BROOKSVILLE — Matthew Everhard's latest book, A Theology of Joy: Jonathan Edwards and Eternal Happiness in the Holy Trinity, recently was published by JESociety Press. The work is a revision of the doctoral dissertation Everhard completed in 2016 on a topic dear to the senior pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
"I was going through what I call an existential crisis in my life," Everhard said. "I was loving my ministry. I love the Lord, my wife and my family, so I had plenty of love in my life, but I was getting so stressed. The burden of the job was kind of killing me, and I realized I was lacking joy. Stress was eating it all up."
Having read much that was written by the Puritan pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards that seemed to have an underlying theme of joy, Everhard used those works, along with Scripture, to complete his doctorate at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. He was about five years into his ministry at Faith Church when he began the 2 ½ year project.
"I had several years to just meditate on the concept of joy and happiness, which in itself has a therapeutic value," Everhard said. "If you're constantly studying joy, thinking about joy and writing about joy, what it is and what it's not, it has a way of focusing your own thoughts and sharpening its goal, because it gave me a really noble thing to muse on for those years of writing."
Everhard said he still has stress in his life and always will, but he now understands the root of happiness and its profundity, thanks to Edwards.
"Edwards would say that every human being wants to be happy. We're built with a desire to quest after happiness," Everhard said. "The problem is that most of us end up pursuing it in all the wrong things. Edwards would say, 'No, the Holy Spirit brings a greater sense of joy into your life when you focus on Christ and his work for us, and the joys of heaven, which are real, lasting joys that don't fade away like the things of this world.'"
Everhard wanted to share his discoveries with others, so he put the study into book form for lay people, elders and pastors. The 233 pages include examples and evidences from the Bible as well as some comparisons of thoughts by earlier theologians, Augustine of Hippo [354-430] and John Calvin [1509-1564].
But the majority of the book is dedicated to the thoughts of Edwards.
There is more to Edwards than his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, said Everhard.
"It's a great sermon, but it should be read in tandem with his sermon called Heaven is a World of Love. As powerfully as Edwards preaches on hell, so powerfully he also preaches on heaven. If people would read both sermons, they would understand the Puritans, and Edwards in particular, in a completely different way."
Ultimately, the pastor wants readers to know the joy Edwards found in the Trinity.
"He would say that the Father greatly delights in his Son and the Son rejoices in the Father and the Holy Spirit is the mutual joy and love between the two persons, which is so powerful that he has life in and of himself," Everhard explained. "So, we are truly living our design as mankind when we see that God is the source of all true joy."