Was Jonathan Edwards a Christian Hedonist?
I begin with a definition of Christian Hedonism and an explanation of why it matters (at least to me) what Jonathan Edwards thought about it.
What is Christian Hedonism?
Christian Hedonism teaches that all true virtue must have in it a certain gladness of heart. Therefore the pursuit of virtue must be, in some measure, a pursuit of happiness. It's not enough to say that happiness will be the eventual result of virtuous choices. Rather, since a certain gladness of heart belongs to the nature of true virtue, that gladness must be pursued, if virtue is going to be pursued.
And it follows that if we try to deny or mortify or abandon that pursuit of happiness, we set ourselves against virtue. And that would mean we set ourselves against the good of man and the glory of God.
But what sort of happiness is essential in all virtuous acts?
The answer of Christian Hedonism: it's the happiness of experiencing the glory of God. In all virtuous acts we pursue the enjoyment of the glory of God, and more specifically, the enjoyment of the presence and the promotion of God's glory.
A word on these two terms!
The Presence of the Glory of God
When I say that a Christian Hedonist, in all his virtuous behavior, pursues the enjoyment of the presence of God's glory, I have in mind mainly the experience of being the target of God's grace, which is the pinnacle of his glory (Ephesians 1:6). To be targeted by God's grace is to be in the presence of his glory.
And the effect of that presence in the life of us sinners is to purify us from sin and empower us for holiness. And the enjoymnent of this experience is the joy of knowing ourselves conquered by God, taken over by God, filled with God.
It's the experience Paul was describing when he said, "I am what I am by the grace of God, and his grace toward me was not in vain (there's the idea of being a target!). On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me (there's the idea of being conquered by God!)" (1 Cor. 15:10).
A Christian Hedonist knows that he is the target of God's grace and that he is conquered by God's grace. And so grace gets the credit for his work. And what I am saying is that the enjoyment of this experience is an essential part of all true virtue. A person becomes a Christian Hedonist to the degree that he becomes addicted to that that joy. He makes all his choices with a view to maximizing his enjoyment of the presence of the glory of God's sovereign grace.
So in all acts that are truly virtuous we must pursue the enjoyment of the presence of the glory of God's grace.
The Promotion of the Glory of God?
But Christian Hedonism also teaches that true virtue includes the enjoyment of the promotion of God's glory not just the presence of his glory. What I have in mind here is the pleasure of seeing the perfections of God put on display for the universe. This is the experience Paul commanded us to pursue in 1 Corinthians 10:31, "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."
The enjoyment of this promotion of God's glory is really just an extension of our enjoyment of his presence. If you want to maximize your enjoyment of someone's greatness, then you seek for other hearts where your joy will find an echo. And so the delight in seeing God's glory promoted is simply an extension and completion of the delight we already have in his presence.
This is the heart of Christian Hedonism as I use the term.
Summing up Christian Hedonism
Christian Hedonism teaches that all true virtue must have in it a certain gladness of heart. Therefore the pursuit of virtue must be in some measure a pursuit of happiness. And the happiness, which makes up an essential part of all virtue, is the enjoyment of the presence and the promotion of the glory of God. Therefore, if we try to deny or mortify or abandon the impulse to pursue this hapiness, we set ourselves against the good of man and the glory of God. Rather we should seek to stir up our desire for this delight until it is white hot and insatiable on the earth.
Why Does it Matter What Jonathan Edwards Thought?
Now why should we care what Jonathan Edwards thought about these things —a pastor, who died 230 years ago, and never travelled outside his native New England, and got voted out of his church after 23 years of ministry, and served as a missionary to a handful of Indians for seven years and died when he was 54 years old with about 300 books in his library? Why do I care what Edwards thought about Christian Hedonism?
I care, first of all, because he is one of the greatest Biblically based thinkers the world has ever known. When you force yourself to come to terms with the likes of Jonathan Edwards two good things happen.
One is that the Biblical truthfulness and accuracy of your ideas are tested. Edwards' grasp of Biblical thought is simply phenomenal. It's true that Scripture itself is the plumbline for all our doctrinal edifices. No man can take its place. But I hope you would agree that reading the great Biblically based thinkers outside of our own era is one of the best ways to test whether we have a right hold on the plumbline and are using it correctly. So Edwards is important to me as a test of the Biblical faithfulness of Christian Hedonism.
And second, Edwards' understanding of the human heart along with the depth of his doctrinal insight means that every effort to struggle with his writing is rewarded with increased wisdom. Edwards has simply proved himself to me again and again over the last 20 years as the most profitable (dead) teacher I have ever had. I stand so much in his debt that any thought of teaching something he would disapprove of is a great concern to me.
So when I got a letter from Pete Sommer last November suggesting that Edwards may not be the Christian Hedonist that I claimed him to be, I set myself to rereading Edwards on this matter. Pete is one of the people who has been a kind of reluctant defender of Christian Hedonism in the upper echelons of Inter-Varsity.
What troubled him was the introduction to the 1935 edition of selections from Edwards' works by Clarence Faust and Thomas Johnson. Pete summed up his concern with Faust and Johnson's interpretation of Edwards like this:
The force of the excerpt. . . is that Edwards saw self-love as confirmation of man's depravity, never a proper motive for "virtue." According to the authors, "true virtue" was "disinterested benevolence," a creation and gift of God's grace. . .
Of course whether Edwards is a Christian Hedonist or not depends on what he means by "self-love" and "disinterested benevolence." If Edwards taught that self-love is the essence of depravity and that it only refers to a person's love for his own happiness, then he was not a Christian Hedonist, because that would make the love of happiness the essence of the fall.
And if he taught that "disinterested benevolence" is the essence of virtue and that it refers only to an indifference to my own happiness, then he is not a Christian Hedonist, because that would mean that the pursuit of virtue cannot be the pursuit of happiness but must be accompanied by forsaking of my pursuit of happiness.
Faust and Johnson, who wrote the introductory essay for the Edwards selections in 1935 are very careful in their treatment of this matter, and I didn't come away with the same sense Pete did that they had removed Edwards from the camp of Christian Hedonism. They make some very fine distinctions in the definition of self-love and disinterested benevolence that leave open the possibility that Edwards was indeed a Christian Hedonist. But I don't think this essay settles the matter for us. We do best to go straight to the writings of Edwards themselves.
Letting Edwards Speak for Himself
What does Edwards mean by self-love? It was a hot topic in his day, and any twentieth century reader that dips into this issue should be very wary of importing contemporary ideas. Not only does the 18th century debate have very little resemblance to the contemporary talk about self-love as self-esteem and a positive self-image, it also demands of the reader a very discriminating effort to make distinctions between different kinds of self-love.
An unsympathetic reader would be tempted to accuse Edwards of inconsistency in his treatment of self-love, because he criticizes the adequacy of a certain definition of it in one place and uses it in another. But I chalk this up not to an inconsistency in thought, but to a deep frustration with the adequacy of language.
I've found three places in his Miscellanies, for example, where he complains about the limitations of language to express reality (Townsend, 139, 209, 244). For example, in #4 he says, "O, how is the world darkened, clouded, distracted, and torn to pieces by those dreadful enemies of mankind called words!"
At the beginning (Mind, Yale VI, 337) and end (NTV, 42f) of his career Edwards pointed out the impropriety of calling our desire to be happy "self-love". In the Nature of True Virtue (written 1755, published 1765) he said,
[Self-love] may be taken for. . . [a person's] loving whatsoever is pleasing to him. Which comes only to this, that self-love is a man's liking, and being suited and pleased in that which he likes, and which pleases him; or, that it is a man's loving what he loves. For whatever a man loves, that thing is. . . pleasing to him. . . And if this be all that they mean by self-love, no wonder they suppose that all love may be resolved into self-love. (NTV, 42f)
In other words, Edwards recognizes that there are people who define self-love simply as the love of happiness and who then say that all love goes back to this source (that is what a Christian Hedonist would say). Edwards doesn't deny that all love does go back to this source, but he says that there is "an impropiety and absurdity" of using the term self-love this way if what you are really trying to find out is why a person loves one thing and not another thing.
And that was the bigger question that Edwards was interested in. You can say that the reason one man finds his happiness in God and another finds his happiness in money is that both are driven by the desire for happiness, that is, both are governed by self-love. Edwards would agree but would say that you haven't said anything very significant. It is not significant to say that one man loves God and another man loves money because both have a capacity for love—that both are seeking happiness.
Edwards goes on like this: "That a man in general loves. . . happiness. . . cannot be the reason why such and such things become his happiness" (NTV, 44). What was drivig Edwards here was the passion to prove that true virtue could never be accounted for without reference to the special grace of God. What man was by nature could never give rise to true virtue. And so if all virtue—all love—does resolve into this self-love, which is simply a natural capacity, then God is on his way out as a necessary reference point in the nature of true virtue.
Edwards saw this very clearly, and he set himself to strive with all his might against the secularizing of morals in his day, that put man at the center, and made virtue native to his own powers. And so he forced the question beyond whether all virtue resolves into a natural desire for happiness (that is into self-love in this sense), and asked, why one person would be made happy only in God while another finds happiness in created things.
We will see his answer to that question in a few minutes. But first notice how Edwards preferred to use the term self-love when dealing with the moralists of his day. He says in the Nature of True Virtue (45),
Self-love, as the phrase is used in common speech, most commonly signifies a man's regard to his confined private self, or love to himself with respect his private interest.
In other words self-love was ordinarily used, he said, with a very negative connotation. And the evil of it lay in its narrowness. It was virtually synonymous with selfishness, in the sense that what makes a selfish person happy is not when others are benefited but when his own private happiness increases without consideration for others.
In 1738 Edwards preached a series of expositions on 1 Corinthians 13 later published under the title, Charity and its Fruits. His sermon verse 5, "Charity. . .seeketh not her own," is entitled, "The Spirit of Charity the Opposite of a Selfish Spirit." In it he describes the fall like this:
The ruin that the fall brought upon the soul of man consist very much in his losing the nobler and more benevolent principles of his nature, and falling wholly under the power and government of self-love. . . Sin like some powerful astringent, contracted his soul to the very small dimensions of selfishness; and God was forsaken, and fellow creatures forsaken, and man retired within himself, and became totally governed by narrow and selfish principles and feelings. Self-love became absolute master of his soul, and the more noble and spiritual principles of his being took wings and flew away. (157f)
So self-love in this sense is the same as the vice of selfishness. People who are governed by self-love
place [their] happiness in good things that are confined or limited to themselves, to the exclusion of others. And this is selfishness. This is the thing most clearly and directly intended by that self-love which the Scripture condemns. (164)
So self-love is a natural trait that man has after the fall and it is evil because of its narrowness and confinement. But that raises the question, How broad can the benevolent effects of self-love be before it ceases to be evil by virtue of its narrowness? Edwards knew quite well that benevolence for many others besides ourselves can be rooted in a confined and narrow self-love, because of natural affinities that unite others to ourselves.
That was 1738. By the time Edwards wrote the Nature of True Virtue 17 years later he had gone on to answer that question with an extraordinarily radical answer. When can the breadth of the benevolent effects of self-love be broad enough so that it can be called true virtue, and no longer selfish and sinful? Answer: only when it embraces the good of the whole universe of being. Or more simply, self-love is confined, narrow selfish and sinful until it embraces God. For until then self-love embraces "an infinitely small part of universal existence" (NTV, 77) because it does not embrace God.
If there could be a cause (like self-love) determining a person to benevolence towards the whole world of mankind, or even all created sensible natures throughout the universe, exclusive of union of heart to general existence and of love to God—not derived from that temper of mind which disposes to a supreme regard to him, nor subordinate to such divine love—it cannot be of the nature of true virtue. (NTV, 78f)
Norman Fiering said of this statement, "We may admire the audacity of such a statement. . . But it is also open to obvious criticism." (Jonathan Edwards's Moral Thought in its British Context, 196) Then he proceeds to critique Edwards in a way that, in my judgment misses the aim and achievement of Edwards in the Nature of True Virtue, namely, to make God indispensable in the definition of true virtue—to keep God at the center of all moral considerations, to stem the secularizing forces. Edwards could not conceive of calling any act truly virtuous that did not have in it a supreme regard to God.
And I hope that you can see immediately that this is almost identical to the cornerstone of Christian Hedonism, namely, that all true virtue must have in it a certain gladness of heart in the glory of God.
So what Edwards was trying to do by focusing on the negative, narrow, confined sense of self-love was to show in the end that all love is this kind of love and therefore is no true virtue unless God is included. In other words his treatment of self-love like everything else he wrote was aimed at defending the centrality and indispensability of God. And that is precisely the aim of Christian Hedonism as well.
But now that we understand why Edwards focused on the negative sense of self-love, we are free to return to the positive sense without misunderstanding and let it have its full impact on behalf of Christian Hedonism, which is very considerable.
You remember that Edwards thought in his day that it was insignificant to say that all things are done out of self-love if self-love merely means our love of happiness. Edwards just took this for granted. That is simply a description of the way God constituted the will. But today it's not insignificant or pointless to say that all our acts are motivated by the desire for happiness and that this is good. Edwards took this premise of Christian Hedonism for granted, everything we do we do in order to maximize our happiness as we understand it, and this is not evil. But today this isn't taken for granted. And if you talk this way you come under suspicion, because people don't see the connection between love for happiness and the centrality of God the way Edwards saw it and the way that Christian Hedonism envisions it.
So let's back up now and take up the positive use Edwards makes of the definition of self-love which in one sense he regarded as improper. In Charity and Its Fruits Edwards says,
It is not contrary to Christianity that a man should love himself, or, which is the same thing, should love his own happiness. If Christianity did indeed tend to destroy a man's love to himself, and to his own happiness, it would therein tend to destroy the very spirit of humanity. . . That a man should love his own happiness, is as necessary to his nature as the faculty of the will is and it is impossible that such a love should be destroyed in any other way than by destroying his being. The saints love their own happiness. Yea, those that are perfect in happiness, the saints and angels in heaven, love their own happiness; otherwise that happiness which God hath given them would be no happiness to them. . . (159).
Edwards took all this for granted the way he took the very existence of man for granted. But my experience is that it hits people today as though it were a new religion—which I think shows just how far we have come from the Biblical religion of Jonathan Edwards.
I suppose it may be a slight overstatement to say that Edwards took all this for granted because he seems to feel the need to argue for it somewhat. For example, he says,
That to love ourselves is not unlawful, is evident also from the fact, that the law of God makes self-love a rule and measure by which our love to others should be regulated. Thus Christ commands (Matt. 19:19), "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," which certainly supposes that we may, and must love ourselves. . . And the same appears also from the fact, that the Scriptures, from one end of the Bible to the other, are full of motives that are set forth for the very purpose of working on the principle of self-love. Such are all the promises and threatenings of the word of God, its calls and invitations, its counsels to seek our own good, and its warnings to beware of misery. (Charity, 160)
But now how does all this relate to our love for God? The quest for happiness seems self-centered to most Christians today. But in fact Edwards can help us see that the attempt to abandon that quest in relation to God results in a much worse self-centeredness and a failure to honor God as the infinitely satisfying fountain of joy that he is and intends to be.
Edwards clears a lot of fog away when he poses the question, "Whether or no a man ought to love God more than himself?" He answers like this:
Self-love, taken in the most extensive sense, and love to God are not things properly capable of being compared one with another; for they are not opposites or things entirely distinct, but one enters into the nature of the other. . . Self-love is only a capacity of enjoying or taking delight in anything. Now surely 'tis improper to say that our love to God is superior to our general capacity of delighting in anything. (Miscellanies, #530, p.202)
In other words you can never play off self-love against love to God when self-love is treated as our love for happiness. Rather love to God is the form that self-love takes when God is discovered as the all satisfying focus of our happiness. Norman Fiering catches the sense here perfectly when he sums up Edwards position like this:
Disinterested love to God is impossible because the desire for happiness is intrinsic to all willing or loving whatsoever, and God is the necessary end of the search for happiness. Logically one cannot be disinterested about the source or basis of all interest. (Jonathan Edwards's Moral Thought in its British Context, 161)
This is very important because Edwards does use the word "disinterested" when he talks about love to God (e.g. Original Sin, 144; Charity, 174). And you remember back at the beginning that Pete Sommer was troubled that the term "disinterested benevolence" was Edwards' ideal and that this removed him from the ranks of Christian Hedonism.
But the same ambiguity exists with the term "disinterested" as with the term "self-love". When Edwards speaks of a disinterested love to God he means a love that is not grounded not in a desire for God's gifts, but in a desire for the glory and excellency of God himself. This absolutely crucial for understanding Edwards' relation to Christian Hedonism. "Disinterestedness" is not an anti hedonistic word as Edwards uses it. It is simply his way (a common 18th century way of stressing that we must seek our joy in God himself and not in the health, wealth and prosperity he gives. It is a word designed to safeguard the God-centeredness of Christian Hedonism, not to oppose Christian Hedonism.
You know immediately that you have not left the realm of Christian Hedonism when you listen to Edwards describe, of all things, disinterested delight! It sounds contradictory. But that just shows us how careful we have to be not to jump to conclusions when we see apparently non-hedonistic terms. This quote comes from the Religious Affections:
As it is with the love of the saints, so it is with their joy, and spiritual delight and pleasure: the first foundation of it, is not any consideration or conception of their interest in (understand: "natural benefit from") divine things; but it primarily consists in the sweet entertainment their minds have in the view or contemplation of the divine and holy beauty of these things, as they are in themselves. And this is indeed the very main difference between the joy of the hypocrite, and the joy of the true saint. The former rejoices in himself; self is the first foundation of his joy: the latter rejoices in God. . . True saints have their minds, in the first place, inexpressibly pleased and delighted with the sweet ideas of the glorious and amiable nature of the things of God. And this is the spring of all their delights, and the cream of all their pleasures. . . But the dependence of the affections of hypocrites is in a contrary order: they first rejoice. . . that they are made so much of by God; and then on that ground, he seems in a sort, lovely to them. (249f)
A paragraph like this puts an end once and for all to the thought that the term disinterested in Edwards means that we should not seek the deepest and highest pleasures in God and be driven on by them so that we do not rest until we get to the fountain and are never satisfied with any of the tributaries of his blessings. It is a radically hedonistic paragraph!
Perhaps the best proof that the love of God can never be played off against the pursuit of happiness is Edwards' answer to the question whether we should be willing to be damned for the glory of God.
'Tis impossible for any person to be willing to be perfectly and finally miserable for God's sake, for this supposes love to God is superior to self-love in the most general and extensive sense of self-love, which enters into the nature of love to God. . . If a man is willing to be perfectly miserable for God's sake. . . then he must be willing to be deprived [not only of his own natural benefits, but also] of that which is indirectly his own, viz., God's good, which supposition is inconsistent with itself; for to be willing to be deprived of this latter sort of good is opposite to that principle of love to God itself, from whence such a willingness is supposed to arise. Love to God, if it be superior to any other principle, will make a man forever unwilling, utterly and finally, to be deprived of that part of his happiness which he has in God's being blessed and glorified, and the more he loves Him, the more unwilling he will be. So that this supposition, that a man can be willing to be perfectly and utterly miserable out of love to God, is inconsistent with itself. (Miscellanies, #530, Townsend, 204)
Edwards realizes that he has used the language of benevolence toward God in this paragraph—he spoke of God's good and God's being blessed and the saints desire that this be, which a love of benevolence toward God.
But Edwards is very sharp, and realizes also that beneath such a love of benevolence to God which wills his good and his glory, there is a love of complacence, which means a love that delights in the good and the glory of God, because these are beautiful and pleasing. This is implied when he said that God's being glorified is part of the saint's happiness. (See Treatise on Grace, 49f)
So Edwards goes on in this Miscellany and says,
This love of complacence is a placing of his happiness . . . in a particular object. This sort of love, which is always in proportion to a love of benevolence, is also inconsistent with a willingness to be utterly miserable for God's sake; for if a man is utterly miserable, he is utterly excluded [from] the enjoyment of God. . . The more a man loves God, the more unwilling will he be to be deprived of this happiness. (Miscellanies, #530, Townsend, 204f; see Fiering, 160)
So there is no such thing in the thought of Edwards as the ultimate abandonment of the quest for happiness. Self-love is rejected only when it is conceived of in a narrow sense that excludes God as the object of all-satisfying joy. In the words of Norman Fiering,
The type of self-love that is overcome in finding union with God is specifically selfishness, not the self-love that seeks the consummation of happiness. (Jonathan Edwards's Moral Thought in its British Context, 162)
Why then do some people put their happiness in God and others don't? Edwards' answer was the miracle of regeneration. And with this answer Edwards safeguarded the supernatural uniqueness of true virtue by making God the indispensable first ground of it. You recall that the battle he was fighting was against the secularizing tendencies that he saw in the ethical theories of his day that resolved all virtue into powers that man has by nature. Edwards saw this as a naive estimation of man's corruption and as an assault on the centrality of God in the moral life of the soul.
How then do people come to have God as their true happiness? (Which the same as asking, How is a Christian Hedonist created?)
Edwards observed that a love to God that arises solely from self-love
cannot be a truly gracious and spiritual love . . . for self-love is a principle entirely natural, and as much in the hearts of devils as angels; and therefore surely nothing that is the mere result of it can be supernatural and divine. (Religious Affections, 242)
So he goes on to say that those who say that all love to God arises solely from self-love
ought to consider a little further, and inquire how the man came to place his happiness in God's being glorified, and in contemplating and enjoying God's perfections. . . How came these things to be so agreeable to him, that he esteems it his highest happiness to glorify God? . . . If after a man loves God, and has his heart so united to him, as to look upon God as his chief good . . . it will be a consequence and fruit of this, that even self-love, or love to his own happiness, will cause him to desire the glorifying and enjoying of God; it will not thence follow, that this very exercise of self-love, went before his love to God, and that his love to God was a consequence and fruit of that. Something else, entirely distinct from self-love might be the cause of this, viz. a change made in the views of his mind, and relish of his heart whereby he apprehends a beauty, glory, and supreme good, in God's nature, as it is in itself. (Religious Affections, 241)
So Edwards says that self-love alone can't account for the existence of spiritual love to God because prior to the soul's going after happiness in God the soul has to perceive the excellency of God and be given a relish for it. This is what happens in regeneration.
Divine love . . . may be thus described. 'Tis the soul's relish of the supreme excellency of the Divine nature, inclining the heart to God as the chief good. The first thing in Divine love, and that from which everything that appertains to it arises, is a relish of the excellency of the Divine nature; which the soul of man by nature has nothing of. . .
When once the soul is brought to relish the excellency of the Divine nature, then it will naturally, and of course, incline to God every way. It will incline to be with Him and to enjoy Him. It will have benevolence to God. It will be glad that He is happy. It will incline that He should be glorified, and that His will should be done in all things. So that the first effect of the power of God in the heart in REGENERATION, is to give the heart a Divine taste or sense; to cause it to have a relish of the loveliness and sweetness of the supreme excellency of the Divine nature; and indeed this is all the immediate effect of the Divine power that there is; this is all the Spirit of God needs to do, in order to a production of all good effects in the soul. (Treatise on Grace, 48f)
Very simply a capacity to taste a thing must precede our desire for its sweetness. That is, regeneration must precede self-love's pursuit of happiness in God. Thus Edwards speaks of the natural power of self-love being regulated:
The change that takes place in a man, when he is converted and sanctified, is not that his love for happiness is diminished, but only that it is regulated with respect to its exercises and influence, and the courses and objects it leads to. . . When God brings a soul out of a miserable state and condition into a happy state, by conversion, he gives him happiness that before he had not [namely, in God], but he does not at the same time take away any of his love of happiness. (Charity, 161f)
So the problem with our love for happiness is never that its intensity is too great. The main problem is that it flows in the wrong channels toward the wrong objects (Charity, 164), because our nature is corrupt and in desperate need of renovation by the Holy Spirit (Miscellanies, #397, Townsend, 249).
But once that renovation happens through the supernatural work of regeneration, the pursuit of the enjoyment of the glory of God becomes more and more clearly the all-satisfying duty of the Christian. And indifference to this pursuit, as though it were a bad thing, appears like an increasingly great evil.
The heart is more and more gripped with the essence of Christian Hedonism, namely that God created the world for his own glory and that this glory echoes most clearly in the enjoyments of the saints. And that therefore all true virtue has it an enjoyment of the presence and promotion of the glory of God.
Listen to Edwards now on the very heart and fountain of Christian Hedonism:
God is glorified within Himself these two ways: 1. By appearing . . . to Himself in His own perfect idea [of Himself], or in His Son who is the brightness of His glory. 2. By enjoying and delighting in Himself, by flowing forth in infinite love and delight towards Himself, or in his Holy Spirit.
So God glorifies Himself toward the creatures also in two ways: 1. By appearing to . . . their understanding. 2. In communicating Himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying, the manifestations which He makes of Himself. . . God is glorified not only by His glory's being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. His glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart. God made the world that He might communicate, and the creature receive, His glory; and that it might [be] received both by the mind and heart. He that testifies his idea of God's glory [doesn't] glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation of it and his delight in it. (Miscellanies, #448, Townsend, 133; see also #87, p 128 and #332, p 130 and #679, p 138)
In other words, the chief end of man is to glorify God BY ENJOYING HIM for ever, and this is the essence of Christian Hedonism. The gospel of Christian Hedonism is that there is no final conflict between God's passion to be glorified and man's passion to be satisfied.
As Edwards put it,
Because [God] infinitely values his own glory, consisting in the knowledge of himself, love to himself, and complacence and joy in himself; he therefore valued the image, communication or participation of these, in the creature. And it is because he values himself, that he delights in the knowledge, and love, and joy of the creature; as being himself the object of this knowledge, love and complacence. . . [Thus] God's respect to the creature's good, and his respect to himself, is not a divided respect; but both are united in one, as the happiness of the creature aimed at, is happiness in union with himself. (Dissertation concerning the End for which God Created the World, Banner of Truth,I, 120)
It follows from all this that it is impossible that anyone can pursue happiness with too much passion and zeal and intensity (Charity, 161). This is not sin. Sin is pursuing it where it cannot be lastingly found, or pursuing it in the right direction with lukewarm, half-hearted affections.
Virtue on the other hand is to do what we do with all our might (Resolution #6, Banner of Truth, p.xx) in pursuit of the enjoyment of the presence and promotion of the glory of God. And therefore the cultivation of spiritual appetite is a great duty for all the saints. Edwards says, "Men . . . ought to indulge those appetites. To obtain as much of those spiritual satisfactions as lies in their power" (Unpublished sermon on Canticles 5:1, with the doctrine stated: "That persons need not and ought not to set any bounds to their spiritual and gracious appetites.")
©2015 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.
Share the Joy! You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in physical form, in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For posting online, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. For videos, please embed from the original source. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2015 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org