“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” according to human opinion – but not when it comes to God. He is beauty itself. There is nothing in Him that is not truly beautiful. Indeed all beauty has an objective standard in the absolute beauty of God. It’s not an aspect of God’s being that we consider often, if at all. Yet David sought this as his greatest desire: nothing was more important to him (Psalm 27:4). But what do we mean by God’s beauty? And how do we become captivated by it?
Samuel Rutherford was one man who was certainly entranced by the beauty of God. He often refers to the spiritual beauty he found in fellowship with Christ in his well-known letters. He gives a fuller definition of God’s beauty in another less familiar book called Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself. It is a brief example of some of his soaring thoughts about Christ and the glory of God’s being. He is speaking of what it in Christ that draws us to Him. One of them is delight in the beauty that is in God. We experience this in communion with Him.
What is Beauty?
Beauty, as we usually take it, is the loveliness of face and person arising from:
- natural well-balanced colour;
- due proportion of the stature and parts of the body;
- the integrity of the parts of the body so that nothing is lacking that would make for bodily perfection.
God’s Beauty is Not Physical
Thus this kind of beauty formally is not in God because He does not have a body. Neither are we speaking about Christ’s bodily beauty as man. Yet beauty, by analogy and eminently, must be in God. So, just as there are things in the creature which make up beauty to the bodily eye, there are, by proportion, those same things in God.
If beauty is good and a desirable perfection in the creature, it must be in God in an infinite and eminent way. The perfection of the effect is in the cause. If the roses, lilies and meadows are fair, He must be fairer who created them, but with another kind of beauty. If the heavens, stars and sun are beautiful, the lovely Lord who made them must have their beauty in a high measure. “How great is his goodness and how great is his beauty!” (Zechariah 9:17).
God’s Beauty is the Loveliness of His Nature
What then is the beauty of God? I conceive it to be:
the desirability and loveliness of His nature and all infinite perfections as this pleasantness offers itself to His own understanding and the understanding of men and angels.
Bodily beauty satisfies the eyes and so acts on the heart to win love to beauty. Thus, the beauty of God is the truth of the Lord’s nature and all His attributes offered to the understanding and mind and drawing out from them admiration or wondering and love. David makes this his “one thing”. “That” (he says) “I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and enquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4).
White and red excellently blended together bring pleasure and delight to the eyes and (through these windows) to the mind and heart also. In the same way, a sweet intelligibility arises from the nature of God and His attributes. David desires no other life but to stand beside God and behold God with the eyes of his mind and faith. He longs to see God in His nature and attributes as He reveals Himself to the creature. The Queen of Sheba came on a far journey to see Solomon, because of his perfection and some common people desire to see the king. The Lord is a fair and pleasant object to the understanding.
God’s Beauty is Perfectly Proportioned
In beauty there is a due proportion of parts in terms of (a) size; (b) position and (c) stature.
(a) Size. A person may have a very pleasant complexion but if their ears and nose are as little as an ant or as big as an ordinary man’s leg, they are not beautiful.
(b) Position. If the parts of the body are not positioned right if one eye is two inches lower in the face than the other it mars the beauty. Or if the head is in the breast, it is deformity.
(c) Stature. If the stature is not duly proportioned beauty is no beauty: e.g. if the person has the stature of ten men and is too big, or has the stature of an infant or a dove. Even though such a person had everything else in due colour and proportion, their beauty is no beauty but an error of nature. They are not as they should be.
Now the Lord is beautiful because an infinite and sweet order is so distributed throughout His nature and attributes that nothing can be added to Him and nothing taken from Him. He is not all mercy alone, but also infinitely just. Were God infinitely true but not meek and gracious, He would not be beautiful. If He had every perfection but was weak, mortal, not omnipotent, not eternal, His beauty would be marred. One attribute does not exceed, invade or limit another. If God were infinite in power but finite in mercy, the lustre and desirability of God would be defaced.
God’s Beauty is Complete
There is integrity of parts in beauty. Though a person were fairer then Absalom and lacked a nose or an arm, the beauty would be lame. The Lord is complete and absolutely perfect in His blessed nature and attributes.
God’s Beauty is Natural
All these things that are required in beauty must be natural, and truly and really there. Borrowed colours and painting the face (as Jezebel did) are not beauty. The Lord in all His perfections is truly that which He seems to be.
Beholding God’s Beauty
As in roses, gardens and fair creatures there is something pleasant that ravishes eye and heart, so there are in God so many fair and pleasant truths to attract the mind. God is so capacious and so comprehensive a truth. He is so lovely, such a bottomless sea of wonders. To the understanding that beholds God’s beauty there is a desirability, goodliness, splendour, irradiation of brightness, loveliness, and drawing sweetness of excellence diffused throughout the Lord’s nature.
Hence heaven is seeing God face to face (Revelation 22:4; Matthew 18:10). Now, God does not have a face; but the face of a man is the most heavenly, visible part in man. There is majesty and gravity in it; much of the art and goodliness of the creature is in his face. To see God’s face is to behold God’s blessed essence – so far as the creature can see God.
We may be said to see the sun’s face when we see the sun, as far as we are able to behold it. But there is such beauty and intensity of visibility in it as exceeds our faculty of seeing. Thus, when we behold God at close-hand, not by hearsay but immediately we see God’s face.
Let us imagine that millions of suns in the sky were all amassed and put together in one sun and likewise the sense of seeing that is in all mankind that have ever lived or may yet live combined. Such a sun would still far excel the combined faculty of seeing. Likewise suppose that the Lord should create an understanding faculty in either mankind or angels which is millions of degrees stronger and more capable than if all mankind and angels (or could ever be created) were merged into one, yet this understanding could not see God’s transcendent and super-excellent beauty without unseen treasures of loveliness remaining. It is an eternal contradiction that the creature could ever see to the bottom of the Creator.
The Beauty of God in Christ
All this bounty of God is held forth to us in Christ. He is “fairer than the children of men” (Psalm 45:2). The word “fair” is repeated twice in the original Hebrew to note a double excellence. The word means lovely, amiable and acceptable. It means pleasant and sweet (2 Samuel 1:26). He is “white and ruddy” (Song 5:10). His “countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars (Song 5:15). His countenance is “as when the sun shineth in his strength” (Revelation 1:16). All the beauty of God is put forth in Christ (Isaiah 33:17). Christ is the brightness of His Father’s glory (Hebrews 1:3. The light of the sun in the air is the indirect reflection of the sun’s beams. Christ is the real reflection of the Father’s light and glory because He is God: equal with the Father and the same God.
The Transcendent Beauty of Christ
This beauty is a mysterious beauty to men and angels. Angels have eyes within and without (Revelation 4:6) to behold the beauty of the Lord and beholding His face always takes up their eyes. There is no beauty of truth they desire more to behold or “look into” (1 Peter 1:12). This word in the original means to stoop down and look into a dark and veiled thing by bowing down the head and bending the neck. It is used in John 20:5, where they stooped down and saw the linen clothes (Luke 24:12). Angels are not curious, but they must see exceeding great beauty and wonder greatly at the excellence of Christ, when they cannot get their eyes pulled off Jesus Christ.
The Beauty of Christ Enjoyed
There is a ravishing beauty of Christ in communion with God. Christ sees a beauty of holiness when the soul comes to Christ (Psalm. 110:3) and He is taken with this beauty (Psalm 45:11; Song 4:9-11). Zion is “the perfection of beauty” (Psalm 50:2). All this beauty and sweetness comes from Christ. There is no such thing in the people of God, they are sinful men considered in their natural condition. It must therefore be fountain-beauty in Him, as the cause and origin of beauty.
Since these things are so, the only and truly beautiful life is in communion with such a God. Our prayer should be: “let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us” (Psalm 90:17). The final word is best taken from Rutherford’s letters.
If men would have something to do with their hearts and their thoughts, that are always rolling up and down (like men with oars in a boat), after sinful vanities, they might find great and sweet employment to their thoughts upon Christ. If those frothy, fluctuating, and restless hearts of ours would come all about Christ, and look into His love, to bottomless love, to the depth of mercy, to the unsearchable riches of His grace, to inquire after and search into the beauty of God in Christ, they would be swallowed up in the depth and height, length and breadth of His goodness.
Oh, if men would draw the curtains, and look into the inner side of the ark, and behold how the fullness of the Godhead dwelleth in Him bodily! Oh! who would not say, “Let me die, let me die ten times, to see a sight of Him?” Ten thousand deaths were no great price to give for Him. I am sure that sick, fainting love would heighten the market, and raise the price to the double for Him. But, alas! if men and angels were grouped [auctioned], and sold at the dearest price, they would not all buy a night’s love, or a four-and-twenty-hours’ sight of Christ! Oh, how happy are they who get Christ for nothing! God send me no more, for my part of paradise, but Christ: and surely I were rich enough, and as well heavened as the best of them, if Christ were my heaven.