What’s the Origin of Desiring God’s Slogan?
Today’s question gets to the heart of what we do here at desiringGod.org. And the question comes to us from Barry in Columbus, Ohio. “Pastor John, I have a history question for you about the Desiring God slogan: ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.’ How did the slogan come to be written? Did it come to you alone? Or were others involved, and how? Did Christian Hedonism flow from the statement, or was the statement a distillation after the theology was already developed? What role did the line from the Westminster Confession of Faith play in your own statement? Thank you for your diligence and precision in all your teaching!”
Now this would be an interesting little research project for somebody to do. Maybe you, Tony. You’re good at this. I haven’t done it, but my guess is that an electronic copy of my Collected Works exists somewhere, which came out this year. You could probably search and find out what was chronologically the first appearance of that phrase “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” I don’t have any idea what the answer is to that, but let me try to answer Barry’s questions as best as I can reconstruct things from my memory.
My Greatest Discovery
First, the vision of the life called Christian Hedonism preceded, by quite a few years, the slogan “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” My guess is if you date my awareness of these things, it began from age 22. I would roughly say that it was probably another twelve or fifteen years before I ever used that statement. I don’t know when I first used it, but I’m sure that I was thinking in terms of Christian Hedonism long before that formulation ever came along.
“The vision of Christian Hedonism preceded the slogan. The slogan did not come first — the reality came first.”
What I said for years was that one of the greatest discoveries I ever made was this: God’s passion to be glorified in John Piper’s life and John Piper’s passion to be happy were not at odds, because they came to fulfillment in one and the same act — namely, the act of worship. My heart praising God was not only magnifying his name; it was also bringing my joy in him to consummation. Wonder of wonders! I didn’t have to choose between glorifying God and being happy, because God’s glory was shown in my happiness in God.
You can see right at this point that we’re just inches away from the slogan. All I had to do was make those truths pithy and rhyming. Here’s just a little glimpse into how I write and preach. Somewhere along the way, as I was preparing one of the dozens and dozens of messages that I gave on Christian Hedonism over the years, I was trying to find a fresh way to put the truth into a pithy, memorable form. I still do this — I still want to find new ways. But when I was preparing that day, the words came: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
The slogan did not come first. The reality came first. Then over the years, with every new opportunity to explain the reality, I would grasp for fresh ways to say it, and that formulation stuck.
The Bible and Edwards
Now as far as those who helped me, the most important thing to say would be the psalmist who said, “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4), and Jesus calling for us to rejoice in the midst of the worst suffering (Matthew 5:11–12), and finally, the apostle Paul — with his passage in Philippians 1 especially. The people that helped me were Bible writers. As far as the formulation goes, Jonathan Edwards would be the person who helped me most.
With regard to Paul, Philippians 1:20–23 contains the reality that Christ is most magnified in us when we are most satisfied in him, especially at the moment of suffering and death. Paul explains that his passion is that Christ be magnified in his dying because at the moment of death, Paul considers it gain to lose everything here and have only Christ, which I sum up as Christ was most magnified in Paul’s dying, when in his dying Paul was most satisfied in Christ. It’s a short jump from that to the simpler phrase.
“God’s passion to be glorified in my life and my passion to be happy are not at odds.”
Jonathan Edwards comes within millimeters of what I’m saying. Here’s what he wrote. This is the most important quote from Edwards on Christian Hedonism for me.
“God glorifies himself towards the creatures in two ways: by appearing to their understanding and, two, in communicating himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing in him, the manifestations which he makes of himself. God is glorified not only in his glory’s being seen, but in its being rejoiced in.” Let me shorten that. “God is glorified in his glory being rejoiced in.” All I did was make that rhyme. That’s what I did. There it is. I didn’t make it up.
He goes on — one more sentence. “When those that see it, delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it,” which so easily becomes “The more they delight in the glory of God, the more God is glorified in them.” You just see we’re just millimeters away from the slogan.
The End Goal
The last thing Barry asked about is the role of the Westminster Catechism question “What is the chief end of man?” The answer to that question was that it was a stimulus from early on, very early on. You might say it was a stimulus from the very beginning to figure out what they meant by the word end. It became a confirmation later that Christian Hedonism really is what they were thinking.
Here’s their answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” I was entranced by the word end. I would say, “Glorify God and enjoy him” long before I noticed that the word end is singular — man’s chief end, not ends. One end is two things: (1) to glorify God and (2) to enjoy him. Which certainly seems to say that these two are not two distinct acts — the first glorifying and the second enjoying — but one act.
“Christ is most magnified in us when we are most satisfied in him, especially at the moment of suffering and death.”
In fact, I don’t think I’d seen that when I wrote the book Desiring God. I’m not sure about that, but I think that’s the case, given the way I unpack it at the beginning of that book. My way of seeing their oneness is that the enjoying of God to the fullest in all we do is the way we glorify him to the fullest in all we do.
However, I’m so thankful that all of this came together for me. Here I am at age 71, more full of thankfulness than I’ve ever been that God has shown me these things from his word. Few things, maybe none, have ever revealed my own sinfulness more, and the preciousness of the gospel more, and the true goal of life more, and the real path of holiness more, and the ultimate ecstasy of eternity more than the truth that God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him.