Fullness of Joy, Pleasures Forever

Dr. Brian Allison

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is one of the greatest theologians whom the Christian Church has ever known. He had a massive intellect, and I would venture to say that his heart was as equally deep. When he was a young lad, he had a very strong affection for the Lord. He was spiritually precocious. He eventually became indifferent to spiritual matters and fell away. In the course of time, as a young man, he rediscovered God or, better, God found him. He has recorded in his writings the event that brought about this renewal or revival of heart, by which he beheld the reality and majesty of God, resulting in the fires of passion to well up within him for the Lord. That was the experiential foundation for his subsequent spiritual development; but it happened in an instant. As he was meditating on a Scripture verse, God broke in upon his heart and revealed His awesome glory. Edwards was forever changed.

I am again reminded that the experience of God's presence is the expression of God's grace. It is God Who comes to us at His appointed time and He makes Himself known and deeply felt. The following account is Edwards record of his extraordinary experience, "The first instance, that I remember, of that sort of inward, sweet delight in God and divine things, that I have lived much in since, was on reading those words, 1 Tim. i:17. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen. As I read the words, there came into my soul, and was as it were diffused through it, a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from any thing I ever experienced before. Never any words of Scripture seemed to me as these words did. I thought with myself, how excellent a Being that was, and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God, and be rapt up to him in heaven; and be as it were swallowed up in him forever! I kept saying, and as it were singing, over these words of Scripture to myself; and went to pray to God that I might enjoy him; and prayed in a manner quite different from what I used to do, with a new sort of affection." Something radical happened in a moment of time in the soul of Jonathan Edwards. He experienced the glory of God, that is, God revealed Himself. As we think about this particular experience, I believe that Psalm 16:11 captures the very essence of that to which Edwards refers. It reads, "Thou wilt make known to me the path of life; in Thy presence is fulness of joy; in Thy right hand there are pleasures forever."

Derek Kidner, in commenting on this verse, remarks, "This verse is unsurpassed for the beauty of the prospect it opens up, in words of the utmost simplicity." What he is saying is that this verse stands alone in terms of what it teaches and what it offers to us, the people of God. The truth of this verse is a special gem among all the spiritual jewelry of God – the glory of communion with God. Now, as you consider Psalm 16 as a whole, you will realize that it has an underlying theme or motif: the psalmist's devotion to the living God. For instance, in verse 2, the psalmist pens, "I said to the LORD, 'Thou art my Lord; I have no good besides Thee;'" and verses 4 and 5, "The sorrows of those who have bartered for another god will be multiplied; I shall not pour out their libations of blood, nor shall I take their names upon my lips. The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; Thou dost support my lot;" again verse 8, "I have set the LORD continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken." Finally, the Psalm moves to a glorious crescendo in verse 11: "Thou wilt make known to me the path of life; in Thy presence is fulness of joy; in Thy right hand, there are pleasures forever." Verse 11 teaches the wonder of knowing and experiencing God. The Puritans described it as experimental religion. This verse has not only prophetic value (see Acts 2:28), but also personal value, that is, the psalmist here reveals the blessedness of being in fellowship with God; he herein describes the nature and beauty of this spiritual communion.

God guides His people

The psalmist first reveals that God guides into the experience of true life – "Thou wilt make known to me the path of life." The psalmist uses vivid imagery. He pictures God as the Guide and he himself as the pilgrim or traveler. The road to be traveled is the road of life. Indeed, as you study the Scriptures, you discover that our spiritual growth is likened to a journey. We are moving toward the celestial city. That is the allegory which Pilgrim's Progress captures isn't it? The man Christian leaves the City of Destruction and ventures to the Heavenly City. Proverbs 4:18 reads, "But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day. The way of the wicked is like darkness; they do not know over what they stumble."

God, as the divine Guide, reveals the way to go; He Himself makes known the path. He gives the light, He gives the understanding; He gives the direction; and what is implied is that we, at the best of times, may be in darkness. We, at the best of times, are very ignorant concerning what is occurring in our lives and how our lives should be managed and what we should be actually doing. Left to ourselves, we do not know what is good for us. Our hearts are often deceived and misled. Only God is the sure Guide; therefore, you should commit your ways to Him. Do not lean on your own understanding. The psalmist was confident that God would indeed guide him. He was assured of God's faithfulness. Similarly with you, God will not let you go astray, if you belong to Him. He will not let you aimlessly wander (at least not for too long). He knows exactly where He wants you to go and how you will get there.

Now, though we may be assured of God's faithful guidance, we ought not to forget that we have a personal responsibility to humbly trust in our Guide, to submit to His leading. There is no divine guidance for us unless we do that. In our self-confidence, in our self-assurance, in our self-reliance, we forfeit His sure direction; we are lost. To be without God's guidance is like being dropped in the middle of a formerly unvisited large metropolitan city, like Bucharest, blind-folded.

God guides His people into true life

God specifically guides His people along the path of life. The better translation of the verse is: "Thou wilt make known to me the path to [not 'of'] life." Notice, two paths are contrasted in this Psalm. There is the path that leads to death and there is the path that leads to life. Psalm 16:10 reads, in contrast to verse 11, "For Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Sheol [that is, to the grave, to death]; neither wilt Thou allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay [that is, corruption, in the grave or in the state of death];" and verse 11, "Thou wilt make known to me the path of life." Proverbs 15:24 reads, "The path of life leads upward for the wise, that he might keep away from Sheol [below]."

Everyone is on a path. Everyone is either on the path to life or on the path to death. If you are a sinner outside of the realm of Christ, if you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ in a personal, saving way, then you are on the path to death. No matter what is happening in your life, no matter how pleasant it seems to be or what kind of fulfilment you are now enjoying, without Christ you are on the path to death. It is a broad path, with a wide gate, and it leads to destruction and hell; and there are many who are on that path (see Matt 7:13). For narrow is the path and small is the gate that leads to life; and only a few find it (see Matt 7:14). Do you understand? My non-Christian friend, I offer life to you. There is life with a look, through faith, at the crucified Christ. He is crucified for you, if you will have Him. Christ died for you, if you will have Him. Won't you come?

So, this path of life moves upward to Zion, that is, the place of God's special abode. It is a path towards divine life; life which not only involves a resurrection and eternal life, but also involves spiritual life and fellowship with God. This path leads to the fulness of divine life in its manifold dimensions, the heart of which is the very presence of God; and so the psalmist continues, "In Thy presence is fullness of joy, in Thy right hand there are pleasures forever."

True life entails fulness of joy

As the psalmist opens up the reality of what true or divine life entails, the first emphasis is on God Himself, and the second emphasis is on God's gifts and His blessings. First, true or divine life entails the enjoyment of the very presence of God. This life in God's presence should be the experience and the goal of every true believer. The experience of God's presence communicates inexhaustible and indescribable joy. The original Hebrew is better translated: "In Thy presence is fulness of joys." Now, what is joy? Joy is that positive, uplifting disposition of heart. It is the 'laughter of the soul'. It is the experience of gladness, as opposed to sadness.

Now this term 'fulness' is a rather interesting one. The term may be translated 'satiety' – having an appetite or a hunger fully satisfied. So, self-evidently, the experience of 'fulness' implies an appetite or a hungering that required satisfaction. Thus, Psalm 78:25 reads, "Man did eat the bread of angels; He sent them food in abundance [same term]." Proverbs 13:25 reads, "The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite [same term], but the stomach of the wicked is in want." We had some friends over for a meal recently. My wife made a special meal. After the meal, one of our guests affirmed, "I have had enough. And it was very good." This term 'fulness' involves these two ideas: 1) sufficiency; and 2) satisfaction (admittedly, one may have a sufficiency, but not be satisfied). There is a quantity aspect, as well as a quality aspect, in this notion of 'fulness'.

So, the backdrop of the experience offered in Psalm 16:11 is a deep appetite or hungering for God and spiritual reality. It is self-evident that only the experience of God's own presence provides the quantity and the quality of joy which fully satisfies the deepest spiritual hungerings of the human heart. Ultimate joy (and I think that this is where some go astray) is not found in the Christian disciplines (e.g., fasting, studying or meditating on the Bible, etc.), though these disciplines may bring some joy. These disciplines are simply means to the joy. Further, this ultimate joy is not found in Christian duties either; for instant, in giving financially to the cause of Christ. You may be a cheerful giver, and really experience joy in your giving, or in doing something beneficial for someone else, but that is not the joy. Further, this ultimate joy is not even found in doing Christian service. You may experience joy in showing mercy or in teaching. I personally experience much joy in teaching and preaching. It is my passion. Even this joy is a means of bringing us to the greater joy. What I am saying is this: it is only the personal presence of God that completely satiates the soul

God's presence does not simply lead to, and provide for, joy; it is the joy. Psalm 43:4 reads, "Then I will go to the altar of God [the place of worship], to God my exceeding joy; and upon the lyre I shall praise Thee, O God, my God." It is only in His presence that we know this kind of fulness. Again, Psalm 21:6, reads, "For Thou dost make him most blessed [privileged, favoured] forever. Thou dost make him joyful with gladness in Thy presence." You will find this kind of joy no where else except in God's presence. You will find satisfaction in the world; you will find satisfaction in your employment; you will find satisfaction in your hobby; you will find satisfaction in traveling; you will find satisfaction in your reading, but you will not find this kind of satisfaction, this joy that is infinite and eternal, apart from the presence of God. If you are experiencing the presence of God, you know what this joy is because you cannot be in His presence without also experiencing it. It is impossible. If you do not know this joy, may I suggest to you that you do not know His personal presence.

God has to break into our hearts and manifest His glory, and yet we have the responsibility to seek Him with our whole heart; we have to call upon Him and pray to Him, trusting in His mercy and grace to bring us into His presence in order that we might behold His glory. God looks at the sincerity of the heart.

True life entails pleasures forever

Secondly, true or divine life entails the enjoyment of God's gifts and blessings. It is enjoying the everlasting pleasures which He provides according to His power – "In [or at] Thy right hand there are pleasures forever." Do you see the connection? Being in the joy of His presence, you will enjoy the delights of His gifts. In experiencing the Blesser, you will partake of His blessings. These 'pleasures' are that which are pleasant to the soul, even as honey is to the physical taste. The Song of Songs, the sensual account of romantic pleasure reads, for example, "How handsome you are, my beloved, and so pleasant [same term]!" (1:16). This term pleasure (in the original Hebrew) implies the idea of sweetness. Thus, Psalm 81:2, reads, "Raise a song, strike the timbrel, the sweet [same term] sounding lyre with the harp." So, God is pleased to offer delectable blessings of sweetness to the hungering soul.

The concept of the 'right hand' (where the 'pleasures' are to be found) suggests two ideas. The first idea is that of power. The notion of 'right-hand' conveys strength or authority in the Scriptures. God has the power to give these pleasures, and because God Himself gives these pleasures, they are without end.

The second idea is that of privilege. The Scriptures teach that to be at someone's right-hand is to occupy a position of favour. It is a place of honour. So, God favours His true worshippers, and displays His power for their good.

These pleasures culminate in worship

Now, what is interesting is that the notion of 'pleasure' in the Psalms is particularly identified with the acts of worship. So, Psalm 135:3 reads, "Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; sing praises to His name for it is lovely [same term as 'pleasure'];" again Psalm 147:1, "Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God. For it is pleasant [same term] and praise is becoming." Do you see what the point is? The believer, who in the very presence of God is experiencing that satiating joy, finds his greatest delight or pleasure in worshipping God.

We are not considering physical pleasure here. We are not considering psychological hedonism – that which promotes and maximizes pleasurable feelings or decreases or minimizes painful ones. This concept of spiritual pleasure, and our enjoying and seeking of the same, is defined in terms of worship. As a Christian, your greatest delight should be in worshipping God through Jesus Christ. That is what brings ultimate fulfilment. What I am saying is this: for the child of God who has been brought into the very presence of God, there is absolutely nothing that is more delightful, more pleasurable, more satisfying, than praising the name of the Lord. We are to taste and see that the Lord is good. There is absolutely nothing sweeter than that.