Jonathan Edwards and the practical benefits of maximizing our pleasure in God1
Countless Christians motivate themselves to obey the call of Christ with the constant reminder of the dreadful consequences of failure or the shameful humiliation of “getting caught” in sin. It is more the terrifying prospect of public exposure than the allure of heavenly joy that accounts for how they live.
Others have embraced the truth that the only way to liberate the heart from servitude to the passing pleasure of sin is by cultivating a passion for the joy and delight of beholding the beauty of Jesus. They have discovered that what elevates the human soul and empowers it to live in the fullness of its created purpose is not religious intimidation or new rules or an anxiety induced by spiritual scoldings. It is faith in the promise that the enjoyment sin brings is fleeting and futile but at God's right hand, and in the presence of his radiant glory, are pleasures evermore (Psalm 16:11).
No one saw this more clearly or articulated it with greater passion than Jonathan Edwards. Here is what he said in Miscellany 724 (volume 18 of the Yale works):
“A being terrified with fears of wrath and seeing the dismal consequences of sin has in itself no tendency to wean the heart from sin: for true weanedness from sin doesn’t consist in being afraid of the mischief that will follow from sin, but in hating sin itself, and doesn’t arise from a sight of the dreadful consequences of sin, but from a sight of the odiousness of sin in its own nature. . . . For a man to meet with many worldly losses and disappointments has in itself no tendency to true weanedness from the world, because true weanedness from the world doesn’t consist in being beat off from the world by the affliction of it, but a being drawn off by the sight of something better” (emphasis mine).
Ah, there it is! Power over sin comes primarily from “being drawn off by the sight of something better.” Simply put, the only ultimate and long-lasting method for overcoming sin in the human soul is by maximizing our pleasure in God!