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