A lot of things promise us joy. We’re basically guaranteed this through innovative and flamboyant marketing schemes that get shoved down our throats. Yes, I’m talking about commercials. The premise of a commercial or television advertisement is essentially to get you to believe that what you have isn’t enough and that this new thing can give you all the joy that you’ve sought after for so long. Whether that be the promise of fulfilling relationships or the promise of being cool and accepted because you drink alcohol or the promise of finding happiness in your newly toned abs via that strange contraption that guarantees results in 5 minutes for what takes a good 5 years to experience. Maybe I’m being to hard on advertising, and marketing interns everywhere are, perhaps, getting frustrated right now. But the promise of joy and man’s never-ending quest to find it is the presupposition for almost all advertising — and it’s the driving force behind all of our decision-making too.
Whether consciously or subconsciously, the endgame for all of man’s schemes and scenarios is unending, uninterrupted joy. Regardless of the means by which he pursues this end, joy remains the goal and he’ll try countless avenues in order to reach it. As long as those means don’t impede his freedom, man will try anything to find the joy he craves so desperately. Well, almost anything — he’ll try everything except for one thing: the One thing. The irony is that as we’ve pushed God out of our society and relationships and lives, we’ve pushed the one source of true joy away as well. The less time we devote to getting know God the less joyful we’ll be. There’s a symbiotic relationship between time in the Word and joy in life. If you want joy, go to God. More specifically, go to the gospel; because the one thing that promises and delivers on its covenant of happiness is the “glorious gospel of the blessed God.” (1 Tm 1:11 KJV)
God’s gospel is the genesis for all true, lasting joy. His promise of hope and peace and forgiveness are the only avenues through which genuine gladness are found. “There can be no real joy,” says Octavius Winslow, “but in the experience of pardoned sin.” Forgiveness, pardon, peace, absolution — these are the generators of joy. And the reason the gospel delivers on the joy that it promises is because it doesn’t leave it up to you. All of it comes as a gift. You’re given God’s happiness through his gospel. (Jn 15:11) There’s nothing so joyous as God taking our place — God coming down, entering our fray, our mess, our mayhem, our chaos, and giving us grace. The satisfaction of the law by the crucifixion of Christ — the substitution of the Son of God for wicked sinners like you and me, is the origin from which all joy is found. The happiness of life is in the joy of gospel.
God’s gift is his own life . . . the purpose of God is not simply to make you happy, but to make you happy with God’s own happiness — not simply to give you joy, but to give you the joy of the Lord — not simply to make you drink of the rivers of pleasure, but to make you drink out of the rivers of God’s own pleasures, and out of the fountains of God’s own happiness, that your joy should be the very same as his, springing from the very same source, and produced by the very same cause. God’s best gifts are no portion for man. He himself is the soul’s only portion.1
You see, the gospel not only imputes to you Christ’s righteousness but his gladness as well. “Now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy completed in them.” (Jn 17:13) The joy is in knowing that everything’s complete, God has done it, “it is finished.” The work and stress of salvation is finished and you’re left simply to enjoy God and glorify him forever. True joy isn’t found in anything that world offers. Nothing that can be bought can give you the joy and happiness you seek. The only joy that lasts is the joy of the gospel.
Horatius Bonar, Kelso Tracts (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1849), #3, #5.