Bible & Theology

Were We Created to Be Happy or Holy? The Answer Might Surprise You

Oswald Chambers famously wrote, “We are not destined to happiness…but to holiness.” But is this true? Does God not destine us for happiness? Is happiness something that should be separated from holiness? Is it possible to be holy and not happy?

In a letter to Rev. Dr. Middleton, John Wesley wrote that “Christianity is…holiness and happiness, the image of God impressed on a created spirit; a fountain of peace and love springing up into everlasting life” (emphasis added). After commending the love of God and one’s neighbor as oneself, he concludes elsewhere that “This is religion, and this is happiness; the happiness for which we were made” (emphasis added).

Happiness in God was central to Wesley’s thinking. He saw no dichotomy between happiness and holiness — and neither should we.

To Be a Christian is To Be Happy in God

Wesley argues:

As there is but one God in heaven above and in the earth beneath, so there is only one happiness for created spirits, either in heaven or earth. This one God made our heart for himself, and it cannot rest till it resteth in him…We still pant after something else, something which we have not…That something is neither more nor less than the knowledge and love of God; without which no spirit can be happy either in heaven or earth. This happy knowledge of the true God is only another name for [Christian] religion.”

We were created to be happy in God.

He goes on:

None but a Christian is happy: none but a real inward Christian…. Every Christian is happy; and he who is not happy is not a Christian. If, as was observed above, religion is happiness, every one that has it must be happy…. He cannot have religion without having happiness, seeing as they are utterly inseparable…Whoever is not happy, yea, happy in God, is not a Christian.

Wesley is sensitive to those who have “deep nervous disorders” or are under “violent temptation” or trial. He is careful not to ignore instances in which “clouds and darkness…overwhelm the soul and suspend its happiness.” Happiness is nonetheless normative; it is the birthright of everyone who is Spirit-born.

To Know God is To Be Happy in God

Wesley contended that “[Happiness] begins when we begin to know God, by the teaching of his own Spirit. As soon as the Father of spirits reveals his Son in our hearts, and the Son reveals his Father, the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts; then, and not till then, we are happy.”

In the same sermon, he submits to his audience five streams of happiness that flow from knowing God: he explains that we are happy,

First, In the consciousness of his favor, which indeed is better than life itself;
Next, In the constant communion with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ;
Then, In all the heavenly tempers which he hath wrought in us by his Spirit;
Again, In the testimony of his Spirit, that all our works please him;
And lastly, In the testimony of our own spirits, that “in simplicity and godly sincerity we have had our conversation in the world.”

Wesley concludes that “Standing fast in this liberty from sin and sorrow, wherewith Christ hath made them free, real Christians ‘rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and in every thing give thanks.’ And their happiness still increases as they ‘grow up into the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.’”

Happy beyond description he
Who in the paths of piety
Loves from his birth to run!
Its ways are the ways of pleasantness,
And all its paths are joy and peace,
And heaven on earth begun. (Charles Wesley)

Satisfaction in God is evidence that we have abandoned our idols, bitter fountains of false merriment, for the true source of happiness.

To Rest in God is To Be Happy in God

It was fore-stated that from birth we pant after “something which we have not…[that is,] the knowledge and love of God; without which no spirit can be happy either in heaven or earth.” In other words, our desire to be happy is inherent in being created and not opposed to holiness; rather, it is intended to lead us to reconciliation with and satisfaction in our Creator. In John Wesley’s sermon on “The Unity of the Divine Being,” preached at Dublin on April 9, 1789, he explores this idea in more depth:

“He ‘made all things,’ as the wise man observes, ‘for himself;’ ‘for his glory they were created.’ Not ‘as if he needed anything;’ seeing ‘he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.’ He made all things to be happy. He made man to be happy in Himself. He is the proper centre of spirits; for whom every created spirit was made. So true is that well-known saying of the ancient Fathers: Fecisti nos ad te: et irrequietum est cor nostrum, donec requiescat in te: ‘Thou has made us for thyself; and our heart cannot rest, till it resteth in thee.’”

As early as 1745, Charles Wesley wrote,

Happy the souls to Jesus joined,
And saved by grace alone;
Walking in all Thy ways, we find
Our heaven on earth begun.

God created us to be happy; satisfaction in God is evidence that we have abandoned our idols, bitter fountains of false merriment, for the true source of happiness. This is the rest of the soul.

To Glorify God is To Be Happy in God

In the same sermon on the Unity of the Divine Being, John Wesley points his hearers to “that question in the Assembly’s Catechism,” the Westminster Catechism, which asks “‘For what end did God create man?’” Wesley recounts that “the answer is ‘to glorify and enjoy him for ever.’ This is undoubtedly true.” He goes on to explain, however, that the common man does not understand what it means “to glorify God” anymore “than they understand Greek”! So, he argues, “is not this the very principle that should be inculcated upon every human creature, — ‘You are made to be happy in God.’” He continues, “In this plain and familiar way a wise parent might, many times in a day, say something of God; particularly insisting, ‘He made you; and he made you to be happy in him; and nothing else can make you happy.’”

Think of that! To glorify God is “To be happy in God”! “To glorify God” and to “enjoy him” cannot be separated! Wesley was a proponent of what John Piper now calls Christian Hedonism—the conviction that “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him.”

“Many indeed think of being happy with God in heaven; but the being happy in God on earth never entered into their thoughts.” (John Wesley)

Those who separate happiness and holiness create a false dichotomy. One should not emphasize holiness at the expense of happiness, which Wesley calls the essence of true religion; rather, holiness should be exalted for what it really is: happiness in God — a total satisfaction in God so that everything which detracts from this happiness is counted as rubbish and cast upon the altar. Self-mortification is the path to happiness!

In Wesley’s words,

This should be pressed on every human creature, young and old, the more earnestly and diligently, because so exceeding few, even of those that are called Christians, seem to know anything about it. Many indeed think of being happy with God in heaven; but the being happy in God on earth never entered into their thoughts.


Resources

  1. Chambers, Oswald. “Destined To Be Holy.” My Utmost For His Highest.
  2. Piper, John. “God Is Most Glorified in Us When We Are Most Satisfied in Him.” Desiring God.
  3. Wesley, Charles. “Happy beyond description, he.” Hymnary.org.
  4. Wesley, Charles. “Happy the souls to Jesus joined.” Hymnary.org.
  5. Wesley, John. Wesleyana. (1852). New York: Lane & Scott.
  6. Wesley, John. “The Sermons of John Wesley – Sermon 114.” Wesley Center Online.

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