(John Angell James, "Happiness")
"Many are saying: Who can show us any good?" Psalm 4:6
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 who 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 had proved this present world to be vanity.
In some cases, abundance and unobstructed enjoyment produce boredom. 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;
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 him 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 vanity 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 rainbow — 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 heart? 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!