Depending On God for Happiness

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Jonathan Edwards was one of the best theologians in history to (rightly) emphasize the glory of God. He wanted God to be praised above all and in all. And because of this, when it came to mankind’s actions, Edwards also heavily emphasized man’s dependence upon God. He saw this is as the biblical flipside of God being glorified in man.

One of his most famous sermons is entitled, “God Glorified in Man’s Dependence.” In it, he argues over and over how man not only is dependent upon God for all, but that God set it up this way so that he may be more glorified. Many quotes from this brilliant sermon could be given. But I want to share one from the end of the message. The reason I like this quote is because he gets specific about our search for happiness. Edwards writes,

“Let us endeavor to obtain, and increase in, a sensibleness of our great dependence on God, to have our eye to him alone, to mortify a self-dependent and self-righteous disposition. Man is naturally exceeding prone to exalt himself, and depend upon his own power or goodness; as though from himself he must expect happiness.”

This occurs in the concluding point and page of the whole sermon. He begins the quote by urging his hearers to have a “sensibleness of our own dependence upon God.” To not only know it, but to sense that we truly are this dependent upon him for everything.

Then in the second half of the quote, he explains how in our sin we don’t do this well. The first two things he mentions are spoken of more commonly: first, we are prone to exalt ourselves; second, we depend upon our own power or goodness. But it is his third point which is fresh and helpful. He argues that in our lack of dependence, we acts as if “from [ourselves we] must expect happiness.”

According to Edwards, this is part of our miserable downfall. We seek for joy in areas that can’t give satisfying joy (this is more commonly spoken about), and we also think we can get joy on our own (this is his idea here).

The Freedom of Depending on God for Happiness

What I love about this quote is that it is freeing. For Edwards is right: I can’t muster up my own happiness, and God doesn’t want me to. I know I am to depend upon God for all things, and yet when it comes to my own happiness, I want to somehow be in control. But it is freeing to depend upon God for happiness, and to know that he set it up this way for my good and his glory.

God isn’t only “God my exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4). He also is able “to put more joy in my heart” (Psalm 4:7). So, may we see him not only as the end, but the means, to our happiness.

Quote from Jonathan Edwards, Sermons of Jonathan Edwards (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005), 17.