Being Captivated by the Beauty of God

Being Captivated by the Beauty of God

Being Captivated by the Beauty of God
Samuel Rutherford (c. 1600 – 1661) was one of the foremost Scottish theologians and apologists for Presbyterianism in the seventeenth century, playing a major role in formulating the Westminster Standards at the Westminster Assembly. He is best known for his many devotional letters and Lex, Rex–his seminal work on political sovereignty.
23 Sep, 2016

“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:

  1. natural well-balanced colour;
  2. due proportion of the stature and parts of the body;
  3. 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.

Conclusion

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.

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What is Beautiful Worship?

What is Beautiful Worship?

What is Beautiful Worship?
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
25 Mar, 2016

Beautiful worship creates different mental images for different people. Some will see the finest vestments, artwork and candles and a profusion of colour and goldleaf. They will hear the finest music and perhaps smell wafting incense. Others are thinking of elegant “contemporary” style.  It too involves the “right” clothes, music and imagery. Still others are attracted to something in between that borrows from both. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The standard of beauty is subjective not objective. Yet what standard of beauty does God have when it comes to worship?

It is easy to take our preferred standard of beauty and then consecrate that for the purposes of worship. Yet this leaves us with the holiness of beauty rather than the beauty of holiness. What is it to “worship Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:2)? David Dickson comments that the public worship of God was beautiful in the temple “not for timber or stones so much, as because the holy and beautiful means of grace to men, and God’s worship showing forth his glory was there to be found”. Our worship and submission to God is only “sanctified, and made acceptable when it is offered in and through Christ, and in society with His Church represented by the sanctuary, here called the beauty of holiness”.

As Dickson also says “among all God’s works [there is] nothing so beautiful as his ordinances, rightly made use of in His Church”. For God worship is “the beauty of his ornament, he set it in majesty” (Ezekiel 7:20). Yet in the same verse He goes on to complain that the Israelites “made the images of their abominations and of their detestable things” within it. This reminds us of the Second Commandment which forbids worshipping “God by images, or any other way not appointed in his word” (Shorter Catechism, Q51).

William Greenhill (1591–1671) was a member of the Westminster Assembly who further explains these words for us. He shows that God defines the standard of beauty for His worship. Whatever He commands is what He considers beautiful in worship, but we mar that beauty when we mix it with our own inventions. It is like the idea that we can add the finishing touches to a priceless and outstanding work of art.

In God’s eyes, we maintain beautiful worship by maintaining what He has appointed. As the Shorter Catechism puts it, this is what He also requires in the Second Commandment. Worship is beautiful so long as it is preserved in its purity and entirety. The Second Commandment requires “receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his word” (Q52). We must be able to say of whatever we do in worship: “it is beautiful because God has commanded it”.

 

1. Beautiful Worship is God-appointed Worship

God is the one who appoints worship and its beauty. He set the ornament and beauty of it. Neither Moses in the tabernacle, nor Solomon in the temple, could prescribe any substantial part or element of ceremonial worship. Even though “wise-hearted” they were only to make what God had commanded in the tabernacle (Exodus 35:10).  Solomon, the wisest of men, “was instructed for the building of the house of God” (2 Chronicles 3:3). The Hebrew is literally “founded”. He had a foundation laid in him by the Spirit of God, before he laid the foundation of the temple, or did any of the work.

What God appoints is an ornament, has beauty and is for glory. Yet if men set up anything in the worship of God, it has no beauty, but blackness, no holiness, but iniquity. God must be worshipped “in the beauty of holiness,” (1 Chronicles 16:29), not in the blackness of iniquity. Men think that ceremonies enhance the worship of God, that pictures, altars, golden vessels make it glorious; but all this is deformity which God has not set up, nor set up for glory.

 

2. Beautiful Worship is Deformed by Our Inventions

Images are unwarranted and sinful in God’s worship. Here God complains, that they made images, and set them in the temple. Such is the corruption of man, that he is  ungrateful for and abuses the best mercies. God had set his temple and pure worship amongst them in great beauty, for glory to them, and to Himself. Yet they forgot what a high favour this was. Instead of honouring God in his temple, and preserving his worship entire and pure they brought in the images of their abominations, their detestable things. Thus they blemish their beauty, defile their ornament, and stain their glory.

It was wicked to corrupt themselves with strange, forbidden marriages (Ezra 10:2) ; dealing treacherously with their lawful wives (Malachi 2:15-16) and making a calf to worship (Exodus 32:7-8). Yet it was worse to bring their detestable things into the temple; into God’s presence and ordinances. When they made the calf, Moses was in the mount receiving instructions for worship. Yet they had neither fixed place for worship, nor the way of worship clearly declared to them.

Yet when God had set his temple in Zion, they had a fixed place, a settled way of worship and the most glorious beautiful worship in the world.  Yet they corrupted themselves in this. The majesty of God’s presence there, His glory and commands did not put them in awe. They were not content with what His infinite wisdom had prescribed.  They did not consider the abominable and detestable nature of their images. They were blinded with their own ideas, and hardened with their sins and so they proceeded to corrupt God’s worship. Zephaniah says that they “corrupted all their doings” (Zephaniah 3:7). They were corrupters, “a corrupt spring” (Proverbs 25:26), even when they were dealing with God in matters of religion and their salvation.

 

3. Beautiful Worship is Often Undervalued

God uses the word “but” to reproach the church for being unthankful for the best mercies. He set his temple (the greatest ornament and blessing they could have), but they made images etc.  Nothing exasperates God more than wretched unkindness after great mercies. Psalm 106 numbers up God’s great mercies to them and their ungratefulness. Again and again the word “but” comes in (Psalm 106:7, 11-13). He delivered them, did great things for them; but they provoked him, lusted and murmured.

Ingratitude is kicking the giver (Deuteronomy 32:6-7 & 15). In Isaiah 5:2 God recounts His acts of kindness to the house of Israel. In verse 3, He calls the “inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah,” to judge between Him and His vineyard. God asks men to judge how kind He had been and how ungrateful they had been. He would therefore break down their wall and lay it waste. Men could not avoid seeing the great wrong done to God, and justify him in vindicating Himself.

Are You Worshipping God Your Way or His?

How we worship God is not a matter of personal opinion and taste.  It is a moral issue because it is directly related to the Moral law, as expressed in the Ten Commandments.  This leaflet presents an updated extract from James Durham’s full exposition of the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4- 6).

 If you are wondering how this commandment relates to worship, the leaflet gives an explanation. It is a concise summary of some clear truths on a crucial subject.

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