Man’s Chief End as Enjoying God: What About Loving God?
We started this series (Part 1) by inquiring whether the Puritans’ construal of man’s chief end as the enjoyment of God is a form of “Christian Hedonism,” like that advanced by John Piper in our day. We concluded (Part 2) that the Puritans, like Piper, saw man’s glorification of God and enjoyment of God as inseparable. One cannot glorify God as he should unless he enjoys God as he should. Or, as Piper states it, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” But there are some Christians who take issue with the Puritans and/or Piper. So we took the time to respond to various objections to the Puritan and Piperian formula. We addressed the charge that it’s too “man-centered” (Part 3) that it’s “reductionistic” (Part 4), and that it negates or minimizes the place of “faith and obedience” in the Christian life (Part 5). There are two more weighty objections that we need to address.
Some wonder why the Puritans and Piper describe man’s chief end as the enjoyment of God rather than as the love of God. After all, didn’t Jesus identify the “greatest commandment” as love toward God?
The Link Between Love and Delight
To address this concern, we need to begin by noting that the Bible often employ the terminology for “love” and “delight” as synonyms. A few examples will suffice:
Saul commanded his servants, “Communicate with David secretly, and say, ‘Look, the king has delight in you, and all his servants love you. Now therefore, become the king’s son-in-law’” (1 Sam 18:22).1
And I will delight myself in Your commandments, which I love (Ps 119:47).
Righteous lips are the delight of kings, and they love him who speaks what is right (Prov 16:13).
How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, And fools hate knowledge (Prov 1:22).
Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; let such as love Your salvation say continually, “The LORD be magnified!” (Ps 40:16).
Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; and let those who love Your salvation say continually, “Let God be magnified” (Ps 70:4).
The LORD your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zeph 3:17).2
Whom [Jesus] having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory (1 Pet 1:8).3
These passages demonstrate the the meaning of love and delight overlap. In particular, “delight” or “enjoyment” is a kind of love.4
The Love of Complacency vs the Love of Benevolence
The older theologians used to distinguish between the “love of complacency” and the “love of benevolence.” The latter is goodwill or kindness shown towards others, often towards those who are in need or misery. This kind of love may have an affective element (i.e., the feeling of pity or compassion) but is often demonstrative in character (i.e., showing pity or compassion). You and I may show love to a depraved sinner out of a sense of pity and compassion. It’s not the depraved sinner’s great value and intrinsic worth that moves our heart to action, but the opposite—his unloveliness. Such compassion and pity is the love of benevolence. The love of complacency, on the other hand, is an affection based on the loveliness and virtue of the object. J. P. Boyce describes the “love of complacency” as that love which
is exercised towards a worthy object in which excellencies are perceived. It is of the nature of the love of the beautiful, or the good, or the useful in us. It complacently or approvingly regards, because there is in the object something worthy of such regard.5
Is God a proper object of compassion and pity? Or is he not rather an Object of supreme value and infinite worth? If so, is it not the love of complacency that becomes the focus? So when we’re commanded to love the Lord our God with all our soul, heart, mind, and strength, the Scriptures are calling for more than mere orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthopraxis (right behavior). They are demanding orthopathos (right feelings) with respect to God. Being altogether lovely and supremely virtuous, God merits our red-hot affection, i.e., orthopathos, not just our orthodoxy or orthopraxis (see 1 Cor. 13:1-3).
In conclusion, I fail to find fault with the Puritans or with Piper in their attempt to highlight the affective nature of the love we owe to God with such terms as desire, delight, joy, rejoicing, affection, pleasure, satisfaction, enjoyment, etc. Indeed, as Jonathan Edwards has argued, “Persons need not and ought not to set any bounds to their spiritual and gracious appetites.” May the Lord grant that we might love him more passionately so that we might glorify him more fully!
- Commenting on the larger context of 1 Samuel 18:22, Ralph Dale Davis perceptively remarks, “One cannot miss the repetitions in chapter 18. There are four references to David’s success (vv. 5, 14, 15, 30), three assertions that Yahweh is “with” David (vv. 12, 14, 28), and six uses of some form of the verb to love (Hebrew ‘ahab) with David as the object (vv. 1, 3, 16, 22, 28). Everyone seems to love David. Jonathan loves David; Michal loves David; all Israel and Judah love David. Not Saul, however; he fears and stands in awe of David; the text says so—three times (vv. 12, 15, 29).” 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart (Christian Focus, 2003), 157). Someone might be tempted to say, “Aha, Saul really didn’t love David, as Davis notes, therefore we cannot equate “has delighted” with “love.” But this would terribly miss the point. The point is that Saul “professed” along with everyone else love towards David. But he used different terminology. Instead of sending the message, “The king loves you,” he says, “the king has delight in you.” Despite the fact that Saul is lying, the semantic value of his pretentious claim of “delight” in David is, in this context, generally equivalent to the descriptions of “love” for David attributed to Jonathan, Michal, and the people of Israel. In fact, the Hebrew chapets actually underscores the affective or complacent element of love. It’s not merely that Saul is expressing “goodwill” toward David, but he’s feigning that he takes pleasure in David. [↩]
- Yahweh expresses his affection for his people in a striking way. He uses the standard noun for “love” (‘ahabah): He will quiet or comfort his people with His love. Then he sandwiches this general _expression_ of affection between two extravagant and expressive phrases, which serve to underscore the intensity of his affection for his redeemed people: He will rejoice over you with gladness … He will rejoice over youwith singing. Both of these expresses are clearly parallel, and they both serve to highlight the emotive nature of Yahweh’s love. Commenting on this text, Thomas McComiskey sees ‘ahabah as expressive of God’s “passionate love,” that is, a love which “makes him contemplate his beloved with wordless adoration … , a love that cannot be contained but bursts into elated singing” The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical & Expositional Commentary (Baker, 2003), 958). Perhaps one may debate whether God’s “love” is strictly parallel with the dual expressions of “rejoicing,” preferring rather to take latter as merely explicative of the former. That’s fine. But one ends up in about the same place, viz, rejoicing in an object with gladness and song is an essential component of the love Yahweh feels toward his people. [↩]
- Once again, the structural and semantic parallelism is pretty obvious: “Whom having not seen” is parallel with “Though now you do not see him.” “You love” is parallel with “you rejoice with joy in expressible and full of glory.” What about the phrase, “yet believing”? That phrase serves to explain how someone can love and rejoice with joy in someone who is unseen. The thought is assumed in the first line, “Whom having not seen you [by faith] love.” It’s stated explicitly in the second line. In support of a link between “love” and “rejoicing with joy,” I’ll note the comments of Jonathan Edwards who used this text as the basis of his treatise on The Religious Affections. Edwards notes how Peter “singles out the religious affections of love and joy that were then in exercise in [the believers].” He includes with “love” and “joy” the terms “desire,” “hope,” “gratitude,” and “complacence,” and places them all in the category of “the inclination of the will … in approving or liking.” And the main doctrine he draws from these parallel heart-dispositions is, “True Religion, in great part, consists in Holy Affections” (The Religious Affections (Banner of Truth, 2001), 22-27). Someone may quibble whether its accurate to equate the verb “to love” (agapao) with the verb “to rejoice” (agalliao), which BDAG defines as “to be exceedingly joyful … overjoyed.” No one argues that the semantic ranges the term of these words completely overlap. Nevertheless, the two primary definitions for agapao offered in BDAG focus on heart affections, whereas the third focuses on demonstrative acts of love. Need I say under what sense of agapao BDAG places 1 Peter 1:8? Under this definition: “To have a warm regard for and interest in another, cherish, have affection for, love.” [↩]
- To the examples above I could add I also add Paul’s expression of affection for the Philippians: “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved” (Phil. 4:1). The apostle is addressing believers whom he designates as “beloved” (agapetoi) and “longed for” (epipothetoi). The two nouns may be taken as a nominal hendiadys (hen = one; dia = through; dys = two) and translated, “longed for beloved ones.” Or, one may take the expressions as roughly parallel, the second functioning to give specificity to the first, viz, identifying the Philippians not merely as objects of Paul’s goodwill but as objects of his ardent affection. Paul could have stopped there. But he’s so carried away with the depth of his feelings towards these brothers that he amplifies his first two-fold description with a second, “my joy and crown.” Once again, we may take the two nouns as an hendiadys and translate the phrase, “my crowning joy.” If so, then “longed for beloved” is paralleled by “my crowning joy.” And if one is familiar with synonymous parallelism, he’s aware that the second semantic unit doesn’t merely repeat the thought of the first but often intensifies it. So to be the object of Paul’s deep love was also to be the object of his highest joy. Says J. B. Lightfoot, “The Apostle’s love finds expression in the accumulation and repetition of words.” St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (Zondervan, 1953), 157. Richard Lenski remarks, “Paul lets all his love, all his joy in the Philippians, all his pride [i.e., admiration] in them, speak out at once. They had never been anything but joy for him, hence, joy, joy runs through this epistle.” Interpretation of Philippians (Warburg Press, 1937), 865. Albert Barnes observes, “The accumulation of epithets of endearment in this verse shows his tender regard for them.” Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament (Kregel, 1962), 1047. These commentators seems to place both love and joy in the same general semantic domain, as referring to human affection, endearment, and admiration. [↩]
- Abstract of Systematic Theology (1887; repr., den Dulk Foundation, n.d.), 93-94. [↩]