Jonathan Edwards on Degrees of Reward in heaven

John Piper writes:

I have recorded a section of Jonathan Edwards’ sermon on Romans 2:10. It lasts about seven minutes. The reason I recorded it is that I regard this section as the best thing I have ever read on the issue of varying degrees of reward and happiness and holiness in heaven. It is vintage Edwards. He has thought this through in an amazing way. It opens our eyes to the possibilities of heaven that we have never thought of before.

I listened to this selection from Edwards’ message yesterday and enjoyed it so much that I chased down the written version of the sermon on the internet for my own reference. You can listen to John Piper’s recording here, or you can read the actual passage below. (Or you can read along while listening if you prefer!)

I love reading Jonathan Edwards, and I like how Edwards explains the varying degrees of glory and reward in heaven, that there will be no envy in heaven to disrupt one person’s happiness over another person’s reward. Rather, because we will be perfected in love, we will be glad for the other person that he or she has received a greater reward.

However, I must admit I am struggling with Edwards’ statement that there will not only be varying degrees of glory and reward in heaven, but also varying degrees of happiness and holiness. Will one person really be happier in heaven than another? Will one person be holier than another? If Christ died not only to forgive our sins but also to make us holy, will he not make us all perfectly holy upon entering into heaven? (Philippians 1:6) Aren’t happiness and holiness different issues from glory and reward?

Anyways, those were some of my thoughts as I meditated on this portion of Edwards’ sermon. What do you think? (Click “continue reading” below to read the selection from Edwards’ message. Or, click here to read the full message at a different website.)

The Portion Of The Righteous, by Jonathan Edwards; December, 1740
Romans 2:10, “But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good.”

3. There are different degrees of happiness and glory in heaven. As there are degrees among the angels, viz. thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers; so there are degrees among the saints. In heaven are many mansions, and of different degrees of dignity. The glory of the saints above will be in some proportion to their eminency in holiness and good works here.

Christ will reward all according to their works. He that gained ten pounds was made ruler over ten cities, and he that gained five pounds over five cities. Luke 19:17; 2 Cor. 9:6, “He that soweth sparingly, shall reap sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” And the apostle Paul tells us that, as one star differs from another star in glory, so also it shall be in the resurrection of the dead. 1 Cor. 15:41. Christ tells us that he who gives a cup of cold water unto a disciple in the name of a disciple, shall in no wise lose his reward. But this could not be true, if a person should have no greater reward for doing many good works than if he did but few.

It will be no damp to the happiness of those who have lower degrees of happiness and glory, that there are others advanced in glory above them. For all shall be perfectly happy, every one shall be perfectly satisfied. Every vessel that is cast into this ocean of happiness is full, though there are some vessels far larger than others.

And there shall be no such thing as envy in heaven, but perfect love shall reign through the whole society. Those who are not so high in glory as other, will not envy those that are higher, but they will have so great, and strong, and pure love to them, that they will rejoice in their superior happiness. Their love to them will be such that they will rejoice that they are happier than themselves; so that instead of having a damp to their own happiness, it will add to it. They will see it to be fit that they that have been most eminent in works of righteousness should be most highly exalted in glory. And they will rejoice in having that done, that is fittest to be done.

There will be a perfect harmony in that society; those that are most happy will also be most holy, and all will be both perfectly holy and perfectly happy. But yet there will be different degrees of both holiness and happiness according to the measure of each one’s capacity, and therefore those that are lowest in glory will have the greatest love to those that are highest in happiness, because they will see most of the image of God in them. And having the greatest love to them, they will rejoice to see them the most happy and the highest in glory.

And so, on the other hand, those that are highest in glory, as they will be the most lovely, so they will be fullest of love. As they will excel in happiness, they will proportionally excel in divine benevolence and love to others, and will have more love to God and to the saints than those that are lower in holiness and happiness. And besides, those that will excel in glory will also excel in humility.

Here in this world, those that are above others are the objects of envy, because that others conceive of them as being lifted up with it. But in heaven it will not be so, but those saints in heaven who excel in happiness will also in holiness, and consequently in humility. The saints in heaven are more humble than the saints on earth, and still the higher we go among them the greater humility there is. The highest orders of saints, who know most of God, see most of the distinction between God and them, and consequently are comparatively least in their own eyes, and so are more humble.

The exaltation of some in heaven above the rest will be so far from diminishing the perfect happiness and joy of the rest who are inferior, that they will be the happier for it. Such will be the union in their society that they will be partakers of each other’s happiness. Then will be fulfilled in its perfection that which is declared in 1 Cor. 12:26, “If one of the members be honoured all the members rejoice with it.”

See related post: Judgment and Eternal Rewards


  1. Sharon Gamble says:

    I am confused. If we are all “perfectly” happy, how can there be degrees of happiness? It would seem to me that there is a Biblical basis for different places to live and different rewards and responsibilities, but if we are all perfectly happy, then we will be contented with what we have been given. And happy we got what we got. I can’t imagine a bigger capacity for happiness in some than others. It would seem we would all just be filled with it! What a marvel it will be to be in Heaven someday. I can’t quite get my mind around it yet — it’s too big for me. I know I will love it, though!!

  2. Ray Fowler says:


    Yes, I share your confusion!

    I believe Edwards would say that it has do with “capacity” – that part of what it means to have varying degrees of reward in heaven is that we will also have varying capacities for happiness and holiness, that is, if I serve God well in this life, I will be given a greater capacity for happiness and holiness in the next. Thus we will all have different capacities for happiness and holiness, but each of us will have that capcity perfectly fulfilled.

    I heard one person explain it this way – that a person who is just saved at the end of his life might have the capacity of a thimble, while a person who served God all their lives might have the capacity of a swimming pool. When they each get to heaven, each one is perfectly happy because each one is filled to the brim of their capacity, but the person with the “swimming pool” capacity actually has the greater happiness.

    Edwards bases this teaching (at least in part) on 1 Corinthians 15:41, which in the context of the resurrection body says, “The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.” However, I am not sure that is what 1 Corinthians 15:41 is trying to teach us.

    As I said in my post, I like this passage from Edwards, but I struggle with the idea of varying degrees of happiness and holiness in heaven.

  3. JC says:

    One indirect “proof” that there are varying degrees of happiness of heaven is its contrast: that in hell, there are various degrees of suffering (Luke 10:12, 14; Matthew 10: 15, 11:22, 24; Mark 6:11).

  4. JC says:

    Here’s one cited verse above:

    Luke 10: 14

    But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you.


  5. Ray Fowler says:

    Interesting point, JC. Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

  6. Roy Anderson says:

    I don’t think this idea is original with me, but I don’t recall where I first heard it. But the degrees of happiness in heaven could be something like the different degrees of happiness in attending a musical concert or football game or whatever. The amount of satisfaction would depend much on how much the person knows about music or the game etc. The one who knows the concert or game thoroughly and even knows the people who are participating will enjoy much more than one who just “likes” music or athletics. By way of application: our capacity to enjoy heaven is being determined now. Everyone who, by God’s grace goes to heaven will be glad to be there, but some will be more glad than others. Amen.

  7. Ray Fowler says:

    Roy – I had not heard the sports/music illustration before. Thanks for sharing another way to look at this. In some ways, it really is beyond us how we could all experience different degrees of the perfection that will be heaven. But it is good to grapple with the Biblical data and try our best to grasp what God is telling us.

  8. James Calderazzo says:

    I know the illustration or analogy that Roy is referring to. It is found in Anthony Hoekema’s “The Bible and the End.” Here is what he says,

    “When one has studied music and has attained some proficiency in playing a musical instrument, his capacity for enjoying music has been greatly increased. In a similar way, our devotion to Christ and his kingdom increases our capacity for enjoying the blessings of that kingdom, both now and in the life to come. Leon Morris says, “Here and now the man who gives himself wholeheartedly to the service of Christ knows more of the joy of the Lord than the half-hearted. We have no warrant from the NT for thinking it will be otherwise in heaven.”

    It may be of interest to note that John Bunyan once said something strikingly similar, “He who is most in the bosom of God, and who so acts for him here, he is the man who will be best able to enjoy most of God in the kingdom of heaven.”

  9. Ray Fowler says:

    Nick – Thanks for the link. I enjoy Jollyblogger and read David’s stuff over there regularly. I agree with David in his post when he takes issue with Stanley’s interpretation of the parables, but I think David is missing something when he removes all gradation of rewards out of the parables. I don’t claim to understand how it all works, but it seems to me the Bible does teach gradation of reward in heaven and that somehow it does not conflict with grace. It is one of those mysteries to me like the trinity, the incarnation, or predestination and free will.

  10. Ron Tomlin says:

    Our sole desire is to serve God because of His love for us and our love for Him. Although we are saved by Grace, I think it imperative that evidence of that salvation should be manifested in our service to God. Jesus calls us to go and tell not sit and soak. A thought to ponder is: will there be disappointment when we stand before God having done little and would we remember what we have not done for our Lord and Savior? We need to avoid becoming apathetic or content with our service to the King of Kings. There is nothing that should be considered “just good enough” for God but should be a continual emptying of ourselves in total surrender. I Corinthians 2:9 is a tremendous promise for the common christian to be uncommonly holy.

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