by Brady Warren
“Do you want to be truly happy?” is the subtitle of J.C. Ryle’s treatise on Happiness. The answer for all of us to that question is a resounding yes. How can we find genuine happiness? Why is it often so elusive no matter the circumstances in our lives? Clearly and concisely, J.C. Ryle directs us to the better path. Even though he died in 1900, it’s been comforting for me to see that there is nothing new under the sun. He is writing to people that might not have the same conveniences and technologies we have today, but they still struggle in the same ways we do.
Hear what Ralph Davis has to say of Ryle: "There’s a reason we keep ‘digging up’ Ryle. His writing is always clear (A 19thcentury man who writes short sentences!), driven (He’s always going after the jugular vein of your soul), and focused (He just can’t keep his eyes off Jesus). Get a copy and let the nourishment begin—and pick up a spare to put in your guest room." Dale Ralph Davis, Pastor and Author
Ryle begins his discussion by pronouncing what happiness is NOT. It is not the absence of struggle, pain or difficulty. Because of sin in this world, this side of the grave there will be trouble. After this caveat, he delves into three essentials we must possess in order to have happiness.
- Our highest needs must be met and satisfied
“There must be nothing about us that cries, ‘Give, give’—and does so in vain, getting no answer.” We obviously have physical needs for food, clothing, and shelter. But we are not merely a body, we also possess a soul that has needs that must be met in order to be satisfied."
- We must have sources of gladness which do not depend on anything in this world.
“To be truly happy, a person must have sources of gladness which do not depend on anything in this world. There is nothing on earth which is not stamped with the mark of instability and uncertainty. All the good things which money can buy are only momentary: they either leave us, or we are obliged to leave them. All the sweetest relationships in life are liable to come to an end; death may come any day and cut them off. The person whose happiness depends entirely on things here below, is like the one who builds their house on sand, or leans their weight on a reed.”
“Do not claim to be happy if your happiness continually hangs on the uncertainties of earth. Your home may be rich in comforts; your spouse and your children may be all you could desire; your income may be amply sufficient to meet all your needs. But oh, remember, if you have nothing more than this to look to, remember that you stand on the brink of a precipice! Your rivers of pleasure may dry up any day. Your joy may be deep and earnest but it is fearfully short-lived. It has no root. It is not true happiness.”
- We must be able to look in every direction without uncomfortable feelings
This last point really got to me. If we’re honest, we all have circumstances in our past that we would like to be able to go back and change and uncertainties of the future that we wish we had control over…. Ryle states that in order for happiness to reside, we must be able to look in every direction without fearful feelings of the future or regrets from the past.
If attaining all of this seems impossible, relax. It is! Apart from Christ, there is no way we can truly be content and happy. These are wonderful guide rails that reveal to us whether or not we are looking to Christ and his word for our happiness. This is not to say that we should not ENJOY the good things we’ve been given. We just must not look to them as our ULTIMATE source of happiness.
Ryle has become a friend to me-- The one who will always tell you the truth AND points you to ultimate TRUTH. Here is a link to Happinessin its entirety. Please take a few minutes to read and be encouraged to persevere in the faith. https://www.gracegems.org/Ryle/happiness.htm
Ryle, J.C. Happiness. E.P. Books, 2018