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On the contrary, Christian Hedonists are persuaded with Edwards that the only affections that magnify God’s value are those that come from true apprehensions of His glory. If the feast of worship is rare in the land, it is because there is a famine of the Word of God (Amos 8:11–12).
THE FORM WORSHIPOF It follows that forms of worship should provide two things: channels for the mind to apprehend the truth of God’s reality and channels for the heart to respond to the beauty of that truth—that is, forms to ignite the affections with biblical truth and forms to express the affections with biblical passion.
Of course, good forms do both. Good sermons and hymns and prayers express and inspire worship. And they do it best when they are unabashedly hedonistic and therefore God-centered.
Take preaching, for example. John Broadus was on target when he wrote a
hundred years ago:
20. Edwards, “The True Excellency of a Gospel Minister,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 2:958.
The minister may lawfully appeal to the desire for happiness and its negative counterpart, the dread of unhappiness. Those philosophers [Kant?] who insist that we ought always to do right simply and only because it is right are not philosophers at all, for they are either grossly ignorant of human nature [and I would add: Scripture] or else indulging in mere fanciful speculations.21 Or take hymns! How unabashedly hedonistic they are! Hymns are the voices of the church’s lovers, and lovers are the least duty-oriented and most God-besotted people in the world.
Jesus, I am resting, resting
21. John Broadus, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, 4th ed., rev. Vernon Stanfield (New York:
Harper & Row, 1979), 117.
And for the prayers of the church, what could suffice better than the inspired (hedonistic!) prayers of the psalmists?
You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. (Psalm 4:7) Let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. (5:11) I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High. (9:2)
shall be satisfied with your likeness. (17:15) “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.” (40:8, NASB) Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.… Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (51:10, 12) O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. (63:1–3) Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (73:25–26) When the people of God—and especially the lead worshipers—begin to pray in this hedonistically God-centered way, then the form will both express and inspire authentic worship.
But in the end, the form is not the issue. The issue is whether the excellency of Christ is seen. Worship will happen when the God who said “Let light shine out of darkness” shines in our hearts to give us “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
We must see and feel the incomparable excellency of the Son of God.
22. These pairs are from a sermon by Jonathan Edwards entitled “The Excellency of Christ.” In it, Edwards meditates on the image of Christ in Revelation 5:5–6 as both the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Lamb that was slain. The sermon is in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 1:680–9. For my meditations on these diverse excellencies of Christ, see Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2001).
Incomparable because in Him meet infinite glory and lowest humility, infinite majesty and transcendent meekness, deepest reverence toward God and equality with God, infinite worthiness of good and greatest patience to suffer evil, supreme dominion and exceeding obedience, divine self-sufficiency and childlike trust.22 The irony of our human condition is that God has put us within sight of the Himalayas of His glory in Jesus Christ, but we have chosen to pull down the shades of our chalet and show slides of Buck Hill—even in church. We are content to go on making mud pies in the slums because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.
AN EXHORTATION EXPERIENCEAND AN I close this chapter with an exhortation and an experience. Don’t let your worship decline to the performance of mere duty. Don’t let the childlike awe and wonder be choked out by unbiblical views of virtue. Don’t let the scenery and poetry and music of your relationship with God shrivel up and die. You have capacities for joy that you can scarcely imagine. They were made for the enjoyment of God. He can awaken them no matter how long they have lain asleep.
Pray for His quickening power. Open your eyes to His glory. It is all around you: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
I was flying at night from Chicago to Minneapolis, almost alone on the plane.
The pilot announced that there was a thunderstorm over Lake Michigan and into Wisconsin. He would skirt it to the west to avoid turbulence. As I sat there staring out into the total blackness, suddenly the whole sky was brilliant with light, and a cavern of white clouds fell away four miles beneath the plane and then vanished. A second later, a mammoth white tunnel of light exploded from north to south across the horizon, and again vanished into blackness. Soon the lightning was almost constant, and volcanoes of light burst up out of cloud ravines and from behind distant white mountains. I sat there shaking my head almost in unbelief. O Lord, if these are but the sparks from the sharpening of Your sword, what will be the
day of Your appearing! And I remembered the words of Christ:
WO R S H I P
Even now as I recollect that sight, the word glory is full of feeling for me. I thank God that again and again He has awakened my heart to desire Him, to see Him, and to sit down to the feast of Christian Hedonism and worship the King of Glory. The banquet hall is very large.
In some sense the most benevolent, generous person in the world seeks his own happiness in doing good to others, because he places his happiness in their good.
His mind is so enlarged as to take them, as it were, into himself.
Thus when they are happy, he feels it;
he partakes with them, and is happy in their happiness.
This is so far from being inconsistent with the freeness of beneficence, that, on the contrary, free benevolence and kindness consists in it.
S o far I have argued that disinterested benevolence toward God is evil.
C. S. Lewis puts it well: “It would be a bold and silly creature that came before its Creator with the boast, ‘I’m no beggar. I love you disinterestedly.’”1 If you come to God dutifully offering Him the reward of your fellowship instead of thirsting after the reward of His fellowship, then you exalt yourself above God as His benefactor and belittle Him as a needy beneficiary—and that is evil.
The only way to glorify the all-sufficiency of God in worship is to come to Him because “in [His] presence there is fullness of joy; at [His] right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). This has been the main point so far, and
we could call it vertical Christian Hedonism. Between man and God, on the vertical axis of life, the pursuit of pleasure is not just tolerable; it is mandatory:
“Delight yourself in the LORD”! (Psalm 37:4). The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.
But now what about horizontal Christian Hedonism? What about our relationship with other people? Is disinterested benevolence the ideal among men?
Or is the pursuit of pleasure proper and indeed mandatory for every kind of human love that pleases God?
1. C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1960), 12.
This chapter’s answer is that the pursuit of pleasure is an essential motive for every good deed. Or, to put it another way: If you aim to abandon the pursuit of full and lasting pleasure, you cannot love people or please God.
DOES LOVE SEEKS ITS OWN?
This will take some explaining and defending! I plead your patience and openness. I am swimming against the current of a revered river in this chapter. When
I preached on this once, a philosophy professor wrote a letter to me with the following criticism:
Is it not the contention of morality that we should do the good because it is the good?... We should do the good and perform virtuously, I suggest, because it is good and virtuous; that God will bless it and cause us to be happy is a consequence of it, but not the motive for doing it.
Another popular writer says:
For the Christian happiness is never a goal to be pursued. It is always the unexpected surprise of a life of service.
I regard these quotes as contrary to Scripture and contrary to love and, in the end (though unintentionally), dishonoring to God.
No doubt, biblical passages come to mind that seem to say exactly the opposite of what I am saying. For example, in the great love chapter, the apostle Paul says that love “does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13:5, NASB). Earlier in the same book, he admonished the church, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.… I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (10:24, 33). In Romans 15:1–3 he says, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself.” LOV E An isolated and unreflective focus on texts like these gives the impression that the essence of Christian morality is to free ourselves of all self-interest when it comes to doing good deeds for other people. But there is good reason to think that this impression is wrong. It does not take all of the context into account, and it certainly cannot account for many other teachings in the New Testament.
Take the context of 1 Corinthians 13, for example. Verse 5 says love seeks not its own. But is this meant so absolutely that it would be wrong to enjoy being loving? First consider the wider biblical context.
SHOULD WE DELIGHT BEING MERCIFUL?
IN According to the prophet Micah, God has commanded us not simply to be merciful, but to “love kindness”: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8). In other words, the command is not just to do acts of mercy, but to delight to be merciful or to want to be merciful. If you love being merciful, how can you keep from satisfying your own desire in doing acts of mercy? How can you keep from seeking your own joy in acts of love when your joy consists in being loving? Does obedience to the command to “love kindness” mean you must disobey the teaching of 1 Corinthians 13:5 that love should “seek not its own”?
No. The more immediate context gives several clues that the point of 1 Corinthians 13:5 is not to forbid the pursuit of the joy of loving. Jonathan
Edwards gives the true sense:
[The error 1 Corinthians 13:5 opposes is not] the degree in which [a person] loves his own happiness, but in his placing his happiness where he ought not, and in limiting and confining his love. Some, although they love their own happiness, do not place that happiness in their own confined good, or in that good which is limited to themselves, but more in the common good—in that which is the good of others, or in the good to be enjoyed in and by others.… And when it
is said that Charity seeketh not her own, we are to understand it of her own private good—good limited to herself.2
DOES PAUL ASSUME
WE WILL WANT TO GAIN NOTHING?
One clue that this is in fact what Paul means is the way he tries to motivate genuine love in verse 3. He says, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” If genuine love dare not set its sights on its own gain, isn’t it strange that Paul warns us that not having love will rob us of “gain”? But this is in fact what he says: “If you don’t have real love, you won’t have real gain.” Someone, no doubt, will say that the gain is a sure result of genuine love, but if it is the motive of love, then love is not really love. In other words, it is good for God to reward acts of love, but it is not good for us to be drawn into love by the promise of reward. But if this is true, then why did Paul tell us in verse 3 that we would lose our reward if we were not really loving? If longing for the “gain” of loving ruins the moral value of love, it is very bad pedagogy to tell someone to be loving lest he lose his “gain.” Giving Paul the benefit of the doubt, should we not rather say there is a kind of gain that is wrong to be motivated by (hence, “Love seeks not its own”), as well as a kind of gain that is right to be motivated by (hence, “If I do not have love, I gain nothing”)? Edwards says the proper gain to be motivated by is the happiness one gets in the act of love itself or in the good achieved by it.