3 Strange Christian Pleasures
In a sermon entitled “The Pleasantness of Religion,” Jonathan Edwards draws the following doctrine from Proverbs 24:13-14: “It would be worth the while to be religious if it were only for the pleasantness of it.”
Although we might expect him to go straight to spiritual joys to prove his point, he starts out by proving that Christianity increases joy through the bodily senses – not just joys of the soul, but the joys of the body; not just spiritual joys but sensual joys (meaning “the five bodily senses” not “carnal” or “fleshly”).
He takes a further surprising turn by using three Christian experiences, normally thought of as painful, to argue for the pleasantness of Christianity: repentance, self-denial, and persecution.
The Pleasure Of Repentance
While Edwards admits that repentance involves deep and painful sorrow for sin, he also sees delight at its core:
“Repentance of sin is a sorrow arising from the sight of God’s excellency and mercy, but the apprehension of excellency or mercy must necessarily and unavoidably beget pleasure in the mind of the beholder…It’s impossible to be affected with the mercy and love of God, and his willingness to be merciful to us and love us, and not be affected with pleasure at the thoughts of it.”1
Although it seems like a paradox, Edwards says “repentance is a sweet sorrow, so that the more of this sorrow, the more pleasure,”2 especially immediately after repentance it as it clears up the mind and beings comfort to the soul.
The Pleasure Of Self-Denial
Edwards doesn’t deny the difficulty of self-denial, that it’s one of the greatest pains of the godly life, and a laborious part of any sincere Christian’s mortification and warfare. However, he assures any who are hesitant about denying self for the sake of Christ, that self-deniers “never experience greater pleasures and joys than after great acts of self-denial.” How can this be?
“Self-denial destroys the very root and foundation of sorrow, and is nothing else but the lancing of a grievous and painful sore that effects a cure and brings abundance of health as a recompense for the pain of the operation.”3
The Pleasure Of Persecution
There are few things more painful than persecution. Whether it’s verbal, financial, social, or physical, it hurts. Edwards calls persecutions “some of the chief troubles of the godly.”
Yet he also says that the true Christian uses this hatred to chase him “into the arms of Jesus, his best friend, with the more delight.”
Also, although the Christian finds it difficult in the moment of persecution to “count it all joy” (Jas. 1:2) or count himself blessed (Matt. 5:11-12), yet God uses such grievous hostility to bring joy and light to their souls.
“Reproaches are ordered by God for this end, that they may destroy sin, which is the chief root of the troubles of the godly man, and the destruction of it a foundation for delight.”4
It’s the kind of thing that makes you feel sorry for the wicked. Their best pleasures come laced with sorrow, whereas even the Christian’s sorrows have more pleasure mixed in with them than they can imagine. Repentance, self-denial, and persecution bring us to the right hand of God, to Christ, where there are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
1. Jonathan Edwards, “The Pleasantness of Religion,” The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader, ed. by Wilson Kimnach, Kenneth P. Minkema, & Douglas Sweeney (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 18.
2. Ibid., pp. 18-19
3. p. 19
4. p. 20
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