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Out of the Reach

Jonathan Edwards, the famous theologian and philosopher, was fired by his congregation in July 1750.

Before being fired, a ten-church council investigated him. Some on the council tried to slow the process and provide time for reconciliation, but the majority pushed for immediate dismissal. When his congregation was asked to express its opinion, only 23 of the 230 male members expressed support for Edwards. The opposition was overwhelming. Edwards lost his job and his reputation.

And yet Edwards remained calm. Even his farewell sermon was pointed and yet gracious.

A witness at the time recorded in his diary, “I never saw the least symptoms of displeasure in his countenance the whole week, but he appeared like a man of God, whose happiness was out of the reach of his enemies, and whose treasure was not only a future but a present good, overbalancing all imaginable ills of life, even to the astonishment of many, who could not be at rest without his dismission.”

He appeared like a man of God, whose happiness was out of the reach of his enemies.

Happiness on the Lower Shelves

I could chew on that phrase “whose happiness was out of the reach of his enemies” for a long time.

I tend to keep my happiness near the bottom shelf where anyone can get it. My happiness seems to be threatened by nasty emails, long lineups, too many rainy days, and even the red-winged blackbird down the road that dive-bombs people’s heads.

On a good day, I walk closely with the Lord. On a bad day, I get cranky if I have too many Zoom calls in a row.

I’ve been chatting with friends, and it seems like I’m not alone. Nothing’s that bad, but we’re all a little edgier than normal. We could all learn a little about moving our happiness out of the reach of enemies and irritants.

In All Situations, Content

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content,” wrote Paul to the Philippians 4:11-12. “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” Paul kept his happiness out of the reach of his circumstances.

How did Paul do this? Charles Simeon helps explain: “The Apostle had within himself that which was abundantly sufficient for him, even though he should be reduced to the utmost possible state of destitution, so far as related to the things of this life. He was possessed of all that man could desire: he had God as his Father, Christ as his Saviour, the Holy Spirit as his Comforter, and heaven as his home. What could he want more? What could he desire, that could add to this? or what could he lose, that could detract from this? This which he had within him was altogether out of the reach of men or devils.”

There’s that phrase again: “out of the reach.”

Every believer has what Edwards and the Apostle Paul had. God’s given us everything we could want, and none of it can be taken away.

We just have to learn this, as Paul said he did. If Edwards could handle being fired, and Paul could handle prison and poverty, maybe we can learn too. I’m not there yet, but by God’s grace, I hope to live with my happiness out of the reach of all that threatens it.