Desiring God by John Piper
Sometimes spiritual sleepers need to be shocked. If you want them to hear
what you have to say, you might even need to scandalize them. Jesus is
especially good at this. When He wants to teach us something about worship,
He uses a whore!
“Go call your husband,” he says to the Samaritan woman.
“I don’t have a husband,” she answers.
“That’s right,” Jesus says. “But you’ve had five, and the man you sleep with
now is not your husband.”
She is shocked. We’re shocked! But Jesus simply sits there on the edge of the
well with His hands folded, looking at the woman with razors in His eyes, ready
to teach us about worship.
The first thing we learn is that worship has to do with real life. It is not a
mythical interlude in a week of reality. Worship has to do with adultery and
hunger and racial conflict.
Jesus is bone weary from the journey. He is hot and thirsty. He decides:
“Yes, even now, just now, I will seek someone to worship the Father—a
Samaritan adulteress. I will show My disciples how My Father seeks worship in
the midst of real life from the least likely. She is a Samaritan. She is a woman.
She is a harlot. Yes, I will even show them a thing or two about how to make
true worshipers out of the white harvest of harlots in Samaria.”
LIFTING THE LEVEL OF AMAZEMENT
Let’s back up to the beginning of the story. Jesus “had to pass through Samaria”
on His way to Galilee. “So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar.…
Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting
beside the well. It was about the sixth hour” (John 4:4–6).
The Samaritans were leftovers from the northern Jewish kingdom who had
intermarried with foreigners after the chiefs and nobles were taken into exile in
722 B.C. They had once built a separate worship place on their own Mount
Gerizim. They rejected all of the Old Testament except their own version of the
first five books of Moses. Their animosity toward Jews (such as Jesus) was centuries
Jesus walks right into this hostility, sits down, and asks for a drink. The
woman is stunned that Jesus would even speak to her: “How is it that you, a
Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (v. 9).
Instead of answering her directly, Jesus shifts the focus of her amazement up
a level. He says, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you
‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living
water” (v. 10). The really amazing thing is not that He asked her for a drink,
but that she didn’t ask Him! He has “living water,” and He calls it the “gift of
But the woman doesn’t rise very high. She simply says, “How can you
give me water when you don’t have a bucket?” She is not on Jesus’ wavelength
So Jesus again lifts the level of amazement. “Everyone who drinks of this
water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him
will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a
spring of water welling up to eternal life” (vv. 13–14). The amazing thing is not
that He can give her water without a bucket, but that His water satisfies forever.
Even more: When you drink it, your soul becomes a spring. It is miracle water:
It buries itself in a sandy soul and bubbles up a spring of life.
What does this mean?
THE WATER THAT BECOMES A WELL
“The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life,” says Proverbs 13:14. Perhaps,
then, Jesus means that His teaching is a fountain of life. When thirsty people
drink it, they revive and then give it to others. Did He not say, “The words that
I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63)?
But the closest parallel to the image of a soul becoming a spring is in John
7:37–39: “Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me
and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart
will flow rivers of living water.”’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those
who believed in him were to receive.”
So the water Jesus gives is the Holy Spirit. The presence of God’s Spirit in
your life takes away the frustrated soul-thirst and turns you into a fountain
where others can find life.
But probably both these meanings are true. Both the teaching of Jesus and
the Holy Spirit satisfy the longing of our souls and make us into fountains for
others. Jesus held the Word and the Spirit together.
For example, in John 14:26 He said, “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father
will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance
all that I have said.” The work of the Spirit of Christ is to make the
Word of Christ clear and satisfying to the soul.
The water offered to the Samaritan adulteress was the Word of truth and
the power of the Spirit. When we come to Christ to drink, what we drink is
truth—not dry, lifeless, powerless truth, but truth soaked with the life-giving
Spirit of God! The Word of promise and the power of the Spirit are the living
water held out to the Samaritan harlot.
TO THE HEART THROUGH A WOUND
But again the woman misses the point. She cannot rise above her five senses.
“Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to
draw water” (John 4:15). Beware of giving up on people too soon, though. Jesus
has set His saving sights on this woman. He aims to create a worshiper of God
“in spirit and truth.”
So now He touches the most sensitive and vulnerable spot in her life:
“Go, call your husband” (v. 16). The quickest way to the heart is through a
Why does Jesus strip open the woman’s inner life like this? Because He had
said in John 3:20, “Everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does
not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” Concealed sin keeps us
from seeing the light of Christ.
Sin is like spiritual leprosy. It deadens your spiritual senses so that you rip
your soul to shreds and don’t even feel it. But Christ lays bare her spiritual leprosy:
“You have had five husbands, and the man you are sleeping with now is
not your husband.”
A TRAPPED ANIMAL WILL CHEW OFF ITS LEG
Now watch the universal reflex of a person trying to avoid conviction. She has
to admit that He has extraordinary insight: “Sir, I perceive that you are a
prophet” (John 4:19). But instead of going the direction He pointed, she tries to
switch to an academic controversy: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain;
but you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.
What’s your position on this issue?”
A trapped animal will chew off its own leg to escape. A trapped sinner will
mangle her own mind and rip up the rules of logic. “Why, yes, as long as we are
talking about my adultery, what is Your stance on the issue of where people
should worship?” This is standard evasive double-talk for trapped sinners.
But the great Soul Hunter is not so easily eluded. He does not insist that
she stay on His path. He will follow her into the bush. Or could it be that He
has circled around and is waiting there for her as she brings up the subject of
worship? He never goes back to the issue of adultery. It was a thrust against the
sealed door of her heart. But now His foot is in, and He is willing to deal with
the issue of worship.
THE HOW AND WHOM OF WORSHIP
The woman raised the issue of where people ought to worship. Jesus responds by
saying, “That controversy can’t compare in importance with the issue of how
and whom you worship.”
First, He draws her attention to the how: “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe
me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you
worship the Father’” (John 4:21). In other words, don’t get bogged down in
unessential controversies. It is possible to worship God in vain both in your place
and in ours! Did not God say, “This people…honor me with their lips, while
their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13)? The issue is not where, but how.
Then He rivets her attention on whom: “You worship what you do not know;
we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (v. 22). These are harsh
words. But when life and earth are at stake, there comes a point when you put the
matter bluntly—like telling a person with lung disease to stop smoking.
The Samaritans rejected all the Old Testament except their own version of
the first five books. Their knowledge of God was deficient. Therefore, Jesus tells
the woman that Samaritan worship is deficient. It matters whether you know
the One you worship!
How and whom are crucial, not where. Worship must be vital and real in the
heart, and worship must rest on a true perception of God. There must be spirit
and there must be truth. So Jesus says, “The hour is coming, and now is, when
the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” The two words
spirit and truth correspond to the how and whom of worship.
Worshiping in spirit is the opposite of worshiping in merely external ways.
It is the opposite of empty formalism and traditionalism. Worshiping in truth is
the opposite of worship based on an inadequate view of God. Worship must
have heart and head. Worship must engage emotions and thought.
Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full (or halffull)
of artificial admirers (like people who write generic anniversary cards for a
living). On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and
cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought. But true
worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and
sound doctrine. Strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow
of biblical worship.
FUEL, FURNACE, AND HEAT
Perhaps we can tie things together with this picture: The fuel of worship is the
truth of God; the furnace of worship is the spirit of man; and the heat of worship
is the vital affections of reverence, contrition, trust, gratitude, and joy.
But there is something missing from this picture. There is furnace, fuel, and
heat, but no fire. The fuel of truth in the furnace of our spirit does not automatically
produce the heat of worship. There must be ignition and fire. This is the
When Jesus says, “True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and
truth,” some interpreters take this to refer to the Holy Spirit. I have taken it to
mean our spirit. But maybe these two interpretations are not far apart in Jesus’
mind. In John 3:6, Jesus connects God’s Spirit and our spirit in a remarkable way.
He says, “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” In other words, until
the Holy Spirit quickens our spirit with the flame of life, our spirit is so dead
and unresponsive it does not even qualify as spirit. Only that which is born of
the Spirit is spirit. So when Jesus says that true worshipers worship the Father
“in spirit,” He must mean that true worship comes only from spirits made alive
and sensitive by the quickening of the Spirit of God.
Now we can complete our picture. The fuel of worship is a true vision of
the greatness of God; the fire that makes the fuel burn white hot is the quickening
of the Holy Spirit; the furnace made alive and warm by the flame of truth is
our renewed spirit; and the resulting heat of our affections is powerful worship,
pushing its way out in confessions, longings, acclamations, tears, songs, shouts,
bowed heads, lifted hands, and obedient lives.
FROM MATTERS OF FOOD TO MATTERS OF FAITH
Now back to Samaria for a moment. The disciples have gone into town for
food. Jesus has been alone with the woman by the well. When the disciples
return, they offer Jesus lunch. But He does the same thing with them that He
had done with the woman—He jumps from matters of food to matters of faith:
“I have food to eat that you do not know about” (John 4:32). Jesus has been
eating the whole time they were gone. But what? “My food is to do the will of
him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (v. 34). And what is the work of
the Father? The Father is seeking people to worship Him in spirit and truth.
The whole interchange between Jesus and the Samaritan adulteress is the
work of God to make a genuine worshiper. Then Jesus applies the episode to the
disciples—and to us! “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the
harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest”
(v. 35). He is saying, “There is a white harvest of harlots in Samaria. I have
just made one into a worshiper of God. That is why the Father sent me—so send I
you. God seeks people to worship Him in spirit and truth. Here comes the city of
Sychar white unto harvest. If you love the glory of God, make ready to reap.”
Christ has set a course for us in the rest of this chapter on worship. What
does it really mean to worship “in spirit and truth”? What is the response of the
Spirit-quickened spirit of man? What is the relationship of truth to this experience?
That’s our plan: to ponder the nature of worship as an affair of the heart,
and then as an affair of the mind. Then at the end we will briefly consider the
external form of worship.1
AN AFFAIR OF THE HEART
Almost everyone would agree that biblical worship involves some kind of outward
act. The very word in Hebrew means to bow down. Worship is bowing,
lifting hands, praying, singing, reciting, preaching, performing rites of eating,
cleansing, ordaining, and so on.
But the startling fact is that all these things can be done in vain. They can
be pointless and useless and empty. This is the warning of Jesus in Matthew
15:8–9 when He devastates the Pharisees with God’s word from Isaiah 29:13:
1. To make it crystal clear, when I speak of worship, I do not limit what I mean to corporate events where Christians sing. That is one expression of worship. But you can sing and read the Scriptures and pray and not be worshiping, because worship is first and most essentially an act of the heart. It is a being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus. That satisfaction can be expressed in song or in visiting a prisoner.
“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me.”
First, notice that the parallel between the phrases “honor me” and “worship
me” shows that worship is essentially a way of honoring God. Of course, that
doesn’t mean making Him honorable or increasing His honor. It means recognizing
His honor and feeling the worth of it and ascribing it to Him in all the
ways appropriate to His character.
Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his
sanctuary. Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the
LORD glory and strength! Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name.
So the first thing to see in Jesus’ words is that worship is a way of gladly
reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth.
The reason for saying gladly is that even mountains and trees reflect back to
God the radiance of His worth: “Praise the LORD from the earth…mountains
and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!” (Psalm 148:7, 9). Yet this reflection of
God’s glory in nature is not conscious. The mountains and hills do not willingly
worship. In all the earth, only humans have this unique capacity.
If we do not gladly reflect God’s glory in worship, we will nevertheless
reflect the glory of His justice in our own condemnation: “Surely the wrath of
man shall praise you” (Psalm 76:10). But this unwilling reflection of God’s
worth is not worship. Therefore, it is necessary to define worship not simply as a
way of reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth, but, more precisely, as
a way of doing it gladly.
The word gladly is liable to misunderstanding because (as we will see in a
moment) worship at times involves contrition and brokenness, which we do not
usually associate with gladness. But I keep the word because if we say only, for
example, that worship is a “willing” reflection back to God of His worth, then
we are on the brink of a worse misunderstanding; namely, that worship can be
willed when the heart has no real desire, or as Jesus says, when the heart is “far
from God.” Moreover, I think we will see that in genuine biblical contrition
there is at least a seed of gladness that comes from the awakening hope that God
will “revive the heart of the contrite” (Isaiah 57:15).
HOW TO WORSHIP GOD IN VAIN
This leads to the second thing to see in Matthew 15:8, namely, that we can
“worship” God in vain: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is
far from me.” An act of worship is vain and futile when it does not come from
the heart. This was implied in the words of Jesus to the Samaritan adulteress:
“True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is
2. As I use them in this book, the words feeling and emotion and affection do not generally carry different meanings. If something distinct is intended in any given case, I will give some indication in the context. In general, I use the words synonymously and intend by them what Jonathan Edwards did in his great Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 237.
Edwards defined the affections as “the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination
and will of the soul.” To understand this we need to sum up briefly his view of the human soul or
God has endued the soul with two principal faculties: The one, that by which it is capable of
perception and speculation, or by which it discerns and judges of things; which is called the
understanding. The other, that by which the soul is some way inclined with respect to the
things it views or considers: or it is the faculty by which the soul beholds things—not as an
indifferent unaffected spectator, but—either liking or disliking, pleased or displeased, approving
or rejecting. This faculty is called by various names; it is sometimes called the inclination; and,
as it respects the actions determined and governed by it, the will; and the mind, with regard to
the exercises of this faculty, is often called the heart.…
The will, and the affections of the soul, are not two faculties: the affections are not essentially
distinct from the will, nor do they differ from the mere actings of the will and inclination,
but only in the liveliness and sensibility of exercise…
As examples of the affections, Edwards mentions (among others) love, hatred, desire, joy, delight, grief, sorrow, fear, and hope. These are “the more vigorous and sensible [i.e., sensed or felt] exercises of the will.” Edwards is aware that there is a profound and complex relationship between the body and the mind at this point:
Such seems to be our nature, and such the laws of the union of soul and body, that there never
is in any case whatsoever, any lively and vigorous exercise of the inclination, without some effect upon the body.… But yet, it is not the body, but the mind only, that is the proper seat of the affections. The body of man is no more capable of being really the subject of love or hatred, joy or sorrow, fear or hope, than the body of a tree, or than the same body of man is capable of
thinking and understanding. As it is the soul only that has ideas, so it is the soul only that is
pleased or displeased with its ideas. As it is the soul only that thinks, so it is the soul only that
loves or hates, rejoices or is grieved at, what it thinks of.
The biblical evidence for this is the fact that God, who has no body, nevertheless has many affections. Also Philippians 1:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:8 teach that after a Christian’s death, and before the resurrection of the body, the Christian will be with the Lord and capable of joys “far better” than what we have known here.
seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:23). Now what is this experience
of the spirit? What goes on in the heart when worship is not in vain?
Worship is more than an act of mere willpower. All the outward acts of
worship are performed by acts of will. But that does not make them authentic.
The will can be present (for all kinds of reasons) while the heart is not truly
engaged (or, as Jesus says, is “far way”). The engagement of the heart in worship
is the coming alive of the feelings and emotions and affections of the heart.2
Where feelings for God are dead, worship is dead.
THE AFFECTIONS THAT MAKE WORSHIP AUTHENTIC
Now let’s be specific. What are these feelings or affections that make the outward
acts of worship authentic? For an answer, we turn to the inspired psalms
and hymns of the Old Testament. An array of different and intertwined affections
may grip the heart at any time. So the extent and order of the following
list is not intended to limit the possibilities of pleasure in anyone’s heart.
Perhaps the first response of the heart at seeing the majestic holiness of God
is stunned silence: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). “The LORD
is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:20).
In the silence rises a sense of awe and reverence and wonder at the sheer
magnitude of God: “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the
world stand in awe of him!” (Psalm 33:8).
And because we are all sinners, there is in our reverence a holy dread of
God’s righteous power. “The LORD of hosts, him you shall regard as holy. Let
him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (Isaiah 8:13). “I will bow down
toward your holy temple in the fear of you” (Psalm 5:7).
But this dread is not a paralyzing fright full of resentment against God’s
absolute authority. It finds release in brokenness and contrition and grief for our
ungodliness: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite
heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). “Thus says the One who is
high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high
and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive
the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite’” (Isaiah 57:15).
Mingled with the feeling of genuine brokenness and contrition, there arises
a longing for God: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for
you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1–2).
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire
besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my
heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25–26). “O God, you are my God;
earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry
and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).
God is not unresponsive to the contrite longing of the soul. He comes and
lifts the load of sin and fills our heart with gladness and gratitude. “You have
turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and
clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (Psalm 30:11–12).
But our joy does not just rise from the backward glance in gratitude. It also
rises from the forward glance in hope: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and
why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5–6). “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope” (Psalm 130:5).
In the end the heart longs not for any of God’s good gifts, but for God
Himself. To see Him and know Him and be in His presence is the soul’s final
feast. Beyond this there is no quest. Words fail. We call it pleasure, joy, delight.
But these are weak pointers to the unspeakable experience: “One thing have I
asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the
LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire
in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your
right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). “Delight yourself in the
LORD” (Psalm 37:4).
These are some of the affections of the heart that keep worship from being
“in vain.” Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of His
worth. It is not a mere act of willpower by which we perform outward acts.
Without the engagement of the heart, we do not really worship. The engagement
of the heart in worship is the coming alive of the feelings and emotions
and affections of the heart. Where feelings for God are dead, worship is dead.
True worship must include inward feelings that reflect the worth of God’s
glory. If this were not so, the word hypocrite would have no meaning. But there
is such a thing as hypocrisy—going through outward motions (like singing,
praying, giving, reciting) that signify affections of the heart that are not there.
“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”
TESTING A COMMON SLOGAN: “FACT! FAITH! FEELING!”
The virtue of slogans is brevity. Their vice is ambiguity. So they are risky ways of
communicating. They are powerful and perilous. So we should exploit the
power and explain the peril. I would like to venture a corrective explanation to
the slogan “Fact! Faith! Feeling!”
It’s an old and common evangelical slogan. F. B. Meyer, A. T. Pearson, and
L. E. Maxwell all preached sermons by this title. Today a Campus Crusade
booklet uses it powerfully. The point of the slogan is the order. First, the facts
about Christ. Second, the response of faith. Third, the feelings that may or may
So what’s the ambiguity? There are two: Changed “feelings” may be essential
to true Christian conversion, not incidental; and “faith” may not be completely
distinct from feeling.
In one well-known booklet the slogan appears as a train: The locomotive is
“fact.” The coal car is “faith.” The caboose is “feeling.” The explanation reads:
“The train will run with or without the caboose. However, it would be futile to
attempt to pull the train by the caboose.” But what are the “feelings” the train of
Christian living can run without? Do “feelings” refer merely to physical experiences
like sweaty palms, knocking knees, racing heart, trembling lips, tearful
eyes? If so, the slogan is clear and accurate.
But most people don’t think of feelings that way. Feelings include things
like gratitude, hope, joy, contentment, peacefulness, desire, compassion, fear,
hate, anger, grief. None of these is merely physical. Angels, demons, and
departed saints without bodies can have these “feelings.”
I think that apart from the Bible, Jonathan Edwards has written the most
important book on feelings in the Christian life. It’s called The Religious
Affections. The definition of these “affections” (or what most people today mean
by feelings) is: “the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and
will of the soul.” In other words, the feelings that really matter are not mere
physical sensations. They are the stirring up of the soul with some perceived
treasure or threat.
There is a connection between the feelings of the soul and the sensations of
the body. This is owing, Edwards says, to “the laws of union which the Creator
has fixed between the soul and the body.”3 In other words, heartfelt gratitude
can make you cry. Fear of God can make you tremble. The crying and the trembling
are in themselves spiritually insignificant. The train can run without them.
That’s the truth in the slogan. But the gratitude and the fear are not optional in
the Christian life. Yet these are what most people call feelings. That is the peril
of the slogan. It seems to make optional what the Bible makes essential.
Minimizing the importance of transformed feelings makes Christian conversion
less supernatural and less radical. It is humanly manageable to make decisions
of the will for Christ. No supernatural power is required to pray prayers,
sign cards, walk aisles, or even stop sleeping around. Those are good. They just
don’t prove that anything spiritual has happened. Christian conversion, on the
other hand, is a supernatural, radical thing. The heart is changed. And the evidence
of it is not just new decisions, but new affections, new feelings.
Negatively, the apostle Paul says that those who go on in the same old way
of “hostility,” “jealousy,” “rage,” and “envy” “will not inherit the kingdom of
God” (see Galatians 5:20–21). These are all feelings. They must change. The
train won’t get to heaven unless they do. Positively, Christians are commanded
to have God-honoring feelings. We are commanded to feel joy (Philippians
4:4), hope (Psalm 42:5), fear (Luke 12:5), peace (Colossians 3:15), zeal
(Romans 12:11), grief (Romans 12:15), desire (1 Peter 2:2), tenderheartedness
(Ephesians 4:32), and brokenness and contrition (James 4:9).
3. Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2, ed. John E. Smith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), 96.
Moreover, faith itself has in it something that most people would call feeling.
Saving faith means “receiving Christ”: “To all who did receive him, who believed
in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). But
receive as what? We usually say, “as Lord and Savior.” That’s right. But something
more needs to be said. Saving faith also receives Christ as our Treasure. A nontreasured
Christ is a nonsaving Christ. Faith has in it this element of valuing,
embracing, prizing, relishing Christ. It is like a man who finds a treasure hidden
in a field and “from joy” sells all his treasures to have that field (Matthew 13:44).
Therefore, let us affirm the slogan when it means that physical sensations
are not essential. But let us also make clear that the locomotive of fact is not
headed for heaven if it is not followed by a faith that treasures Christ and if it is
not pulling a caboose-load of new, though imperfect, affections.
WORSHIP AS AN END IN ITSELF
Now what does this imply about the feast of worship? Surprisingly, it implies
that worship is an end in itself. We do not eat the feast of worship as a means to
anything else. Happiness in God is the end of all our seeking. Nothing beyond
it can be sought as a higher goal. John Calvin put it like this: “If God contains
the fullness of all good things in himself like an inexhaustible fountain, nothing
beyond him is to be sought by those who strike after the highest good and all
the elements of happiness.”4
If what transforms outward ritual into authentic worship is the quickening
of the heart’s affections, then true worship cannot be performed as a means to
some other experience. Feelings are not like that. Genuine feelings of the heart
cannot be manufactured as stepping stones to something else.
For example: My brother-in-law called me long-distance in 1974 to tell me
my mother had just been killed. I recall his breaking voice as I took the phone
from my wife: “Johnny, this is Bob, good buddy. I’ve got bad news… Your
mother and dad were in a serious bus accident. Your mom didn’t make it, and
your dad is hurt bad.”
4. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles
(Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 3.25.10.
One thing is for sure: When I hear news like that, I do not sit down and
say, “Now to what end shall I feel grief?” As I pull my baby son off my leg and
hand him to my wife and walk to the bedroom to be alone, I do not say, “What
good end can I accomplish if I cry for the next half-hour?” The feeling of grief is
an end in itself, as far as my conscious motivation is concerned.
It is there spontaneously. It is not performed as a means to anything else. It is
not consciously willed. It is not decided upon. It comes from deep within, from a
place beneath the conscious will. It will no doubt have many by-products—most
of them good. But that is utterly beside the point as I kneel by my bed and weep.
The feeling is there, bursting out of my heart. And it is an end in itself.
Grief is not the only example. If you have been floating on a raft without
water for three days after a shipwreck on the ocean and a speck of land appears on
the horizon, you do not say, “Now to what end shall I feel desire for that land?
What good end should now prompt me to decide to feel hope?” Even though the
longing in your heart may give you the renewed strength to get to land, you do
not perform the act of desire and hope and longing in order to get there.
The longing erupts from deep in your heart because of the tremendous
value of water (and life!) on that land. It is not planned and performed (like the
purchase of a plane ticket) as a means to getting what you desire. It rises spontaneously
in the heart. It is not a decision made in order to…anything! As a
genuine feeling of the heart, it is an end in itself.
Or consider fear. If you are camping in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota
and waken in the night to the sound of snorting outside and see in the moonlight
the silhouette of a huge bear coming toward your tent, you do not say,
“Now to what end shall I feel fear?” You do not calculate the good results that
might come from the adrenaline that fear produces, and then decide that fear
would be an appropriate and helpful emotion to have. It is just there!
When you stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon for the first time and watch
the setting sun send the darkness down through the geological layers of time, you
do not say, “Now to what end shall I feel awe and wonder before this beauty?”
When a little child on Christmas morning opens his first gift and finds his
“most favoritest” rocket, which he has wanted for months, he does not think,
Now to what end shall I feel happy and thankful? We call a person an ingrate
when words of gratitude are dutifully forced instead of coming spontaneously
from the heart.
When a five-year-old enters kindergarten and starts getting picked on by
some second-graders and his big fourth-grade brother comes over and takes his
side, he does not “decide” to feel confidence and love welling up in his little
heart. He just does.
All genuine emotion is an end in itself. It is not consciously caused as a
means to something else. This does not mean we cannot or should not seek to
have certain feelings. We should and we can. We can put ourselves in situations
where the feeling may more readily be kindled. We may indeed prize some of
the results of these feelings as well as the feelings themselves. But in the moment
of authentic emotion, the calculation vanishes. We are transported (perhaps
only for seconds) above the reasoning work of the mind, and we experience feeling
without reference to logical or practical implications.
This is what keeps worship from being “in vain.” Worship is authentic
when affections for God arise in the heart as an end in themselves. In worship,
God is the dreaded voice on the phone. God is the island on the horizon. God
is the bear and the setting sun and the “most favoritest” rocket and the mother
who gave it and the big, strong fourth-grade brother.
If God’s reality is displayed to us in His Word or His world and we do not
then feel in our heart any grief or longing or hope or fear or awe or joy or gratitude
or confidence, then we may dutifully sing and pray and recite and gesture
as much as we like, but it will not be real worship. We cannot honor God if our
“heart is far from him.”
Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of His
worth. This cannot be done by mere acts of duty. It can be done only when
spontaneous affections arise in the heart. And these affections for God are an
end in themselves. They are the essence of eternal worship. Saint Augustine said
it like this: The highest good is “that which will leave us nothing further to seek
in order to be happy, if only we make all our actions refer to it, and seek it not
for the sake of something else, but for its own sake.”5
YOU MUST KISS ME, BUT NOT THAT KIND OF MUST
Consider the analogy of a wedding anniversary. Mine is on December 21.
Suppose on this day I bring home a dozen long-stemmed roses for Noël. When
she meets me at the door, I hold out the roses, and she says, “O Johnny, they’re
beautiful; thank you” and gives me a big hug. Then suppose I hold up my hand
and say matter-of-factly, “Don’t mention it; it’s my duty.”
What happens? Is not the exercise of duty a noble thing? Do not we honor
those we dutifully serve? Not much. Not if there’s no heart in it. Dutiful roses
are a contradiction in terms. If I am not moved by a spontaneous affection for
her as a person, the roses do not honor her. In fact, they belittle her. They are a
very thin covering for the fact that she does not have the worth or beauty in my
eyes to kindle affection. All I can muster is a calculated expression of marital
Here is the way Edward John Carnell puts it:
Suppose a husband asks his wife if he must kiss her good night. Her
answer is, “You must, but not that kind of a must.” What she means is
this: “Unless a spontaneous affection for my person motivates you,
your overtures are stripped of all moral value.”6
5. Saint Augustine, The City of God, trans. Marcus Dods (New York: Modern Library, 1950), 8.8.
6. E. J. Carnell, Christian Commitment (New York: Macmillan, 1967), 160–1. Carnell’s whole book resounds with this emphasis (pp. 162, 176, 196, 206, 213, 222, 289, 301). Consider this insightful section from p. 222:
The more we make rectitude a calculated object of striving, the further we recede from moral
fulfillment; for moral fulfillment is spontaneous, affectionate fulfillment. Love carries its own
sense of compulsion. It is borne on the wings of the law of the spirit of life. When we must be
motivated by either rational or legal necessity, love gives way to forecast, interest, and calculation. Suppose a mother rushes to help her terrified child. She acts out of spontaneous love. She would be offended by even the suggestion that she must help her child from a legal sense of duty.…
Moral striving is paradoxical because we shall never love God unless we make a conscious
effort; and yet because we must strive for legal righteousness, we prove that we shall never be
righteous. If our affections were a fruit of the moral and spiritual environment, we should fulfill
the law with the same unconscious necessity with which we breathe.
The paradox can perhaps be illustrated by a painter who deliberately tries to become
great. Unless he strives, he will never be an artist at all, let alone a great artist. But since he
makes genius a deliberate goal of striving, he proves that he is not, and never will be, a genius.
A master artist is great without trying to be great. His abilities unfold like the petals of a rose
before the sun. Genius is a gift of God. It is a fruit, not a work.
So is worship!
The fact is, many of us have failed to see that duty toward God can never
be restricted to outward action. Yes, we must worship Him. “But not that kind
of must.” What kind then? The kind C. S. Lewis described to Sheldon
Vanauken: “It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as
The real duty of worship is not the outward duty to say or do the liturgy. It
is the inward duty, the command: “Delight yourself in the LORD”! (Psalm 37:4).
“Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice!” (Psalm 32:11).
The reason this is the real duty of worship is that it honors God, while the
empty performance of ritual does not. If I take my wife out for the evening on
our anniversary and she asks me, “Why do you do this?” the answer that honors
her most is “Because nothing makes me happier tonight than to be with you.”
“It’s my duty” is a dishonor to her.
“It’s my joy” is an honor.
There it is! The feast of Christian Hedonism. How shall we honor God in
worship? By saying, “It’s my duty”? Or by saying, “It’s my joy”?
Worship is a way of reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth. Now
we see that the mirror that catches the rays of His radiance and reflects them
back in worship is the joyful heart. Another way of saying this is to say
The chief end of man is to glorify God
enjoying Him forever.
BEWARE OF GIVING TO GOD
Now it becomes clear why it is significant that worship is an end in itself.
Worship is an end in itself because it is the final end for which we were created.
It also becomes clear why it is not idolatrous and man-centered to say that
our emotions are ends in themselves. It is not man-centered because the emotions
of our worship are centered on God.We look away from ourselves to Him,
7. From a letter to Sheldon Vanauken in Vanauken’s book A Severe Mercy (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 189.
and only then do the manifold emotions of our heart erupt in worship.8
Nor is it idolatrous to say our affections in worship are ends in themselves,
because our affections for God glorify God, not us. Whoever thought he was glorifying
himself and not the Grand Canyon when he stood at its edge for hours in
silent awe? Whoever would accuse me of glorifying myself and not my wife when I
tell her, “I delight to spend this evening with you”? Who would accuse a little child
of self-centeredness on Christmas morning if he runs away from his new rocket to
hug his mother and say thank you because he is bursting with joyful gratitude?
Someone might object that in making the joy of worship an end in itself, we
make God a means to our end rather than our being a means to His end. Thus,
we seem to elevate ourselves above God. But consider this question: Which glorifies
God more—that is, which reflects back to God more clearly the greatness of
His glory—(1) a worship experience that comes to climax with joy in the wonder
of God? Or (2) an experience that comes to climax in a noble attempt to free
itself from rapture in order to make a contribution to the goal of God?
This is a subtle thing. We strive against God’s all-sufficient glory if we think
we can become a means to His end without making joy in Him our end.
Christian Hedonism does not put us above God when it makes the joy of worship
its goal. It is precisely in confessing our frustrated, hopeless condition without
Him that we honor Him. A patient is not greater than his doctor because he
longs to be made well. A child is not greater than his father when he wants the
fun of playing with him.
On the contrary, the one who actually sets himself above God is the person
who presumes to come to God to give rather than get. With a pretense of selfdenial,
he positions himself as God’s benefactor—as if the world and all it contains
were not already God’s (Psalm 50:12)!
No, the hedonistic approach to God in worship is the only humble
approach because it is the only one that comes with empty hands. Christian
8. Christian Hedonism is aware that self-consciousness kills joy and therefore kills worship. As soon as you turn your eyes in on yourself and become conscious of experiencing joy, it’s gone. The Christian Hedonist knows that the secret of joy is self-forgetfulness. Yes, we go to the art museum for the joy of seeing the paintings. But the counsel of Christian Hedonism is: Set your whole attention on the paintings, and not on your emotions, or you will ruin the whole experience. Therefore, in worship there must be a radical orientation on God, not ourselves.
Hedonism pays God the respect of acknowledging (and really feeling!) that He
alone can satisfy the heart’s longing to be happy. Worship is an end in itself
because we glorify God by enjoying Him forever.
THREE STAGES OF WORSHIP
But this is liable to be misunderstood. It might give the impression that we cannot
come to God in real worship unless we are overflowing with the affections
of delight and joy and hope and gratitude and wonder and awe and reverence. I
do not believe this is necessarily implied in what I have said.
I see three stages of movement toward the ideal experience of worship. We
may experience all three in one hour, and God is pleased with all three—if indeed
they are stages on the way to full joy in Him. I will mention them in reverse
1. There is a final stage in which we feel an unencumbered joy in the manifold
perfection of God—the joy of gratitude, wonder, hope, admiration: “My soul will
be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful
lips” (Psalm 63:5). In this stage we are satisfied with the excellency of God, and we
overflow with the joy of His fellowship. This is the feast of Christian Hedonism.
2. In a prior stage that we often taste, we do not feel fullness, but rather
longing and desire. Having tasted the feast before, we recall the goodness of the
Lord—but it seems far off. We preach to our souls not to be downcast, because
we are sure we shall again praise the Lord (Psalm 42:5). Yet, for now, our hearts
are not very fervent.
Even though this falls short of the ideal of vigorous, heartfelt adoration and
hope, yet it is a great honor to God. We honor the water from a mountain
spring not only by the satisfied “ahhh” after drinking our fill, but also by the
unquenched longing to be satisfied while still climbing to it.
In fact, these two stages are not really separable in the true saint, because
all satisfaction in this life is still shot through with longing and all genuine
longing has tasted the satisfying water of life. David Brainerd expressed the
Of late God has been pleased to keep my soul hungry almost continually,
so that I have been filled with a kind of pleasing pain. When I
really enjoy God, I feel my desires of Him the more insatiable and my
thirstings after holiness more unquenchable.9
3. The lowest stage of worship—where all genuine worship starts, and
where it often returns for a dark season—is the barrenness of soul that scarcely
feels any longing, and yet is still granted the grace of repentant sorrow for having
so little love: “When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I
was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you” (Psalm 73:21–22).
E. J. Carnell points toward these same stages when he says,
Rectitude, we know, is met in one of two ways: either by a spontaneous
expression of the good or by spontaneous sorrow for having failed. The
one is a direct fulfillment; the other is indirect fulfillment.10
Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of His
worth. This is the ideal. For God surely is more glorified when we delight in His
magnificence than when we are so unmoved by it that we scarcely feel anything
and only wish we could. Yet He is also glorified by the spark of anticipated gladness
that gives rise to the sorrow we feel when our hearts are lukewarm. Even in
the miserable guilt we feel over our beastlike insensitivity, the glory of God
shines. If God were not gloriously desirable, why would we feel sorrowful for
not feasting fully on His beauty?
Yet even this sorrow, to honor God, must in one sense be an end in itself—
not that it shouldn’t lead on to something better, but that it must be real and
spontaneous. The glory from which we fall short cannot be reflected in a calculated
sorrow. As Carnell says, “Indirect fulfillment is stripped of virtue whenever
it is made a goal of conscious striving. Whoever deliberately tries to be sorry will
9. Quoted in E. M. Bounds, The Weapon of Prayer (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1975), 136.
10. Carnell, Christian Commitment, 213.
11. Ibid., 213–4.
never be sorry. Sorrow cannot be induced by human effort.”11
THE MORAL ENEMY OF WORSHIP
I conclude from this meditation on the nature of worship that the revolt against
hedonism has killed the spirit of worship in many churches and many hearts. The
widespread notion that high moral acts must be free from self-interest is a great
enemy of true worship. Worship is the highest moral act a human can perform, so
the only basis and motivation for it that many people can conceive is the notion
of morality as the disinterested performance of duty. But when worship is reduced
to disinterested duty, it ceases to be worship. For worship is a feast.
Neither God nor my wife is honored when I celebrate the high days of our
relationship out of a sense of duty. They are honored when I delight in them!
Therefore, to honor God in worship, we must not seek Him disinterestedly for
fear of gaining some joy in worship and so ruining the moral value of the act.
Instead we must seek Him hedonistically, the way a thirsty deer seeks the
stream—precisely for the joy of seeing and knowing Him! Worship is nothing
less than obedience to the command of God: “Delight yourself in the LORD”!
Misguided virtue smothers the spirit of worship. The person who has the
vague notion that it is virtue to overcome self-interest, and that it is vice to seek
pleasure, will scarcely be able to worship. For worship is the most hedonistic
affair of life and must not be ruined with the least thought of disinterestedness.
The great hindrance to worship is not that we are a pleasure-seeking people, but
that we are willing to settle for such pitiful pleasures.
The prophet Jeremiah put it like this:
“My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be
appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares
the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken
me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:11–13)
The heavens are appalled and shocked when people give up soon on their
quest for pleasure and settle for broken cisterns.
WE ARE FAR TOO EASILY PLEASED
One of the most important things I ever read on my pilgrimage toward
Christian Hedonism was from a sermon preached by C. S. Lewis in 1941. He
If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own
good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit
that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no
part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing
promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised
in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too
strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with
drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an
ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because
he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.
We are far too easily pleased.12
That’s it! The enemy of worship is not that our desire for pleasure is too
strong, but too weak! We have settled for a home, a family, a few friends, a job, a
television, a microwave oven, an occasional night out, a yearly vacation, and perhaps
a new personal computer. We have accustomed ourselves to such meager,
short-lived pleasures that our capacity for joy has shriveled. And so our worship
has shriveled. Many can scarcely imagine what is meant by “a holiday at the
sea”—worshiping the living God!
THE SHRIVELING OF DARWIN’S SOUL
Through long drinking at the broken cistern of mud-pie pleasures, many have
12. C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in The Weight of Glory and other Essays (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1965), 1–2.
lost almost all capacity for delighting in God—not unlike what happened to
Charles Darwin. Near the end of his life he wrote an autobiography for his children
in which he expressed one regret:
Up to the age of 30 or beyond it, poetry of many kinds…gave me great
pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in
Shakespeare.… Formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music
very great, delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a
line of poetry: I have tried to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably
dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost any taste for pictures
or music.… I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not
cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did.… My mind
seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out
of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy
of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend,
I cannot conceive.… The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and
may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the
moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.13
Worship services across the land bear the scars of this process. For many,
Christianity has become the grinding out of general doctrinal laws from collections
of biblical facts. But childlike wonder and awe have died. The scenery and
poetry and music of the majesty of God have dried up like a forgotten peach at
the back of the refrigerator.
And the irony is that we have aided and abetted the desiccation by telling
people they ought not seek their own pleasure, especially in worship.14 We have
13. Cited in Virginia Stem Owens, “Seeing Christianity in Red and Green as Well as Black and White,” Christianity Today 27, no. 13 (2 September 1983): 38.
14. For example, Carl Zylstra wrote: “The question is whether worship really is supposed to be a time for self-fulfillment and enjoyment or whether it should be, first of all, a time of service and honor to God, a sacrifice of praise” (“Just Dial the Lord,” The Reformed Journal [October 1984], 6). When the question is put like this, it cannot be answered truthfully. It is very misleading. Of course worship is a time to honor God. But we kill that possibility by warning people not to pursue their own enjoyment. We should be telling them again and again to pursue their own enjoyment—in God! If Zylstra means to warn us against seeking fulfillment by looking to ourselves or merely from the experience of music or fellowship, then his warning is well taken.
implied in a thousand ways that the virtue of an act diminishes to the degree
you enjoy doing it and that doing something because it yields happiness is bad.
The notion hangs like a gas in the Christian atmosphere.
IMMANUEL KANT AND HEBREWS 11:6 IN COMBAT
C. S. Lewis thought Immanuel Kant (who died in 1804) was a culprit in this
confusion. So did the atheist Ayn Rand. Her striking description of Kant’s
ethics, if not historically precise, is at least a good description of the paralyzing
effects it seems to have had in the church:
An action is moral, said Kant, only if one has no desire to perform it,
but performs it out of a sense of duty and derives no benefit from it of
any sort, neither material nor spiritual. A benefit destroys the moral
value of an action. (Thus if one has no desire to be evil, one cannot be
good; if one has, one can.)15
Ayn Rand equated this notion of virtue with Christianity and rejected the
whole thing out of hand. But this is not Christianity! It was tragic for her, and it
is tragic for the church, that this notion—that the pursuit of joy is submoral, if
not immoral—pervades the air of Christendom.
Would that Ayn Rand had understood her Christian contemporary
I don’t assume that renunciation goes with submission or even that
renunciation is good in itself. Always you renounce a lesser good for a
greater; the opposite is what sin is.… The struggle to submit…is not a
struggle to submit but a struggle to accept and with passion. I mean,
possibly, with joy. Picture me with my ground teeth stalking joy—fully
armed too as it’s a highly dangerous quest.16
15. Ayn Rand, For the Intellectual (New York: Signet, 1961), 32.
16. Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being, ed. Sally Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1979), 126.
Every Sunday morning at 11 A.M., Hebrews 11:6 enters combat with
Immanuel Kant. “Without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever
would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those
who seek him.” You cannot please God if you do not come to Him for reward!
Therefore, worship that pleases God is the hedonistic pursuit of God. He is our
exceeding great reward! In His presence is fullness of joy, and at His right hand
are pleasures forevermore. Worship is the feast of Christian Hedonism.
AN AFFAIR OF THE MIND
God seeks people to worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). I put
tremendous emphasis on the “spirit” of worship in the previous section. Now I
must balance the scales and reassert that true worship always combines heart and
head, emotion and thought, affection and reflection, doxology and theology.
“True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” True worship
does not come from people whose feelings are like air ferns with no root in the
solid ground of biblical doctrine. The only affections that honor God are those
rooted in the rock of biblical truth.
Else what meaning have the words of the apostle: “They have a zeal for God,
but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2)? And did not the Lord pray,
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17)? And did He not say,
“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32)? Holy freedom
in worship is the fruit of truth. Religious feelings that do not come from a
true apprehension of God are neither holy nor truly free, no matter how intense.
The pastoral testimony of Jonathan Edwards has therefore always seemed to
me inescapably biblical. He was the foremost defender of the Great Awakening
in New England in the early 1740s. It had come under severe criticism because
of apparent emotional excesses.
Charles Chauncy, pastor of the old First Church in Boston, opposed the
revival strenuously. He pointed out all of its excesses like the “swooning away
17. Cited in C. H. Faust and T. H. Johnson, eds., Jonathan Edwards: Selections (New York: Hill & Wang, 1962), xviii.
and falling to the ground…bitter shriekings and screamings; convulsion-like
tremblings and agitations, strugglings and tumblings.”17
Edwards did not defend the excesses, but he earnestly defended the deep
and genuine engagement of the affections based on truth. He argued with these
carefully chosen words:
I should think myself in the way of my duty, to raise the affections of
my hearers as high as I possibly can, provided they are affected with
nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the
nature of what they are affected with.18
Edwards was utterly convinced of the crucial importance of powerful affections
The things of religion are so great, that there can be no suitableness in
the exercises of our hearts, to their nature and importance, unless they be
lively and powerful. In nothing is vigor in the actings of our inclinations
so requisite, as in religion; and in nothing is lukewarmness so odious.19
Yes, the only heat he valued in worship was the heat that comes with light.
In 1744 he preached an ordination sermon from the text about John the
Baptist, “He was a burning and a shining light” (John 5:35, KJV). There must be
heat in the heart and light in the mind—and no more heat than justified by the
If a minister has light without heat, and entertains his [hearers] with
learned discourses, without a savour of the power of godliness, or any
appearance of fervency of spirit, and zeal for God and the good of
souls, he may gratify itching ears, and fill the heads of his people with
18. Jonathan Edwards, Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival in the Great Awakening, ed. C. C. Goen (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), 387.
19. Edwards, Religious Affections, 238.
empty notions; but it will not be very likely to reach their souls. And if,
on the other hand, he be driven on with a fierce and intemperate zeal,
and vehement heat, without light, he will be likely to kindle the like
unhallowed flame in his people, and to fire their corrupt passions and
affections; but will make them never the better, nor lead them a step
towards heaven, but drive them apace the other way.20
Strong affections for God, rooted in and shaped by the truth of Scripture—
this is the bone and marrow of biblical worship.
Therefore Christian Hedonism is passionately opposed to all attempts to
drive a wedge between deep thought and deep feeling. It rejects the common
notion that profound reflection dries up fervent affection. It resists the
assumption that intense emotion thrives only in the absence of coherent doctrine.
On the contrary, Christian Hedonists are persuaded with Edwards that the
only affections that magnify God’s value are those that come from true apprehensions
of His glory. If the feast of worship is rare in the land, it is because
there is a famine of the Word of God (Amos 8:11–12).
THE FORM OF WORSHIP
It follows that forms of worship should provide two things: channels for the
mind to apprehend the truth of God’s reality and channels for the heart to
respond to the beauty of that truth—that is, forms to ignite the affections with
biblical truth and forms to express the affections with biblical passion.
Of course, good forms do both. Good sermons and hymns and prayers
express and inspire worship. And they do it best when they are unabashedly
hedonistic and therefore God-centered.
Take preaching, for example. John Broadus was on target when he wrote a
hundred years ago:
20. Edwards, “The True Excellency of a Gospel Minister,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 2:958.
The minister may lawfully appeal to the desire for happiness and its
negative counterpart, the dread of unhappiness. Those philosophers
[Kant?] who insist that we ought always to do right simply and only
because it is right are not philosophers at all, for they are either grossly
ignorant of human nature [and I would add: Scripture] or else
indulging in mere fanciful speculations.21
Or take hymns! How unabashedly hedonistic they are! Hymns are the
voices of the church’s lovers, and lovers are the least duty-oriented and most
God-besotted people in the world.
Jesus, Thou joy of loving hearts
Thou fount of life, Thou light of men
From the best bliss that earth imparts
We turn unfilled to Thee again.
Bernard of Clairvaux
Jesus, priceless treasure
Source of purest pleasure,
Truest friend to me:
Long my heart hath panted,
’Til it well-nigh fainted,
Thirsting after Thee.
Thine I am,
O spotless Lamb,
I will suffer nought to hide Thee,
Ask for nought beside Thee.
Jesus, I am resting, resting
21. John Broadus, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, 4th ed., rev. Vernon Stanfield (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), 117.
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.
Thou hast bid me gaze upon Thee,
And Thy beauty fills my soul,
For by Thy transforming power,
Thou hast made me whole.
Jean Sophia Pigott
Knowing You, Jesus,
there is no greater thing,
You’re my all,
You’re the best,
You’re my joy, my righteousness,
and I love You, Lord.
And for the prayers of the church, what could suffice better than the
inspired (hedonistic!) prayers of the psalmists?
You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain
and wine abound. (Psalm 4:7)
Let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and
spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may
exult in you. (5:11)
I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most
As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I
shall be satisfied with your likeness. (17:15)
“I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.”
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within
me.… Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a
willing spirit. (51:10, 12)
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no
water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your
power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips
will praise you. (63:1–3)
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I
desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the
strength of my heart and my portion forever. (73:25–26)
When the people of God—and especially the lead worshipers—begin to
pray in this hedonistically God-centered way, then the form will both express
and inspire authentic worship.
But in the end, the form is not the issue. The issue is whether the excellency
of Christ is seen. Worship will happen when the God who said “Let light shine
out of darkness” shines in our hearts to give us “the light of the knowledge of
the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
We must see and feel the incomparable excellency of the Son of God.
22. These pairs are from a sermon by Jonathan Edwards entitled “The Excellency of Christ.” In it, Edwards meditates on the image of Christ in Revelation 5:5–6 as both the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Lamb that was slain. The sermon is in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 1:680–9. For my meditations on these diverse excellencies of Christ, see Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2001).
Incomparable because in Him meet infinite glory and lowest humility, infinite
majesty and transcendent meekness, deepest reverence toward God and equality
with God, infinite worthiness of good and greatest patience to suffer evil,
supreme dominion and exceeding obedience, divine self-sufficiency and childlike
The irony of our human condition is that God has put us within sight of
the Himalayas of His glory in Jesus Christ, but we have chosen to pull down the
shades of our chalet and show slides of Buck Hill—even in church. We are content
to go on making mud pies in the slums because we cannot imagine what is
meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.
AN EXHORTATION AND AN EXPERIENCE
I close this chapter with an exhortation and an experience. Don’t let your worship
decline to the performance of mere duty. Don’t let the childlike awe and
wonder be choked out by unbiblical views of virtue. Don’t let the scenery and
poetry and music of your relationship with God shrivel up and die. You have
capacities for joy that you can scarcely imagine. They were made for the enjoyment
of God. He can awaken them no matter how long they have lain asleep.
Pray for His quickening power. Open your eyes to His glory. It is all around
you: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his
handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
I was flying at night from Chicago to Minneapolis, almost alone on the plane.
The pilot announced that there was a thunderstorm over Lake Michigan and into
Wisconsin. He would skirt it to the west to avoid turbulence. As I sat there staring
out into the total blackness, suddenly the whole sky was brilliant with light, and a
cavern of white clouds fell away four miles beneath the plane and then vanished. A
second later, a mammoth white tunnel of light exploded from north to south
across the horizon, and again vanished into blackness. Soon the lightning was
almost constant, and volcanoes of light burst up out of cloud ravines and from
behind distant white mountains. I sat there shaking my head almost in unbelief. O
Lord, if these are but the sparks from the sharpening of Your sword, what will be the
day of Your appearing! And I remembered the words of Christ:
As the lightning flashes and lights up the sky
from one side to the other,
so will the Son of Man be in his day.
Even now as I recollect that sight, the word glory is full of feeling for me. I
thank God that again and again He has awakened my heart to desire Him, to
see Him, and to sit down to the feast of Christian Hedonism and worship the
King of Glory. The banquet hall is very large.
The Spirit and the Bride say,
“Come.”… Let the one who is thirsty come;
let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
In some sense the most benevolent, generous person in the world
seeks his own happiness in doing good to others,
because he places his happiness in their good.
His mind is so enlarged as to take them, as it were, into himself.
Thus when they are happy, he feels it;
he partakes with them, and is happy in their happiness.
This is so far from being inconsistent with the freeness of beneficence,
that, on the contrary, free benevolence and kindness consists in it.
God loves a cheerful giver.
THE APOSTLE PAUL