Christ's Own Joy, is Our Joy!
Archibald G. Brown, June 9th, 1872, East London Tabernacle
"I am coming to You now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of My joy within them!" John 17:13
The precious words of this prayer, and of the three previous chapters, become invested with a sad but additional charm when read in the light of the first verse of the following chapter, "When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the brook Kidron where there was a garden into which He entered, and His disciples." John 18.1.
The shadow of Gethsemane was falling across His spirit when His lips uttered that beautiful discourse commencing, "Let not your hearts be troubled" and concluding with the words, "I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world." John 16.33. The cup of exceeding bitterness was already being held out to Him as He prayed, not for Himself — but for His disciples.
What an exquisite view we have here of our Savior's CHARACTER. How grandly the unselfishness of love shines forth! How completely His own approaching sorrow fails to make Him unmindful of the woes of others. With most of us, our grief gives rise to a half pardonable selfishness. It absorbs our every thought. With Him it was the very reverse. The nearer His own heart-breaking approached — the more concerned He seemed to comfort the hearts of others. His own Gethsemane only intensified His desire for His people's joy.
"Let not your hearts be troubled." Ah Jesus, do you think of the little griefs of your disciples now? In such a moment as this, can you pause to pour drops of comfort into wounded spirits? With the Atlantic waves of the travail of your soul so near to You — do you have the time or heart to think of the minor griefs of others? "Let not your hearts be troubled!!" Why, Savior, your heart is about to break. "Be of good cheer!!" O my Lord, in a few hours you will be crying as one forsaken on the cross. "I know it," He seems to say, "and it is because I know it, that I would make my last discourse to commence and end with words of peace for them. If I have sorrow — I wish them joy."
The same lovely trait of a perfect character gleams forth in the prayer from which I have selected the text. How few are the petitions He offers for Himself, compared with those He breathes for others. To read this seventeenth chapter of John, one would never think the bloody sweat was to immediately follow. Love toward His followers, completely triumphs over personal suffering. It is worthy of notice how much stress Christ puts on his disciples having a present joy — and that joy is His joy.
In the fifteenth chapter and eleventh verse you read, "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full." In the sixteenth chapter and twenty-fourth verse, "Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full," and in the words of our text, "That they may have the full measure of My joy within them!"
What does Christ mean when He wishes His joy to be in His disciples? This will be our subject this morning.
There are one or two interpretations. I will but mention them, and then go on to what I believe to be the true teaching of the words.
Many think that the joy mentioned here is the joy of which Jesus is the author, subject, and medium. The joy that comes through receiving Him — His joy because He gives it. All these are true — but I do not think they are the truths taught by this verse.
I believe that Jesus by the words "my joy" meant the joy that He Himself experienced. The joy that He had in His soul while fulfilling His mission on earth. Directly after expressing this wish, you will find that He commences drawing a comparison between His disciples and Himself.
First in their nature, "They are not of the world even as I am not of the world."
Secondly in their mission, "As you have sent Me into the world, even so I have sent them into the world."
What more suitable prayer could He then have possibly uttered than this, that as they were to go forth for Him, even as He went forth for the Father, so they might have the same joy to sustain and cheer them as He had? Like Him in the persecuting treatment they were to receive from the world — He desired they should be like Him in their inward joy.
Our theme then is Christ's own joy, as the portion of Christ's own people. Let us find out the nature of our Savior's joy — and we will find out the joy which we may, which we ought, and which Christ wishes us to possess.
Let us then first notice the nature of Christ's joy, and
secondly, the measure in which He wishes His saints to have it.
I. The Nature of Christ's Joy.I would draw a distinction between the joy of Christ, and what often goes by that name. Joy is something different from mere merriment and hilarity, although the word is often used to describe them. I cannot imagine either of these dwelling in the heart of Him who was "the man of sorrows" — but I can imagine joy. I willingly grant that often merriment is the outward and visible sign of an inward joy of heart — but it is not always or necessarily so. It may be the lovely flower of a plant that has its roots deep within the soul, or it may have no more connection with the heart than the flowers have with the coffin lid on which they have been cast. Often where there is most laughter — there is most grief; and frequently, where there are most tears — there is deepest joy.
The joy of Jesus then was not what every eye could see. It certainly was not the mirthfulness that plays over the countenance. To look into His face would not have been to see joy mirrored there. It was more marred than that of the sons of men, and the furrows that care had ploughed, were deep. Christ became — if I may use the expression — prematurely old. When only a little over thirty years of age, he was thought by his looks to be near fifty, for the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham?" It was a joy that was not strongly expressed in the countenance.
It was also a joy not easily detected by His conversation. In his recorded discourses we have no sparkling coruscations of mirthfulness, investing them with brilliance — but rather a spirit of calm sadness. Only once (I think I am correct in saying) is Jesus said to have rejoiced, and I will speak of that shortly. I distinguish then between joy — and merriment.
Perhaps I can better explain my meaning by an illustration. Very often when traveling in our own lovely Lake District and on the Continent last year, I have made my way to some secluded glen. In front of me there have been rocks piled on rocks, and jutting out from between them, pine trees that hung their heads over the abyss. Far up, tumbling over the topmost crag, was a mountain torrent. In its fall it laughed with silvery voice, and sprang upward from the rock on which it fell, in a thousand glittering drops of spray, and then descended on the quivering ferns that beat their heads as if in gratitude. It eddied at my feet, whirled round and round in the deep pool, and then rushed away over the brow of another precipice, and was lost to sight.
There you have a picture of merriment. Often very beautiful — seldom very deep — never the same for long together. Let but three weeks or a month of drought set in, and where will the stream be? Dry would be the rocks, empty the pool, unpicturesque its channel; while the ferns, withered and prostrate, would seem as if they mourned their trust in so fickle a friend.
But joy is the river that is still and deep. It does not make the noise — it lacks perhaps much of the attractiveness — but on its breast it bears the commerce of a nation, while quietly it says, "I flow on forever."
Observe also that the joy of Jesus was not one extracted from surrounding circumstances. With too many of us, our joy is distilled from our circumstances — and consequently if those circumstances are adverse, we are destitute of happiness. Our joy, like honey, is gathered "from every opening flower." We flit like the bee from one bloom of earth to another, and are dependent on what they may contain.
Now view the circumstances that surrounded our Lord, and see if in any of them you can discover the secret source of that joy which He declared He had. What were His surroundings? The answer is soon given. Poverty — reproach — betrayal — anticipated death. Are these the flowers that yield the honey of joy? Many of you know what poverty means — can you coin joy out of it? You know what reproach is — do you find it a fount of sweetness, or bitterness? You have been betrayed — do you like it? With us, death is in a great measure an unknown thing, and the time of it is uncertain; but remember that with Jesus every pain was foreknown, and all the agony and shame was fore-felt — and yet He had so deep a joy that He prayed that His joy might fill His disciples. Assuredly then, it was not the joy gleaned from his surroundings. What was it?
It was a joy that had its fount deep within the soul. A joy that, having nothing to do with outside circumstances in its birth, was uninfluenced by them — distinct altogether from them. It was not a joy that flowed into the soul through the channel of the senses. The tide flowed the other way. It flowed out from the soul.
Here is one of the great differences between the joy of the Christian, and the joy of the worldling. The latter drinks in nearly all his joy through the senses. The child, lovely and beloved, sends joy into the heart through the channel of the sight. Music comes stealing through the corridors of the ear — joy comes with it. The scent of the rose awakens pleasure, and taste and touch alike become the instruments of happiness.
The Christian, like his Master, has all these — but the joy of his heart is the joy that rises there independently of all outside things. The joy which, like himself, is born from above.
This joy is not confined to any one place. I cannot leave it, it cannot leave me; being in me, it journeys with me anywhere. If my bliss is derived from certain surroundings, then leave those surroundings, and I leave my joy. But if my bliss is unconnected with anything without, then it goes with me. lt becomes my traveling companion. My soul sings,
"I hold by nothing here below;
Appoint my journey, and I go;
Though pierced by scorn, oppressed by pride,
I feel the good — feel nothing beside."
Being an inward joy, it may be had under any and every circumstance. Indeed, it is a joy that will thrive where any other joy would perish. It is the Ibex of the Alps, that leaps where others cannot walk, and finds its food where most would starve.
The only difficulty would be to say where joy cannot grow. It has sprung up between the stone slabs of the dungeon floor, and made the prison a palace. It has flourished in poverty until the inhabitant of the castle has envied it. It has lived in the flames of martyrdom, and made the tongue sing when almost all beside was charred and blackened. It is a joy that lives in the fountains of the great deep of the soul. So much for the joy of Christ being an INWARD one.
Let us now go more into particulars, and see what the nature of this inward joy was, or the different channels in which it flowed.
I observe, first, that it was the joy of communion with God. Our Savior ever had an abiding sense of His Father's nearness, and deep, beyond all description, must have been the fellowship between them. You find Him taking comfort in this thought in the next to last verse of the previous chapter. He says, "Behold the hour comes, yes, it has now come, that you will be scattered every man to his own, and will leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me." John 16.32. Here is one of the fountains of His joy.
O, who can tell what that communion was, that He held during all the hours of the night upon the mountainside. What tongue could venture to describe those meetings of the Father and Son? Imagination shrinks back. The place is too holy for human thought to venture near. What words of perfect intimacy and restful love must have floated on the night air, while, I think, at a distance the angels circled that praying one, silent in presence of a fellowship surpassing theirs, as far as He who prayed was more excellent than they.
It was in these seasons, when all the world was steeped in sleep, that the man of sorrows had His joy. It was while the dew fell thick upon His locks — that joyful refreshment came into His soul. He was with His Father. This was His joy. And everywhere He went, unseen to mortal eye, the eternal Father was by His side. His ears heard words the world knew nothing of — it was to His Father's words that He listened.
"He has a devil!" shouts the angry mob. "My beloved son" whispers the Father's voice. Joy was His.
"Away with Him, He is not fit to live!" roars a brutal populace. "In whom I am well pleased" says a voice from Heaven. The inward joy was deep.
Then from that heart went forth returning words of love, and so, "They talked together by the way."
Child of God, this joy of Christ's may be our joy also. We may drink from the same fountain, and find joyful refreshment through the same means. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is our Father also; and just as He communed with our Elder Brother — so He will commune with His younger brethren. We may have the same joy — the same in nature if not in degree — as He had whom we love.
He who prayed on mountainside, and in night solitude, has told us, "Enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret shall reward you openly." Mat 6.6. He who found His joy in prayer and fellowship has said, "Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full." John 16.24.
O, beloved, I believe there is a joy in holding fellowship with the Father, of which we know but little yet. There is such a thing as carrying about in one's breast, a holy of holies. There is such a thing, even in this noisy busy world, as listening to a heavenly voice — sweet contrast to the din around us — telling us of divine love and tenderness. Listen to it, and Christ's joy will be fulfilled in you.
Christ's joy was also the joy of realized and returned love. Although somewhat near akin to the joy of communion, there is yet — at least to my mind — a shade of difference, which warrants me in placing it by itself. Communion with God is an act — but this is an experience. Christ felt his Father's love; this he declares: "The Father loves the Son." Christ loved the Father; this He also declared, "I love the Father." Now a realized and returned love can only result in joy.
While meditating on this, a lovely scene I beheld some time back came to remembrance. It will illustrate my meaning. I was standing on a tongue of land, or rather rocks, with a river on either side of me. Both rivers could be traced for some way back. They came from almost opposite directions. Both of them came leaping and roaring along channels filled with great boulder-stones. Both of them were beautiful to a degree. I turned from one to another with equal delight. They were both born from the clouds, both bright and sparkling, both alike were refreshing — but they came from different mountain tops. For many a mile they had each run their lovely course, gradually nearing, until at last their streams met at the foot of the rock on which I stood. The place was called "the meeting of the waters," and the "water's music" was marvelous. The two streams embraced, and seemed for a moment or two to dance for very glee, and then blending, they ran off, no longer separate but one.
So I thought I have in this division of my subject, the meeting of the waters. The one stream is called "the Father loves me." The other stream is called "I love the Father." Both are exquisitely lovely. Both are born from above. One flows from the mountain of the Father's house on high. The other from Jesus, the Rock of Ages. They meet in our subject this morning, and the music of the meeting of the waters, is joy.
A heart beloved, and a heart loving, must be a heart of joy. This joy was Christ's. This joy may be, should be, must be, ours. The same stream of love that flowed from the Father to the Son, flows from the Father to us. Do you doubt it? Does it seem too great and good to be true? Turn to the twenty-third verse of this chapter, and let the words of Christ assure you of its truth, "You have loved them, even as You have loved Me!" There you have the one stream full to overflowing. You, child of God, can say equally with your Savior, "the Father loves me!" Yes, blessed truth,
"So dear, so very dear to God,
More dear I cannot be,
The love with which He loves the Son,
Such is His love to me!"
Now do you not love Him? Can you not also say, "I love the Father"? Assuredly you can. Then here is the other stream. Both are from above, for your love to God — is from God. "We love Him — because He first loved us."1 John 4.19. Then when the waters meet, their music must be joy.
O, how often we have felt it so. The love of God has been poured into our heart, perhaps at a prayer meeting. It has flooded our soul. Then it has swollen the stream of our affection, and like an impetuous torrent, we have sung, "If ever I loved You my Jesus, 'tis now." Were we not happy then? Of course we were. There was the meeting of the waters in our breast — and Christ's own joy became our joy.
It was also the joy of complete surrender. Here let me ask your very careful attention, for I am persuaded that this is a matter marvelously overlooked by most Christians. It is too often it is considered unrealistic, visionary and impossible. Whatever may be thought of it now — most assuredly Christ possessed it, and He desired that His joy might be fulfilled in us. He had no will contrary to the Father's will, and His obedience to that will was no mere acquiescence — but a positive delight and refreshment.
He is sitting at the side of a well in Samaria, having just revealed Himself to the woman as the Messiah, when His disciples return from their journey to procure food. "Master, eat" they say, knowing He must be weary and faint through long abstinence. Mark His answer, "I have food to eat that you know nothing of." Then the disciples said to one another, "Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?" Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to finish His work."John 4.31-34. What food is to our bodies — that is what obedience was to Christ's soul. No, more. It was His luxury.
You will remember that in the earlier part of this discourse, I said I would have cause to refer you to the one occasion when it is recorded that Jesus rejoiced. If you will, turn with me to Luke, the tenth chapter and twenty-first verse. You will find these words, "In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank You Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them to babes, even so Father; for so it seemed good in your sight." Luke 10.21 Now observe, dear friends, what an abnegation of self there was in this joy. He joyed because the wise and prudent turned their backs on Him — and the poor and simple received Him.
Most will court the smile of the great; and if the great man and the wise had espoused the Savior's cause, He would have been considered a successful preacher by the world; and instead of the cross, it would have bestowed the crown. But what would have been a source of sorrow to most, casts a bright gleam of sunshine into the heart of the Man of Sorrows. How is it so? By what process does He extract matter for joy from a seeming lack of success — a bitter cup to the lips of most?
You have the answer in His own words, "Even so Father." Yes, this was enough for the soul perfectly surrendered. It was the Father's will that it should be so, and therefore it being so, was the Son's joy.
O, beloved, I wish that we knew more of the joy of perfect and complete surrender to God. It is our will clashing with our Father's will, which makes us fretful. If only our will were one with His, it would be utterly impossible for us to ever be anything else than serene, calm and happy. Within our soul would dwell a deep of calm contentedness. Having no choice of our own, the soul would find equal joy in all. The "Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done" would prove perpetual music in the heart.
A soul thus surrendered, could make no choice if it were offered. If the Lord were to say, "My child, which will you have: health or sickness; a long life — or one snapped in two like a broken column; wealth — or poverty?" The soul would answer, "Father, I cannot say, because I do not know Your will; tell me Your will, and I will tell You my choice, for my soul is Yours, as well as all else. I refer the case back again to You, my Father, and cry:
"I dare not choose my lot,
I would not, if I might!
But You choose for me, O my God,
So shall I walk aright."
I know that this is a high standard to attain, and as I speak, I feel I am condemning myself in every other word. But shall we ignore a thing because it is above us? No, let us aim high, even if we do not reach the mark, for though our arrow falls short of the target, it will fly higher than if aimed at a lower object.
It was the joy of one who could look back upon a life work finished. In the fourth verse of this chapter our Savior says, "I have finished the work which you gave me to do." He had given His testimony, preached His sermons, comforted the sorrowing, and healed the sick. His life work was finished, though the greatest work, His death work — yet remained.
Now just as He had been sent on His mission by the Father, He is about to send His disciples on their mission work, and He prays that they may have with Him the joy of looking back upon a mission fulfilled and a life work finished.
Do not think for a moment that I would hint that this is possible with us, in the same degree as with Him. Far, infinitely far, from it. But in the same relation as our being sent by Him, stands to His being sent by the Father, so our joy of a life work finished may stand to His; and the comparison of the two missions is Christ's, not mine. "As you have sent me, even so I have sent them." O, friends, it is a high honor to be, in any measure, the means of carrying out the eternal will of Jehovah. When our time of death draws near, may we in some humble degree, be able to look back on a life not spent in vain, and say — giving all the glory to His name, "I have finished the work You gave me to do!"
Yet, once more. It was the joy of approaching glory. How clearly this shines out in the first few words of our text, "And now I come to You." "I come to You!!" Ah, here is joy indeed. In a few brief hours the Sun of Righteousness, which was about to set in blood, would rise to set no more. The joy which had been before Him for years, and which had nerved Him to endure the cross and despise the shame — was now at hand.
"I come to You." Heaven is compressed in those four words, and our loving Lord, ever mindful of his disciples, prays that they may have the same joyful anticipation of nearing glory. Thank God, we may have it, and we do. Christ's own joy is indeed ours in this respect. His Heaven is our Heaven — His home our home. Like Him, we may stand on the threshold, and breathe into the Father's ears the same sweet words, "I come to You!" And now but for a moment or two, as our time has gone, let us notice
II. The measure in which Christ desires his Saints to possess this Joy."That they may have the full measure of My joy within them!" What an expressive word have we here. Full measure — that means filled. Full to the overflow — filled to the utmost capacity. This is the measure of joy Christ wishes for His disciples. They already possessed it in some degree — but He wished them to have it in a far larger degree. So He does with us.
Jesus would have every disciple of His filled the full measure His own joy. He would have it rise like a sacred flood until it overflows all banks, and eddies into every nook and cranny of the soul. How are we to obtain this inward bliss? Our text tells us. "These things I speak, that they might have My joy."
It is the Word of Jesus that gives this joy. No looking into our own hearts, or inspecting our own feelings, will avail. That will but empty us. It is reading the thoughts of God towards us, in the words of Jesus, that sweetly fills us to the full. And O how necessary it is that we should be filled.
A very simple illustration will show the necessity. Take a bottle only half full of water, and placing your hand over its mouth, shake it. See how the water rushes from end to end as you move it? There is a turmoil within at the slightest motion. Why? Because it is only half full. Now fill it until you cannot add another drop. Shake it — all is still within. Turn it upside down — all is quiet. Why is this? Because it is quite full, and therefore no outside motion affects it.
Child of God, if you and I have only a half measure of this joy — then every changing circumstance will affect us. Let us but be full of it, and filled with it, and all positions and all circumstances will be alike. Our joy will remain within us.
Blessed Jesus, fill us all full of Your own joy this morning! Amen.