Saturday, October 5th, is the birthday of my theological hero, Jonathan Edwards. He was born in 1703 in East Windsor, Connecticut, and his life and words continue to affect me in countless ways. The Edwards home was rather unusual, as Jonathan had 10 sisters and no brothers! But that’s not my focus in this article. I want to briefly reflect on one of the more important truths that occupied his mind. Although what follows is primarily designed for those who, like Edwards, are in pastoral ministry, all of you can benefit greatly from reflecting deeply on what he said.
Edwards was just 21 years old when he preached a sermon entitled, “Nothing Upon Earth Can Represent the Glories of Heaven.” It was the first sermon he ever preached based on a text from the book of Revelation (21:18). And it was in this sermon that he articulated one of the most important theological insights he ever had: “God created man,” said Edwards, “for this very end, that he might communicate happiness to him” (14:144).
God couldn’t have created the world for his own happiness, said Edwards, because it is “impossible that an infinite and eternal Being should receive any addition of happiness.” In other words, God, who is altogether perfect in himself and eternally self-sufficient couldn’t add to his own happiness by creating the world. That would imply that his happiness was somehow less than complete or deficient or depleted or capable of improvement, which would mean that God really isn’t in fact God but only a lesser being. It is “evident therefore,” said Edwards, “that what moved God to create the world was . . . his goodness, or his propensity to communicate of his own happiness to something else” (144).
This “something else” that God designed to be the recipient of happiness can’t be the natural creation, whether sun or moon or stars, bugs or plants. We are that “something else.” Human beings, those whom Edwards calls “the spiritual part of the creation” (144), were created so that God might communicate or impart happiness to them.
But wait a minute. I thought God created the universe for his own glory. But now you are telling me he created the universe for our happiness. Which is it? Make up your mind! The 21-year-old Edwards was ready for just such an objection, and the answer he provided in response is what we today call: Christian Hedonism.
There is no difference, said Edwards, in saying that God created mankind to communicate happiness to them and that God created mankind for his own glory because “he created them that he might glorify himself . . . by making them blessed, and [communicating] . . . his goodness to them” (145-46).
The glory of God, said Edwards, “[consists] in the creature’s admiring and rejoicing [and] exulting in the manifestation of his [i.e., God’s] beauty and excellency. [T]he essence of glorifying God consists . . . in the creature’s rejoicing in God’s manifestation of his beauty, which is the joy and happiness we speak of” (144). So this “happiness” or “joy” which God was inclined to communicate to you and me, which constitutes the primary reason why he created the universe, is the happiness and joy we experience when we relish, delight and rejoice in the manifestation of God’s beauty!
Again, Edwards proclaimed: “Now glorifying God is nothing else but rejoicing in that glory he has displayed. So that God doubtless made man to rejoice in him and his works. But if God made man for this very end, to rejoice, he made him for this very end, [namely] to be happy” (147). From this Edwards draws a very important conclusion: “that man was designed by God for exceeding, inexpressibly great happiness” (147). You need to understand why Edwards draws this conclusion.
Surely God’s passion for his glory is infinitely intense and immeasurably great. God doesn’t take his glory lightly. He’s not half-hearted or lazy when it comes to magnifying himself. God’s passion for his glory isn’t an afterthought or of secondary importance to him. All the energy of an omnipotent God is devoted to the praise of his own name. So, if the way in which that glory is to be seen is in the delight that human beings experience in the manifestation of God’s splendor, it necessarily follows that this delight or happiness or joy for which you and I were created and designed must itself also be “exceeding” and “inexpressibly great.” How exceeding? How inexpressibly great? As exceeding and inexpressibly great as is God’s own passion for his own glory!
Let me put that in a shorter sentence: The intensity and depth and greatness of the joy for which God created you is equivalent to the intensity and depth and greatness of the glory that he seeks for himself.
But what sort of “happiness” does Edwards have in mind? Is it the sort of happiness that our society is selling, the sort that comes only with a new computer, or a six-figure salary, or exceedingly satisfying sex with one’s wife? (All of which, by the way, are fine). The answer is No. “Man was created to be happy in the beholding of God’s own excellency” (147). Human beings were “created to behold the manifestations of God’s excellency, and to view them, and to be delighted with the sight of them” (147). That’s the happiness or joy for which we were made.
In summary, God did not create the universe “that he might be made more happy . . . , but [in order that] [he] might make something else happy; [it was in order] that he might make them [us] blessed in the beholding of his excellency, and might [in] this way glorify himself” (153).
God created us to glorify himself by enriching us with the joy that flows from a saving encounter with the splendor of his Son. So the goal of our creation was not simply that we might be happy, but happy in beholding God’s own eternal excellencies. Not in beholding our own accomplishments. Not happy in gazing upon our reflection in the mirror. Not in the enjoyment of our own sensual appetites. Not in the development of a healthy self-esteem or in the acquisition of a four-bedroom home with a three-car garage.
Edwards’ point is simply that passionate and joyful admiration of God, and not merely intellectual apprehension, is the aim of our existence and thus the essence of true spirituality. If God is to be supremely glorified in us it’s critically essential that we be supremely glad in him and in what he has done for us in Jesus. So, here’s why you are: to relish and rejoice in the revelation of divine beauty with such intensity and single-minded focus that Christ becomes your all-consuming passion and sin turns sour in your soul.
This was God’s purpose in creating the universe and it is also the purpose for pastoral ministry. If you are a pastor, your purpose, whether you have realized it up to this point or not, is that by the grace of God you might lead the people of God into the enjoyment of God, for the everlasting glory of God. Everything else is subordinate to and must serve that ultimate aim and goal. Whether it is in your counseling or your praying or your preaching or your discipling or your leading of worship or your training of people in your church, your conscious and ultimate aim must be leading men and women by the grace of God into the enjoyment of God for the glory of God.
Or let me put it another way: Do you struggle, contend, and fight for joy in Jesus, both yours and theirs? Do you think of joy or satisfaction in Christ as something in your heart and that of your people to be sought and pursued and made the object of diligent striving and focused labor? When you intercede for your church or set an agenda for the coming year or plan in advance for a particular sermon series, is their joy in Jesus your preeminent and ultimate aim? Or do you have other goals in view and think of joy more as an after-effect, a by-product of other and more important pursuits?
Make no mistake. Nothing is more important or practical or relevant to your daily struggles and problems and purpose in life than your joy in Jesus, your deep and passionate satisfaction in all that God is for you in him.