September 04, 2013

Jonathan Edwards' Favorite Word

Stephen Nichols
Jonathan Edwards' Favorite Word


Let's take a quiz. This is a simple one. Only one question: What is Jonathan Edwards' favorite word Now, I wouldn't be surprised if some answered anger, or mean, or sin, or judgment. Some might even have said spiders. Those who answer this way likely know of Jonathan Edwards through a single text, a single sermon he preached during the Great Awakening. That sermon got published and has been anthologized in just about every American history or American literature textbook. This is his sermon, "Sinners in the hands of an Angry God."

Now, I wouldn't be surprised if you guessed those words, but I need to tell you something, and I hope we can still be friends. You would get an "F." You would fail our one question quiz. I'll give you the answer. Actually, the judges would accept quite a few variations as the answer.

Joy, sweetness, delight. These would all count. Even relish would count—and that's not the stuff you put on a hot dog at the cookout. Here's one that would even count: happified. What great word, happified. How are we made happy?

This little quiz and this question—How are we made happy?—is of utmost significance. For one, it helps us understand Jonathan Edwards. But for a far better reason, it helps us get at that nagging, ultimate question: Why am I here? What is my purpose?

Jonathan Edwards grew up on the Westminster Shorter Catechism—and whatever else they fed kids in the 1710s. And he learned that the chief end of man is "to Glorify God and enjoy him forever."

There is this idea that true happiness and true joy comes from serving the self. But it's a false idea. Jesus put the irony this way, "Whoever seeks his own soul will lose it. Whoever loses his own soul, for my sake, will find it."

We were made for God, made with a singular purpose, to glorify him. And as we glorify him and as we live for and live toward him, we find our soul's true joy. This is how we are happified. And this is the key word of Jonathan Edwards. Let me just whet your appetite for you to go exploring him a bit more.

Edwards said:

The doctrine of God's sovereignty has very often appeared an exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet doctrine to me; and absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God....God himself is the great good which [the redeemed] are brought to the possession and enjoyment of by redemption. He is the highest good and the sum of all that good which purchased. God is the inheritance of the saints; he is the portion of their souls. God is their wealth and treasure, their food, their life, their dwelling place, their ornament and diadem, and their everlasting honor and glory.
By talking about joy and sweetness and relishing and enjoying God, Edwards was in good company. So David tells us in Psalm 34: "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed—happy, truly happy—is the man who takes refuge in him."

A bit further on, at Psalm 63, David writes:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you. As in a dry and weary land where there is no water, so I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
A few lines later, David adds, "In the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy."

Edwards knew about sin. He knew of God's wrath against sin. He preached about this often, no doubt. But comb through his sermons and books and you'll see he gives far greater room to the good news of our happiness and joy in God. So, be happified. Serve and love and enjoy—and even relish God.