The following is a lightly edited transcript.
Henry Scougal wrote a little book, The Life of God in the Soul of Man, in 1677. It was a letter, written to a friend. He had no intention of it being published. It wasn’t published in his lifetime. Henry Scougal, at age fifteen, went to the University of Aberdeen and studied. At age nineteen, he was appointed Professor of Philosophy and taught for four years. Then he became a pastor for a year. And then he came back to the university. And the year before he died, at age 27, he wrote this letter about the life of God in the soul of man.
Now, before I tell you the relevance of that for this topic, let me say a word about dying at age 27. I wanted to mention the others. Henry Scougal, 27, dead. David Brainerd, 29. Henry Martin, 31. Robert Murray McCheyne, 29. Strange. Names that those of us who love to read those kinds of things, love and marvel at, think, “Lord, why? Why snatch these men away at age 27, 29, 31, 28? Why?”
I studied with a professor named Leonhard Goppelt in Germany — a very significant New Testament scholar, of a more conservative bent, which is unusual in Germany. And he was 63 as I was studying, and the week before Christmas, was running to catch the train from his little village, and had a heart attack and died. While Rudolf Bultmann, who was not conservative and did not bless the church, in my judgment, lived to 92. Another unhelpful very powerful New Testament professor lived to 93. And this conservative Bible-believing professor drops dead at 63. Then you can name your own strange departure. I buried my little minus one-day-old granddaughter two weeks ago.
And so I’ve been pondering a lot about these kinds of things. Why, Lord, do some live only a little while, and others live a long while? And there doesn’t seem to be any necessary correlation between the worth of their lives and how long they live. And I read Isaiah 57:1: “The righteous man perishes, and no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from calamity.” Then I thought, “How many calamities was my little granddaughter spared, to just bolt from the womb into heaven? Escaping this entire veil of tears. Escaping who knows what tragedies in her teenage years, and marriage, and so on.” Well, we think life is a good thing. Well, I’ll tell you, heaven is a better thing. So there’s one of many biblical suggestions about what God might be doing in Felicity Margaret Piper, and in Henry Scougal.
The Measure of Worth
Well, here I am, some years ago, about twenty, in fact, reading Scougal’s little book. It’s very short. It’s only about sixty or eighty pages. And I got to page 68, and I read this:
Love is that powerful and prevalent passion by which all the faculties and inclinations of the soul are determined, and on which both its perfection and happiness depend. The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.
Then I stopped and thought, “That sounds important.” “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.” Now, let clarify one thing: love, in that sentence, does not mean mercy. Like, you can love a totally unworthy person, meaning you want to show mercy to that person, even though you find nothing attractive in them. That’s not what this word means here. This word means, “Delight in, passion for, attraction to.” It’s that kind of love, and we know that because he goes on like this: “He who loveth mean and sordid things doth thereby become base and vile. But a noble and well-placed affection . . .” Now, that’s his substitute word for love, “a noble and well-placed affection doth advance and improve the spirit unto the conformity with the perfections which it loves.”
“The worth of a soul is measured by the object of its love.”
Now, clearly, he’s talking about the love of a human, for either low, sordid, ugly things, which causes the soul to shrink down to the thing loved, or large glorious beautiful things, which causes the soul to enlarge and become more like those things. “The worth of a soul is measured by the object of its love.” But what that set me to thinking several years ago was, “Would that be true for God?” Could you say of God’s soul — and the Bible does loosely speak about God’s soul now and then, he does something with all his soul and all his might, in Jeremiah 32:41 — can we speak of God’s being, soul, heart, person, being the measure, or the excellency of it being clearly seen in the objects of his affections?
And I spent about three months thinking about that. And the result was a book, The Pleasures of God and this series of talks. And so if you wondered where, where is this coming from? I’m just explaining the origin of this. There were ten or twelve sermons I preached on it, which led into this. And the whole thesis was this: The worth and excellency of God is to be measured by the object of his affections, or his delights, his pleasures — not his mercies, his pleasures.
And so I went away to a cabin in northern Minnesota, with my Bible and a concordance, and looked up all the places that referred to God’s pleasures, or God’s delights, or God rejoicing, and formed those chapters and distilled into these three hours that we’ll have together. So that’s where we’re going and what the origin of these talks is. Why should we care about pondering the excellencies of God’s soul through the lens of his pleasures? And I’ve got a couple of answers to that question.
Desire to Be Happy
I want to be happy. I’ve wanted to be happy since as far back as I can remember. I can no more not want to be happy than I can not get hungry. To want to be happy. The word “want” means want to be happy. “Want” is that. That’s one desire that drives me. And I want God to be glorified in my life. And thinking about the excellency of God, through the lens of his pleasures, goes after both of those desires. It affects both of those desires. Let me try to show you.
First, my passion is to be happy. You may remember the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:23. They come to an end like this: “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” Enter into the joy of your Master. What if the Master is not happy? Then there’s nothing to enter into that would satisfy me. This is a welcome into Christ’s joy, the joy of the Son of God. The joy of God’s joy. Come in.
So if that’s going to mean anything to me, I want God’s joy to be really big. Because don’t want to go into it and find it boring. And I won’t. John 15:11: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Again, the joy of the Son of God is said to be the joy that will be in me. Not just my joy. I’m capable of joy. Everybody is capable of some measure of joy. And it’s almost always disappointing — lasts just a little while, only goes so high, tinged with all kinds of lousy motives. But what will it be like when the very joy of the perfect Son of God, capable of infinite energy and joy, puts his joy in me and grows it up to its fullness? That will be exploding. I will have to have a new body. This one will blow apart. And I do believe that. I don’t think that’s a sermonic flourish.
I believe that when the Bible talks about a spiritual body, this is not spirit, this is flesh, the flesh will be there. We’re going to be raised from the dead. But it’s called a spiritual body, which I think means it will be capable of spiritual experiences way beyond this body, which I am very thankful for because I’ve tried to maximize my experiences in this body, and they don’t get very far.
This is Jesus now, praying to his Father said in John 17:26, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Now we’re getting real close to the inner heart of what I want to say. He’s praying that God’s love for him, the Father’s love for the Son. Linger on that for just a minute. This is God the Father forever loving the eternally generated begotten Son with the kind of love that is fitting for an infinitely beautiful being, which means this is an energy of love that surpasses all the galaxies in the universe.
I do believe that the galaxies in the universe were created to give us a slight echo of what the intra-trinitarian joy is like. I think that’s why they’re there. And he says, “Father, I pray that the love, the delight, the infinite energy of pleasure that you take in me, and I in you, will be in them, and I in them.” So if you have ever been discouraged, as I have, in a worship service, where some people around you seem to be transported into great emotions of delight in God, and your heart is sunk, and you’re going nowhere, just accept it, in this life, with this fallen soul, and this fallen body, we will never rise very high. Comparatively, with each other, we might look like we’re high. We’re not very high. This is high. The love of the Father for the Son in me.
So if you say, “Why are you interested in pondering the pleasures of God, and seeing the excellencies of God manifest through his pleasures?” There’s one reason. If I find this kind of thing, that God’s joy will become my joy, then I have a great hope to live for. And who knows how much of it may become my portion in this world? What does it say in Romans 5:5? “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” We say things like that so easily. The Holy Spirit is God. Infinite power. And his love carried into my life from God, for God. Who knows how big that might get? So that’s my first answer. Namely, that I want to be happy. And discovering the pleasures of God encourages me that I’ll be included someday.
Desire to Glorify God
I want to glorify God. And I read probably what has proved to be, as far as my understanding of the process of sanctification, of my becoming more Christ-like, or more holy, or more loving, more humble, more anything that’s good, flourished from this verse. And it’s 2 Corinthians 3:18:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Scougal said, “He who loves mean and sordid things thereby becomes base and vile. But a noble and well-placed affection doth advance and improve the spirit unto conformity with the perfections which it loves,” which is a paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 3:18. If we behold the excellencies of God through the lens of his pleasures, we will be changed into his likeness. And I want to be changed into his likeness. The whole purpose of the universe, God’s creating us, is to fill the earth, and then that sentence is finished two different ways in the Bible. Habakkuk 2:14 says it’s filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. And in Numbers 14:21 says it’s filled with the glory of the Lord.
If you’ve ever pondered why those two are not the same in each text, the purpose of God is to fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, and the purpose of God is to fill the earth with the glory of God. One answer, among others, is that knowing the glory of God transforms us into glorious beings who then fill the earth with the radiance of God’s glory as we live it out.
First John 3:2: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Think of that. When he appears, we’ll be like him because we’ll see him as he is. What’s the correlation? The correlation is: We become like what we see. Beholding is becoming. That begins now, according to 2 Corinthians 3:18. “Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another.” So I’m on a mission here, to so lift up the pleasures of God, that through that lens, you will see his excellencies in fresh new ways, and in seeing them, be transformed into their likeness, so that your body, and your mind, and your heart, radiates with the glory of God. And Paul’s prayer for himself in Philippians 1:20 comes true, that, “now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”
That’s what we want. We want to fill Sacramento, fill Minneapolis, and fill the nations of the world with the knowledge of the glory of God because when people know the glory of God, they become more glorious in his image. And then the world is filled with the glory of God. And that’s why the world was created in the first place. God meant to go public with his glory and to fill the earth with it to his great praise. So that’s why I’m here, and that’s where we’re going.
Now, here’s the outline. I have no idea how far we’re going to get in this session. I have 33 pages of notes. And I hope they fill three hours. I fear they could fill six. And so we’ll just go as far as we can, and then we will take a break and start it up in the morning. But here’s where we’re going.
First, we’ll talk about an overarching statement about God’s happiness. Second, we’ll deal with the specifics of God’s pleasure, one, in himself, as reflected in his Son from all eternity; two, his pleasure in the display of his glory, his name, his fame overflowing out of this trinitarian delight, into the world; three, the pleasures of his sovereign freedom, by which he does everything that he does, and delights in all that he does. And he does everything. The pleasures in his election of unworthy sinners like us, to share his joy. Fifth, the pleasures in sending and sacrificing his Son, the most outrageous pleasure in the universe is in the murder of the Son of God. I just preached on it last Sunday. And I’ll preach on it here again, Lord willing, this Sunday. It just makes me shake when I talk about it because the murder of the Son of God is the greatest sin that ever was committed. And God took infinite delight in it.
“The joy of the Son of God is said to be the joy that will be in me.”
And then we shift from his pleasures in these very God-focused things to pleasures in doing good to those who hope in him. And this gets so spectacularly good, it’ll take your breath away unless you’ve got something wrong with your breath. God takes pleasure in the faith and hope of his people. He loves faith. He delights in hope. And last, God takes pleasure in the obedience that comes from faith. Oh, how he delights in the public acts of justice and the public displays of sacrifices of love in the world. So that’s where we’re going. We’ll see how far we can get.
Now, there was an order there. I didn’t expect you to catch it. Let me just state the big reason for the order. The first five are very absorbed in God himself. And the last three are his focus on us and the delights he finds here. If we had turned that order around, it would have fit perfectly in America and destroyed the meaning of his delight in us. If you start with people today, that God likes them, you’ll never make the gospel plain. God is angry with us. That’s the starting place. Something amazing happens, that he actually cannot only have mercy upon the like of me, but actually begin to delight in the likes of me. If you start there, it’ll never make sense. It will be so distorted into our self-centered American worldview, that people will never get the wonder of it. So I’m not going to start there. That’s coming last. And it does become spectacularly good news, almost breathtaking in what God says about his joy over us.
So, an overarching statement of God’s happiness. You can look at this text if you want in 1 Timothy 1:10–11. He’s warning against sexual immorality and other sins and “whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.” The gospel of the glory of the blessed God. What an amazing phrase.
The gospel of the glory of the blessed God. Let’s just state the obvious here. We are talking about God in this conference. God. God has a name in the Old Testament. He has a name in the New Testament. His name in the New Testament is Jesus. His name in the Old Testament is Yahweh. And he got the name in Exodus 3:14. And the meaning is made clear. “Tell them ‘I Am’ sent you. I am who I am.” And the Hebrew ehyeh, “I am,” is the word on which Yahweh is built. So every time you hear the word L-O-R-D, all caps, in your Bible, hundred and hundreds and hundreds of times, think Yahweh. Better, think, “I am who I am.”
So when you read Ezekiel or Jeremiah, and he says over and over and over again, “That they may know that I am Yahweh, that they may know that I am Yahweh,” sixty times in Ezekiel, “that they may know that I am Yahweh,” it means, “That they may know that I am the absolute one who had no beginning, never becomes, is who he is, with nobody influencing him at all.” He is totally self-sufficient, never beginning, never becoming, never-ending God. That is who we’re talking about. We have to do with him, or we perish. We don’t negotiate, or we perish. We don’t negotiate, we don’t barter, we don’t sell. We don’t sit down at the table. We obey, or we die. He’s God. G-O-D. No negotiation. We’re not on the par. So that’s the last word in the amazing phrase. God.
Next word, blessed. Now, there’s a couple of words for blessed in the Bible. This one is makarios. This is the word, “Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the poor in spirit.” And a lot of paraphrases say, “Happy.” That’s good. That’s close. It’s a little bigger, fuller, richer, joyful. Satisfied. Largely, bigly, hugely satisfied. And so this is the gospel of the glory of the happy God, only enlarge the word happy ten to the billionth power. Enlarge this. The gospel of the glory of the infinitely satisfied God. That got my wheels spinning.
God, in being, “I am who I am,” is completely self-sufficient, and is not dependent on anything to complete him, and therefore in himself is totally happy. We lean on all kinds of things to make us happy from outside ourselves. We are not God. My soul is a desire factory. It says, “Want, and I want, and I want, and I want because I want to be happy. I want to be complete.” And unless I realize that God is the only answer to that, what I’m really saying is, “I want to be God. I would just like to totally be self-sufficient and not dependent anymore on the weather, not dependent anymore on sexual satisfaction, or food, or people liking me, or succeeding in a job. I just don’t want to depend anymore. I want to be totally content in myself.” You either mean, “I want God,” or you want to be God. And here, he’s God. And he is the blessed God, the happy God, the totally satisfied God because that’s what it means to be God.
Third, the word glory. The gospel of the glory of the blessed God. It is a glorious thing to be God. It’s a glorious thing to be not dependent on anything for your happiness, except you. To be so sufficient in yourself that you now are like a fountain. I love the words of Jonathan Edwards, when he said, “It is not sign of the defectiveness of a fountain, that it is prone to overflow,” which he spoke in the context of trying to explain why God would create the world if he didn’t need the world, which he doesn’t. He doesn’t need you. He doesn’t need me. So why he’d make us? “It is no sign of the defect of a fountain, that it is prone to overflow.” He made us so that we might enjoy sharing in what he shares in the fellowship of the Trinity. But we’ll get to that later.
So it’s called, the last word in this amazing phrase, gospel. The gospel of the glory of the blessed God. The gospel of the glory of the happy God. The good news is that God is God. God is happy. That is glorious. And you can be included. That’s amazing, that he would say it that way. Now, it’s going to take a lot talk to figure out how sinners can be included without messing up the Trinity. I mean, you throw a mud ball in the pure fountain of the Trinity, it’s going to make it dirty, right? So God has a job to do. He has work to do here, if he’s going to save any sinners like me. And so we’ve got to get there eventually and figure out what he did.
1. The Pleasure of God in His Son
Let’s start with God’s pleasure in himself, reflected in his eternal Son. That’s number one in our eight that we’re going to try to look at, God’s pleasure in himself reflected in his eternal Son. God delights in the divine majesty of his Son. And God delights in the meekness of his Son. And he especially delights in the strange conjunction of diverse excellencies like majesty and meekness.
Now let me just give you some verses, so that you can embrace this from the Scriptures. In Matthew 17:2, 5, Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James, and John. And in summary and in explanation, it says, “His face shone like the sun. And his clothes became white as light. He was still speaking, when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my loved Son, with whom I am well pleased. I love my Son. I take pleasure in my son. And I have just shown you why, by letting his face shine like the sun and making his clothes white as light.’”
I believe what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration, according to 2 Peter 2, where Peter talks about it, is a foretaste of the second coming, which is why, incidentally, it’s preceded by that strange statement, “There will be some of you who are still living when he appears.” And immediately transfiguration follows in every one of the Synoptics because that’s a foretaste of the second coming. But that’s another issue.
“If we behold the excellencies of God through the lens of his pleasures, we will be changed into his likeness.”
The point here is, God spoke. And what he spoke was his heart. “I love my Son. And I am pleased. I take pleasure in my Son.” And he says it in the context of radiance. You can’t look at the sun. Not without obscuring it in some way. You know, if there’s an eclipse, you take a little piece of paper, and you poke a little hole in it with a paper clip. And then you hold it over a piece of cardboard. And you look down and you see a little tiny dot, and it gets half dark and then half white. Have you ever done that? If you try and look at it directly, you won’t ever see again. And his face was like that. So who can look at him and enjoy him? God can. That’s who. We will be able to, with our new eyeballs — those spiritual eyeballs. Not now. We would be destroyed if the fullness of his glory appeared to us now.
John 3:35: “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” So there’s another big context for his delight in the Son. Colossians 1:13: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,” literally the Son of his love. When it says, “The Father loves the Son,” this is not mercy. God never had mercy on his Son because his Son never needed mercy. His Son never needed grace. His Son was always infinitely deserving or every good thing that came from the Father. The Father has mercy on us because we don’t deserve any good thing that comes from him. And the Son deserved every good thing that comes. And so the love that he has for the Son is an approving love, a delighting love, a pleasurable love.
So the first and most important thing to say about the pleasures of God is that they are pleasures in himself reflected in his Son. And the Son is God. Let me give you the verses that support that, a few of them. Hebrews 1:3: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” Philippians 2:6: “Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Colossians 1:15: “He is the image of the invisible God.” Second Corinthians 4:6, refers to “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Hebrews 1:8: “But of the son, he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.’” Of the Son, he says, “Your throne, O God.” Of the Son, he says, “Your throne, O God.” John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
So the first thing to say about his delights in the Son is that he delights in the majesty, the divine majesty, of the Son of God. He sees in the Son, a reflection of himself. And he has seen that from all eternity. There never was when the son was not there because the Father always knew the Son, always saw a reflection of himself coming back from the Son. And he’s always delighted in it with infinite energy. So God has been a happy God forever and ever and ever. It is not wrong to say joy is the oldest emotion in the universe. And it will last the longest.
He also delights in the Son because of his meekness. John 10:17: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” Oh how the Father delighted in the Son’s humble meek servanthood on the earth. Isaiah 42:1: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” That text is quoted in Matthew 12. And it comes to an end by referring to Jesus as the one who will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. That’s how tender he is with people. If your life feels like it’s a little stem, and it’s been bruised, and it’s tipped over, and you try to put it up and just flop. And what I do when I that happens, I break it. I break it so that the rest of the plant can grow. And it says, “Jesus won’t break a bruised reed.”
And if a candle goes out, you just see a little, little tiny flicker trying to be a candle. And that text says when Jesus finds that in a person, he won’t go smother their flame. And it says God really delights in that. He loves that about his Son. Jonathan Edwards, most important dead teacher outside the Bible in my life, said this, with regard to what the Father sees, and what we see, in the coming together of very diverse attributes, excellencies. They seem contradictory. And Jesus combines them, which is why, probably, many of you were drawn to Christ. You may not have even been able to articulate it. You just read the Gospels, or you listened to some sermons. And he grew up onto you. You couldn’t resist him anymore. No man ever spoke like this man. No man ever lived like this man. And so let me read you a paragraph from Jonathan Edwards, where he says it so well. He says,
In the person of Christ, there meet infinite highness, and infinite condescension, infinite justice, and infinite grace, infinite glory, and lowest humility, infinite majesty, and transcendent meekness, deepest reverence towards God, and equality with God, infinite worthiness of good, and the greatest patience under the suffering of evil, an exceeding spirit of obedience, with supreme dominion over heaven and earth, absolute sovereignty, and perfect resignation, self-sufficiency, and an entire trust and reliance on God. (“The Excellencies of Christ”)
And the list could go on. There’s no one like Jesus. There’s no one like the Son of God. God the Father beholds his Son. And he loves what he sees, with no reserve, gives the Spirit, without measure, in the Son of God.
Trinity and Joy
What are some implications of this first point? We’re still on God’s delight on God reflected in the Son. What are some implications of this? First, it gives us a glimpse into the way we should understand the Trinity. So let me try something that is unbelievably dangerous to do. But if you never try, most people just mouth words, like “Trinity” with no conceptuality in their head at all. Just a word. And I would like to give you a conceptuality, a conception, that I believe is biblical, but not necessarily the only way to say it. And it’s a summary of Jonathan Edwards’s understanding of the Trinity. And I’ll just put it in my own words.
I was going to read it. I got a whole page of quotes from Edwards. I decided that’s too complicated. From all eternity, God, consciousness, person, has had a completely clear and full idea or image of himself. There has been complete self-awareness, complete knowledge of himself. And this idea, or conception, or image of himself is so full of himself, it is himself standing forth in a separate person, the Son. And there arises, there has always arisen — there is no time here — an energy of affection, and love, and admiration, and knowledge flowing back and forth between the son and the Father, full of joy, full of love, full of admiration, full of worship. And that affection and delight carry so much of each of them it is them, standing forth in a third person of the Trinity, the Spirit of the Trinity.
There it is. Now, it’s just almost embarrassing to say that’s a description of the Trinity. I mean, I should be dead with lightning to say that even comes close to an adequate. But I think it gets us in the direction that the Bible seems to be talking, with language like the radiance of his glory, and the expressed image of his person, and the Spirit, the breath moving back and forth between the Father, being poured out from the Father and the Son. I think we’re in the right direction when we say it that way.
So knowing something about the joy that the Father and the Son have in each other helps us realize that God has, at his essence, joy. The Father and the Son, as they contemplate each other’s infinite excellencies, enjoy what they see infinitely. And this enjoyment is what is the self-sufficiency of the Trinity, which becomes the explosive origin of the creation of the world, as a display of the glory of God. The heavens are telling what? The glory of God. That’s because they exploded out of, as it were, the overflowing delight that God has in himself. Have you ever wondered why the Bible talks about trees clapping their hands? Deeps giving joy, all that is in them, rejoicing. Animals rejoicing. It’s because joy is at the center of reality. And when God creates physical reality, there’s going to be echoes of that all over the place. He describes the rising of the sun like a bridegroom coming forth from his chamber, dressed to get married. Why would he say things like that? It’s because he wants us to look at a sunrise and think of how happy he is. That’s why. It’s about God.
Second, since God is a God who has joy and delight at the center of his being, then it starts to make overwhelmingly good sense to hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.” And now you start to take a deep breath and say, “Oh now I start to catch to what these invitations, ‘My joy will be in you, and I will be in you.’ ‘The love with which the Father loves the Son will be in them, and I in them.’” We start to realize, “Oh my goodness. This has to do with being folded into the intra-Trinitarian affection that exploded in the creation of the universe. Heaven is going to be a very remarkable place. So both my aims, my passion for happiness, and my passion to glorify God, get help when I contemplate the pleasures of God and his excellencies reflected in them.
2. God’s Pleasure in Displaying His Glory in the World
Here’s number two: God’s pleasure in the display of his glory in the world — of the fame of his name. If we’re on the right track, that God himself is completely self-sufficient, does not need anything to make him happy, the Father is happy in the infinite beauties of the Son, the Son is happy in the infinite beauties of the Father, the Spirit is carrying that back and forth between then, and standing forth in his own enjoyment of them, if that’s enough, the community of the Godhead from all eternity, very God of very God, all three of them, then what’s creation about? Why not just go on enjoying God forever? You don’t need us. And the answer of the Bible seems to be over and over again, God simply loves to go public with this good thing. He just loves to go public. He just loves to display his glory for the enjoyment of his people.
I think the most foundational pleasure of God, directed away from the Trinity, and in a sense that’s misleading because it’s going to circle back, is his joy, his pleasure, in displaying his glory in creation to us. Now, it might help here, when you use words like “glory” and “glorify,” it might help to bring some clarification to those words by contrasting the word “glory” with holiness. So let me try that. And here, again, I feel like I’m over my head. But I’m going to try anyway. This is what pastors are supposed to do.
My understanding of the holiness of God, as distinct from his glory, is this. I think his holiness is his intrinsic infinite worth. You know, the word “holiness” means set apart. To be holy is to be set apart, which doesn’t tell you very much. You might set apart the garbage can. And you might set apart a diamond. Well, God is the diamond kind of setting apart. And he’s in a class by himself, which means the diamond is very valuable. If there’s only one diamond like this diamond, you keep it hidden and put it behind thick walls. And that’s the way God is like. He’s Mount Sinai. You don’t go near. Fire everywhere, because he’s valuable. Don’t touch him, you’d die. That’s the kind of specialness that he has. He’s holy. He’s in a class by himself, infinitely valuable. Nobody comes close. If all human beings that ever lived vanished, God wouldn’t lose. He’s God. He’s infinitely valuable in himself, infinitely holy. He’s the most valuable reality in the universe. We’re not. He is.
“Joy is at the center of reality.”
Glory is when that goes public. Now, let me read you a verse. And see if you think this implies that. Isaiah 6:1: “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” That’s a long train, weaving all through the temple. I told this one time when I preached on this years and years ago. And one of the ministers at our church did a cross-stitch for me of this scene. And I had used the IDS Tower, which is 52 stories tall in Minneapolis — tallest building at the time in Minneapolis. And I said, “That’s like one of the legs of the throne.” Okay? They got four of those. He’s sitting, and the train is weaving all through down every street in Minneapolis. And it comes over to our church. Kind of lifts over, covers our church, and off to the suburbs. And she did that for me in a cross-stitch. Hung in my living room for a long time.
“Above him stood the seraphim” (Isaiah 6:2). Now, when you think seraphim, don’t think, “Oh, cute little fat angels.” Like on a birthday card. No, no. When the seraphim open their mouths, the threshold of the temple shakes. So get every image of baby seraphim out of your head. Put in your head some huge powerful scary wonderful God-praising being. And they fly. “Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said.” Now, listen to the relationship between holy and glory. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3)!
Now, why didn’t it say holiness? “Holy, holy, holy. The whole earth is full of his holiness.” It shifts from holiness to glory, I’m suggesting, because the slight difference between holiness and glory is that glory is radiance. Glory is the radiance of holiness. Glory is the worth of God visible, gone public, demonstrated in the world. And God loves to make that happen. That’s what I’m arguing on this second point. God has pleasure in the display of his glory. Let’s just take Isaiah. There are hundreds, I dare say, of texts in the Bible that point in this direction, that God makes the revelation of his glory, the demonstration of his name, the upholding of his fame, a high priority in his life. I would say the highest priority of God, outside being God, is displaying the glory of being God. But if we just restrict ourselves to Isaiah, we find this summary. This comes right off my front burner experience in Isaiah.
I’m reading through my Bible. I read through my Bible once a year. I’m on a discipleship plan. And I’m in Ecclesiastes and Jeremiah and John and James. So that’s how I do it. So I just finished Isaiah. And so that’s where this is coming from. I circled things as I went through Isaiah. This one was really precious to me. Sometimes I get tired. Isaiah 63:14: “Like livestock that go down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord gave them rest. So you led your people, to make for yourself a glorious name.” And I thought, “Yes! He makes himself a name by helping this old cow down in the valley to get some grass.” Isn’t that what it says? Don’t you find that amazing? I find things like that amazing.
I love the picture of these cows just going down because they smell the grass, and the smell the streams. “The Spirit of the Lord gave them rest.” That’s what I need. I need it in my soul. I need it in my body. “The Spirit of the Lord gave them rest, so you led your people to make for yourself a glorious name.”
This keeps me from thinking I’m at the center of this mercy. He’s showing me mercy. I’m just a cow. I’m hungry. I’m tired. I need some water and some grass. I need the protection of a valley. And he says, “I got a valley. I got protection. I got water. Come on. Let’s go.” And all around are the enemies. And he’s saying, “Don’t touch him. Don’t touch him.” He’s making himself a name. Protecting me, caring for me, loving me. But I’m not the main point. His name is the main point. Then you find it over and over again.
I’ll just give you a few more examples. Isaiah 43:6: “I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name,” He made us for his glory.
Mercy — Isaiah 30:18: “Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.” He goes up. We get the mercy. He must increase. I must decrease. Happy to have it so, as long as I get the joy, and he gets the glory. What a deal. And that’s the way my God is. He’s always making a name for himself by showing me mercy. “Poor little old Piper. He’s always needing mercy. If he could only get his act together, but I’ll have mercy on him, and make for myself a name, day after day, in his poor life.” Isaiah 43:25 says he has blotted out my transgressions: “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” So if you’ve ever tasted forgiveness from God, why is he doing it? For his name’s sake.
I’m just multiplying texts here, to show you that God has a passion and a zeal to do everything he does to display his glory, or the greatness of his name, or his fame. Righteousness — Isaiah 60:21: “Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified.” Psalm 23:1: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
Why does he lead you? Why does he care about your being righteous? Why does he want you to stand up for the cause of racial justice? Or pro-life? Why does he want you to work towards environmental concerns? Let’s get all the pieces together here because he’s doing it for his name’s sake. For his name’s sake, he leads us in paths of righteousness, that he might look good in the world. Our job on the planet is to make God look good. That’s why we’re here, to commend the glory and the beauty of Christ to people.
I memorized Isaiah 55, just to recite to my people. It’s a great chapter. It’s got some great verses in it for pastors. Isaiah 55:10–11: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty.” That’s in there. But here’s the way the chapter ends. It’s about joy being God’s signal, sign, over us in the age to come. Isaiah 55:12–13:
“God is always making a name for himself by showing me mercy.”
For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
The best news in all the world, and I discovered it about 35 years ago, is that God’s passion to make a name for himself, and his passion to make me happy, are the same passion. Is that not amazing? I’ll read it again. “It,” namely all that joy, all those clapping trees, all of my delights, “shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” I’m going to wrap it up here with just a couple of illustrations of that point. And then we’ll turn tomorrow to God’s pleasure in all that he does.
God’s Glory, Our Joy
First implication: God gets the glory. And we get the joy. It’s just amazing that, over and over again, when it speaks of him making a name for himself, which is his delight to do, he does it by saving his people and having mercy upon them.
Second implication: the definition of God’s righteousness is that God always does what is right, which doesn’t help very much because it just replaces one undefined word with another. So what is right for God? He wrote the book. He doesn’t consult a book to decide what’s right. There’s nothing above God to decide what’s right. So how does God decide what’s right? My answer is: What’s right for God is that he always act in a way that accords with the value of his glory. He always upholds the worth of his glory. He always displays, in appropriate ways, the greatness of his glory.
If God were to ever act in a way that made his glory look defective, or worthless, he would be unrighteous, which is exactly what he does in saving sinners. Which means that tomorrow, we’ve got some work cut out for us because, in dirtying his hands with people like me, who sin, and sin is a belittling of the glory of God, he acts as though the belittling of his glory doesn’t matter. And his solution to that problem is the centerpiece of the demonstration of his glory, namely, the death of Jesus Christ. But that will have its own point tomorrow.
I think what we can say at this point, with regard to God’s pleasure in his name, or his fame, it this. If it should be that God could find a way to save sinners who deserve hell because they’ve trampled the glory of his name all their lives — we’ve never honored the glory of God, not one day of our lives have we honored the glory of God in a way that is fitting the glory of God, so we all deserve destruction — if there were a way for God to save such glory-belittling sinners and actually fold us into the infinite trinitarian joy, it’s going to be based on his God-centeredness, not his man-centeredness.