I thought I might work my way through Jonathan Edwards sermons one by one over the next several years. (And by several, I actually mean until I go to heaven.)
Sermon Title: Christian Happiness
Sermon Background: This sermon was composed either in 1720 or 1721. He is preaching on Isaiah 3:10. This may be his first formal sermon. In this message, he encourages us to pursue godliness by showing that it is the way to true happiness.
Sermon Overview: If someone is reasonable, they will choose what is best for them. In the Scripture, we see God deals with us as reasonable beings. He doesn’t command us to believe things that are contrary to reason. When he makes commands, they are always for our best. And when He seeks to persuades us, he often does so by showing that it will be to our own advantage. This in fact is what he is doing in Isaiah 3:10 with Judah. He is encouraging the godly that godliness is what is best for them. He has to encourage them because they are going to go through difficulties, and he wants them to know that even though they may have to go through these painful experiences, it still will be well with them. We need to know this same truth as well and so Edwards in this message seeks to demonstrate that “a good man shall be happy whatever his outward circumstances are.”
To understand what he means by this, it is important to understand what he means by happiness. He is not saying that the godly man does not experience pain. He is not saying that the godly man experiences the enjoyment of the highest pleasures and perfection without any difficulties. That kind of endless, uninterrupted joy is for heaven. The happiness he is talking about instead is being in a situation in life that is desirable, that is good, and that is enjoyable. This is the condition of the godly, and Edwards wants to prove that is true, no matter what difficulties he is experiencing in his life.
For the sake of clarity, we can summarize the argument he is making in two statements: A good man’s outward circumstances are sometimes very difficult. Nevertheless the good man is happy no matter what condition he is in.
The first reason this is true is because no worldly evils can do him real hurt. The second is because of the advantages he receives from righteousness. The third is because of the hope he has of enjoying perfect happiness forever.
The difficulties that come into the life of a believer are used for his good. God promises that. The pain that difficulties cause us, God uses like medicine. To illustrate the comfort this should bring to us as believers, Edwards asks if you would be happy if you would never feel any more pain? The answer to that question is of course. Well then, what if all the pain that comes into your life actually does you good? Imagine that. What if every bad thing was designed by God to help you? That is a reason for happiness.
Godliness is not only beneficial for the world to come, it is also beneficial in this one. It provides a substantial happiness and Edwards enumerates some of the different ways in which the Christian experiences happiness and delight from what is his in the gospel. What makes this kind of happiness even more valuable is the fact that worldly troubles cannot take these happinesses away,in fact they only serve to make them more intense.
The hope of heaven also gives the godly man great happiness. Though Edwards, doesn’t talk very much about the actual content of our hope, it is too good to describe, he points out that there is great happiness in actually hoping.
These truths make a difference. The first practical difference this should make is on our attitude towards difficult circumstances. The godly man need not be afraid of any situation in this life. After all, if every situation accomplishes his good, then what is there to be afraid of? He uses several illustrations to demonstrate that we don’t need to be afraid. First, we have God as our shelter. Why be afraid when you have a shelter like God? Second, we have Jesus as the captain of our salvation? Why should a man fear his enemies when a captain like this fights for him? Plus, we know our afflictions are only for a short little while. He says, who is afraid of a momentary prick if you know that you will experience seventy years of joy after it. No more reason to fear 70 years of pain when we have an eternity of joy that is coming afterwards.
The second practical difference it should make is on our attitude towards godliness. Godliness is very valuable. We would say something is very valuable if it is able to keep us happy in every condition and godliness does that.
A third practical difference it should make is on what we pursue. If godliness is this valuable, then seeking to live a godly life is a demonstration of great wisdom. They are wise men who do the most for their own happiness, and godliness is the means to the greatest happiness. People who pursue godliness know the right path towards happiness.
A fourth practical difference it should make is on our attitude towards God. Sometimes people think God is harsh in the commands He makes. The opposite. His commands prove that He is good. We see the goodness of God in that he has joined godliness to happiness. More than that, God has gone to great lengths to motivate us to pursue godliness. He commands us for our good and that is true kindness.
Finally, a fifth practical difference it should make is on what we do when we are in trouble. When we are in trouble where will we turn for happiness? We should turn to God and pursue godliness if we want to be happy no matter what circumstance we are in.
From here Edwards moves on to exhortations. The first exhortation is to the ungodly. He challenges them to pursue a better happiness. In short, Edwards says stop living like an animal, start living for something better. The second exhortation is to the godly. He encourages them that they are on the right path, and challenges them to persevere.
How God motivates us - “Reasonable beings, while they act as such, naturally choose those things which they are convinced are best for them, and will certainly do those things which they know they had better do than leave undone. (And, indeed, who in the world could imagine that there were such unreasonable creatures in the world, as that at the very same time that they themselves know a thing to be much to their advantage, yet will not choose or do it?) God always deals with men as reasonable creatures, and every [word] in the Scriptures speaks to us as such. Whether it be in instructing and teaching of us, he [gives us] no commands to believe those things which are directly contrary to reason, and in commanding of us he desires us to do nothing but what will be for our own advantage, our own profit and benefit, and frequently uses this argument with us to persuade us to obey his commands.“
How to think about painful experiences - “Let any man now ask himself whether he should not think himself happy if he were delivered so from all those evils, that he was assured they would never trouble him more: if he were sure that he should never feel any more pain in his body, never have any want of any good things the world can afford, and never have any care and trouble [about] them; well then, is it not all one as if they never happened to him, if when they do happen to him they do him no hurt? Yea, is it not more than equivalent, if when they happen they not only do him hurt, but good? But this is the condition of a good man, and although good men are often grieved and troubled by worldly afflictions, and indeed they ought to be grieved for their sins, for the purging away of which their afflictions come, yet the godly has no occasion to be troubled any further about them.”
The joys that come from godliness - “How great a happiness must needs [it] be to a man to have all his sins pardoned and to stand guilty of nothing in God’s presence: to be washed clean from all his pollutions; to have the great and eternal and almighty Jehovah, who rules and governs the whole universe, and doth whatsoever he pleases in the armies of heaven and amongst the inhabitants of the earth, reconciled to him and perfectly at peace with him. How great a pleasure and satisfaction must it be to him to think of it, and not only that God is reconciled to him or has nothing against [him], inasmuch as all is pardoned; but also that this same almighty being who created him, who keeps him in being and who disposes of him and all other things every moment, loves him, and that with a great and transcendent love; and that He has adopted him and taken him to be His child, and given Himself to him to be his father and his portion, and that takes care of him as one that is very dear to Him, continually guides and directs him, and will lead him to the fountain of living waters. And how joyful and gladsome must the thoughts of Jesus Christ be to him, to think with how great a love Christ has loved him, even to lay down His life and suffer the most bitter torments for his sake, Who also now continually intercedes for him at the throne of grace; to consider that so great a person as the eternal Son of God, who also made the worlds, is his lord and master, and is not ashamed to call us brethren, Who will come in and sup with him, and He with him, and to see His arms expanded to embrace him and offering Himself to be embraced by him. And beside, what a satisfaction and pleasure must it give to his mind to think that he is now sanctified and made holy, adorned and beautified with those lovely graces that make him lovely in the sight of God and excellent in the sight of saints and angels; to reflect on himself and consider that he acts rationally and doth that which the best of beings has commanded, that he in some measure acts worthy of the nature of a man, in some measure answers the end of his coming into the world in glorifying God and doing good to his fellow creatures, and that he has not lived altogether in vain: not as it is with many; they live in the world and burthen the same, and had better be dead than alive for all the good they do in it, or any they do towards manifesting the glory of him that made them. The reflection on these things affords such a peace and pleasantness to the mind, as far exceeds and is immensely above all outward delights.”
How eternity changes one’s perspective - “And is there any man here present that would be at all afraid of the pain of the prick of a pin for a minute, if he knew that after it he should enjoy a life of—suppose—seventy years of the greatest prosperity imaginable, without the least molestation? No more reason to fear a short life of seventy years filled up with trouble and affliction, when he knows that, at [the] end of it, he shall enjoy an eternity of the highest happiness. For there is infinitely more difference between an eternity and seventy years, than between seventy years and a minute; and vastly a greater difference between heavenly happiness and the greatest torments of this world, than between the greatest worldly prosperity and the pain of the prick of a pin.”
Pleading with unbelievers to pursue true happiness - “You, for your part, have had experience of no other sort of pleasure but those of sense and fancy; you have taken up, contented hitherto, with such a sort of pleasure as the beasts enjoy as well as you. You now are invited to the excellent and noble satisfactions of religion; you are invited to such a happiness as is the happiness of angels, and happiness that will be able to satisfy your desires. Be persuaded, then, to taste and see how good it is; keep no longer grovelling in the dirt and feeding on husks with hogs. Don’t exercise yourself any longer in such things as are beneath the nature of a man in serving the devil. One would think that a man that had any spark of reason and was so noble a creature as a man, would never bring himself down to be always at the devil’s beck, and to be led about just like blind fools, through ditches and sloughs and all the worst and most filthy places, to make sport for the devil. Don’t follow him any [longer]: he is leading of you directly to hell. Assert your own liberty, and don’t suffer yourselves to be such mean and abject slaves. Don’t exercise yourselves any longer in acting below yourselves, in pleasing and tickling yourselves any longer, and thinking yourselves happy in wallowing and rolling yourselves in the mire. You perhaps think yourselves mighty happy in enjoying your hateful and abominable lusts, and so are the beasts ten times as happy as you are in the same things: those be not the pleasures of a man. The pleasures of loving and obeying, loving and adoring, blessing and praising the Infinite Being, the Best of Beings, the Eternal Jehovah; the pleasures of trusting in Jesus Christ, in contemplating his beauties, excellencies, and glories; in contemplating his love to mankind and to us, in contemplating his infinite goodness and astonishing loving-kindness; the pleasures of [the] communion of the Holy Ghost in conversing with God, the maker and governor of the world; the pleasure that results from the doing of our duty, in acting worthily and excellently: these, these are the pleasures that are worthy of so noble a creature as a man is. And those that take up, satisfied, with other sort of satisfactions as don’t answer the end for which a man was made, and as they degrade themselves below the nature of a man and divest themselves of their manhood and seem rather to choose the nature of beasts, and as they invert the order of nature, for the God of Nature hath set man above the beasts and made him ruler over them, but make themselves even with them, or rather below them: so it is [a] pity they be not allowed to be beasts, and are not thought unworthy of the name of a man…”