(John Angell James, "Happiness")
Many are saying, "Who can show us anything good?"
Look on us with favor, Lord. You have put more joy
in my heart than they have when their grain and
new wine abound. (Psalm 4:6-7)
There is certainly some
pleasure in the gratification of the
appetites--in the enjoyment of health, friends, property,
and fame. Even sinful objects have their pleasures.
There could be no power in temptation, if sin yielded no
enjoyment. But viewing man as a rational, moral, and
immortal creature; as a sinner subject to the stings of a
reproachful conscience, and under the displeasure of the
God he has offended; as liable to all the vicissitudes of a
tearful existence, and ever exposed to the fear and stroke
of death--he needs something more for his happiness,
than can be found in the objects of this world. He has . . .
needs which they cannot supply;
cravings which they cannot satisfy;
woes which they cannot alleviate;
anxieties which they cannot dispel.
For each one that is even tolerably successful in gaining
felicity from visible objects, there are many who utterly fail.
Their schemes are frustrated; their hopes perish; their air
castles vanish as they journey on in life. And each
ends a course of worldly-mindedness, by adding another
to the millions of examples which have proved this present
world to be vanity.
In some cases, abundance and unobstructed enjoyment
produce revulsion. Tired of old pleasures, they look about
for new ones, and plead the oft-repeated inquiry, "Who will
show us anything good?" Novelty perhaps comes to the
relief of their discontented, restless, and dissatisfied minds;
but novelty itself soon grows old, and still something new
is wanted. There remains an aching void within, a craving,
hungry appetite for bliss--unsatisfied, unfed. They hunt for
enjoyment . . .
in endless parties of pleasure,
in every place of amusement,
in every scene of diversion;
in the dance, and in the game;
in the theater, and in the concert;
amidst the scenes of nature, and
in the changes of foreign travel.
But happiness, like a shadow ever flitting before them,
and ever eluding their grasp, tantalizes them with its
form, without yielding them its substance; and excites
their hopes--only to disappoint them!
What are all the pleasures of time and sense, all the
objects of this visible world--but as the dropping of
pebbles into a deep chasm,
which, instead of filling
it up, only tell them how deep it is--by awakening the
dismal echoes of emptiness and desolation.
Look at the worldling. Does he succeed in his quest for
happiness? Is he satisfied? Let him possess all he seeks,
all he wishes, all that earth can furnish; let rank be added
to wealth, and fame to both; let a constant round of
fashionable amusements, festive scenes, and elegant
parties, follow in endless succession, until his cup is full
to overflowing. What does it all amount to? "All that my
eyes desired, I did not deny them. I did not refuse myself
any pleasure. When I considered all that I had accomplished
and what I had labored to achieve, I found everything to
be futile and a pursuit of the wind! There was nothing
to be gained under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 2)
Have not multitudes since Solomon's time, made the same
melancholy confession? Is it not a general admission, that
the pleasure of worldly objects arises more from hope and
anticipation--rather than possession? They are like beautiful
bubbles, which, as they float, reflect the colors of the
--but dissolve and vanish when grasped! Tell me, votaries of
earthly good, have you realized what you expected? Are not
the scenes of festivity and amusement resorted to, by many
with aching hearts? Does not the smiling countenance often
conceal a troubled spirit; and is not the laugh resorted to in
order to suppress the sigh?
Even if it were granted, that the possession of wealth, the
gratifications of taste, and the indulgence of appetite, could
give happiness in seasons of health and prosperity--they
must inevitably fail in the day of sickness and adversity. If
they were satisfying for a season--they are all fragile and
uncertain! All the enjoyments of this life are like gathered
flowers, which are no sooner plucked, than they begin to lose
their beauty and their fragrance while we look at them and
smell them; and which, however mirthful and beautiful they
appeared while they were growing--begin to wither as soon
as they are in our hands!