Religion Productive of Happiness
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. - Proverbs iii:17.
Happiness is the object of universal pursuit. The rich and the poor, the wise and the ignorant, the old and the young, ardently desire it, ami anxiously seek after it. The world promises happiness in its honors, riches, and pleasures; but thousands of aching hearts know that the world does not comply with its promises. The expectations which it creates are delusive - they are never realized. It is to be regretted, that while the desire of happiness exists in every soul, and while the world is incompetent to gratify that desire, the opinion is entertained by so many that religion is a foe to happiness - an enemy to enjoyment. Multitudes consider Christianity a gloomy, repulsive thing, and suppose that Christians, by some almost superhuman effort, have brought their minds to the conclusion that it is well to be miserable here, for the sake of being happy hereafter. Such persons can give a caricature of Christianity, but they can not describe it as it really is. The ways of wisdom are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
The proposition I deduce from the text is this:
I. Religion is Productive of Happiness. To establish and illustrate this proposition, I refer to the following considerations:
1. Religion provides for, and involves the forgiveness of sins. - We are all sinners, - violators of the law of God. A fearful catalogue of iniquities is charged against us. How often have we sinned in word - in feeling - in thought - in action! The divine law condemns every transgression. Who can be happy with a mountain weight of unpardoned crimes resting on the conscience? There will be disquietude and trouble. There will be a restless agitation of the question, "How shall man be just with God?" The light of nature furnishes no answer to this question. Reason and philosophy are as silent as the grave. But the glorious system of religion makes known the method in which sin may be forgiven. It reveals the amazing wonders of the cross. It brings to light the expiatory sufferings of the crucified One. It shows how pardoning mercy can be extended to the guilty in perfect consistency with the law and justice of God. It develops the stupendous fact that God can be just and the justifier of those who believe in Jesus. Religion involves the forgiveness of sins. And does not a consciousness of pardoned sin produce happiness? Look at that criminal condemned to die. The day of execution has come - the gallows is erected, - the fatal rope is about to be adjusted - but hark! A pardon from the governor! Executive
clemency is exercised. The sentence of the law is reversed. Who can describe the feelings of that criminal? How ineffable his sensations of delight! What a thrill of rapture electrifies the soul! Is it strange that the delightfully violent transports of such a moment have in some instances caused immediate death? So the sinner condemned by the law of God, is pardoned. There is a reversal of the sentence of condemnation. His sins are blotted out. Say, is he not happy? Paul answers the question, Romans v:1. "Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." If sin is the prolific source of misery, its forgiveness must be productive of happiness. And as religion provides for, and involves its forgiveness, I argue that religion is productive of happiness.
2. Religion inspires tranquillity of conscience. - Conscience is that faculty of the soul which approves what is right and condemns what is wrong. We read in the Scriptures of an evil conscience, - that is, a conscience that accuses. And why does the conscience accuse? Because there is guilt on which it bases its accusations. While conscience accuses there can not be happiness. To make a siuner happy, therefore, one of two things must be done. He must either be divested of his conscience, or his guilt. But conscience is an inherent faculty of the soul. It will exist as long as the soul exists. If then the sinner can not be deprived of his conscience, the only way to render him happy is to cancel the guilt on
account of which conscience condemns. This cancellation of guilt takes place when the sinner believes in Jesus Christ. Simultaneously with the exercise of faith, the evil conscience becomes a good conscience. And, therefore, the baptism of a believer is "The answer of a good conscience toward God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." The baptism does not make the conscience good. Let me illustrate. A "files a bill in chancery" against B, and B files "his answer." If I say of the answer, it is the answer of a good man, do I mean that filing the answer makes B a good man? Evidently not; but that he was a good man before, and, for this reason, his answer is the answer of a good man. So the conscience is good before baptism, and, therefore, baptism is the answer of a good conscience. When guilt is canceled, the conscience becomes tranquil - ceases to condemn. Is not tranquillity of conscience closely allied to happiness and inseparable from it? Think what agony a guilty conscience often produces, and then answer.
3. Religion produces love to God. - It is so irrational a thing for creatures not to love their Creator, that they can never be happy while they withhold the supreme affection of their hearts from him. A destitution of love to God is wickedness, and there is no peace to the wicked. They are like the troubled sea, which casts up mire and dirt. When we begin to love God, we begin to answer the purpose of our creation. " He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and
God in him." Such a man must be happy. There can not be happiness unless the affections are worthily exercised; nor can they bo worthily exercised unless they are enshrined in the divine character. Religion provides for the proper employment of the affections, and is therefore productive of happiness.
4. Religion absorbs the will of the creature in the will of the Creator. - What is sin? The scriptural answer is, "It is the transgression of the law." This is the true definition of sin. But it is to be remembered that the will of God is expressed in this law. His will in regard to his creatures is identical with the law he has given them as a rule of action. Sin, therefore, is the collision of the creature's will with the will of the Creator. Creatures should reverently acquiesce in the will of the Creator, and must always be unhappy in the absence of such acquiescence. There is a controversy between God and men, and it amounts in substance to this, that men are not willing for God to have his way - to do as he pleases. Their rebellious wills conflict with the will of God; hence, the unhappiness of our world. Now, religion proposes to conform the will of man to the will of God. It prompts all its votaries to say, "The will of the Lord be done." "Not my will," says the humble Christian, "but thine, O Lord, be done." The devout Payson once said, "If every creature could say from the heart, 'The will of the Lord be done,' there would be an end of sin." It is holiness to
acquiesce in the divine will, and happiness results from the acquiescence. As it is the province of religion to absorb the will of the creature in the will of the Creator, it follows that religion is productive of happiness.
5. Religion gives the assurance that all things work together for good to those that love God. - Is there not happiness in this consideration? All things are at work, and they so work as to produce good. This is the grand result of the cooperation. It is easy to believe that prosperous things work together for good. But the phrase "all things" includes things adverse as well as things prosperous. Suppose, then, that tempests of tribulation exhaust their violence on the people of God, and storms of adversity howl fiercely around their tabernacles, if they believe all this is working for their good, they can not be miserable. They must be happy. The Apostle Paul well says, "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." Affliction seems here to be represented as a laborer at work. The more afflictions, then, the more laborers - the more laborers, the more work will be done - the more work is done, the more glorious the results will be. If affliction works a weight of glory, the greater the affliction the heavier the weight of glory. Afflictions are blessings in disguise. They are positively advantageous. Paul understood this; hence, he gloried in tribulation that the power of Christ might rest upon him. Who
does not see that religion is productive of happiness?
6. Religion makes the hour of death a peaceful hour. - "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace." Death is a solemn crisis in the history of man. Then the soul and body bid each other adieu. Then there is either a willing or a reluctant exit from time to eternity. What can tranquilize the departing spirit? Can the conjectures of reason or the teachings of philosophy? Reason and philosophy can not satisfactorily determine the question of a future state of existence. And if they could, they would be interrogated in vain as to the method of prepartion for it. Life and immortality have been brought to light through the Gospel. The sting of death is sin. Everything fearful and appalling in death is ascribable to sin. But religion, as we have seen, provides for the forgiveness of sin, and the consequent pacification of conscience. When the guilt of sin is canceled by the blood of atonement, and its pollution is removed by the "sanctificatiou of the spirit," death is disarmed of its sting. It can do no real injury. To die is gain. Paul in his catalogue of the Christian's possessions includes death. Strange as it may appear to men of the world, death is instrumental in introducing the saints into a region of endless life. It terminates all the trials and afflictions of earth, and initiates into all the glorious mysteries of heavenly felicity, Who can wonder, then, that the hour of death,
is a peaceful hour? "Religion makes it peaceful, and, therefore, religion is productive of happiness.
7. Religion inspires the soul with the transporting hope of an eternity of bliss. - How glorious this hope! How enrapturing its consolations! How sublime the joy inseparable from its indulgence! It is a hope that makes not ashamed - a good hope through grace - an anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast. Paul was dependent on this hope for happiness. He, therefore, said: "If in this life only we hope in Christ we are of all men most miserable." The hope of heaven can animate the soul in the gloomiest hour, and rally its energies when the clouds of adversity lower most darkly. It is the hope of glory that sustains the Christian pilgrim through life's wearisome journey, and the same hope irradiates, with its cheering light, the valley of the shadow of death. In its sublime aspirings it ascends to the throne of God, and lays hold of eternal life as its chief object. Glorious, blissful hope! Under its influence the soul must be happy. Sorrow is turned into joy; darkness into light; mourning into triumph, and gloom into glory. Religion inspires this hope, and I, therefore, earnestly insist on the truth of the proposition I have been establishing; namely, religion is productive of happiness.
1. The verdict of the world is false. That verdict is, that religion does not make happy. It is given in utter disregard of the facts in the case.
2. Christians are happy in proportion to their piety. What happiness would be theirs, even in this life, if they were entirely consecrated to God.
3. The present happiness of Christians is but a foretaste of the happiness of heaven.
4. Sinners, unless they repent, can not be happy in this world, and will never experience one emotion of happiness through eternity. Alas, for them!
[From J. M. Pendleton, Short Sermons on Important Subjects, 1859. This book is from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Library, Wake Forest, NC via ILL through Boone County Public Library, Burlington, KY. - Jim Duvall]
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