I mentioned in another post that I am reading the New Testament with John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes as a devotional exercise (and also out of curiosity to see what they actually say, since they are listed as part of our doctrinal standards). There have been some surprises so far, but the main thing I want to mention in the context of this post is a striking comment Wesley makes at the very beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:1-2 the translation Wesley uses reads, “And seeing the multitudes, he went up into the mountain: and when he was sat down his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them…” Here is Wesley comment on the phrase “and taught them”:
To bless men, to make men happy, was the great business for which our Lord came into the world. And accordingly He here pronounces eight blessings together, annexing them to so many steps in Christianity. Knowing that happiness is our common aim, and that an innate instinct continually urges us to the pursuit of it, He in the kindest manner applies to that instinct, and directs it to its proper object.
Though all men desire, yet few attain, happiness, because they seek it where it is not to be found. Our Lord therefore begins His divine institution, which is the complete art of happiness, by laying down, before all that have ears to hear, the true, and only true, method of acquiring it.
Observe the benevolent condescension of our Lord. He seems, as it were, to lay aside His supreme authority as our Legislator, that He may the better act the part of our friend and Saviour. Instead of using the lofty style, in positive commands, He, in a more gentle and engaging way, insinuates His will and our duty, by pronouncing those happy who comply with it.”
There is so much here that could prompt a discussion, but I want to focus on what first caught my attention. Wesley seems to be articulating a framework or a lens through which to read the Sermon on the Mount. He seems to be arguing that Jesus gives the Beatitudes in order to map out for us the way to happiness. I think this is very interesting, because this is so relevant to today. Many people are seeking happiness. Yet, on the other hand, few people, it seems to me, view the Sermon on the Mount as good news in their search for happiness. Wesley invites us to read the words of Christ in Scripture as a model and a guide to finding happiness. What is your reaction to this? When you read or hear the Sermon on the Mount, is your reaction that this is good news that leads us to happiness, or is it a reaction of feeling guilty because it points to so much that you fail to do or don’t even want to do?
Wesley writes, “Though all men desire, yet few attain, happiness, because they seek it where it is not to be found.” Where are you looking for happiness? Are you finding it there?