A few years ago, I became so disillusioned with how the word faith gets misused today that I wanted to propose we simply drop the word altogether, and perhaps use trust instead. But as I’ve aged, I’ve realized more and more just how wrong I was.
In reading Charles Spurgeon, one thing I’m constantly challenged by is his great, unembarrassed emphasis on faith. He even wrote a book called Chequebook of the Bank of Faith which is a devotional work based on the promises of God, and very worth the read.
For Spurgeon, faith lies at the very heart of the Christian life, and is not just something that we exercise at the beginning of our walk in order to become a Christian. For him, it is the very root of what others have called Christian Hedonism.
Yes, that’s right, Spurgeon was a Christian Hedonist. In the following excerpt from one of his many sermons, he makes a connection between glorifying God and our own happiness in words which could easily have come from John Piper’s Desiring God. Spurgeon explains that another way of describing the chief end of man is simply to “please” God, and that in our pleasing him, we inevitably will be pleased as well. The link with Hebrews 11:1 is then clear, but we do well to ponder carefully that it is our ongoing faith which pleases God, and is at the heart of our own pleasure, and hence Christian Hedonism. We must abandon our over-cautiousness about this word faith and learn to live in such a way that our entire being reaches out to God in the holy abandon, hope, and trust that comprises true faith.
The [Westminster] Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” and its answer is, “To glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” The answer is exceedingly correct; but it might have been equally truthful if it had been shorter. The chief end of man is “to please God,” for in so doing — we need not say it, because it is an undoubted fact — in so doing, he will please himself. The chief end of man, we believe, in this life and in the next, is to please God his Maker.
If any man pleases God, he does that which conduces most to his own temporal and eternal welfare. Man cannot please God without bringing to himself a great amount of happiness; for if any man pleases God, it is because God accepts him as his son, gives him the blessings of adoption, pours upon him the bounties of his grace, makes him a blessed man in this life, and insures him a crown of everlasting life, which he shall wear, and which shall shine with unfading luster when the wreaths of earth’s glory have all been melted away; while, on the other hand, if a man does not please God, he inevitably brings upon himself sorrow and suffering in this life; he puts a worm and a rottenness in the core of all his joys; he fills his death-pillow with thorns, and he supplies the eternal fire with faggots of flame which shall for ever consume him.
He that pleases God is, through Divine grace, journeying onward to the ultimate reward of all those that love and fear God; but he who is ill-pleasing to God, must, for Scripture has declared it, be banished from the presence of God, and consequently from the enjoyment of happiness. If then, we be right in saying that to please God is to be happy, the one important question is, how can I please God? And there is something very solemn in the utterance of our text: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” That is to say, do what you may, strive as earnestly as you can, live as excellently as you please, make what sacrifices you choose, be as eminent as you can for everything that is lovely and of good repute, yet none of these things can be pleasing to God unless they be mixed with faith. (Spurgeon Sermon 107, cited by Tim Brister)