The Road to Happiness
Charles Naylor, 1930
The desire to be happy is one of the most universal of human desires. Few people put anything else ahead of their own happiness. In many a life, this is the most powerful motive. Happiness, like everything else in this world of law and order, is the result of the operation of certain laws. It is a product, the result of certain processes.
One thing should be clearly noted. The road to happiness is not a direct road. If we would arrive at happiness — then we must first go somewhere else. On the road thither — we must pass through the gate of duty, and walking on the way of righteousness, pass through the village of love, descend into the valley of humility, and go over the stony way of loyalty and sincerity, and ascend to the heights of purity. Here, without looking for it — we shall find happiness.
It is a mistake to think that true happiness can come from mere gratification of desire. Gratification has its part — but often pursuit of a worthy motive is a greater factor. Unworthy motives, selfish desires, and sensual gratifications, instead of producing happiness — only disappoint and disillusion. It is a law of our natures that the higher the desire to be gratified, or the higher the motive that we have — the higher and truer is the happiness which results. No truer thing was ever said than that, "If you sow to the flesh — then you shall reap corruption from the flesh." It is the inevitable consequence.
Gratification of the desires of the flesh, may bring physical joy. The drunkard and the ungodly may join in singing their drinking-songs, their sensual love-songs, and the like — but these are not songs of true happiness. A sensual joy poisons itself and dies in the midst of its song. Pure song brings higher forms of joy — and higher and purer inspiration. It springs from pure and innocent love — from the home where love reigns — from the heart that is full of kindness, pity, consideration for others, and love of goodness.
The highest happiness comes from the use of our highest faculties. The exercise of these faculties blossoms forth in the truest and purest joy. Joy of mind and of heart, rather than enjoyment of the flesh — inspires the heart with rejoicing. The song that has no minor strain is the song of purity, at peace with God and with its fellow-men. Selfish desires and selfish living build an impassable barrier between ourselves and true happiness. The poet spoke truly when he said,
Tell me not then of the pleasures that sting
Coiled under roses of pride;
None but the holy and innocent sing,
Out of a bosom where pleasures abide.
Innocence need not be a thing which we associate only with childhood. It may be mature. It may be a characteristic of middle age and of gray hair. Innocence is the result of right relations with God and with man. Right relations can exist only when a right attitude is maintained. A right attitude may be maintained only when behind it lie right desires and right purposes.
Happiness is the fruit of harmony. Harmony results from conformity to the laws of our being. The law of God revealed in the Bible, is the law of harmony. The holy are most truly happy, because they are most truly harmonious. Both their inner lives and their outer lives are harmonious. Their relations with God and with man are harmonious. The elements of strife and warfare are absent.
Happiness is not the result of where we live, or of our surroundings, or of what we possess. It is the result of what we are. No matter how favorable our situation, nor how much, nor how many things we possess that should make us happy — if we do not have within our own breast the elements that produce happiness — then we shall never be happy.
We have already noted that true happiness is associated with purity. There is nothing from which greater happiness springs than an inner consciousness of being pure before God. It is a singular thing that a great number of Christian teachers have taught that it is impossible for a Christian to live in purity before God. The unhappy effects of this doctrine, have been to rob the Christian life of many of its joys — and to make many people look upon it as an unsatisfying life, a losing battle.
It has been taught that Christians must sin continually day by day. Believing this doctrine it is no wonder that many Christians are unhappy and live far beneath their privileges. Their outlook is one of defeat, of constant shortcoming, of repeatedly enduring a sense of condemnation. Now, such teaching is assuredly not in harmony with the teachings of the Scriptures, particularly of the New Testament. The Christian life there is pictured to be a joyful life. The command is "Rejoice evermore." How can one rejoice evermore, when he is conscious of being guilty before God? Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart." If there are no such persons — then Christ's words are mockery.
What is the New Testament picture of a Christian? It is of a man or woman forgiven of their iniquities, cleansed from their guilt, walking in righteousness before God. Or, as Paul puts it, "Therefore being justified by faith — we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you. My peace I give unto you." The joyful fellowship that Paul had with Christ, manifested in all his epistles, is a thing inconsistent in its entirety with the sort of life often said to be the Christian life.
"But," one may say, "How about the seventh chapter of Romans?" I do not think Paul was very happy when his life corresponded to the seventh chapter of Romans. Paul passed out of the seventh chapter into the eighth chapter that day on the road to Damascus when Jesus appeared to him.
From that day there was a new song in Paul's heart and in his mouth. He lived a new life, the life pictured in the eighth chapter. The seventh chapter is not the picture of a Christian life. It is the picture of a man without grace trying to live up to the law of God and finding himself continually failing. It is a continuation of his argument extending from the third to the sixth chapters, of the failure of works and of the efficacy of grace. Real Christians do not live in the seventh chapter of Romans. It is not the reflection of a Christian experience.
Christians live in fellowship with God. God is their Father. They are not rebellious sons — but obedient sons. Sin is a thing of the motive and of the will. Mistakes, blunders, weaknesses, failures, and unintentional shortcomings — are not sins. To treat them as sins, is to make a vital error. The Bible does not treat them as sins. Sin is willful disobedience. It is rebellion against God, and nothing but things of this character may properly be called sins, or be treated as sins. These other things often called "sins" do not produce the effects of sin. The real Christian experience, is a walk with God. There is mutual understanding between the soul and God. There is earnest desire to please God — and an earnest endeavor to do so.
Besides being in harmonious relations with God and our fellow-men — unselfish devotion to the highest things for their own sake, is the surest way to be happy. It is the tree whose fruit is happiness. It bears "twelve manner of fruits" and always has the fragrant blossoms and the luscious fruits. The Scripture that says, "The wages of sin is death," is not a threat. It is a simple statement of an inescapable fact — now and here, as well as hereafter. Evil always has its own reward, and we begin to draw its dividends the moment we are guilty of it. It never goes bankrupt. Its dividends continue to increase as the years go by. On the other hand, the dividends of righteousness are never passed. They are always paid in golden coin.
Disobedience to our best and highest impulses, aspirations, and desires — must inevitably result in blighted hopes, an accusing conscience, regret, and a sense of failure. It is a poison injected into the cup of happiness. If we would have the song of happiness in our hearts — then we must learn that the secret of the singing heart is to be pure, to be true to the best there is in us, to be living on a plain above the mire of sin, of selfishness, and of sensual gratification.