Mining the Riches of Mantion #2: True and False Happiness

November 24, 2009

Psalm 119:1  – “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD!”

Having opened the text, Manton proceeds to state his first ‘doctrine.’ (See my  previous post on Puritan Preaching for a discussion of the Puritan method of developing a sermon.)  “Doct. 1. That it standeth us much upon to have a true notion of blessedness and blessed men,” which being translated means, “It is of the greatest importance to us to have a true understanding of what constitutes happiness and a happy person.”

As the Psalmist begins with blessedness, so M. begins with a discussion of blessedness or happiness and uses it to find a kind of common ground with all persons.  Everyone desires it.  Self-love is implanted in all at creation.  God has given us desires both to avoid what is bad and to desire what is good.  He writes, “To ask whether men would be happy or not is to ask whether they love themselves or not…” but then he immediately follows with this observation, “but whether holy is another thing.” Everyone desires happiness, but not all desire holiness.  (I have found it useful to pair ‘holiness’ and ‘happiness’ in a number of ways because, beginning with “h’ and ending with ‘ing,’ they form a memorable combination.)

Since sin twists this natural and good desire for happiness, the definition of happiness undergoes a change:  “For whatever a person desires, he desires it because he thinks of it as something good, that is, as something that will contribute to his happiness.  That would be fine, of course, if he knows where happiness can be found.  But before we move to that question, take a moment to consider what a useful way this is to approach people who do not know Christ!  To adapt a book title by J.B. Phillips, we can say to them, “Your gods are too small.)

Next he states that there are two ways in which people misunderstand how to be happy.  First, people err in not knowing what will make them truly and permanently happy.  They seek happiness in such wrong places as riches, honor, power and pleasures.  (Luke 16:25; Psalm 4:7)  It is common among Puritans to classify the things people pursue in a few memorable categories.  “Pleasure, wealth, power and reputation” are the four basic sin groups.  Here M. cites honor, wealth and the favor of great men (which is to be the beneficiary of their power.)  Wealth contributes both to power and pleasure.  So, we see that, while a variety of terms can be used, they are used to comprehend man’s sinful appetite.  The Puritans developed many such classifications as tools to assist memory.  They provide us with a filing system whereby we can organize the essentials of any truth and access them quickly to use ‘in time of need.’  Today’s pastors would do well to furnish their hearers with these kinds of mental furniture.

Before we go, let’s note that Manton is careful, once again, to teach the essential goodness of creatures and the legitimacy of desiring them.  Notwithstanding that these things become the focus of man’s sinful desires, these things are not evil in themselves.  They are “useful in their sphere and beneficial to sweeten and comfort the life of man.”  The Puritans learned from the Bible that all that God made was good, indeed, very good.  While carefully condemning the misuse of creation, they were equally careful in affirming its fundamental goodness.

Drop me a line if you’d like to let me know if and how this post has been helpful.  Caveat lector.

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