The Search After Happiness
“There are many who say, Who will show us any good? LORD, lift up the light of Your Countenance upon us.”
THIS is a text which, by the rich assistance of the Holy Spirit, may serve as a touchstone to try our state. See, here are two classes of men–the many turning the eyes of faith to theirGod and begging that He would lift up the light of His Countenance upon them.
- Let us contemplate with sadness and with searching of heart, THE MANY–trembling lest we should find ourselves among the number!
“THE MANY.” What multitudes of thoughts cluster around these two words! The million-peopled city, the populous town, the wide-spread country, this isle, kingdoms, empires, continents, the world–all seem to issue forth like armies from the hundred-gated Thebes, at the mention of those two words, “The many.” Here we see the toiling peasant and his lordly squire, the artisan and the princely merchant, the courtier and the king, the young and the old, the learned and the unlearned all gathered within the compass of a word.
And all that form this vast gathering of human souls are joining in one cry and moving in one direction! This is a thought at which the faithful may well weep, for their cry is SELF, their course is SIN. Here and there are the chosen few struggling against the mighty tide, but the masses, the multitude, as in the days of David, are hurrying along their mad career in search of a fancied good and reaping the fruit of their futile search in disappointment, death and Hell! O my Hearer, are you like the dead fish floating with the stream–or are you, by constraining Grace, drawn onward and upward to the bliss prepared for the elect? If a Christian, I beseech you to pause and admire the Grace which has made you to differ. If your heart is right with God, I know you will confess that there is no intrinsic natural goodness in you, for, like your friend the speaker, I doubt not that you are made to groan over a strong propensity within which often tempts you to join in the world’s chase and leave “the fountain of Living Waters” for the “broken cisterns” of earth and, therefore, you will join with the preacher in singing–
“‘Tis all of Free Grace we were brought to obey,
While others were allowed to go
The road which, by nature, WE chose as our way,
Which leads to the regions of woe.”
Come then, with me and behold the evil and the folly of the world. Listen to their never-ceasing cry, “Who will show us any good?”
Mark, first, its sensual character: “Who will SHOW us any good?” The world desires something which it may see,taste and handle. The joys of faith it does not understand. We, by Divine Grace, do not walk by sight. But the poor sons of earth must have visible, present, terrestrial joys. We have an unseen portion, an invisible inheritance–we have higher faculties and nobler delights. We need no carnal showman to bid the puppet joys of time dance before us. We have seen “the King in His beauty” and, spiritually, we behold “the land which is very far off.” Let us pity the worldling who is seeking water where there is none, in a salt land, a thirsty soil. Let us earnestly intercede for poor, short-sighted man, that he may yet have “the wisdom that is from above,” and the eye-salve of Divine Illumination–then will he no more seek for his happiness below, or look for pleasure in things of time and sense.
Take care, my Hearer, that you do not suffer under the same delusion! Always pray that you may be kept from hunting in the haunts of sense and fixing your affection on earthly things for, be sure of this–the roses of this world are covered with thorns! And her hives of honey, if broken open, will surround you with stinging remembrances, but not a drop of sweetness! Remember to lay to heart the words of a holy poet–
“Nor earth, nor all the sky
Can one delight afford.
No, not a drop of real joy,
Without Your Presence, Lord.”
Notice, next its indiscriminating nature. “Who will show us ANY good?” The unregenerate mind has nodiscernment in its choice. One good is to it as desirable as another. Men easily allow toleration here. The intoxicating cup is the “good” of the winebibber. The indulgence of lust is the object of the voluptuary. Gold is the miser’s god and fame or power the choice of the ambitious. To most men, these are all “good” in their way–if not esteemed good morally, they are looked upon as forbidden fruits, only untasted because of the penalty and not abhorred because of a real distaste. O my Hearer, have you sufficient judgment to see that any good will not suit you? Have you made an election of “solidjoys and lasting pleasures,” and are the dainties of time tasteless to you? You are not like the bee, which can find her food in nettles and poisonous weeds. “The Rose of Sharon” is the flower of your choice and, “the Lily of the Valley” is to you the perfection of beauty. No longer can you ask for ANY good, for you have found the one, the only good and in HIM issuch a fullness, such an abundance, that your song will always be–
“God is my all-sufficient good,
My portion and my choice.
In Him my vast desires are filled
And all my powers rejoice.”
Remark attentively the selfish nature of the question, “Who will show US any good?” Here the poor man of thisworld is seeking for himself and his fellows, but not for God or the good of others. He has no fear of God, nor any love, nor reverence for Him. Let but his barn be stored, his purse filled, his body fed, his senses gratified and the great Maker and bounteous Giver may be forgotten! What does he care whether there is a God, or whether He is worshipped or not? To him Venus, Brahma, Woden and Jehovah are all alike gods! He cares not for the living and true God–he lets others have religion–to him it would be a weariness and a labor. Or, if he puts on the outward guise of religion, he is but a Gibeonite in the Temple, “a hewer of wood and drawer of water.” He is selfish in his worship, selfish in his praises and his prayers.
But we, Beloved, are, we trust, no longer lovers of self. We have become adorers of God and purely from gratitude we pay our glad homage at His Throne! We do not now put self foremost–we wish to experience a self-annihilation, a death to self. We have learned to sacrifice our own desires on the altar of Divine Love and now one passion concentrates our power and truly we exclaim–
“Christ is my light, my life, my care,
My blessed hope, my heavenly prize!
Dearer than all my passions are,
My limbs, my heart, or my eyes.”
Observe, also, the futility of the enquiry–“WHO will show us any good?” Echo might answer, “Who?” Where livesthe fortunate discoverer, the man who has stumbled on this pearl of price unknown? Ah, Sinner, call again, like the priests of Baal, for there is neither hearing nor answering! Go to those Arcadian groves of poetry and find them a fiction! Taste the nectar of the epicure and find it gall! Lie on a bed of down and loathe the weakness which effeminacy engenders! Surround yourself with wealth and learn its powerlessness to ease the mind! Yes, wear a royal crown and mourn a king’s uneasy head. Try all–like the preacher of wisdom, open each cabinet in the palace of pleasure and ransack each corner of her treasure house! Have you found the long-sought good? Ah, no! Your joys, like bubbles, have dissolved at your touch! Or, like the schoolboy’s butterfly, have been crushed by the blow which won them!
Pause here and realize the emptiness of sublunary joys. Entreat the Spirit of all Grace to reveal to your soul the hollowness of terrestrial baubles. Take earth and, as Quarles has it, “Tinnit inane”–it sounds because it is empty.Despise the world, rate its jewels at a low price, estimate its gems as paste and its solidities as dreams. Think not that you shall thus lose pleasure, but rather remember the saying of Chrysostom, “Despise riches and you shall be rich. Despise glory and you shall be glorious. Despise injuries and you shall be a conqueror. Despise rest and you shall gain rest. Despise earth and you shall gain Heaven!”
Here may you and I close our review of the foolish multitude by learning the three lessons spoken of by Bonaventure, “The multitude of those that are damned, the small number of the saved and the vanity of transitory things.”
II. A happier sight now awaits us. Yonder is a company whose constant utterance is widely different from the enquiry of the many. These are THE FEW–not so many as the moralist and formalist believe them, but at the same time not so few as Bigotry in her narrowness would make them, for God has His hidden thousands whose knees have never bowed to Baal!
These seek not a good, for they have found it! They ask not a question, but they breathe a prayer! They apply not tomortals, but they address to their God this petition, “Lord, lift up the light of Your Countenance upon us.”
Let us tarry on the very threshold of these words and devoutly ask for Divine searching, lest we should be deceived in our belief that this is our prayer. Let us not take the words lightly on our unhallowed lips, lest we ask for our own damnation. Perhaps, my Hearer, if the light of God’s Countenance were at once to shine upon you, your heart is so far from God, so full of hatred to Him, that it would suddenly destroy you, for remember, He is “a consuming fire.”
Let us, however, if the answer of conscience and the inward witness are agreed to give us hope, behold the Countenance of our God.
For, first, it is a reconciled Countenance. “Though You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away and Youcomforted me.” “I have sworn that I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you.” The anger of God towards Believers in Jesus is forever appeased! They are so perfect, in the righteousness of Christ, that He sees no spot of sin in them. Though of “purer eyes than to behold evil,” He does yet regard poor sinners with affection and towards you, my Christian Brother or Sister, He has no sentiments but those of unmingled love. Think of your glorious condition–reconciled! Beloved! Adopted!
Next, it is a cheering Countenance. The smile of a fond friend will nerve us to duty. The approving glance of a wiseman will give us courage in trial. But the looks of God, the smiles of our Father who is in Heaven–these are better than the applause of a colossal audience, or the shouts of an empire of admirers! Give me the comforts of God and I can well bear the taunts of men. Let me lay my head on the bosom of Jesus and I fear not the distraction of care and trouble. If my God will always give me the light of His smile and the glance of His approval, it is enough for me. Come on, foes, persecutors, fiends, yes, Apollyon, himself, for “the Lord God is a sun and shield.” Gather, you clouds and cover me–I carry a sun within! Blow, wind of the frozen North, I have a fire of living coals within! Yes, Death, slay me, but I haveanother life–a life in the light of God’s Countenance!
Let us not forget another sweet and precious consideration. It is a peculiar Countenance it istransforming, changing the beholder into its own likeness. I gaze on beauty, yet may be myself deformed. I admire light and may yet dwell in darkness. But if the light of the Countenance of God rests upon me, I shall become like He–the lineaments of His visage will be on me and the great outlines of His attributes will be mine. Oh, wondrous mirror which thus renders the beholder lovely! Oh, admirable mirror which reflects not self with its imperfections, but gives a perfect image to those that are uncomely! May you and I, Beloved, so fix our contemplations upon Jesus and all the Persons of the Godhead, that we may have our unholiness removed and our depravity overcome! Happy day when we shall be like He! But the only reason of it will be that, then “we shall see Him as He is.” Oh, could we look less to the smile and favor of man and more to the regard and notice of Heaven, how far would we be in advance of what we are! Our puny spirits would become gigantic in stature and our feeble faith would, through Grace, wax mighty! We would no longer be the sport of temptation and the pliant servants of our corruptions. O our God, amid our folly and our sin, we turn to You with strong desire, crying out, “Lord lift up the light of Your Countenance upon us!”
We will only note, in concluding our brief but instructive musings, that God’s Countenance is unchanging. The lightmay seem to vary, but the face is the same. Our God is the Immutable Father of Lights. He does not love now and castaway in the future. eternity. The thingsof time are mutable, confessedly and constantly so, but the things of eternity are always the same. Away with the horrid suggestion that God may forget and forsake His own children! Oh, no! The face which was once radiant with love is not now clouded with wrath–the heart which overflowed with affection is not now filled with anger! Great as my sins have been, they are not so great as His love! The file of my backsliding shall not be permitted to divide the golden links of the chains of His mercy. If my gracious Lord and Savior has assured me that my name was always enrolled among the sons of Zion, then “the powers of darkness” cannot “erase those everlasting lines.” Go, poor menial of Satan, pursue your weary drudgery. Go seek the unsteady will-o'-the-wisp of carnal delights, but I have a surer joy, a substantial happiness beyond your reach. My Hearer, it will be well with you if you can pity the many, singing–
“Turn, then, my Soul, unto your rest.
The merits of your great High Priest
Have bought your liberty–
Trust in His efficacious blood,
Nor fear your banishment from God,
Since Jesus died for thee.”