That Your Joy May Be Full (5 part article)
A THEOLOGY OF HAPPINESS (Article by Scott Swain President, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando)
God’s Happiness to Show Mercy
Due to their rebellion against God, human beings are objects of the divine wrath that “is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Romans 1:18; see also Ephesians 2:3). But the God who is “full of wrath” (Psalm 78:21) is also “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4). The blessed and triune God is compassionate toward miserable sinners, determined to bring them out of the misery they have inherited from Adam into the happiness he has appointed for them in and through Jesus Christ. The saving mercy of God toward miserable sinners is the undivided operation of all three persons of the Trinity. As the three persons are one God, so they are agents of one merciful agency. However, in mercy’s threefold movement from its initiation through its accomplishment to its result, specific persons of the Trinity shine forth in specific ways.14 Accordingly, in the undivided operation of saving mercy, the love of God the Father shines forth distinctly in mercy’s initiation, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ shines forth distinctly in mercy’s accomplishment, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit shines forth distinctly in mercy’s result (2 Corinthians 13:14). Out of the Father’s love, by the Son’s grace, and within the Spirit’s fellowship, the blessed Trinity makes miserable sinners blessed in him.
The mercy of the blessed Trinity toward miserable sinners begins in “the love of God” (2 Corinthians 13:14): “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us . . . ” (Ephesians 2:4). Mercy’s fountain is the pure benevolence of God the Father toward undeserving “vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:23). The Father’s pure benevolence regards neither the good nor the bad (Romans 9:11), neither human will nor human exertion (Romans 9:16) in the objects of his mercy. He only regards his “purpose of election” (Romans 9:11), his purpose of making his beloved Son the firstborn among many redeemed brothers and sisters (Romans 8:28–29; Ephesians 1:9–10), “that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:18). “Of him” — of the Father’s love — “you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:30–31).
The love of God thus initiates the mercy that secures our beatitude (our state of blessing) in Christ the King.
God’s Happiness Through His Son
The mercy of the blessed Trinity toward miserable sinners is accomplished by “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 13:14): “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that being rich, he made himself poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Mercy is accomplished by the pure grace of God the Son in his mediatorial person and work. “Being rich . . . ” The Son of God knows the riches of divine beatitude by nature and by messianic appointment. From before the foundation of the world, the eternal Son has basked in the pleasure of the Father’s face and shared in the fullness of the Father’s joy (Psalm 16:11; John 1:1; 17:24). From before the foundation of the world, the eternal Son has been “anointed with the oil of gladness beyond [his] companions” (Psalm 45:7), and he has been appointed to bring his people “with joy and gladness” into “the palace of the king” (Psalm 45:15). The Son of God is a happy Messiah, eternally rich in the happiness of God, appointed and anointed to make his people happy through marital union with him. In Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, all the secondary and derivative goods of creation find their primary form and supreme fulfillment. He is the light of the world (John 8:12), the bread of life (John 6:35), the bridegroom (John 3:29): our light, our life, our royal bridegroom, who brings poor vile sinners into his house of wine (Genesis 49:11–12).15
How does the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ bring these glad tidings to pass? “He made himself poor.” Without ceasing to be the eternally rich God by nature, the Son of God willingly assumed our poor humanity into personal union with himself in the virgin’s womb. Rich and happy in himself, he was happy to own our poverty and misery: “God of God, Light of Light; Lo, he abhors not the virgin’s womb.”16 To what end? Not to gain happiness or riches for himself, but to communicate his happiness and riches to us (Mark 10:45): “so that you through his poverty might become rich.” For our sakes, the incarnate Son of God obeyed the order of beatitude. He became the “happy man” of Psalm 1 who did not walk in the counsel of the wicked, did not stand in the way of sinners, and did not sit in the seat of scoffers. He delighted in the law of the Lord, and he meditated upon it day and night. The Lord made known to him “the path of life,” and he traversed that path to its divinely appointed destination in God’s presence, where there is “fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).
By the Lord’s appointment, however, traversing this path to the joy that was set before him required him to endure the cross for our sake (Hebrews 12:2). Because our sin is the cause of our misery, our misery could only be removed when our sin had been replaced with his obedience and when our sin’s punishment had been executed upon his head. And so the incarnate Son of God became a “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3). Though his contemporaries esteemed him a God-forsaken sinner (Isaiah 53:4), “it was the will of the Lord to crush him” (Isaiah 53:10), not because of his own sins but because of ours: “he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 54:4); “he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). As a consequence of his obedience and sin-bearing death on our behalf, we inherit peace and healing (Isaiah 53:5), righteousness and riches (Isaiah 53:10–12). Through his poverty, we are enriched.
The incarnate Son of God, who secured riches of mercy for us through his humiliation and poverty, bestows these riches upon us from his exalted place at the right hand of the Father as the head of his body, the church. In union with the incarnate, crucified, and exalted Son of God, we are reconciled to the order of beatitude. “The oil of gladness” (Psalm 45:7) with which he is anointed flows, by the Spirit, from the head to the body, filling it with the fullness of divine beatitude (Psalm 133:2). Filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 1:22–23), our pleasure in the once-slain, now-reigning Lamb is perfected in his praise (Ephesians 5:18–21): “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Revelation 5:12). “How good and pleasant it is” to “dwell in unity” with the incarnate Son of God, the redeemer and head of his people (Psalm 133:1)!