I am working my way through Jonathan Edwards sermons one by one over the next several years. In a previous post, I gave a brief overview of his sermon entitled, “Christian Happiness.” It sometimes helps me process what he’s saying if I try to paraphrase it and so I thought I might offer a short summary paraphrase of that message here.
We feel badly when a person makes a choice that will hurt him. But we really only feel like that if he does so by mistake. If he knows the consequences and still makes the choice, that is a different story. Instead of feeling badly, we would probably think he is crazy. After all, it doesn’t make sense to choose something that is bad for you.
God knows that if a person is thinking straight he will choose what is best for him. That is evident when you look at the way He deals with us in His Word. He doesn’t command us to believe things that are contrary to reason. When he makes commands, those commands are always for our best. Even as He seeks to persuade us to obey His commands, he does so by showing us that obedience will be to our own advantage.
Sometimes we have to work at remembering that though. Obedience doesn’t always feel like the best choice, especially when life gets difficult. But it is. This is a rock solid biblical reality. Doing what God wants is so good for us. No matter how much it might hurt to make the right choice, making the right choice is the way to be happiest, however things turn out.
If you are going to understand what I mean by that, you have to understand what I mean by happy. Obviously, I am not that saying choosing to obey God is the way to avoid pain. It isn’t. And I am not saying that if you choose to obey God you will always experience the enjoyment of the highest pleasures immediately without any difficulties getting in your way. That is called heaven. And we are not there yet. Instead, I am talking about being in a place where you can look at your life and say, you know what, life is good and if you are a godly person, that’s exactly what you can and should be able to say about your life, no matter how hard things are.
If you are godly there is nothing that can happen to you that can really hurt you. That is a big statement I know, and I am not trying to minimize the pain that we might experience in this world. Life hurts. That is true. But the difficulties that come into the life of a believer are actually used for his good. God promises that. The pain that difficulties cause us, God uses like medicine. Now medicine can taste bad, but if it saves your life, it’s not really hurting you, is it? Of course we would be happy if we never experienced any more pain. Who doesn’t want that? But what if the pain that comes into your life actually does you good? That too is a reason for happiness. We don’t usually complain when people are doing us good, and that is what God is doing even when He allows us to experience something difficult.
Being right with God is a reason for real happiness in and of itself. I am talking happiness right now, not just later when you die. After all, think about this. How happy would you be if all your sins were forgiven? You stood absolutely innocent in God’s presence? You were washed of everything that you are ashamed of? You were at peace with the One who rules over the universe? How happy would you be if you were loved by the Creator of all things, you were part of God’s family, you were continually being taken care of by God, you were being led by God to complete and total satisfaction, you knew that someone perfect and beautiful loved you enough to die for you and to suffer the judgment of God for you? How happy would you be if there was someone who was at the right hand of God who was constantly speaking to Him on your behalf, if the One who the angels worship was not embarrassed to call you brother, if you knew you could enter the place of most importance in the entire Universe, the most majestic and glorious place in the world, the very throne room of God, and there would be someone there who was in charge of that place, who would run to you, open His arms to you, and embrace you as His friend? How happy would you be if you were set apart by God to be glorified and made beautiful forever, if you were being helped by God to live for a purpose and to accomplish things that will matter forever and you knew your life was not pointless and you would be eternally rewarded for even the smallest of good things that you do? Think about how happy you would be if you knew all these things were true! Then be happified, because if you are a believer, the Bible says they are.
There is a lot of happiness in hope. When you have the confident expectation of future good, you can endure almost anything. The godly man has the hope of heaven, and this hope of heaven gives the godly man great happiness. One thing heaven means is that our suffering is limited. It has an end. The time we have on earth is the only time we have in our lives to suffer. Pain can be endured, if we know it is temporary and something is better coming afterwards, and we know that as believers, something better is coming, with a certainty. Hope is powerful. It can flip upside down one’s attitude towards their circumstances, especially when that hope is based on something solid, and our hope as Christians, definitely is. It is not based on how we are feeling or what we have done, instead it is based on God, who He is and what He has accomplished.
Sometimes people struggle to be happy even when things are going well, because they are afraid that something is going to change. Fear of the future steals their happiness in the present. Not so for the godly man. After all, what does he have to be afraid of? If every situation accomplishes his good, then what is there to be worried about? Why worry about future good? The godly man has God as his shelter. Why be afraid when you have a shelter like God? The godly man has Jesus as the captain of his salvation? Why should a man fear his enemies when a captain like this fights for him? Plus, the godly man knows his afflictions are only for a short little while. Who is afraid of a momentary prick if he knows that he will experience seventy years of joy after it? No more reason to fear 70 years of pain when there is an eternity of joy that is coming afterwards.
If something is able to keep you happy in every condition, it is very valuable. Godliness is able to do that and thus, it is of great value. And if godliness is this valuable, then seeking to live a godly life is a demonstration of great wisdom. We say people are wise who do the most for their own happiness, and godliness is the means to the greatest happiness. People who pursue godliness are wise because they know the right path towards happiness.
Sometimes people think God is harsh in the commands He makes. But, the opposite is true. His commands prove He is kind. 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.
In light of how valuable godliness is, can I ask you a question? Are you pursuing it? I know you want to be happy, but how are you trying to make yourself happy? Too many people pursue happiness like an animal. But you are more than an animal. You know that in your heart. You were made for something bigger and better. You were made for a relationship with God Himself. If you don’t know Him, seek Him through the promises He’s revealed in His Word! There’s no happiness that compares to the happiness that is found in Him. And if you do know him, pray that God would help you continue to believe that He is kind, that His commands are for your best, and keep pursuing your happiness through obedience to His Word. Because if you do, you will find it, no matter what circumstances you find yourself in.