"Taste and See that the LORD is Good!"- Edwards on 'Bonum Utile' and 'Bonum Formosum'
ESV Isaiah 6:3 And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!"
ESV Revelation 4:8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!"
How do we increase in our love for God as His people? How do we seek to desire God above all things and join with the angels in singing: â€œHoly, holy, holyâ€ both day and night?
We must taste and see that the LORD is good. As Jonathan Edwards taught in â€˜The Religious Affectionsâ€™ Part III, we must not only have an abstract sense of the taste of Godâ€™s holiness and beauty, but we must have knowledge of it for ourselves by the Holy Spirit.
Edwards said that as we may have an understanding that honey is sweet, it is much different to have an experience of actually tasting the honey and knowing first hand and experientially that the honey is sweet.
ESV Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Edwards wrote in â€˜The Religious Affectionsâ€™*: â€œA true love to God must begin with a delight in his holinessâ€¦.
By this all men may test their affections, and particularly the authenticity of their love and joy from God. Various kinds of creatures show the difference of their natures, very much in the different things they relish as their proper good [what they estimate as being â€œgoodâ€], one delighting in that which another abhors.
Such a difference is there between true saints, and natural [unregenerate] men. Unregenerate men have no sense of the goodness and excellency of holy things at least for their holiness; they have no taste for that kind of goodâ€¦the divine good [or holiness] is hid from themâ€¦
But the saints in Christ, by the mighty power of God, have this beauty of holiness revealed to them. Those in Christ have that supernatural, and most noble and divine sense of God and His beauty given to them, by which they properly and truly perceive it. It is this that captivates their hearts and minds and causes them to delight in God above all other things [possessions and other people]â€¦
For true Christians, this is what engages their souls and in which they ultimately focus their hope and derive all of their happiness, peace and satisfaction in this world, and look forward expectantly to the full satisfaction and blessedness of Godâ€™s fullness revealed in the world to comeâ€¦
By this love of Godâ€™s beauty, you may examine your love to God, and to Jesus Christ, and to the word of God, and your joy in them, and also your love to the people of God, and your longing and desires after heavenâ€¦.
You may test your understanding of the glory of Godâ€™s grace and love revealed in Jesus Christ [ultimate expression and revelation of God's beauty and holiness], and your affections arising from them if they be authentic; for there are counterfeits.
The grace of God may appear lovely and beautiful in two ways: as â€˜bonum utileâ€™, or what is most useful or profitable to me, and that which greatly serves my interest, and so suits my self-love. The â€˜bonum untileâ€™ is a desire for God ultimately for what God can do for me, or what he can give me.
On the other hand, we can understand and receive the grace of God as the â€˜bonum formosumâ€™ which is a goodness and beauty in itself. This is to behold the beauty of God in all of his infinite goodness and holiness just for who He is in Himself. In the latter, it is that the true saints in Christ have their hearts affected, and love captivated by the free grace of God in the first place.â€
Let us meditate upon Godâ€™s Word and how God is revealed to His people in Christ as beautiful in Himself. Let us serve him and obey him because of how wonderful He is, and how this God has taken common human flesh to display his great holiness, glory, loveliness, grace and mercy through weakness, suffering, and sacrifice in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ so that we might be partakers of this Divine Nature (2 Peter 1:3ff).
May we as Godâ€™s people serve God not for what he can do for us, but for who He is.
If we merely serve God as the 'Bonum Utile' or for what He can do for us we will place ourselves in great danger under the rule and sovereignty of God. If we are serving God merely for what he can do for us, then if he calls us to great suffering and pain we will be tempted to find God less useful and we could be hindered in our service to him. In other words, this way of serving God can lead us to think that there are some things that God could will for us that we might think are less than useful and forbidden in our estimation for Him to ask of us.
If we tend to serve God for what He can do for us, then we are not truly living consistently with "Thy will be done" and so we can undermine His sovereignty. This may be the reason why many who profess Christ cannot fathom a God who is completely holy and sovereign.
If we serve God as the 'Bonum Formosum' or for Who He IS as the holy and beautiful and sovereign God that He is, then there is nothing he cannot ask of us. We must recognize that God is Most Holy, Beautiful, and His Sovereign will is the best for us, come what may, as hard as it may seem, because we can confidently cry: "Thy will be done!"
We should think about how we serve God, and why we serve God in light of the Gospel of Grace. May we not merely serve God for what He can do for us, and thus aggravate our self-love and self-centeredness. Rather, let us love him with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and selves because of His grace in Jesus, and in reliance upon this grace, knowing that he truly is good.
The next time you give a testimony of God's grace to you in Jesus Christ, or the next time your reflect on your Christian life, think about how much you're actually testifying to God's revelation of Himself, and how much you are actually testifying to how he might have helped you in your life. It is grand that he helps us in our lives, but that should not be the ultimate reason and motivating desire of our hearts that causes us to love him.
Let us cry with the Psalmist: â€œOh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!â€ â€“ Psalm 34:8 ESV
* I have updated and interpreted the language to better understand the points that Edwards was making.
Pastor Charles R. Biggs