The empiricists John Locke and David Hume thought that all our concepts were ultimately derived from experience. They divided concepts into two classes: simple and complex. Simple concepts are irreducible, whereas complex concepts are bundles of concepts. For example, UNICORN, according to this theory is a bundle of: HORSE, WHITE, HORN, MAGICAL, etc. Difficult concepts such as EQUALITY, they argued, could be formed by processes such as abstraction and negation. On seeing a pair of sticks of unequal length, one could use negation to imagine the possibility of the sticks being exactly the same in length, and could then use abstraction to say that EQUALITY is the property that equal things have.
Concept rationalists, in opposition to concept empiricists, believe that some concepts cannot be derived from experience. They are a priori imposed by us on experience in order to make sense of it. Potential candidates for this class of concepts are: BEAUTY, JUSTICE, STANDARD, etc. STANDARD is a very important concept in this class, because it is the basis of comparison. Plato developed a theory of forms to account for our intuitive ability to recognise a distinction between things in this world and the ideal version against which we compare them.
In this comparison, it is important to distinguish between the concept itself and ways in which it is manifested in the world. A beautiful horse is not BEAUTY itself. St Paul understood that there were different kinds of glory, presupposing that there are rules governing the way an ideal is applied to things in the real world. A human body has a certain kind of glory, and a heavenly body another. Each of these things partakes of GLORY, but neither could tell one completely what GLORY is in and of itself. Thus there is a distinction between what sets the concept GLORY apart from other concepts and what makes for glory as an attribute of particular nouns.
The ideal or concept and the property that partakes of it, while not formally taught as a system of thought in Scripture, are part of how we understand the story of Scripture. Eden and the Age to Come represent perfections against which we compare this present age and find it a “vale of tears” (vallis lacrimarum). We see elements of glory breaking into this world, but we know that the fullness of glory is not yet come. In reading the Book of Revelation and other parts of Scripture, we also find that the glory of Eden is in fact less than the glory of the Age to Come, hard as that is to imagine.
It is important that we make these comparisons, because they give us clarity and help to fan the fire of our zeal. We should earnestly desire the Age to Come and we should earnestly desire that God’s glory fill the earth. As we learn what perfection is in all its forms, we understand how act and think in accordance with the will of God both ethically and devotionally. These concepts, acting through our consciences, our reasoning, and revelation, link us back to God (“for He has put eternity in their hearts”).
As we seek the return of Christ, let us return to the fire of our love and zeal and allow the Holy Spirit to fan the flame. Meditate on God’s glory; be jealous for His Name – that all kings and potentates may bow at the name of Jesus, that all may come to Jerusalem, the City of the Great King, to pay homage to the Lord.