9. THE SCRIPTURES AND
The ungodly are ever seeking after joy, but they do not find it: they busy
and weary themselves in the pursuit of it, yet all in vain. Their hearts
being turned from the Lord, they look downward for joy, where it is not;
rejecting the substance, they diligently run after the shadow, only to be
mocked by it. It is the sovereign decree of heaven that nothing can make
sinners truly happy but God in Christ; but this they will not believe, and
therefore they go from creature to creature, from one broken cistern to
another, inquiring where the best joy is to be found. Each worldly thing
which attracts them says, It is found in me; but soon it disappoints.
Nevertheless, they go on seeking it afresh today in the very thing which
deceived them yesterday. If after many trials they discover the emptiness of
one creature comfort, then they turn to another, only to verify our Lord’s
word, "Whoever drinks of this water shall thirst again" (John 4:13).
Going now to the other extreme: there are some Christians who suppose it to
be sinful to rejoice. No doubt many of our readers will be surprised to hear
this but let them be thankful they have been brought up in sunnier
surroundings, and bear with us while we labor with those less favored. Some
have been taught—largely by implication and example, rather than by plain
inculcation—that it is their duty to be gloomy. They imagine that feelings
of joy are produced by the Devil appearing as an angel of light. They
conclude that it is well-near a species of wickedness to be happy in such a
world of sin as we are in. They think it presumptuous to rejoice in the
knowledge of sins forgiven, and if they see young Christians so doing they
tell them it will not be long before they are floundering in the Slough of
Despond. To all such we tenderly urge the prayerful pondering of the
remainder of this chapter.
"Rejoice evermore" (1 Thess. 5:16). It surely cannot be unsafe to do what
God has commanded us. The Lord has placed no embargo on rejoicing. No, it is
Satan who strives to make us hang up our harps. There is no precept in
Scripture bidding us "Grieve in the Lord aways: and again I say, Grieve";
but there is an exhortation which bids us, "Rejoice in the Lord, O you
righteous: for praise is lovely for the upright" (Ps. 33:1). Reader, if you
are a real Christian (and it is high time you tested yourself by Scripture
and made sure of this point), then Christ is yours, all that is in Him is
yours. He bids you "Eat, O friends; drink, yes, drink abundantly, O beloved"
(Song of Sol. 5:1): the only sin you may commit against His banquet of love
is to stint yourself. "Let your soul delight itself in fatness"(Isa. 55:2)
is spoken not to those already in heaven but to saints still on earth. This
leads us to say that:
1. We profit from the Word when we perceive that joy is a duty. "Rejoice in
the Lord aways: and again I say, Rejoice" (Phil. 4:4). The Holy Spirit here
speaks of rejoicing as a personal, present and permanent duty for the people
of God to carry out. The Lord has not left it to our option whether we
should be glad or sad, but has made happiness an obligation. Not to rejoice
is a sin of omission. Next time you meet with a radiant Christian, do not
chide him, you dwellers in Doubting Castle, but chide yourselves; instead of
being ready to call into question the Divine spring of his mirth, judge
yourself for your doleful state.
It is not a carnal joy which we are here urging, by which we mean a joy
which comes from carnal sources. It is useless to seek joy in earthly
riches, for frequently they take to themselves wings and fly away. Some seek
their joy in the family circle, but that remains entire for only a few years
at most. No, if we are to "rejoice evermore" it must be in an object that
lasts for evermore. Nor is it a fanatical joy we have reference to. There
are some with an excitable nature who are happy only when they are half out
of their minds; but terrible is the reaction. No, it is an intelligent,
steady, heart delight in God Himself. Every attribute of God, when
contemplated by faith, will make the heart sing. Every doctrine of the
Gospel, when truly apprehended, will call forth gladness and praise.
Joy is a matter of Christian duty. Perhaps the reader is ready to exclaim,
My emotions of joy and sorrow are not under my control; I cannot help being
glad or sad as circumstances dictate. But we repeat, "Rejoice in the Lord"
is a Divine command, and to a large extent obedience to it lies in one’s own
power. I am responsible to control my emotions. True I cannot help being
sorrowful in the presence of sorrowful thoughts, but I can refuse to let my
mind dwell upon them. I can pour out my heart for relief unto the Lord, and
cast my burden upon Him. I can seek grace to meditate upon His goodness, His
promises, the glorious future awaiting me. I have to decide whether I will
go and stand in the light or hide among the shadows. Not to rejoice in the
Lord is more than a misfortune, it is a fault which needs to be confessed
2. We profit from the Word when we learn the secret of true joy. That secret
is revealed in I John 1 :3,4: Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and
with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy
may be full." When we consider the littleness of our fellowship with God,
the shallowness of it, it is not to be wondered at that so many Christians
are comparatively joyless. We sometimes sing, "Oh happy day that fixed my
choice on You, my Savior and my God! Well may this glowing heart rejoice and
tell its raptures all abroad." Yes, but if that happiness is to be
maintained there must be a continued steadfast occupation of the heart and
mind with Christ. It is only where there is much faith and consequent love
that there is much joy.
"Rejoice in the Lord aways." There is no other object in which we can
rejoice "aways." Everything else varies and is inconstant. What pleases us
today may pall on us tomorrow. But the Lord is always the same, to be
enjoyed in seasons of adversity as much as in seasons of prosperity. As an
aid to this, the very next verse says, "Let your moderation be known unto
all men. The Lord is at hand" (Phil. 4:5). Be temperate in connection with
all external things; do not be taken with them when they seem most pleasing,
nor troubled when displeasing. Do not be exalted when the world smiles upon
you, nor dejected when it scowls. Maintain a stoical indifference to outward
comforts: why be so occupied with them when the Lord Himself "is at hand"?
If persecution be violent, if temporal losses be heavy, the Lord is "a very
present help in trouble" (Ps. 46:1)—ready to support and support those who
cast themselves upon Him. He will care for you, so "be anxious for nothing"
(Phil. 4:6). Worldlings are haunted with carking cares, but the Christian
should not be.
"These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and
that your joy might be full" (John 15:11). As these precious words of Christ
are pondered by the mind and treasured in the heart, they cannot but produce
joy. A rejoicing heart comes from an increasing knowledge of and love for
the truth as it is in Jesus. "Your words were found, and I did eat them; and
your word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart" (Jer. 15:16).
Yes, it is by feeding and feasting upon the words of the Lord that the soul
is made fat, and we are made to sing and make melody in our hearts unto Him.
"Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy" (Ps.
43:4). As Spurgeon well said, "With what exultation should believers draw
near unto Christ, who is the antitype of the altar! Clearer light should
give greater intensity of desire. It was not the altar as such that the
Psalmist cared for, for he was no believer in the heathenism of ritualism:
his soul desired spiritual fellowship, fellowship with God Himself in very
deed. What are all the rites of worship unless the Lord be in them; what,
indeed, but empty shells and dry husks? Note the holy rapture with which
David regards his Lord! He is not his joy alone, but his exceeding joy; not
the fountain of joy, the giver of joy, or the maintainer of joy, but that
joy itself. The margin has it, "The gladness of my joy"; that is, the soul,
the essence, the very affections of my joy."
"Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the
vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no
food; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd
in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my
salvation" (Hab. 3:17,18). That is something of which the worldling knows
nothing; alas, that it is an experience to which so many professing
Christians are strangers! It is in God that the fount of spiritual and
everlasting joy originates; from Him it all flows forth. This was
acknowledged of old by the Church when she said, "All my springs are in you"
(Ps. 87:7). Happy the soul who has been truly taught this secret!
3. We profit from the Word when we are taught the great value of joy. Joy is
to the soul what wings are to the bird, enabling us to soar above the things
of earth. This is brought out plainly in Nehemiah 8:10: "The joy of the Lord
is your strength." The days of Nehemiah marked a turning-point in the
history of Israel. A remnant had been freed from Babylon and returned to
Palestine. The Law, long ignored by the captives, was now to be established
again as the rule of the newly-formed commonwealth. There had come a
remembrance of the many sins of the past, and tears not unnaturally mingled
with the thankfulness that they were again a nation, having a Divine worship
and a Divine Law in their midst. Their leader, knowing full well that if the
spirit of the people began to flag they could not face and conquer the
difficulties of their position, said to them: "This day is holy unto the
Lord: (this feast we are keeping is a day of devout worship; therefore,
mourn not), neither be you sorry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."
Confession of sin and mourning over the same have their place, and communion
with God cannot be maintained without them. Nevertheless, when true
repentance has been exercised, and things put right with God, we must forget
"those things which are behind" and reach forth unto "those things which are
before" (Phil. 3:13). And we can only press forward with alacrity as our
hearts are joyful. How heavy the steps of him who approaches the place where
a loved one lies cold in death! How energetic his movements as he goes forth
to meet his bride! Lamentation unfits for the battles of life. Where there
is despair there is no longer power for obedience. If there be no joy, there
can be no worship.
My dear readers, there are tasks needing to be performed, service to others
requiring to be rendered, temptations to be overcome, battles to be fought;
and we are only experimentally fitted for them as our hearts are rejoicing
in the Lord. If our souls are resting in Christ, if our hearts are filled
with a tranquil gladness, work will be easy, duties pleasant, sorrow
bearable, endurance possible. Neither contrite remembrance of past failures
nor vehement resolutions will carry us through. If the arm is to smite with
vigor, it must smite at the bidding of a light heart. Of the Savior Himself
it is recorded, "Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross,
despising the shame" (Heb. 12:2).
4. We profit from the Word when we attend to the root of joy. The spring of
joy is faith: "Now the God of hope fill you with all peace and joy in
believing" (Rom. 15:13). There is a wondrous provision in the Gospel, both
by what it takes from us and what it brings to us, to give a calm and
settled glow to the Christian’s heart. It takes away the load of guilt by
speaking peace to the stricken conscience. It removes the dread of God and
the terror of death which weighs on the soul while it is under condemnation.
It gives us God Himself as the portion of our hearts, as the object of our
communion. The Gospel works joy, because the soul is at rest in God. But
these blessings become our own only by personal appropriation. Faith must
receive them, and when it does so the heart is filled with peace and joy.
And the secret of sustained joy is to keep the channel open, to continue as
we began. It is unbelief which clogs the channel. If there be but little
heat around the bulb of the thermometer, no wonder that the mercury marks so
low a degree. If there is a weak faith, joy cannot be strong. Daily do we
need to pray for a fresh realization of the preciousness of the Gospel, a
fresh appropriation of its blessed contents; and then there will be a
renewing of our joy.
5. We profit from the Word when we are careful to maintain our joy. "Joy in
the Holy Spirit" is altogether different from a natural buoyancy of Spirit.
It is the product of the Comforter dwelling in our hearts and bodies,
revealing Christ to us, answering all our need for pardon and cleansing, and
so Setting us at peace with God; and forming Christ in us, so that He reigns
in our souls, subduing us to His control. There are no circumstances of
trial and temptation in which we may refrain from it, for the command is,
"Rejoice in the Lord aways." He who gave this command knows all about the
dark side of our lives, the sins and sorrows which beset us, the "much
tribulation" through which we must enter the kingdom of God. Natural
hilarity leaves the woes of our earthly lot out of its reckoning. It soon
relaxes in the presence of life’s hard-ships: it cannot survive the loss of
friends or health. But the joy to which we are exhorted is not limited to
any set of circumstances or type of temperament; nor does it fluctuate with
our varying moods and fortunes.
Nature may assert itself in the subjects of it, as even Jesus wept at the
grave of Lazarus. Nevertheless, they can exclaim with Paul, "As sorrowful,
yet aways rejoicing" (2 Cor. 6:10). The Christian may be loaded with heavy
responsibilities, his life may have a series of reverses, his plans may be
thwarted and his hopes blighted, the grave may close over the loved ones who
gave his earthly life its cheer and sweetness, and yet, under all his
disappointments and sorrows, his Lord still bids him "Rejoice." Behold the
apostles in Philippi’s prison, in the innermost dungeon, with feet fast in
the stocks, and backs bleeding and smarting from the terrible scourging they
had received. How were they occupied? In grumbling and growling? in asking
what they had done to deserve such treatment? No! At midnight Paul and Silas
prayed and sang praises unto God" (Acts 16:25). There was no sin in their
lives, they were walking obediently, and so the Holy Spirit was free to take
of the things of Christ, and show them unto their hearts, so that they were
filled to overflowing. If we are to maintain our joy, we must keep from
grieving the Holy Spirit.
When Christ is supreme in the heart, joy fills it. When He is Lord of every
desire, the Source of every motive, the Subjugator of every lust, then will
joy fill the heart and praise ascend from the lips. The possession of this
involves taking up the cross every hour of the day; God has so ordered it
that we cannot have the one without the other. Self-sacrifice, the cutting
off of a right hand, the plucking out of a right eye, are the avenues
through which the Spirit enters the soul, bringing with Him the joys of
God’s approving smile and the assurance of His love and abiding presence.
Much also depends upon the spirit in which we enter the world each day. If
we expect people to pet and pamper us, disappointment will make us fretful.
If we desire our pride to be ministered to, we are dejected when it is not.
The secret of happiness is forgetting self and seeking to minister to the
happiness of others. "It is more blessed to give than to receive," so it is
a happier thing to minister to others than to be ministered to.
6. We profit from the Word when we are sedulous in avoiding the hindrances
to joy. Why is it that so many Christians have so little joy? Are they not
all born children of the light and of the day? This term "light," which is
so often used in Scripture to describe to us the nature of God, our
relations to Him and our future destiny, is most suggestive of joy and
gladness. What other thing in nature is as beneficent and beautiful as the
light? "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). It is
only as we walk with God, in the light, that the heart can truly be joyous.
It is the deliberate allowing of things which mar our fellowship with Him
that chills and darkens our souls. It is the indulgence of the flesh, the
fraternizing with the world, the entering of forbidden paths which blight
our spiritual lives and make us cheerless.
David had to cry, "Restore unto me the joy of your salvation" (Ps. 51:12).
He had grown lax and self-indulgent. Temptation presented itself and he had
no power to resist. He yielded, and one sin led to another. He was a
backslider, out of touch with God. Unconfessed sin lay heavy on his
conscience. Oh my brethren and sisters, if we are to be kept from such a
fall, if we are not to lose our joy, then self must be denied, the
affections and lusts of the flesh crucified. We must ever be on our watch
against temptation. We must spend much time upon our knees. We must drink
frequently from the Fountain of living waters. We must be out-and-out for
7. We profit from the Word when we diligently preserve the balance between
sorrow and joy. If the Christian faith has a marked adaptation to produce
joy, it has an almost equal design and tendency to produce sorrow—a sorrow
that is solemn, manly, noble. "As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (2 Cor.
6:10) is the rule of the Christian’s life. If faith casts its light upon our
condition, our nature, our sins, sadness must be one of the effects. There
is nothing more contemptible in itself, and there is no surer mark of a
superficial character and trivial round of occupation, than unshaded
gladness, that rests on no deep foundations of quiet, patient grief—grief
because I know what I am and what I ought to be; grief because I look out on
the world and see hell’s fire burning at the back of mirth and laughter, and
know what it is that men are hurrying to.
He who is anointed with the oil of gladness above His fellows (Ps. 45:7) was
also "the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" And both of these
characters are (in measure) repeated in the operations of His Gospel upon
every heart that really receives it. And if, on the one hand, by the fears
it removes from us and the hopes it breathes into us, and the fellowship
into which it introduces us, we are anointed with the oil of gladness; on
the other hand, by the sense of our own vileness which it teaches us, by the
conflict between the flesh and the Spirit, there is infused a sadness which
finds expression in "O wretched man that I am!" (Rom. 7:24). These two are
not contradictory but complementary. The Lamb must be eaten with "bitter
herbs" (Ex. 12:8).