Vital Godliness: A Treatise on
Experimental and Practical Piety

By William S. Plumer


Joy is delight at something esteemed good in possession or in prospect. It is one of the most powerful affections of the mind, and under the various names of satisfaction, cheerfulness, gladness, mirth, triumph, exultation, and rejoicing—enters in various degrees into the experience of mankind. Accordingly there are different words in the original Scriptures, as in our English text, signifying different degrees of joy. The Scriptures draw a wide distinction between lawful and unlawful joy. This should always be maintained. The hypocrite, no less than the true servant of God—the stony-ground hearers, no less than those who received the word into good and honest hearts—had joy. This was very different in the two classes, but real in both.

Unlawful joys are such as are not warranted by God's word or providence; such as spring from false hope; such as have their basis in our wicked feelings; or such as have some iniquity as their motivating cause. They always prove men depraved, and always make men worse.

Lawful joys are of various kinds, some of which are common to mankind in all ages, such as the joy of mothers in beholding their smiling infants, the joy of the farmer in harvest time, the joy of full health and vigor, inclining us to leap and run. There are also lawful joys in the exercise of our intellects, in solving difficulties, in achieving mental triumphs, in finding out hidden causes and dark sayings. True friendship has its joys. The soul, enlightened, comforted, transported- by the power of God's Spirit, has great joy. It cannot be otherwise. The joy which we have in things temporal is inferior to that in things eternal. Things of sense cannot give such enjoyment as spiritual delights. It would be a calamity if anything on earth was equal to the joys above.

One of the oldest and most mischievous slanders against true religion, is that it is unfriendly to enjoyment. Some admit that it makes ample provision for future blessedness, but contend that in this life it makes no proper return for the sinful pleasures which it prohibits. This objection assumes many shapes, and is urged with various degrees of zeal and subtlety. More men feel its power than are ready to confess it. Particular answers may properly be given to particular forms of it. But some general remarks meet the objection in its leading principles.

1. Suppose it were a fact that God's people lose all joy on earth, and in this life have only sorrow and mortification, but a sure hope of being eternally saved; who is the truly wise person—the man that weeps for a day and rejoices forever, or the man who is merry for a day and mourns forever? No wise man doubts what answer should be given to that question. It is better to endure even a great evil for a moment, than to have a comparatively small evil inflicted for a long time. It is agreeable to reason that great enjoyments are not to be sought if they will be followed by long-continued evils. To burn down a house to avoid the chilliness of a night, to take a powerful narcotic to relieve a slight pain, cannot be justified at the bar of reason. Can any temporal evil compare with everlasting sorrow? Can any earthly good compare with an eternity of bliss? What is an hour of joy, compared to ages of woe? What is a day of weeping, compared to ages of bliss? Even if in this life, piety gave nothing in lieu of what it takes away, and yet secured eternal life, it would be the height of wisdom to fear God and keep his commandments.

2. It is a suspicious circumstance that this objection is never made by the people of God, but only by those who know nothing about our joys. No enemy of God has any experience by which he could possibly be qualified to judge whether the exercises of piety are conducive to enjoyment. What does an unconverted man know of faith, penitence, hope, peace, or the comfort of love? No more than a blind man knows of the colors of a rainbow; no more than the dead man knows of the joyousness of life. The unrepenting sinner knows nothing of the beauties of holiness; nothing of joy in the Holy Spirit, nothing of the attractions of Christ. To all such, our Savior is as a root out of a dry ground. To them his name has no music, nor is it as ointment poured forth. They are in darkness. They are blind. To those who cannot see, one painting has as few attractions as another. What do the deaf know of harmony? To them thunder and the flute, the roar of the lion and the song of the nightingale are the same.

Here is a miser. His joy is in heaping up gold, counting it over, increasing it, and beholding it with his eyes. A very sordid joy this is, but still it is a joy. Next door to him lives the man who loves to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, help the needy, and make the widow's heart to sing for joy. See his eagerness and alacrity in doing good. His face beams with pleasure as he makes others glad. His dreams are of deeds of mercy. He does not rest well, unless he has done his best to make men happy, wise, and good. Then he sleeps as if he had nothing else to do. Is that miser a fit man to sit in judgment on this philanthropist? Can he weigh his deeds in the scale of sober truth, and compute the sum of all the joy! that spring from a life of love? No more can a sinner calculate what joys a saint may have.

3. The joys of the Christian consist of things invisible to the eye, and unappreciable by any natural man. "The secret of the Lord is with those who fear him, and he will show them his covenant." Communion with God is wholly secret. Even one Christian, knows nothing of the richest blessings which descend upon his brother. The child of God says,

In secret silence of the mind,
My heaven, and there my God I find.

Not so the wicked. When they have much joy, they kindle bonfires, they fire cannons, they get up processions, and march about with music. They mingle in the dance with the sound of music. How can he whose mirth finds scope in noise and revelry, be a judge of him whose joys make him love communion with God, and lead him to "be still?" Will mankind never learn the truth, that true piety does not expose her secret joys to unconverted men? Cecil says, "The joy of true religion is an exorcist to the mind; it expels the demons of carnal mirth and madness." All Christians may adopt the language of one of the ancients "We change our joys, but do not lose real delights." Carnal men can never understand that saying of Augustine, "How sweet it is to be rid of your sinful sweets."

4. Moreover the joys of God's people are sober things. Even Seneca said, "True joy is a serene and sober emotion; and they are miserably deceived, who think that laughter is true joy." All our best joys are somewhat sober. The purer and greater they are, the more will they partake of seriousness. The farmer who sees his abundant harvests secured; the merchant whose risks in honorable trade have returned him many fold; the father whose child surpasses all his fond expectations; the teacher whose pupil is winning golden opinions from his generation—all have joys, but they are not to be expressed by laughter. Never does a noble father feel less like noisy merriment than when for the first time he hears the strains of a commanding eloquence poured forth from the lips of his darling son. So the joys of the saints are sober things. They are more: they are solemn; they are the joys of the Lord. They spring from forgiveness of sins, from peace with God, from glorious views of the great and awesome God, from fellowship with the Father and the Son, through the Holy Spirit.

5. In true and great joy, there is a calmness and stillness which men of the world do not understand. A little drop of joy in a human mind will agitate it. But when the fullness of divine comforts is poured upon the heart, it is quiet. It sits, admires, adores, walks softly, and is afraid of losing its hold on God. Reverence abounds in proportion to its joys. If a little joy makes one giddy, much will make him quiet; it may even overwhelm him. For joy, the disciples at first believed not the resurrection of Christ.

6. Besides, the joy of a wicked man is either in sin, or in God's changing creatures. But the joy of the pious is chiefly in things the most pure, permanent, and powerful. So that they "rejoice evermore;" they even "rejoice in tribulation." If they have beyond most, a keen sense and a sad experience of the ills of life, they have also a sovereign antidote. To them, as to others, affliction is not joyous, but grievous; nevertheless God reigns, Jesus lives, the covenant is ordered in all things and sure, and floods break forth to them in a dry and thirsty land where no water is, and thus they are made glad. It was not the floggings, nor the chains, nor the innermost prison, nor midnight darkness, nor the cruelty of the Philippian jailer—which made Paul and Silas sing praises unto God. These were all evils, and some of them very great grievances, but they could not drown the joys these holy men had in God through the hope of glory, and by the power of the eternal Spirit. When the Sun of righteousness arises in the soul with healing in his wings, midnight becomes noon, prisons are transformed into palaces, and the small 'rills of sorrow' are transmuted into 'rivers of delight'. Did the martyrs die like they were miserable? Do real Christians weep and howl like the wicked when in trouble?

7. Add to this that all of us, even wicked men have seen cases where joy expressed itself by tears. It is often so when one returns home after long absence or great perils. It is often so when enmities are buried, and a reconciliation is effected between old friends who had been sundered by strife and feuds. Why should it not be so when reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ is effected? Those tears of penitence which are shed by the child of God at the foot of the cross, are so sweet that he would gladly weep them always. His gratitude often melts him down. Is thankfulness in its highest exercises painful to the virtuous mind? God's people may weep much, without proving them unhappy.

8. It is also true that the pious often weep over the wicked who are deriding them as miserable. They mourn to see men rushing headlong to ruin. For twenty years that pious, delicate, refined lady has wept for the sins and follies of her son, father, or husband. Tears have been her food day and night, while he for whom they are shed seems more than ever bent on wickedness. She knows that unless he is speedily and thoroughly converted, she must soon bid him an eternal farewell. In God she is happy; by grace she is upheld. But rivers of water run down her eyes as she sees him sell himself to do evil. Long has she hoped for a change in his character; but hope deferred makes her heart sick. Her spirit almost dies within her. She weeps in secret places. He sees her in tears—and charges all her sadness to religion. Yet his vileness and impenitence are the cause of the sorrows he sees. Were all men seeking the Lord and walking in his ways, the righteous would not have half the griefs that now afflict them. Is it fair, is it just—by wickedness to cause the godly to grieve, and then to accuse their piety as the cause of their sadness?

9. God's people have also cause of grief in their own hearts. They are but partially sanctified. They have a world of sorrow—not with their personal holiness, but with their lack of more entire conformity to God. It is not the new man, but the old man; not the image of Christ, but the body of death—which casts them down.

10. Finally, "out of the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established." The witnesses in any matter must be both competent and credible. In the matter before us, God's people are capable of giving testimony. They have tried a life of sin, and found it vanity. They have tasted and seen that the Lord is gracious. They know both sides by experience—and are able to calculate the truth. And they are credible witnesses. What do these people say? Without a dissenting voice in any age or country, they declare that "the ways of wisdom are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace;" that they choose "to suffer affliction with the people of God, rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;" that Christ is a good Master, and his service is freedom and joy. They all sing, "Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they will be still praising you." The Bible is full of such testimonies. God would never command his people to "rejoice evermore," if they had no cause for joy.

Uninspired writers of all classes of God's people speak the same language with those who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. Scripture and Christian experience alike declare that "True religion is joyful."

Robert Haldane says, "The Christian should speak nothing boastingly so far as concerns himself, but he has no reason to conceal his sense of his high destination as a son of God and an heir of glory. In this he ought to exult, in this he ought to glory, and in obedience to his Lord's command, to rejoice because his name is written in heaven. The hope of eternal salvation through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ cannot but produce joy; for as there can be no true joy without such a hope, so it carries with it the very essence of joy."

Matthew Henry said, "A life spent in the service of God and communion with him, is the most comfortable and pleasant life that anyone can live in this world." His distinguished sister Mrs. Savage, dying, said, "I here leave the testimony of my experience, that Christ's yoke is easy, and his burden light."

In his commentary on the Galatians, Luther says, "Where Christ is truly seen, there must needs be full and perfect joy in the Lord, with peace of conscience."

Joseph Alleine said to his wife, "I live a luxurious life; but it is upon spiritual dainties, such as the world knows not and tastes not of."

John Newton says, "I am sure the real Christian, who has peace with God and in his own conscience, has both the best title to joy and the best disposition for it."

Evans says, "It is the habitual and fixed judgment of every sincere Christian's mind, that Christ and his benefits are more to be rejoiced in, than all worldly good."

Barrow says, "It is a scandalous misrepresentation, vulgarly admitted, concerning piety, that it is altogether sullen and sour, requiring a dull, lumpish, morose kind of life, barring all delight, all mirth, all good-humor. Whereas, on the contrary, it alone is the never-failing source of true, pure, steady joy, such as is deep-rooted in the heart, immovably founded in the reason of things, permanent like the immortal spirit wherein it dwells and like the eternal objects whereon it is fixed—which is not apt to fade or cloy, and is not subject to any impressions apt to corrupt or impair it."

It is a very noticeable fact, that true piety promotes joyfulness just in proportion as it is fervent, constant, and full of devout meditation.

Horne having finished his commentary on the Psalms, and calling to mind the sweet thoughts he had had of God, says, "And now, could the author flatter himself that anyone would have half the pleasure in reading this exposition, which he has received in writing it, he would not fear the loss of his labor. This employment has detached me from the bustle and hurry of life, the din of politics, and the noise of folly. Vanity and vexation flew away for a season; worry and disquietude came not near my dwelling. I arose fresh as the morning to my task; the silence of the night invited me to pursue it; and I can truly say that food and rest were not preferred before it. Every psalm improved infinitely upon my acquaintance with it, and no one gave me uneasiness but the last—for then I grieved that my work was done. Happier hours than those which I have been spent in these meditations on the songs of Zion, I never expect to see in this world. Very pleasantly did they pass, and moved smoothly and swiftly along; for when thus engaged, I lost track of time. They are gone, but have left a relish and a fragrance upon my mind, and the remembrance of them is sweet." In his commentary on the Romans, Chalmers quotes the above as "an actual specimen of heaven upon earth as enjoyed for a season of devotional contemplation on the word of God."

When such sentiments are rehearsed in the audience of God's people, they win their hearty and unanimous approbation. Are not all these witnesses to be believed? Who knows the truth, if they do not? Why do they thus agree, if they speak not the truth? What motive have they for giving false testimony? All these views are heightened by a just comparison of the joys of the wicked and of the righteous, so far as they are different. The righteous are not cut off from lawful delights even here. And the joys of all the wicked are strongly mixed with pains. "Many sorrows shall be to the wicked," says God. And although for a long time the enemies of God may seem joyful, may have great outward prosperity, may be very skillful in concealing their wounds—yet it is still true that "the wicked have many sorrows." Their consciences are ill at ease. This is true of all God's enemies. In the checks and clamors and forebodings of the monitor within (the conscience), are found present sorrows and infallible tokens of coming wrath. A man would be better off, to quarrel with a lion, than with his conscience and his God.

The righteous have peace with God, and their consciences are purged from dead works. The wicked are sources of sorrow to each other. There are many aspirants for every post of honor, many rivals for preeminence in every profession, and many haughty despisers of the unfortunate and unsuccessful. Both in this life and the next, the wicked often torment each other. The righteous have pleasure in each other. No amount of worldly success can ever satisfy the lusts of ungodly men. Their ambition, pride, covetousness, revenge, and envy burn the more vehemently—the more they are gratified. To indulge them is to give them fresh power. They kindle a terrible, tormenting flame in every bosom, which is never extinguished but by the grace of God. "In all worldly joys, there is a secret wound."

But sin has lost its dominion over God's people. The truth has made them free. The Son of God has wrought their deliverance. The very truths of religion, which gladden the hearts of believers, are sources of sorrow to the wicked. It is pleasing to the righteous, but dismal to the wicked, that this life will soon be over. It rejoices the humble, but afflicts the haughty, to know that God resists the proud and will surely abase them. The resurrection of the dead and the final judgment—two events quite essential to the completeness of Christian joy—are among the most gloomy of all topics of reflection to the wicked. The Lord reigns! says God's word—and the righteous shouts for joy; while the wicked say, "If that be so, my doom is sealed, and my damnation certain!" The wicked are not secured, but plagued by the covenant, promises, and perfections of God. Is God almighty? then he can destroy them. Is he righteous? then he will mark iniquity. Is he kind? they have provoked his displeasure by despising his mercy. Is he faithful and true? his threatenings will as certainly be executed as his promises.

The wicked are in reality, against themselves. They are self-destroyers. They hate life, and refuse good. They wound their own souls. They fasten their own chains upon themselves. They will forever do what many of them often do here; that is, curse their own folly.

And all nature is against them. The stars in their courses fight against them. Yes, "the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it." The fowls of the mountain, the beasts of the field, the serpents in the wall, and all the elements are ready at any moment to break out against the wicked, whenever God shall give them permission.

And their best joys are so short-lived. "As the crackling of thorns under a pot—so is the laughter of the fool." Eccl. 7:6. "The time is short. It remains that both those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who rejoice as though they rejoiced not." 1 Cor. 7:29, 30.

And the end of their joys is sorrow, and the end of their sorrow is wailing and howling! So that always, in all worlds, "Their grapevines come from the vineyards of Sodom and from the fields of Gomorrah. Their grapes are poisonous, and their clusters are bitter. Their wine is snake venom, the deadly poison of cobras."

The joys of the righteous, on the other hand, are pure. They never cloy the appetite. They are beneficial, and do good as a medicine. They last. They outlast the sun. When the joy of the saints begins to be absolutely perfect—the joy of sinners ends forever.

"See their short course of vain delight
 Closing in everlasting night."

O the impenetrable gloom of despair! O that night which will have no morning!

The objects of Christian joy are clearly set forth in Scripture. The chief of these is GOD HIMSELF. So says David, "I will go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy." Psalm 43:3. Paul says, "And not only so, but we rejoice in God." Rom. 5:11. Again, "Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, rejoice." Phil. 4:4. Isaiah says, "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels." Isa. 61:10. In Psalm 5:11, we read, "But all who find safety in you will rejoice; they can always sing for joy. Protect those who love you; because of you they are truly happy." So also in many other places we are exhorted and commanded to rejoice in the Lord.

Above all, God is most fit to be an object of unfailing joy, because he is God—infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in all conceivable perfections. The fullness that is in him meets all our needs. The pious delight in God; so that prayer, which would otherwise be a task, and praise, which would otherwise be a mockery—are refreshing to the soul as it cries, "Abba, Father," and "Hallelujah!"

In like manner all the duties of the Christian life become pleasant by our joy in God. Our Rock is perfect. In him is no darkness at all. Jesus is an ocean of love—an infinitude of matchless loveliness! "He is altogether lovely. This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend." When he speaks peace, none can give trouble. When he makes glad, none can give sorrow. The mind of the child of God has no more fears that the resources which are in God will ever fail—than the mariner has that the sea will go dry. There is none like him, none before him, none with him, none to be compared to him, none besides him.

Our Lord JESUS CHRIST is a special object of joy. "Whom, having not seen, you love; in whom, though now you see him not, yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory." 1 Pet. 1:8. None like him gives "the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." Isa. 61:3. This joy, of which Christ is the object, is founded upon his person, his design in coming into the world, the perfection of his obedience, the completeness of his sufferings, the excellence of his teachings, the virtue of his blood-shedding, the immaculateness and spotlessness of his righteousness, the glory of his intercession, the perpetuity of his kingdom, the blessed provisions of the covenant of which he is the surety, the justification, adoption, sanctification, peace with God, access to the mercy-seat, communion with the Father, growth in grace, and final victory accomplished through our blessed Savior. Truly "this is life eternal, to know God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent." "Christ was set for a light to the Gentiles, that he should be for salvation to the ends of the earth." Acts 13:47.

Would you avail yourself of all the fullness and fatness that are here? "Consider the apostle and high-priest of your profession, Christ Jesus." Set your faith steadfastly in him. Say with Peter, "We believe and are sure that you are that Christ, the Son of the living God." John 6:9. Your joy in Christ will ever be proportioned to your faith in him. Christ is never truly revealed to the soul of a believer, but he is made more or less joyful in him. It is so in the first dawn of a good hope; it is so in fuller manifestations of his glory; it is so in the day when Christ leads the soul into his banqueting-house, and his banner over it is love. Then its language is, "Strengthen me with raisins and refresh me with apples because I am weak from love."

In like manner the HOLY SPIRIT is an object of joy. So Paul declares that "the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit." Rom. 14:17. Joy in the Holy Spirit may chiefly signify joy by the power and grace of the Spirit. No man has joy worth having without the Spirit; and no man has the Spirit—who holds Him in contempt. The Spirit gives holy delight in holy things.

Christians also rejoice in God's PROVIDENCE. "The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of the isles be glad thereof."

They also delight in the WORSHIP of God, and cry, "How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty." In the people of God, his church, they also rejoice, saying, "If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget how to play the lyre. Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I don't remember you, if I don't consider Jerusalem my highest joy." Psalm 137:5, 6.

In his WORD too they have great joy. David said, "Your testimonies are the rejoicing of my heart." "How sweet are your words to my taste; yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth." Psalm 119:103. So God's people rejoice in all that pertains to God, all that is pleasing to him, all that makes them like him.

If these views be correct, then it follows that,

1. The knowledge of divine things is very necessary to the existence and completion of a true Christian character. Charnock says, "Who can delight in God, who has no sense of the goodness of his nature, and the happiness of fruition? Who can delight in his ways who does not understand him as good and beneficent in his precepts—as he is sweet and bountiful in his promises? If we did truly know him, we would be as easily drawn to rejoice in him, as by ignorance we are induced to run from him. Such charms would be transmitted to our hearts as would constrain a joy in them in spite of all other delights in perishing pleasures. Knowledge of God is a necessary preface to spiritual joy in him. 'My meditation of him shall be sweet; I will be glad in the Lord.' What pleasure can a man, ignorant of God's nature and delightful perfections, and who represents him through some mistaken gloss which imprints unworthy notions of God in his mind—what pleasure can such a man take in approaching to God, or what greater freedom can he have in coming to him—than a malefactor in being brought before a judge?"

Let the knowledge of God therefore dwell in you richly in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. If you would be more joyful, know more of divine things. "Acquaint yourself with God, and be at peace." "Search the Scriptures."

2. Our joy need not be feeble and sickly, but provision is made that it may be abundant. Even when sorrowful, we may be always rejoicing. 2 Cor. 6:10. Men may persecute and defame us; but this is our rejoicing, the testimony of our consciences. 2 Cor. 1:12. We may be exceedingly glad in the duties of religion, and find it good to draw near to God. If kept from uniting with his people in public worship, God himself can be to us—a little sanctuary. When the springs of earthly comfort go dry, then to the believer "the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land shall become springs of water." Isa. 35:7. When we are denied the things of the world, we may rejoice in the assurance of a better and more enduring substance. When everything looks dark and discouraging for the interests of religion, then we may rejoice in knowing that Jesus Christ loves the church better than we do, and that she is engraved on the palms of his hands.

Our joy may go so far as to make us glory in tribulation. It can keep us from regretting that we have undertaken the service of Christ; so that the more we are tried, the more it will be manifest that we cleave to him with full purpose of heart; and though we may be weary in his service, we are not weary of his service.

3. True holy joy is one of the most operative of all the gifts of the Spirit. Nothing but spiritual joy, will more certainly or thoroughly arouse men to do their utmost for the cause of God. Paul testifies of the church of Macedonia, that "in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality." 2 Cor. 8:2. Yes, he declares that their joy made them willing to do more than it was in their power to do. This holy joy is the animating principle of true obedience. Thus "So David, the leaders of Israel, and the army's commanders joyfully went to get the ark of the ark of the covenant." 1 Chron. 15:25. Thus in the days of Ezra, holy men "kept the dedication of the house of God with joy." Ezra 6:16. So says Isaiah, "The meek shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel." Isa. 29:19.

Indeed the human mind is so constituted as to be easily and powerfully moved by all the kinds of pleasing affections—of which none is more powerful than joy. And so we uniformly find men to be happy whose lives are given up to labor for the good of others. Their holy delight in deeds of mercy leads them to lives of self-denial, and this exercise of their loving dispositions strengthens them. Among the many thousands of letters I have received, many have been from missionaries in frontier settlements and in heathen lands; and although some of them have detailed painful scenes, yet I do not remember one that was in a despondent mood. So wherever you find one animated by the spirit of Howard or of Elizabeth Fry, you invariably find them of a happy temper. Their converts were to the apostles a joy and a crown. Paul says to some, "Now we live, if you stand fast." Even stripes and prisons and chains could not repress the ardor of holy men of old. They were not sent to war at their own expense. God was with them.

4. This subject explains to us how the people of God are brought to bear so well the losses, sorrows, bereavements, and disappointments of life. "Joy never feasts so high—as when the first course is of misery." The highest joy to the Christian, almost always comes through suffering. "No flower can bloom in paradise which is not transplanted from Gethsemane. No one can taste of the fruit of the tree of life, who has not tasted of the fruits of the tree of Calvary." God's people know this. If tears are their food day and night, their sadness drives them to God, and with joy they draw water out of the wells of salvation. Isa. 12:3. The crops may fail, but the covenant stands sure. We and all nature may change, but God is the same. To those who put their trust in him, he is without intermission—their Father, Friend, God, Redeemer, Savior, Comforter, Portion, and eternal All; and so he will continue forever! He who has God for his God, ought not to be cast down because the world casts him out. He who has such joys, ought not to be humbly begging the world for its favor, nor seeking a slice from the sugared-loaf of ungodly men. He who cares not for eternal things, may busy himself to be in fashion in this perishing world; but when the joy of the Lord is our strength, we ought not to grieve at little things. Thus says the Lord, "Give strength to hands that are tired and to knees that tremble with weakness. Tell everyone who is discouraged, "Be strong and don't be afraid! God is coming to your rescue, coming to punish your enemies." Isa. 35:3, 4.

In all the righteous is more or less fulfilled the prophecy: "A highway will be there, a roadway. It will be called the Way of Holiness. Sinners won't travel on it. It will be for those who walk on it. Godless fools won't wander onto it. Lions won't be there. Wild animals won't go on it. They won't be found there. But the people reclaimed by the Lord will walk on it. The people ransomed by the Lord will return. They will come to Zion singing with joy. Everlasting happiness will be on their heads as a crown. They will be glad and joyful. They will have no sorrow or grief." (Isaiah 35:8-10)

Nor are the godly glad for no reason. There are no comforts, no cordials, no delights—like those which God gives to his well-beloved. To the blind world all pious joys may seem like fanaticism; but the human mind is never more sound, its operations are never more safe—than when in holy triumph, the people of God take joyfully the confiscation of their property, or are filled with ecstasy at the suffering of reproach for the name of Christ. The hosannas and hallelujahs of the house of God on earth are as seasonable and as reasonable—as those of heavenly glory. It is an apostolic direction, "Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise." We have apostolic example also for singing praises to God in the most trying circumstances. Paul says, "Therefore we do not give up; even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen; for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

It has long since been determined in the church, that it is better to suffer for Christ, if he will give strength and joy—than to live in ease and quiet. The hotter the battle—the more renowned the victory. The harder the labor—the sweeter the rest. The darker the night—the more joyous the morning.

5. It is wise to be pious—to be strictly, earnestly, scripturally pious. All the doctrines of Christianity are true, safe for man, honorable to God. All the duties of true religion are reasonable and ennobling. Christ is no hard Master; he requires nothing degrading. In the progress of his battles, Napoleon Bonaparte judged it necessary to divorce the wife of his youth. In accomplishing this object he required her son to lie, and publicly declare his approval of the divorce—while all the time his heart was burning with rage at the atrocity perpetrated against his mother. Here was real degradation.

Jesus Christ has sometimes called his people to die for him, but he never asked one of his servants to do a contemptible thing, a thing which made him gnaw his tongue for resentment, and yet to profess that all was necessary. No! He imposes no duties but those which will elevate our character forever.

The eternal realities opened before the truly pious, are no less pleasing than their duties. It is not denied that there are conflicts and sharp sorrows in the service of God; but even these end in the greater joys. An old writer says, "Give me a man who, after many secret stings and hard conflicts in his bosom, upon a serious penitence and sense of reconciliation with his God, has attained to a quiet heart and is walking humbly and closely with God; I shall bless and emulate him as a subject of true joy; for spiritually there never is a perfect calm—but after a tempest. Set me at full variance with myself, that I may be at peace with you, O God." Nothing but a true and powerful pious principle could have made Paul, in the depths of his sufferings, say, "I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation." 2 Cor. 7:4.

6. It is the duty of all God's people so to live that they may enjoy piety. Much has been done for them; they ought to make much of it. Many and great things have been granted them; many and great thanks should be rendered by them.

Unless our religion makes us to some extent joyful, it quite fails of its object. From this remark we should except cases of deep melancholy. Poor Cowper exclaimed, "Could I be translated to Paradise, unless I could leave my body behind me, my melancholy would cleave to me there." Although tempests, earthquakes, and shattered nerves are not under the absolute control of either reason or religion, yet blessed be God that he has spoken many kind things to the timid, the feeble-minded, and the sorrowing; so that if disease allows the mind any fair play, the pious have at least seasons of sunshine.

Jesus Christ said that his teachings were designed to make his people happy. "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full." Again, "These things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves." John 15 11; 17:3. John says the same: "These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full." 1 John 1:4. So that if we have no pious enjoyment, it is either because we have no religion or but little religion, or because we are sadly afflicted and diseased. True piety is as sure to have joy—as it is to have penitence and faith.

"The fruit of the Spirit is joy." Gal. 5:22. "They who sow in tears, shall," sooner or later, "reap in joy." Psalm 126:5. Satan may tempt, providences may look dark, friends may grow cold, faith may be weak, disease may enfeeble and for a time bury the mind in a cloud, but whenever reason re-ascends the throne and grace resumes her sway, there will be joy. Christians, labor to be happy. Strive to commend your religion by being well "anointed with the oil of gladness."

7. This subject specially invites our attention to heavenly things. God's people have real satisfaction here on earth—but in his immediate "presence is fullness of joy; at his right hand are pleasures for evermore." Psalm 16:11. "We know that if the earthly tent we live in is torn down, we have a building in heaven that comes from God, an eternal house not built by human hands. For in this one we sigh, since we long to put on our heavenly dwelling." (2 Corinthians 5:1-2). And so "when desire comes, it is a tree of life." Proverbs 13:12. In that blessed heavenly world—sin, temptation, sorrow, sickness, and death have no place. Faith is swallowed up in sight, and hope in enjoyment. Ignorance gives place to perfect knowledge. In this present world, the soul had long said of God, "Whom have I in heaven but you? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides you." There it sees his full glories revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, and is satisfied to all eternity in the visions of uncreated splendors.

One of the ancients said, "Praise the sweetness of honey as much as you can—he who has never tasted it cannot truly understand the sweetness." The same is true of holy joys on earth, and much more of the perfect joys of heaven. Of the latter God gives his people a foretaste in the comforts of the Holy Spirit. It is true they are but as a few clusters from the vintage of Canaan, but they are enough to whet our appetite for the abundant and unmingled blessings of eternity. Leighton says, "When we shall receive that rich and pure and abiding inheritance, and when time itself shall cease to be—then there shall be no more reckoning of our joys by days and hours—but they shall run parallel with eternity. Then all our love, that is now parceled out upon the vanities among which we are here, shall be united and gathered into one and fixed upon God, and the soul shall be filled with the delight of his presence!"

One of Bunyan's dying sayings was, "Oh, who is able to conceive the inexpressible and inconceivable joys that are in heaven? None but those who have tasted of them. Lord, help us to put such a value upon them here, that in order to prepare ourselves for them, we may be willing to forego the loss of all deluding pleasures here." Another saying of his was, "If you would better understand what heavenly glory is, my request is that you would live holily—and go and see." Hall says, "My soul, while it is thus clogged and confined, is too narrow to conceive of those incomprehensible and spiritual delights which you, O God, have provided for your chosen ones who triumph with you in heaven. Oh teach me then to wonder at that which I cannot attain to now know, and to long for that happiness which I there hope to enjoy with you forever!"

Meikle thus contrasts the present and the future life—"In this present life, I may have at times a good measure of health; but in eternity, I shall have always perpetual vigor! In this life I may have some tainted pleasures; but in eternity, I shall always have pure delights and holy raptures! In this life I may have at times a few friends for a few days—but in eternity, I shall have my friends with me forever! In this life I may have some acres of ground; but in eternity, I shall have always an unbounded inheritance in the heavenly Canaan. Here, I may have fine clothing of silk; there I will have robes of righteousness and garments of glory! Here I may have a beautiful house; there I will have a house not made with hands! Here I may have bread to eat and water to drink; there I will have the hidden manna and the river of life! Here I may have a portion of the good things of time; there I will have the glorious treasures of eternity! As to spiritual things, in this life I may have some communications of grace; but in eternity, I shall have eternal glory! Here I have freedom from the reign of sin; there I will have deliverance from the presence of sin! Here I have glances of heaven by faith; there I will have immediate vision of glory! Here I have God in his ordinances; there I will have uninterrupted communion with him! Here I have some experience of his love; there I will have all the transports of eternal assurance and everlasting bliss! Here I have access to the throne of grace; there I will have continuous attendance at the throne of glory! Here I often sin against God; there I shall never offend his holy heart! Here I go mourning without the sun; there my sun shall go down no more!"

Whatever evil you have here—you shall have the opposite good in heaven. Whatever good thing you have here—you shall have the same in perfection, or something far better, at God's right hand. To go to heaven is to "enter into the joy of your Lord." "In Your presence there is fullness of joy! At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore!" Psalm 16:11