My aim in this message is to show the relationships between the word of God, the glory of God, the satisfaction of the human soul, and the certainty of the human mind.
And the main point is that, in and through the word of God — the Bible — the glory of God becomes the ground of the mind’s certainty, and the goal of the soul’s satisfaction.
Or to put it another way: In the Bible, the glory of God reveals itself to be inescapably real to the mind, and incomparably rewarding to the heart. Nothing could be more true, and nothing could be more precious. Undeniable truth, unsurpassed treasure.
This has an amazing implication, and I’ll state it four ways.
1) The quest for truth and the quest for joy turn out to be the same quest.
2) The path to unshakable conviction and the path to unending contentment are the same path.
3) Knowing for sure, and rejoicing forever, happen by the same discovery of the glory of God in the Word of God.
4) The way you know for sure what is true, and the way you find your supreme treasure are the same, namely, by seeing the glory of God in the word of God, especially in the saving work of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
The Goal of the Soul’s Satisfaction
I have devoted most of my life trying to understand and proclaim and live the relationship between God’s glory and our happiness. In God’s providence, this is partly because of the way I grew up. And partly because the ultimate goal of God in creating and redeeming the world is really written on the human heart. Every human heart!
Deep down, under the repressions of sin, is written: You were made for the glory of God. You were made to reflect the worth of your Maker. And you were made to do this by being more satisfied in him than in anything else. Every person knows, deep down, that we magnify the worth of what we enjoy most. And we know that God is most to be magnified. God is worth more than anything. And therefore God is to be enjoyed more than anything. This is written on the heart of every person.
But sin — the bondage to self-exaltation, instead of God-exaltation — has torn the single fabric of our happiness and God’s glory apart. And neither of them can come to a proper expression without the other.
So when I was growing up, I knew two things beyond the shadow of a doubt. One, because of what my parents taught me and what I saw in the Bible, and the other because of what I saw in my own soul, and could not deny. On the one hand, I knew that God intended me to glorify him. My Father loved the glory of God, and 1 Corinthians 10:31 was woven into my mind — clarity and certainty: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
And on the other hand, I knew I wanted to be happy. And I knew this was not a choice that I was making. I didn’t choose to want to be happy. When I pondered who I was, at the bottom of my being, I was a wanter, a desirer, a craver. My heart was — and is — a desire factory. And I know now what I didn’t know then, namely, that this is the way human beings were created by God. This is not a result of fall. This is not sin. This is part of what it means to be human. Humans are designed by God to desire — to seek and find happiness, to long for and discover joy, to want and attain full and lasting satisfaction . Namely, happiness in God, joy in God, satisfaction in God.
But when I was growing up, I couldn’t put the two together: God’s demand for glory and my craving for happiness. For some reason, these two always seemed to be at odds. It seemed that I would have to choose — as if that were possible — between being happy and glorifying God. There were subtle messages that seemed to say: Are you willing to lay down your desires and choose God’s will? And there are Bible verses that sound just like that. Like 1 Peter 4:2, “[You should live] the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human desires but for the will of God.” And Mark 8:34, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
And so the thought that God never intended his greatest glory and our greatest happiness to be alternatives either didn’t occur to me or didn’t take root the way it should have. The thought that somehow God might be glorified in me by my being happy in him, wasn’t part of my conscious faith.
And then when I was about 22 years old everything began to change. Three waves of new insight broke over me. It was terrifying and exhilarating. And changed the rest of my life. I would not be here tonight without them.
First, I saw that the pursuit of God’s glory was not only supposed to be my ultimate goal, but that it was also God’s ultimate goal. From cover the cover the Bible showed God doing everything he does for his glory — to uphold and display and communicate his own greatness and beauty to the world.
For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. (Isaiah 48:9–11)
This raised the stake of my pursuit of the glory of God as high as imaginable. I was being called to join God in God’s self-exaltation.
The second wave that broke over me was the discovery that my desires were not too strong but too weak, and that the remedy for my early perplexity was not getting rid of desires but glutting them on God.
I saw this first in C.S. Lewis, standing in Vroman’s Bookstore on Colorado Avenue in Pasadena, California reading the first page of The Weight of Glory.
The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
This was amazing to me. Then I began to see it all over the Bible.
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? (Psalm 42:1–2)
Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy. (Psalm 43:4)
Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! (Psalm 100:2)
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)
This mandate from God to enjoy God was not marginal. This was central and pervasive. Being satisfied in God was not icing on the cake of Christianity. It was the essence and the heart of Christianity. Christianity is not a religion of will power and decisions to do things we don’t want to do. It is a supernatural new birth of the human heart to want God more than we want anything. Desires for God are not peripheral. They demanded and they are essential.
And then came the third wave — the insight that God being glorified and my being satisfied were not in competition. There were not even separate. They both come about in the same act: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. I saw this with the help of Jonathan Edwards where he said,
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 in . . . 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. (“Miscellanies” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 13, [Yale University Press, 1994], 495 [Miscellany 448], emphasis added)
Then I saw it in Philippians 1:20–21:
It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
How is Christ magnified in Paul’s body? Whether by life or death! How by death? For to me to die is gain! Why? Because we go to be with him. Which means Christ is magnified — shown to be magnificent — when I am so satisfied in him that when death takes from me every earthly possession, I say: Gain. Christ is most magnified in me when I am most satisfied in him, especially in the moments of suffering and death.
And I have spent the last — almost fifty years now — trying to work out the implications of that truth — which I call Christian Hedonism. The truth that the pathway to glorifying God and to satisfying the soul are the same path. If you try to separate them, you will not glorify God, and you will not find lasting happiness.
The Ground of the Mind’s Certainty
Now suppose someone says, at this point, “You’ve staked an awful lot on the Bible. How do you know it’s true? You treat it as God’s word. Why? How do you know it’s God’s word?
And here is the amazing thing, and the point this message. That question does not take us in a different direction than we have been going for the last half hour. On the contrary, as I said at the beginning:
The quest for truth and the quest for joy turn out to be the same quest.
The path to unshakable conviction and the path to unending contentment are the same path.
Knowing for sure, and rejoicing forever, happen in the same discovery of the glory of God in the word of God.
The way that God has planned for us to know for sure what is true, and the way he planned for us to find your supreme treasure, are the same, namely, by seeing the glory of God in the word of God, especially in the saving work of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
I wrote a book about this earlier this year. It’s called A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness. And the way the Scriptures reveal their complete truthfulness is by embodying, in their words and their meaning, the self-authenticating glory God, so that whoever has eyes to see, can see it and know that this is the word of God. The glory of God is really there. It is not in the eye of the beholder. It is objectively in the word of God. If the veil is lifted from the eyes of our heart (Ephesians 1:17) we see it, and we know, just as we know that the sun has risen.
And so what turns out is that in the word of God the glory of God is both the ground of the mind’s certainty, and — as we have seen — the goal of the soul’s satisfaction. The glory of God shows itself to be inescapably real to the mind — there’s no denying it — and incomparably rewarding to the heart. When your eyes are opened, nothing could be more true, and nothing could be more satisfying. Both in one seeing of the glory of God.
Let me take a few more minutes and see if I can shed light on how God intends for you to know the truth of the Bible by means of seeing the glory of God in it.
Ever since I first got serious about the question how we know the Bible is true, it has seemed to me that the most urgent question is not how to provide arguments that convince modern atheists (Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens), but rather how it is that an uneducated, Muslim villager in the bush of Nigeria, or a pre-literate tribesman in Papua New Guinea, can know that the message of the Bible is true so that, three weeks after hearing and believing it, he has the courage to die for his conviction — and not be a fool.
That, to me, is a far more urgent question than how to answer secular skeptics.
And I believe God’s answer to that question is that his divine glory, especially the glory of God’s interwoven majesty and meekness, climaxing in Christ pervades the Bible and shows it be God’s reliable word.
Here are a few sightings or analogies of how the Peculiar Glory of God is meant to bring us to the truth of God’s word.
1) Jonathan Edwards saw the issue clearly and pointed the way.
From 1751 to 1758, Edwards was pastor of the church in the frontier town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and was a missionary to the Indians. His concern for Indian evangelization extends back into his pastorate at Northampton. And you can see this in these comments from Religious Affections which were written about 10 years earlier.
Miserable is the condition of the Houssatunnuck Indians and others, who have lately manifested a desire to be instructed in Christianity, if they can come at no evidence of the truth of Christianity, sufficient to induce them to sell all for Christ, in any other way but this [path of historical reasoning]. (Religious Affections, 304) [What then?]
The mind ascends to the truth of the gospel but by one step, and that is its divine glory. . . . Unless men may come to a reasonable solid persuasion and conviction of the truth of the gospel, by the internal evidences of it, . . . by a sight of its glory; it is impossible that those who are illiterate, and unacquainted with history, should have any thorough and effectual conviction of it at all. (Religious Affections, 299, 303)
So Edwards is arguing that the path to a well-grounded conviction of the truth of the Gospel, and of the Scriptures that tell that story, is a path that the Nigerian villager and the Papuan tribesman can follow. It is the path of seeing the glory of God in the word of God.
2) A second sighting of how God’s glory authenticates the word of God is the analogy with the glory of God in nature.
Psalm 19:1 says that “The heavens are telling the glory of God.” And Romans 1:19-21,
What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
What this means, then, is that, if God holds us accountable to see his glory by means of the created world, how much more will he will hold us accountable to see his glory by means of his inspired word.
My guess is that very few of you have stumbled over the claim that the heavens tell the glory of God. Not the glory of the heavens. The glory of God! Do you see it. Do your physical eyes become the lens through which your spiritual eyes — what Paul calls the eyes of the heart (Ephesians 1:17) — see not just nature, but the very glory of the God of nature. If so, you have an idea of what I am talking about, because the same thing happens in the Scriptures. The Scriptures reveal themselves to be the word of God the way nature reveals itself to be the world of God.
3) A third sighting of how God’s glory authenticates the word of God is the analogy with the glory of God in Jesus Christ, the God-man.
God expected people in Jesus’ day to see the glory of God in him and know that he was the Son of God because of that sight.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:8–9)
Many people looked at God incarnate and did not see God. And many people hear God’s word and do not hear God. But the Son of God was there (with real, self-evident, objective, divine glory) for those who had eyes to see, and the word of God is here (with similar divine glory), for those who have ears to hear. The glory of God in Christ was missed by many. And the glory of God in the word is missed by many. But neither is deficient.
I think God will say to many people: Have you heard my inspired word, and not heard me? Do you not know the glory of my voice? The divine glory of God’s inspired word is as clear and compelling as was the divine glory of the incarnate word.
4) One final sighting — the most important one — of how God’s glory authenticates the word of God is the way the glory of God vindicates the gospel.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” The gospel — the story of how God came to save sinners — emits a light to the eyes of the heart — the “light of the gospel of glory of Christ.” Christ’s self-authenticating glory shines through the gospel. And God shatters the blindness in verse 6: “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
That is what happens in the creation of Christian. We are given eyes to see the glory of God.
And so in becoming a Christian — in being born again — God reveals to us in the gospel both the ground of the mind’s certainty, and the goal of the soul’s satisfaction. He opens our eyes to see that the glory of God is both inescapably real, and incomparably rewarding.
In one miracle moment the sight of his glory implants solid conviction and sweet contentment. The quest for the fountain of truth and the fountain of joy — the foundation of certainty, and the fountain of satisfation — is over. They are the same fountain — the glory of God. In the light of that glory we know for sure, and we rejoice forever.