Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Special Insights No. 10, Second Quarter 2007 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

The Bible and Happiness

This week, we will allow E. J. Waggoner, one of the “1888 messengers,” to “speak” to the topic.

“FOR a person to live and die happy, he must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” These words we lately saw in a religious journal and have very often heard similar expressions. The utterance of such a sentiment gives evidence of a very crude idea of religion and its object. We think that such a view of religion is injurious, for the following reasons:—

1. It fosters selfishness, which is directly opposed to true religion. To make happiness the sole or the principle incentive for gaining religion, is to direct the attention of the individual to himself rather than to God. Love should be the mainspring of every act of the Christian. The reward of the righteous, and the punishment of the ungodly are both set before us, to stimulate us both by hope and by fear; yet these are not the main incentives. “Perfect love casteth out fear.” It is certain that when one is imbued with the spirit of Christ, who said, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish His work,” he will not do his work through fear of the consequences if he should neglect it. At the birth of Christ the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Luke 2:14. And the first commandment is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” while the second is, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” In true religion there is no place for thoughts of self; the glory of God, and the welfare of our fellow-men comprise our whole duty. All the thought the Christian has to take of self is to keep himself unspotted from the world.

2. The idea is injurious because it tends to discouragement of those who hold it. If a man thinks that happiness is the sure and invariable result of belief in Christ, he will surely be discouraged when trouble comes, as it certainly will. When the Thessalonians were in distress, Paul wrote to them “that no man should be moved by these afflictions; for yourselves know that we are appointed there unto.” 1 Thess. 3:3. It is enough for the disciple if he has his Lord, and he was “a man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief.” So he says to his followers: “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” “Yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.” “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” True, the Christian will be “joyful in tribulation,” yet it will be tribulation still.

3. The idea that happiness is a constant accompaniment of belief in Christ, is injurious, because it tends to produce false hopes. The careless sinner and the professor who is “at ease in Zion,” having this idea, a fancy that they are in a good ease. They have no trouble, therefore they think the Lord must be pleased with them. They forget that “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Pious Job was afflicted almost beyond conception, while the wicked in whom David saw were not in trouble as other men, neither were they plagued like other men. They were in prosperity, and had more than heart could wish. And this was just because they were wicked. The devil can well afford to let his servants dwell in peace, but “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”

A happy death is not in itself any evidence of a person’s piety, nor an assurance that he is sure of final happiness. The psalmist says of the wicked, “There are no bands in their death; but their strength is firm.” Ps. 73:4. On the other hand, a good man may, like Hezekiah, be in sore distress at the thought that he is near death.

In a word, the honor and glory of God should be placed before our own happiness. Indeed, happiness should never be sought. If we seek for happiness, it will be sure to escape us, although we may be satisfied with a spurious article. If we glorify God, that is of itself true happiness or blessedness, for Christ declares that they that mourn are happy. And this should show the folly of trusting to feeling in any case. The basis of the Christian’s hope and trust is not feeling, but knowledge. In the midst of terrible trial he can say, “I know that my redeemer liveth;” and although he may feel that because of poverty and low station, he is despised by men, if he keeps “the commandments of God and faith of Jesus,” he may have, not the feeling, but the assurance that he pleases God. (“Religion and Happiness,” The Signs of the Times, June 17, 1886, pp. 358, 359.)

ANOTHER beautiful new year has come. Brothers and sisters, schoolmates and friends have wished you a “Happy New Year.” But I want you just to stop a minute and think, while I ask you a question, “Are you happy—fully happy?” Perhaps you will know better what I mean if I tell you about eight gentleman who once were asked that same question.

They were old friends travelling together. Suddenly they asked one another, “Are you happy—fully happy?”

The banker was the first to reply. He said: “I have earned a large fortune. I have all the money that I possibly can need during my whole lifetime. I have a charming family. My wife and children do all that they possibly can to make home pleasant for me. Yet I am not happy. There is one thing which troubles me so much that it poisons all my joy; that one thing is the thought that all these goods, these riches, this dear family, are not lasting and that soon very I shall lose them for ever.”

The colonel, who had been the commander of many soldiers said: “I have known the joys of a soldier, and the triumphs of war. How proud I have felt, when, at the head of my soldiers, I have overcome the enemy; or when, after the victory, I saw my name honourably mentioned by the commander-in-chief. But one day, seeing an officer lying on the battle-field dying, I tried to lift him up. ‘Thank you,’ said the dying one, ‘but it is too late! We must all die: think about it!’ And with his last breath, he said again, ‘We must all die!’ I never, never can forget it. These terrible words follow me day and night. I have some moments of joy; but, alas! my friends, I am not fully happy.”

The next gentleman who answered the question was a very learned man who had done business for his country among other nations. He said: “Honours have been heaped upon me. Public gratitude has met me at every step. Yet I want something I know not what; my heart is empty. All my honours do not cure the secret longings of my heart.”

The poet said: “Even in my youth I had a wonderful gift for writing poetry. It was received with world-wide praise. Very many told me that my glory was immortal. But what is such an immortality? The flattery of men does not satisfy me. I desire a better immortality. And as I have no surety of ever receiving that, I am not fully happy.”

The man of the world said: “I have no such bitter complaints to make. It is true I feel rather weary sometimes, but what of that? I try still to be gay. I go to the theatre, to balls, to concerts, and to all sorts of amusements.” “But,” said one of his friends, “when old age, sickness, and poverty come upon you, what will become of your amusements?” “Then,” replied the worlding, “I suppose I shall have to give them up.” “But,” continued his friend, “when you think that you may sometimes lose your pleasures, are you fully happy?” “No,” replied the man of the world, in a low tone, “I am not truly happy.”

The old lawyer said: “I am now seventy years old. I have health, fortune, a good name, and a pleasant home. I used to fret and look anxiously forward to this time of leisure and rest. But now that I have it, the hours seem too long. I get tired of my newspapers and books, and do not know what to do with myself. I am not fully happy.”

Then the gentlemen who professed to be a Christian, but really was not, said, “I believe in God. Every day I read my Bible, and pray. On the Sabbath my place is never empty in the house of God. But my conscience is not easy; I do not get any peace and happiness out of it. Death, which is stealing on, fills me with fright. I always see in God a severe and angry Judge; and the thought of appearing before Him with my many sins, fills me with dread. No, I am not happy at all.”

The eighth gentleman was a true Christian physician. He said: “My dear friends, I am not surprised to hear you say what you do. The Bible teaches, and we have proved it true, that neither money, glory, honours, knowledge, or anything else in this world, can make us fully happy. God has created us for Himself; and, so long as we do not give ourselves to Him, we are filled with uneasiness and longing. In my youth I did not know how to be a Christian, and although I did well in my business, I tasted no happiness. But, by the goodness of God, I have been shown a better way. The reading of the Bible showed me that I was a sinner, and that unless I received help, I certainly would be lost. Then I read about how Christ came and suffered and died to be my Saviour. Since then I have turned my eyes to Him, in sorrow for the sins that caused Him to suffer. I believed that He would forgive, because He said so. And He has washed my sins all away, and has given me peace and joy more than words can tell. I trust Jesus, take Him for my best Friend, and with the strength He gives me, try daily to live as He would if He were in my place.” “You, then, are fully happy?” Said one of the company. “Yes, my friend, I trust in Him who gave His own Son that I might be happy in this world and in the world to come.”

Now, my dear child, are you fully happy? The Bible alone points out the way to true happiness. Do you read your Bible? Have you given yourself to Jesus? Are you every day trying to be like Him? Do you earnestly ask Him to help you? and do you believe that He does? If so, you then have the happiness which man cannot give, and man cannot take away. It begins on this earth, and is perfected on the new earth, where there is fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore.

Please learn this little verse, and repeat it every day during the new year: “Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God.” Ps. cxlvi. 5. (“Are You Happy?,” The Present Truth, Dec. 29, 1892, p. 413.)

—Compiled by Paul E. Penno

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