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More Voices From the Past on Loving God Rightly

This entry is part 28 of 34 in the series

"Doxology: A Theology of God's Beauty"

Read more posts by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

Brother Lawrence’s (1614–1691) collected letters, known as The Practice of the Presence of God, describe his attempt to love all things for God’s sake. He remarks that he was pleased “when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts” (The Practice of the Presence of God, 2nd Conv., VI).

Jonathan Edwards also differentiates between loving God as a means or as an end.

For if we love him not for his own sake, but for something else, then our love is not terminated on him, but on something else, as its ultimate object. That is no true value for infinite worth, which implies no value for that worthiness in itself considered, but only on the account of something foreign. Our esteem of God is fundamentally defective, if it be not primarily for the excellency of his nature, which is the foundation of all that is valuable in him in any respect. If we love not God because he is what he is, but only because he is profitable to us, in truth we love him not at all. (Works of Jonathan Edwards Online, 3:144).

References to inordinate affection, or non-corresponding love abound in Christian thought. Early church fathers such as Clement, Nemesius of Emesa, and Gregory of Nyssa all differentiate between evil passions and good. Puritans such as William Ames, John Owen, and Richard Sibbes wrote much on right affections as opposed to inordinate affections.

In his greatest work against positivism and subjectivism, The Abolition of Man, Lewis writes:

Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it—believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence or our contempt. The reason why Coleridge agreed with the tourist who called the cataract sublime and disagreed with the one who called it pretty was of course that he believed inanimate nature to be such that certain responses could be more ‘just’ or ‘ordinate’ or ‘appropriate’ to it than others.

Roger Scruton, in Beauty, agrees:

for a free being, there is right feeling, right experience and right enjoyment just as much as right action. The judgement of beauty orders the emotions and desires of those who make it. It may express their leisure and their taste: but it is pleasure in what they value and taste for their true ideals.

The so-called “worship wars”, whether ancient or modern, largely are debates over what is appropriate love for God, and what is not. Whether it be the matter of images, the order of the Mass, the use of an organ, singing in the vernacular, the presence of an altar, the presence of statues, crucifixes or candles and incense in worship, or priestly vestments, these all reflect a centuries-old debate regarding appropriate worship, and therefore ordinate or correspondent love.

The idea of correspondent or ordinate love for God has been present in historical Christian thought. Christians have written on the appropriateness or inappropriateness of love. The writers surveyed believed that for love to correspond to God’s love, it must be accorded to the right objects according to their value and nature, and thereby be of the right degree and kind.

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David de Bruyn

About David de Bruyn

David de Bruyn pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minnesota and the University of South Africa (D.Th.). Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.

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