Love for God’s beauty is known not only by imagination and through changed nature, but also by exposure. The writer of Theologia Germanica wrote, “And he who would know before he believeth, cometh never to true knowledge…We speak of a certain Truth which it is possible to know by experience, but which ye must believe in, before that ye know it by experience, else ye will never come to know it truly” (Theologia Germanica, XLVIII).
Though the believer is in ontological union with Christ, loving God’s beauty is a matter of experientially seeking that union, of consenting or desiring to live in experiential union with God. This experiential union with God requires the ontological union, but ontological union with Christ does not automatically lead to experiential union. Instead, believers are commanded to live in God’s presence, as seen in Christ’s command to “abide” (John 15:1–7).
What does this experiential union look like? A wise option is to investigate the “shape” of corporate worship, since corporate worship is the most distilled and unified form of worship.
The common pattern of the order of worship in the historical church actually reflects the progress of the gospel in the heart. First, the worshipper recognises who God is in adoration. Once that is realised, it leads to an understanding of self, and therefore to confession. The gospel then assures of pardon, so that the worshipper is led to thanksgiving, petition and more devotion. God provides his Word in response to the desire for aid, and the worshipper heeds the instruction, leaving with the charge to do so and the promise of God’s blessing.
This gospel-shaped process can be adapted for the experience of loving God’s beauty in all of life. This process necessarily includes public and private worship, but it also includes family life, service, discipleship of other believers, evangelism, one’s vocation, education, avocation, recreation, and entertainment. All of life is to be lived in a love for God (1 Cor. 16:14, 10:31).
This state of communion is often experienced as the Spirit of God does his work of illumination. Illumination is the Holy Spirit’s work of communicating spiritual realities to a Christian’s spiritual eyes by opening the eyes of a believer’s affections (Eph. 1:18) to recognise and experience the reality and beauty of truth about God.
When illuminated, a believer sees spiritual reality, which is to say that the believer sees what ought to be loved, and to what degree. This is the state of being the apostle Paul calls being “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18) or being “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19). The Spirit is himself the communion between Father and Son, and he is the means of experienced union with Christ for regenerate human beings (John 15:26). In the place of illumination, a believer is loving God ultimately, loving what God loves, and loving in expansive joy.
Experiential communion is life lived coram Deo, in God’s presence or before God’s face. Christian mystical writers have spoken of the ideal of unbroken communion with God or practising his presence at every waking moment. Some of these writers have set up an unattainable goal, asserting that such unbroken communion should always be direct; that is, a Christian’s conscious communion with God should never cease, even when going about work, solving pressing problems, or communing with other human beings. Very few people, however, have the ability to have their inward focus on more than one thing at a time. As Michael Polanyi noted in his epistemology, physical eyes are able to see many things in one’s peripheral vision and in the background, but they focus on one object at a time. Communion with God may be a focal awareness or a subsidiary awareness. Communion with God does not require that the Christian always be praying, meditating on the Word, or otherwise adoring God directly. Indirect communion with God will include loving what God has made by admiring God’s handiwork. Indirect communion includes serving God by focussing on the task at hand, or by focusing on the person one is serving for God’s sake. In these circumstances, Christians are actually turning their gaze from direct communion with God to something or someone else, while retaining God in their subsidiary vision. They do their work well, or consider carefully creation, or love another person, while keeping God as the ultimate, though presently indirect, end of all their actions. Richard Baxter said, “The intending of God’s glory or our spiritual good, cannot be distinctly and sensibly re-acted in every particular pleasure we take, or bit we eat, or thing we use: but a sincere Habitual Intention well laid at first in the Heart, will serve to the right use of many particular Means” (Works, Vol.1, 266). This means that the process of ordinate love comprehends all of life.
Correspondent love is cultivated through actual experience. The experience of communing with God, when illuminated by the Spirit, is that experience. Therein, the believer loves God ultimately, loves what God loves, consecrating all things to God. When he or she falls, there exists the option of confession, cleansing, followed by a deeper conformity to Christ.
How is this process to be deepened, and its posture strengthened? The fourth aspect of cultivating correspondent love supplies much of the answer.