it does, he is pleased and finds great pleasure in it.
Taking this thought one step further, if God has real pleasure in attaining the purposes of his will, then when he does attain what he wills, it makes him happy. Whatever God finds any measure of delight or pleasure in, he also finds some measure of happiness in that same thing. To suppose that God only has a figurative or metaphoric pleasure in the things that are brought about to pass in time is an error. It would require one to also suppose that God exercises his will about these things and makes them his end in only a figurative or metaphoric sense.
Answer 3: God’s self-sufficiency actually diminished by the opposite view
Upon deeper examination, the teaching that God makes his creatures (rather than himself) his original ultimate end is actually the doctrine farthest from shining a favorable light on God’s absolute self-sufficiency and independence. This teaching agrees less with God’s independence than the doctrine it objects against, namely, that God seeks himself as his own last end.
To clarify, we must conceive of God’s workings as depending upon his ultimate end. He depends on his ultimate end in his desires, aims, actions, and pursuits. So God would fail at all his desires, actions, and pursuits if he fails to achieve his end. But if God is his own last end, then he depends on nothing but himself when he depends upon his last end. If everything that exists is of God and to God (if he is the first and the last), then God’s dependence upon himself as his last end demonstrates that he is all in all, or he is all to himself. He does not go outside of himself in what he seeks. All his desires and pursuits originate from and terminate in him. Thus he is dependent on none but himself, whether in the beginning or in the ending of any of his actions and operations.
On the contrary, suppose God makes the creature his last end rather than himself. In this scenario, since he depends upon his last end, God would in some way be dependent on the creature. But this is the very idea the objector is apparently trying to avoid!
So from these three answers, it is clear the objection of inconsistency fails. When God seeks himself as his ultimate end in creating the world, he is being totally consistent with his own unchanging and perfect character.
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