by James W. Alexander
In looking at little children—those delightful objects to which Christ has condescended to direct our eyes—we cannot fail to be struck with their joys, and to contrast them with the pleasures of after years. In their rollicks there is the ebullition of a gladness, that is unsought, sincere, and heartfelt. Very different are the mirth and excitement of more mature life. After the natural elasticity of youth is gone, men try every mode of artificial stimulation. But with all their endeavors, there are dregs at the bottom of their most foaming cup. Their best excitements are the short-lived flame of some light, transitory material.
May not the appeal be made to every reader? As you go on in life, you find, disguise it as you may, that the susceptibility for high pleasures is abated. You discover yourself to be grave, when all around you are in laughter. You are ready to judge austerely of the hilarity of youth, and to wonder how they can be so enchanted with a bubble, when, truly, your own bubble is only larger and heavier and duller. Now and then you pause before some scene or object, which, twenty years ago, set all your pulses in motion; you are reluctant to confess it—but all within you is dead. In vain do you endeavor to reproduce the romance of your childhood; to rekindle the fire among your embers; to restore the faded colors on the canvas. Your eye fastens itself on the long procession of departing youthful joys, growing smaller and dimmer in the distant perspective.
The truth is, earthly joys are every day diminishing, and the susceptibility of pleasurable excitement from earthly causes grows less and less, with the decay of natural sensibility. This would be a melancholy truth, if we had no resource but terrestrial things, and no world but this. But thanks be to God, there are susceptibilities which do not grow old, and capacities which increase with exercise. And while earthly excitements lose their power, those which are heavenly grow stronger and stronger. Hence, an old age without true religion involves the loss of both worlds.
There is no class of words more abundant in the Scriptures than those which express the varieties of joy. And this affords a new proof of God's infinite benevolence, that he has made it our religion to be happy. In calling us to leave the world—he is only calling us to heaven. In exhorting us to believe, and hope, and love—he only summons us to that harmony of the powers, which tends to their most blissful exercise. And hence, in the tender and affecting discourses which Jesus held with his disciples after the the last supper, he principally speaks of the Indwelling Comforter, as the Author of their promised happiness. Having promised them peace, his own peace, he goes on to promise them joy, even his own joy. "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full."
We may consider, first, the beginnings of this joy, in those who are effectually called; secondly, and as our chief topic, the progress of joy, in the habitual walk of God's people; thirdly, in few words, the power of joy to overcome earthly troubles; and, finally, the unspeakable blessing of joy on the bed of death. And, as we proceed, it should be our prayer, that even careless and worldly readers may be led to see that there is here a pearl of great price, for joy whereof, a man might well sell all that he has, to make the purchase; which may God grant!
"Joy is a delight of the mind, from the consideration of the present or assured approaching possession of a good." Pious joy is the same delight of the mind, as caused by pious good. It is a fruit of the Spirit, and is, therefore, called joy in the Holy Spirit. It is the subject of our meditations for a little time.
I. Early Joydemands our attention. There is a joy which is altogether new, at the time of conversion. "We rejoice in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we receive the atonement." The degree of this heavenly gift varies exceedingly, with diversities of character and dispensation; but where God gives faith and hope, he usually gives a degree of joy. You, who now peruse these pages, call to mind that day of rejoicing, when God gave you the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. It was emerging from the troubled delirious dream of a long illness. Doubtless there are those also who can remember great joys, seasons of exultation, when the day broke, and the dayspring arose in their hearts. Let us not doubt or condemn those whose experience does not altogether tally with this, or make that a test of piety which Christ has not made such; but let us, nevertheless, be thankful, that God does communicate these tokens of favor.
And let those who seek God's face, and desire the light of his countenance, look forward to this, as a blessing which is not too great to be asked. These tranquil pleasures cannot be fully represented by earthly emblems, not even by the calmest spring day, or the most glassy seas. There are many concurring sources of this joy.
There is, for example, the exulting transport of escape. Shall the rescued mariner exult when he stands dripping upon his rock among the fragments of a shipwreck? And shall not the rescued sinner rejoice, when God has freely pardoned all his sins? There is joy in safety. There is joy in feeling for the first time in life that one is in his true orbit, moving in his right direction, and with powers engaged agreeably to their intent and creation. There is joy in opening the eyes on new heavens and a new earth; in joining the band of new companions; feeling the pressure of their ardent hand; catching the enthusiasm of fellowship, and wandering onward in paths strewed with mercies, and overshadowed with graces, and clustered over with fruits of benignant love. There was joy in the outburst of gratitude, and joy even in the tears with which you bedewed the sacred feet of Him who raised you in his arms, and freely forgave you all. But, having now touched on the beginning of joys, I reserve for another head of remark, those manifestations which are common to both.
II. Joy in Progressis next to be considered. It would be a great blessing, even if it ceased—but it goes along with the believer. Its source is perennial. It is the joy of Christ. It is his joy which "remains in them." The spiritual Israel have all drunk of that Spiritual Rock, which follows them, and that rock is Christ. It is a part of that communion in grace, which the members of the invisible church have with Christ, partaking of the virtue of his mediation; first in their renewal, and then in these blessings which manifest their union with him. Thus united, they have communicated to them, even in their life, the first-fruits of glory with Christ, as they are members of him their head, and so they have an interest in that glory which he is fully possessed of. As a pledge of this, they have some measure of joy.
Hence, when we hear of conversions at Antioch, we read, "And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit." Acts 13:52. The difficulty here is to keep within bounds. Through the tender mercy of our God, the sources of religious joy are almost as numerous as the parts of religion itself. Among such a wilderness of delights, we must be brief, and must classify a little. The joys, then, of the believer, may be arranged in a threefold division. For they may be those which come home at once and directly to his own private happiness—or they may be those which he receives through the happiness of others—or they may be those which come from his new-born interest in the glory of God; exulting in God, and in the accomplishment of his will.
1. The joy of a Christian heart is sometimes thejoy of knowledge. To the stupid uninquiring mind, this seems strange—yet even to the natural intellect the acquisition of light brings ecstasy. Hence the enthusiasm and self-martyrdom of scholars and discoverers. Do you think any sensual pleasure ever equalled that of Archimedes, when he hung over the theorem from which only death could tear him; or of Franklin when he touched the pendant key, and gave the spark which opened a new world to science? Who can picture the transport of early philosophers, or inquiring Jews, when they first welcomed the great Christian revelations? The truths which are common-place to us, were to them the very lights of heaven.
There is sweetness in the acquisition of knowledge, especially of spiritual knowledge. God's word is sweeter than honey and the honeycomb. With a meager revelation, compared with ours, David could sing—"I have rejoiced in the way of your testimonies, as much as in all riches;" and "I rejoice in your word, as one that finds great spoil;" and "your testimonies have I taken as a heritage for ever—for they are the rejoicing of my heart." This will be yet more apparent, when it is considered, that in the magnificent and glorious character of God, the believer has an object of knowledge, which infinitely surpasses all others, and is indeed all-comprehensive. The prayer of every saint will be that of Moses—"I beseech you, show me your glory!" We must include in this, the serene enjoyment which is experienced in the contemplation of the Divine Excellence, when intellectual acts are lost in the devout vision of Him whom angels worship. Here are pleasures which have in them nothing selfish, and which may even leave far behind all respect whatever to our own personal interest. God himself is the happiness, the joy, the life of his people. "This is eternal life, to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."
2. Thus we are imperceptibly led to thejoy of communion. The bond of connection is Christ. Through him we have access to the Father. He is continually approachable at the mercy-seat. Faith beholds him, devotion cleaves to him, love enjoys him. The disciple can rejoice that God is a reconciled Father, and that nothing can separate from his love. After union by the covenant, each separate attribute becomes a source of delight; and he rejoices in the very being of Jehovah; that he is, and such as he is. "The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice!" And when there is added to this, the unparalleled exhibition of divinity, in the plan of grace, and the blending of all God's perfections at the cross, nothing further need be added. God himself, I say, is the joy of saints. They "rejoice in the Lord," and "glory in the Holy One." Is. 41. "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." Is. 61:10. This is a joy which remains, as Christ's gift, with his people, as long as the covenant of peace remains.
3. TheJoy of Worship is but a step removed, and is common to all believers. It is in worship, that these exalted views of God are obtained. Meditation may lay the wood and the offering—but devotion kindles the fire of the altar. To pray to such a God, so beheld, is to rise in joyfulness towards heaven. To praise him, under any true apprehension of his excellency, is joy unspeakable and full of glory. Employ this, beloved, as a test of Christian character. To the unrenewed mind, prayer is always a task, if not a burden; it may be performed—but it is never enjoyed; a needful remedy, perhaps—but not a refreshment or a delight. But if the testimony of your heart is, that prayer is among your chosen comforts—if your closet is a beloved refuge—if you feel the loss or interruption of this fellowship to be a cross and a trial—if even sometimes your affections overflow and your heart flows out towards Christ—then, my prevalent thought is, that you are a child of God, and an heir of grace. The hypocrite will not always pray. It is worship which makes the joy of Sanctuaries. When the whole congregation rises in prayer, and the united, respectful, adoring, exulting exercises of many souls goes along with the voice of him who leads; or when all voices of a great assembly send up the sound of psalmody, without the exception of a single organ that has the capacity; then are granted moments, long to be remembered, as a foretaste of heaven. Here is the great attraction of God's house, which caused the psalmist to cry (Ps. 43:3)—"O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me—let them bring me unto your holy hill, and to your tabernacles—then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy," or more literally, "unto God the gladness of my joy." And it is predicted, as part of the glory of a latter day, when foreign tribes shall take hold of God's covenant, I will bring them "to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer." Is. 56:7.
4. The Joy of a new nature is too important to be omitted. It is the misery of the wicked that he is an instrument out of tune; and the discordant strings are so many nerves, vital and sensitive, and carrying anguish to the center of feeling. But when the harp is new-strung; when the hand of grace moves over the harmonious chords; when the consciousness of the sanctified heart testifies that unity and love are at least preluding the choral joys of heaven, it is a breath of Heaven's health. Conscience, being pacified, allows the affections to rise and mingle in their strength. Every good thought, feeling, word, or work, is accompanied with such a measure of delight as may consist with humility and penitence. "Beloved, if our hearts condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God." 1 John 3:21. Then it is that the believer can add—"We are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ—this is the true God, and eternal life." 1 John 5:20.
5. Then follows the Joy of Possession. There can be none greater than when the soul can say, "My Lord and my God;" "my Beloved is mine, and I am his;" "I know whom I have believed." This is not merely to know God—but to know him ours; to behold his perfections ranged on our part; to enter into his fullness and partake of his love. Then the heart finds its true, inexhaustible portion, for which it was made, to which all its capacities are suited, and which will constitute its eternal heaven. "Whom have I in heaven but you? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside you." Ps. 73:25. "Far be it from your servant (says Augustine) who confesses to you, O Lord, far be it from your servant to rejoice in any other joy, so as to make it his happiness! For there is a joy which is not given to the wicked—but to those who serve you freely, of whom you are yourself the very joy. And the true happy life is to have joy towards you, concerning you, on account of you."
Or in the words of a modern saint (Leighton)—"Offer up yourself wholly to Him, and fix the point of your love upon his most blessed uncreated love; and there let your soul and heart rest and delight, and be as it were resolved and melted most happily into the blessed Godhead; and then take that as a token, and be assured by it that God will grant your lovely and holy desires. Say, 'I am nothing, I have nothing, I can do nothing, and I desire nothing but ONE.'" These higher exercises may be lacking, and yet true piety may exist.
6. To these modes of renewed emotion must be added the Joy of holy Excitement. Man was not made to be stagnant. The sails are for the breeze, and for progress. There is no Castle of Indolence in all our goodly land. There is no languid happiness, no lethargic Christianity. He who would steer clear of all excitement may as well bid adieu to the coasts of joy, which is the highest excitement. The stream of human passions is admitted into a new channel—but it runs full. There is enough in gospel motives to carry the tide to its utmost. Scripture expressions lead us to think that it was so in the early days. "These things," said Christ, "have I spoken unto you that your joy might be full,"—a sentiment echoed thirty-three years after by the beloved disciple—"And these things write we unto you that your joy may be full." 1 John 1:4.
The powers must be on the stretch, in order to give the highest joy. The muscle must be in action, or suffer atrophy. And hence a life of Christian activity is the greatest means of enjoyment. Christ's chief joy is not for the couch, unless, indeed, it be the couch of weakness or pain sent by Him; and then suffering in all respects takes the place of action. "They also serve who only stand and wait;" but Christ's chief joy is in the conscious putting forth of grace; when the soul can say—"I know both how to be abased, and how to abound—I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me." Phil. 4:12.
In speaking of the height to which joyful Christian experience may rise, even in this life, it is allowable to adduce one or two instances from the recorded exercises of eminent Christians in different periods of the church. But we must do this with a caution premised. These attainments are unusual and extraordinary, and are not to be regarded as common to all believers. The consideration of them should not dishearten those disciples who have been called to walk in lowlier paths. The genuine faith of God's elect may exist without these raptures. Yet they serve to magnify the love of the Spirit, and to show how rich the effusions of grace may be, when the sovereignty of the Giver so decrees.
The first instance which shall be cited is that of the learned orthodox and pious John Flavel, a man every way remote from credulity and superstition. In a treatise of his on the soul of man, he gives the following narrative, which, though in the third person, has always with justice been considered to relate to himself—"I have," says he, "with good assurance this account of a minister, who being alone in a journey, and willing to make the best improvement he could of that day's solitude, set himself to a close examination of the state of his soul, and then of the life to come, and the manner of its being, and living in heaven, in the views of all those things which are now pure objects of faith and hope. After a while, he perceived his thoughts begin to fix, and come closer to those great and astonishing things than was usual; and as his mind settled upon them, his affections began to rise with answerable liveliness and vigor.
"He, therefore, while yet master of his own thoughts, lifted up his heart to God in a short prayer, that God would so order it in his providence that he might meet with no interruption from company, or any other accident, in that journey, which was granted him; for in all that day's journey he neither met, overtook, nor was overtaken of any. Thus going on his way, his thoughts began to swell and rise higher and higher, like the waters in Ezekiel's vision, until at last they became an overflowing flood. Such was the intention of his mind, such the ravishing tastes of heavenly joys, and such the full assurance of his interest therein, that he utterly lost sight and sense of this world, and all the concerns thereof, and for some hours knew no more where he was than if he had been in a deep sleep upon his bed. At last he began to perceive himself very faint, and almost choked with blood, which, running in abundance from his nose, had discolored his clothes and his horse, from the shoulder to the hoof. He found himself almost spent, and nature to faint under the pressure of joy unspeakable and unsupportable; and at last perceiving a spring of water in his way, he, with some difficulty alighted to cleanse and cool his face and hands.
"By that spring he sat down and washed, earnestly desiring, if it were the pleasure of God, that it might be his parting-place from this world. He said, death had the most amiable face, in his eye, that ever he beheld, except the face of Jesus Christ, which made it so; and that he could not remember (though he believed he would die there) that he had once thought of his dear wife or children, or any earthly concernment. But having drunk of that spring, his spirit revived, his blood staunched, and he mounted his horse again; and on he went, in the same frame of spirit, until he had finished a journey of near thirty miles, and came at night to his inn, where being come, he greatly wondered how he had come there; that his horse, without his direction, had brought him there, and that he fell not all that day, which passed not without several trances of considerable continuance.
"All this night passed without one wink of sleep, though he never had a sweeter night's rest in all his life. Still, still, the joy of the Lord overflowed him, and he seemed to be an inhabitant of another world. The next morning being come, he was early on horseback again, fearing the diversion of the inn might bereave him of his joy; for he said it was now with him as with a man that carries a rich treasure about him, who suspects every passenger to be a thief. But within a few hours he was sensible of the ebbing of the tide, and before night, though there was a heavenly serenity and sweet peace upon his spirit, which continued long with him, yet the transports of joy were over, and the fine edge of his delight blunted. He, many years after, called that day one of the days of heaven, and professed he understood more of the life of heaven by it than by all the books he ever read, or discourses he ever entertained about it. This was, indeed, an extraordinary foretaste of heaven for degree—but it came in the ordinary way and method of faith and meditation."
To this may be added an account which President Edwards gives of some remarkable manifestations of divine favor to himself—Attention is asked to those exercises of placid delight, for this reason among others, that the subject of them was no less eminent as a philosopher than as a Christian, and was versed in discriminating between what is false and what is true in religious experience. Writing of his early religious life, he says—"Holiness appeared to me to be of a sweet, pleasant, charming, serene, calm nature, which brought an inexpressible purity, brightness, peacefulness, and ravishment to the soul. In other words, that it made the soul like a field or garden of God, with all manner of pleasant flowers; all pleasant, delightful, and undisturbed; enjoying a sweet calm, and the gentle and vivifying beams of the sun. The soul of a true Christian appeared like such a little white flower as we see in the spring of the year; low and humble on the ground, opening its bosom to receive the pleasant beams of the sun's glory; rejoicing as it were in a calm rapture; diffusing around a sweet fragrance; standing peacefully and lovingly, in the midst of other flowers round about; all in like manner opening their bosoms to drink in the light of the sun. There was no part of creature holiness that I had so great a sense of its loveliness as humility, brokenness of heart and poverty of spirit, and there was nothing that I so earnestly longed for. My heart panted after this, to lie low before God, as in the dust, that I might be nothing, and that God might be ALL; that I might become as a little child." And again; "Sometimes only mentioning a single word causes my heart to burn within me, or only seeing the name of Christ, or the name of some attribute of God. And God has appeared glorious to me, on account of the Trinity. It has made me have exalting thoughts of God, that he exists in three persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The sweetest joys and delights I have experienced have not been those that have arisen from a hope of my own good estate—but in a direct view of the glorious things of the gospel.
"Once, as I rode out into the woods, having alighted from my horse in a retired place for divine contemplation and prayer, I had a view that for me was extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God as Mediator between God and man, and his wonderful, great, full, pure, and sweet grace and love, and meek and gentle condescension. The grace that appeared so calm and sweet, appeared also great above the heavens. The person of Christ appeared ineffibly excellent, with an excellency great enough to swallow up all thought and conception; which continued, as near as I can judge, about an hour; which kept me the greater part of the time in a flood of tears, and weeping aloud. I felt an ardency of soul to be—what I know not otherwise how to express—emptied and annihilated—to lie in the dust and to be full of Christ alone; to love him with a holy and pure love; to trust in him; to live upon him; to serve and follow him; and to be perfectly sanctified and made pure, with a divine and heavenly purity."
All that has been urged might be summed up in the statement, that Christian joy is produced by whatever brings Christian principle into life and action; and holiness brings happiness in its very exercise, which may suffice, in regard to those joys which come home directly to the believer's private happiness. But in the progress of his joys, we arrive at others, which are reflected, or which rise out of sympathy with fellow-men. Christianity is not insulated. No man is regarded by the Master, or should regard himself, as having a separate interest. "Look not every man on his own things—but every man also on the things of others." Phil. 2:4. Hence a new class of joys spring up beyond the selfish circle. "Rejoice with those who rejoice." Rom. 12:15. If I am rightly affected, that which brings good to my brother brings good to me. And as a large part of Christianity consists in acts of benevolence, everyone of these is a means of joy. If we would be happy, we must love. We must do good and communicate.
The man who, like his Master, goes about doing good, walks in a path perhaps of some sorrows, yet of more joys than any other on this side heaven. See how remarkably this was the source of Paul's comforts. He could not be happy, unless men were saved, so he presses truth on the Philippians (2:16), "that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither labored in vain." And, in the same strain, to his beloved Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:19)—"For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? for you are our glory and joy." The more we enlarge the circle of our benevolence, even until it take in the whole race of man, the more do we widen the field of our enjoyment; it is an extension of the sentient surface. It may, it must bring its pains—but it brings pleasures which the luxury of the worldling has never surmised. Every cup of cold water given to the thirsty—every helping hand offered to the weary—every tear shed over the desolate—every almsgiving to the worthy or visit to the dying—every page of the gospel sent to the ignorant—and every word whispered to the fainting, come back with a returning wave of joy to the soul which by grace has originated them. Nowhere, however, is this sympathetic communication so delicate or so quick as in the mystical body. The web is a texture all alive to the electric current. God has so framed the structure of his people, that there is no insulation; 1 Cor. 12:26, "that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it."
Do we, brethren, so rejoice? The more we increase, therefore, in philanthropy and brotherly-love, the more will our joys increase, until, at length, we shall find nothing extravagant in the strong expressions of Paul, concerning the Corinthians (2 Cor. 7:13), when he thus alludes to the good news he had from them—"Therefore we were comforted in your comfort; yes, and exceedingly the more joyed we for the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by you all." The reason our joys are few, is that our love of brethren is small.
There is still in the progress of Christian happiness, a class of joys which are more directly for God's sake; when we rejoice in virtue of our connection with God, feeling as children for the honor and interests of a father. How can it be otherwise? The son and subject has now exchanged his own poor little interests for those of God. The filial spirit has come in. The spirit of loyalty has come in. The kingdom of Christ has swallowed up other regards. He would gladly suffer all and spend all for Christ's crown and covenant. And hence his joys, both of hope and possession, take their color from the rising of Christ's standard in the world. This was felt in ancient days, even by the children of the captivity, at the waters of Babylon, when they said (Ps. 138:6)—O Jerusalem, "if I do not remember you, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy." "The zeal of your house" (said the Psalmist and said the Messiah) "has consumed me."
In Christian days, the love of Christ's kingdom leads to high exultation at its increase; when one sinner repents there is (Luke 15:10) joy among angels; when multitudes are saved, shall there not be joy among men? Where a minister of the gospel is a regenerate person, this is one of his records—"I have no greater joy" (said the aged John) "than to hear that my children walk in the truth." And it is a happiness which may rise to unusual heights, under great successes, as when Paul exclaims (2 Cor. 2:14), "Now thanks be unto God, who always causes us to triumph in Christ, and makes manifest the savor of his knowledge by us in every place!" This makes cheerful energetic labor, and sheds a holy oil on every wheel—for as Nehemiah said (8:10)—"The joy of the Lord is your strength." It is a joy which must brighten, as years roll on, bringing new and augmented evidences of Christ's advance to triumph over all his enemies; when the latter psalms shall be the significant and appropriate hymns of the Church, and the voice shall be (Ps. 149)—"Let Israel rejoice in him who made him; let the children of Zion be joyful in their King; let the saints be joyful in glory; let them sing aloud upon their beds." We have thus considered, in a very imperfect manner, the progress of Christ's joy, as communicated to his people, in their progress toward the everlasting rest.
III. For a third topic, let us bestow a few moments onJoy amidst Sorrows. This is at once the most extraordinary and the most welcome part of the doctrine. Ancient fable tells us of a stream which passed through the salt sea, and reappeared in Sicily, without losing its freshness—but here we have a joy which flows unchanged through the midst of troubles. It may be a paradox; but if there is anything undeniable in Christian experience, it is this. We could call ten thousand witnesses, from the martyr in his chains to the palsied or consumptive pauper, dying on his straw bed. Christian joy has triumphed over every variety of external distress. And the reason is, that it rests on nothing that is sensual, earthly, or fading. "He builds too low, who builds beneath the skies." I am fully persuaded, that no man is independent of trials but the Christian; and that there is no kind or degree of outward trial, against which grace may not furnish a perfect solace or support. It is a joy which flows from the very Head of the mystical body, and which remains and is full, when other fountains have gone dry. "Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will triumph in the Lord; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation! Yahweh my Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights!" (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
Observe how the great apostle to the Gentiles makes his way among contending tides of difficulty, like a sturdy swimmer striking out against a rapid sea. 2 Cor. 6:8—"By honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things." Observe, again, how strangely the apostle James addresses the dispersed of the twelve tribes—"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into divers trials." Paul prays that the Colossians (1:11) may be strengthened "unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness:" and he knew it to be possible; for he writes to the Corinthians, 2 Cor. 7:4—"I am filled with comfort—I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation." It was his constant testimony concerning this joy; for after enumerating the things which the world most dreads, namely, tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, and sword—he adds, what the world can never say, "In all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us." Ah! that is the secret reason. It is the joy of Christ, according to our apostle. It is joy in the Holy Spirit. Isa. 61:1-3—For the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, anointing him, "to comfort all that mourn, to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning." Enough has therefore been said, to convince us that this joy is immeasurably distant from all the joys of the present world, and is able to surmount all its troubles. But I have reserved, for brief notice in a last particular, the crowning triumph of this grace.
IV. There isJoy in the hour of death. We say not composure, simply, or fortitude, or patience, or resignation—but joy. It may not be given to all—but it is possible, it may be prayed for; no, blessed be His name, it is common. In the last words of the last canonical epistle, Jude (v. 24) exclaims, addressing believers—"Now unto him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy." This light sometimes begins in the dying chamber. Paul awaited such a close of ministry and life, saying (Acts 20:20) to the elders of Ephesus—"None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I may finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus." In view of this salvation, Christ is still the grand object and source of hope. 1 Peter 1:8—"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—receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls." Yes, with clay-cold hands, we receive this salvation from him who died for us!
Of such joy, it would be difficult to find a more striking example than that afforded by the late Dr. Payson. "Were I," says he, "to adopt the figurative language of Bunyan, I might date this letter from the land of Beulah, of which I have been for some weeks a happy inhabitant. The celestial city is full in my view. Its glories beam upon me, its breezes fan me, its odors are wafted to me, its sounds strike upon my ears, and its spirit is breathed into my heart. Nothing separates me from it but the river of death, which now appears but as an insignificant rill, that may be crossed at a single step, whenever God shall give permission. The Sun of Righteousness has been gradually drawing nearer and nearer, appearing larger and brighter as he approached, and now he fills the whole hemisphere, pouring forth a flood of glory, in which I seem to float like an insect in the beams of the sun; exulting, yet almost trembling, while I gaze on this excessive brightness, and wondering, with unutterable wonder, why God should deign thus to shine upon a sinful worm. A single heart, and a single tongue, seem altogether inadequate to my wants. I want a whole heart for every separate emotion, and a whole tongue to express that emotion."
In closing the discussion, and seeking to point some application to the mind, I shall not ask the reader whether he is in or out of the visible church—but exhort him to lay hold on this exceeding joy, by drawing nearer to Him who bestows it. There is a class—and he may belong to it—who have received from heaven no less commandment than this, repeated again and again—Rejoice—rejoice always—and again I say, Rejoice. The message of divine love is therefore well called, "Tidings of great joy." And we live in gross ignorance or error, when we think of Christianity as abridging our comforts, or encouraging depression and gloom. When we, who profess Christ, are sad and disheartened, it is because the flame of grace burns low. Were we duly seeking the face of God, "with joy" should we "draw water out of the wells of salvation." More elevation of our gladness would make us better Christians. It would wing our flight into higher regions. It would throw this tempting earth into ignominious shade. It would cause our face to shine, and lead the men of this world to say (Zech. 8:23), "We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you."
But inasmuch as God is pleased to deal with churches in their collective capacity, it is not common for high enjoyments to be felt by individuals, when the community of believers is in a state of torpor. What prayer, then, can be better for any particular church, than that of the sons of Korah, Ps. 85:6—"Will you not revive us again—that your people may rejoice in you?" In order to insure such joys, there must be great prayer, great love, great activity, and great holiness. The path before us is therefore plain. We should be unitedly engaged in seeking again the revival of our graces. Nothing short of a general and copious effusion of the Holy Spirit on our churches, will reach our case. Each one should lament, and pray, "Restore unto me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me by your free Spirit—then will I teach transgressors your way, and sinners shall be converted unto you." Then shall we begin to hear the voice of inquiry renewed. Then shall numbers of our beloved youth, who are still fascinated by the false joys of sense, be found coming into the church. Then shall strifes and heart-burnings be banished, and heavenly elevation shine from every countenance. Then shall the heart of the fathers be turned to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers. "The meek shall increase their joy in the Lord." Our "wilderness shall rejoice with joy and singing." And that shall be true of us, which was said of Samaria, when it received the gospel—"And there was great joy in that city."
For a time of revival is a time of great joy, in all those varieties of it which we have detailed—joy in ourselves; joy in the good of others; and joy in the glorifying of Christ's name. And many a pastor feels the tender force of an expression used by Paul (2 Cor. 1:24), in application to himself and to all ministers—"Not that we have dominion over your faith—but are helpers of your joy." Such help we would gladly render. For as the same apostle says (2 Cor. 2:2), every faithful pastor may say—"If I make you sorry, who is he then that takes me glad—but the same which is made sorry by me?" for, adds he, "my joy is the joy of you all." Our interests are identical. An extended blessing on the word preached will reach to him who ministers, and "to you, and your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." Sowing and watering, without harvest, is toilsome employment; but let God speak the word, and our whitening fields shall be covered with golden sheaves, full of the rewards of joy. John 4:36—"He that reaps, receives wages, and gathers fruit unto life eternal; that both he that sows, and he that reaps, may rejoice together." And I trust we have the prayers of many a reader, that this promise of Christ, which we have been considering, may speedily be fulfilled to this whole pious community.