Jacob and I started reading The Saint’s Happiness by Richard Sibbes when we got home from our honeymoon. I was afraid it would be a Puritan tome in archaic English. I was dead wrong. The Saint’s Happiness was a quick read, the English wasn’t so old, and the content was pure gold. I even read it again after we finished.
Considering the book’s title in isolation makes it sound much like a self-help book, a guide to the happiness you desire. You could take it as such, I suppose, but Sibbes knows that God is our only help and the only one who makes the way for happiness. Any happiness is only found in knowing God and being near him.
Sibbes uses Psalm 73 as an outline for his book. The psalm begins with a record of all the ways the psalmists sees the wicked around him succeeding. He contrasts that to his own difficulties and is puzzled. Why do the unrighteous prevail while he struggles though he is obedient to God? Why do the wicked prosper when they are not walking in ways that are pleasing to God? The psalmist determines their end (destruction) after he goes into the Lord’s sanctuary and meditates on the character of God.
Sibbes does not leave us without application, for those in his time and ours. He lists nine practical ways one can draw near to God. I have summarized them here in a very self-helpy looking list.
- Work to be familiar with the spiritual means of hearing the Word and receiving the sacraments
- Converse with others who draw near to God
- Pray privately and corporately
- Be on guard against sin; sever its head at its first rising
- Be obedient in doing good works for the Lord
- Meditate on the ways God has always dealt with his people
- Be humble and continually remember your unworthiness to approach God apart from Jesus Christ
- Strive to be sincere in your actions and resolve to please God in whatever you do
- Give diligent heed to the Spirit who “knocks for entrance into the heart”
My self-helpy synthesis looks like a catalog of tasks to check off. The look of this list is where the self-help resemblance ends. These actions are the ongoing marks of believers who desire and have deep communion with God. They are happy saints because they have drawn near to God and depend on him for everything.