Perhaps the most helpful analogy for understanding Edwards’ view of excellency and beauty is to music. One of his favorite terms was ‘harmony,’ which he often used as synonymous with ‘proportion.’ Reflecting eighteenth-century views of music, he considered how musical harmonies are inherent in various proper relationships of notes to each other. Extending this thought, he wrote: “Spiritual harmonies are of vastly larger extent; i.e., the proportions are vastly oftener redoubled, and respect more beings, and require a vastly larger view to comprehend them, as some simple notes do more affect one who has not a comprehensive understanding of music.”
To fully appreciate this analogy one should recall that Edwards was writing at the time when J. S. Bach (1685-1750) was at the height of his creative powers. In 1723 Bach had just arrived in Leipzig to assume his post as cantor and music director and was in the midst of putting together the first of his astonishing cycles of cantatas to be performed in the city’s churches. Though Bach was Lutheran and German, he and Edwards were working in similar worlds of discourse when ineffable beauties that pointed to the divine were found in the harmonies of complex relationships. Bach had a keen sense of the fervent affective meanings of biblical texts. Perhaps the best-known example from this period is the St. John Passion, performed during Easter season 1724. While Edwards probably never heard the works of Bach, he had heard other eighteenth-century music and knew enough about it to understand how complex harmonies, both challenging to the intellect and overwhelming to the affections, could point toward to the divine.*
*Jonathan Edwards: A Life. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 79.