There are things in God that make Him the saint’s happiness and chief good. First, He is the saint’s happiness, because of His perfection and all-sufficiency. That which makes man happy must not have any want or weakness in it. It must be able to protect him against all evil and provide him with all good. The injuries of nature must be resisted and the shortcomings of nature must be supplied. This Sun of righteousness—like the great luminary of the world when it rises above the horizon—clears the air of mists and fogs and cheers the inhabitants with His light and heat. According to the degree of our enjoyment of Him, such is the degree of our happiness, or such is the degree of our freedom from evil and fruition of good.
Those who enjoy God perfectly in heaven know no evil. They are above all storms and tempests. They enjoy all good. “In his presence is fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:11). They have a perpetual spring and a constant summer, never understanding what an autumn or winter means. The Christian, who enjoys God but imperfectly on earth, enjoys the same privileges but in part. His life is a mixture of day and night, light and darkness, good and evil. Evil cannot hurt him, but it may frighten him. He may taste the chief good, but his full meal is reserved until he enters his Father’s house.
God is able to free a man from all evil
The Greeks refer to a happy man as one who is not subject to death and misery. That which is man’s happiness must be able, by its power, to protect him against all such perils. Creatures cannot provide this help and, therefore, they cannot be our happiness. The man who trusts in second causes is like the one who, climbing to the top of a tree, sets his feet on rotten branches that will certainly break under his weight. Again, he is like the passenger who, in stormy weather, runs to some tottering outhouse that falls down on his head. However, God is the almighty guard.
The schoolmen tell us that the reason why Adam did not feel any cold in his state of innocence, even though he was naked, was his communion with God. God is the saint’s shield to protect his body from all blows (Gen. 15:1). Therefore, He is compared in Scripture, to those things and persons that shelter men in storms and defend men in dangers. At times, He is compared to a wall of fire, protecting travelers from wild beasts in the wilderness (Zech. 2:5). At times, He is compared to a wide river of water, defending a city against its enemies (Isa. 33:21). A good sentinel is very helpful for keeping a garrison safe. Therefore, God is said to watch and guard, “I the Lord do keep it…Lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day” (Isa. 27:3). Although others are liable to nod and sleep when on guard, thereby giving the enemy an advantage, “He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps. 121:4). He is so far from sleeping that He never slumbers. Some naturalists tell us that lions are insomniacs, possibly because their eyelids are too narrow for their eyes, and so they sleep with their eyes partly open. However, it is most true of the Lion of the tribe of Judah—He wakes, so that His people may sleep in safety. He is compared to a refuge: “Thou art my refuge and my portion” (Ps. 142:5). This is a metaphor for a fortress or castle, to which soldiers retreat for safety when beaten back by an overpowering enemy. Moreover, He is called “the Lord of hosts” (or, the general of His people), because, like a faithful commander, He is the first to enter, and the last to leave, the battlefield. God looks danger in the face before His people, and He makes certain they are safely out of the battlefield before He departs, “The Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your reward” (Isa. 52:12).
Travelers tell us that, from the top of the Alps, they can see great showers of rain below them while not one drop falls on them. Those who have God for their portion are in a high tower and, therefore, they are safe from all troubles and showers. Not all the garments in this world can keep those, who travel in downpours, from being soaked to the skin. No creature is able to bear the weight of its fellow-creature. The creature is like a reed that breaks under the slightest weight. Again, the creature is like a thorn that pricks those who lean upon it. The bow drawn beyond its capacity breaks apart, and the string wound above its strength snaps in pieces. Such are all outward helps to those who trust in them in the midst of hardships.
However, Christians, anchored on the Rock of Ages, are secure in the greatest storm. They are like Zion, which cannot be moved. “In time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion; In the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; He shall set me upon a rock” (Ps. 27:5). God’s sanctuary is His hiding place (Ezek. 7:22), and His saints are His hidden ones (Ps. 83:3). He hides them in His sanctuary from whatever may hurt them. For this reason, when it is stormy, He calls His children to come indoors out of the rain: “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee; Hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast” (Isa. 26:20).
The Christian, therefore, is encouraged in the face of evil, because God is his guard. He knows that, while he has this shield, he is bulletproof. “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shall thou trust” (Ps. 91:4). As the hen secures her young from the hawk and other ravenous birds by sheltering them under her wings, so God undertakes to protect His people. Through His strength, they can triumph over trials, and defy the greatest dangers. “At destruction and famine thou shalt laugh” (Job 5:22). They can also triumph over the greatest crosses, because they are more than conquerors through Him (Rom. 8:37).
God is able to fill a man with all good
That which beautifies the rational creature must remove whatever is destructive and restore whatever is perfective. Weak nature must be supported, and empty nature must be supplied. Now, the whole creation cannot be man’s happiness, because it is unable to defend him from evil and unable to delight him with good. The comfort that arises from creatures is like the juice of some plums—it fills with wind, but yields no nourishment. He who sits at the world’s table, when it is largely spread and fairly furnished, and feeds most heartily upon its delights, is like the one who dreams he eats yet is hungry when he awakes. The best noise of earthly musicians makes but an empty sound; it may please the senses a little, but it cannot satisfy the soul in the least. The world has little to offer and, therefore, produces but little cheer. Like a sick and queasy stomach, the very thing we desired so earnestly immediately sickens us. It was for this reason that those, who esteemed their happiness to consist in pleasing their brutish part, vehemently desired new carnal delights. Nero had an officer, who was called, “an inventor of new pleasures.” Suetonius observes the same of Tiberius, as does Cicero of Xerxes. These men, like children, quickly grew tired of that for which they were previously so desirous. The moralist (Seneca) gives us the reason for this: error is infinite. The thirst of nature may be satisfied, but the thirst of a disease cannot. The happiness of the soul consists in the enjoyment of that good which is commensurate to its desires. No creature, not all the creatures, is that good!
However, God is man’s happiness, because He can satisfy him. The Hebrews describe a blessed man in the plural number, “blessednesses” (Ps. 32:1), because no man can be blessed with a single good, unless he abound in all good.
The soul of man is a vessel too large to be filled up with a few drops of water. However, God, who is an ocean, can fill it. Whatever is required to perfect deficient nature is found in God. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Ps. 23:1). Where all wealth abounds, there can be no want. “My God shall supply all your need” (Phil. 4:19). One God answers all needs, because one God includes all excellencies. He is a comprehensive good; in Him are all the treasures of heaven and earth, and infinitely more. “God of all comforts” is His name (2 Cor. 1:3). As all light is in the sun, so all comfort (or, all good) is in God. God is an ocean of all delights and blessings, without bank or bottom. He is the epitome of inconceivably more and incomparably better than all this world’s delights.
“The God of hope fill you with all joy” (Rom. 15:13). (1) Here is joy. It is the cream of our desires and the overflowing of our delights. It is the sweet tranquility of our minds, the quiet repose of our hearts. As the sun to the flowers, it enlarges and cheers our affections. Joy is the target that everyone desires to hit. The philosopher well observed that joy is the dilation of the heart for its embracing of, closing with, and union to, its most beloved object. (2) Here is all joy. Variety adds to its luster and beauty. The Christian sits at a banquet made up of all sorts of rare and precious wines, and all manner of dainties and delicacies. He may walk in this garden, and delight himself with diversity of pleasant fruits and flowers. All joy! One kind of delight, like Mary’s box of ointment (John 12:3), being opened, fills the whole house with its savor. If that is so, then what will all sorts of precious perfumes and fragrant ointments do? (3) Here, is filling with all joy. Plenty of what is so exceedingly pleasant must necessarily enhance its price. There is not a crevice in the heart of a Christian into which this light does not enter. It is able to fill him (even if he were a far larger vessel than he is) up to the brim with this wine. The joy, arising from the creature, is an empty joy, but this is a satiating and satisfying joy: “Fill you with all joy” (Rom. 15:13). (4) He is God, who gives all joy. On what root does such a variety of luscious fruit grow? It does not spring out of the earth. Its fountain is in heaven: “The God of hope fill you with all joy” (Rom. 15:13). The vessel of the creature is full of dregs. It can never produce such choice delights. This pure river of the water of life proceeds only from the throne of God (Rev. 22:1).
George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and the Flourishing of Faith