And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street.
I. THE ASSEMBLY OF ISRAEL CONVENED. The persons who presided in this assembly deserve our notice. When God raises up a great man to perform an important work He usually associates another with him of a kindred spirit, who, though endowed with different gifts, is a helper in the good cause. The defects of the one are thus counterbalanced by the graces of the other, and religion is promoted by their mutual co-operation. In the redemption of Israel from the house of bondage Moses and Aaron were united in the common enterprise. And so, in this revival of Judah, Nehemiah and Ezra are joined together; and, through means of the energy of the man of action, coupled with the influence of the man of sacred study, God blesses Zion with His quickening and restoring grace. It is an honour to the youthful Nehemiah that, though invested with ruling power in the holy city, he gives place to the ministers of the sanctuary in their proper work of teaching. These two servants of God, presiding in this great congregation of Israel, differed much from each other in age, in office, in rank, in character; but they were one in heart, and they join here in complete harmony of action for the revival of their beloved Zion. God in nature makes full provision for diversity of elements and forces co-operating together for a common result. And God in the Church also provides for different men looking on revealed truth with free thought and honest heart, where the shades of belief may vary like the colours of the rainbow, but all blend under the power of love, into a pure white ray as from the parent orb. The time at which this assembly was held also merits our consideration. "They gathered themselves together on the first day of the seventh month" (vers. 1, 2). This was emphatically the sacred month of the Jewish year, during which the most touching and impressive ceremonies of their law were observed.
1. It was a full assembly. "All the people gathered themselves together as one man." They were all there, and they were there all of one heart. In times of spiritual indifference and decay the ways of Zion mourn because few come to her solemn feasts. The Great Physician is present to heal them, but they, the dying patients, are not there to be made whole.
2. It was an earnest assembly. "They spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel."
3. It was an attentive assembly. "Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation, and read therein from the morning until mid-day, before the men and the women; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law." This deep attention to His truth is demanded as an act of reverence to God who speaks it. It is reckoned an affront for any one to turn his back on an earthly sovereign or converse with others while the king is addressing words of importance to all in his presence. Besides, men require to give earnest heed to the Word of life in order to derive saving benefit from it! Alas! many give attendance on the Word who do not give attention to it. Gospel truth is a means of persuasion to repentance, but if attention to the Word of conviction is suffered to waver the blessing will in all likelihood be lost. It is difficult with an arrow, however well aimed, to strike a bird on the wing that rapidly changes its flight in the air; and so it is not easy to fix the arrow of conviction in the heart that flits meanwhile from thought to thought, inattentive to the Word.
4. It was a devout assembly. "Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground." This devout frame of mind is essential to full spiritual profit in Divine worship for hearing the truth.
II. THE DIVINE KNOWLEDGE CONVEYED. Ezra was chief among the teachers of Israel in this great assembly, and his eminent gifts fitted him for this position. He is elsewhere distinguished as "a ready scribe in the law of Moses"; he possessed a true love for it, an intimate acquaintance with it, and a profound knowledge of it. "For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments."
1. The instruction here embraced an exposition of the law. "So they read in the book of. the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading."
2. The instruction comprised exhortation to present duty. "By the law is the knowledge of sin." "For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law." These, with them, were tears both of alarm and compunction — of apprehension for the consequences of their sin and godly sorrow on account of it. It was an expression of deep anxiety, in view of their spiritual danger, as revealed in God's Word. Some men insinuate that all such agitation about the state of the soul is questionable, and not consistent with rational piety. Shall it be deemed reasonable that tears may freely flow on account of temporal bereavements and losses and no sorrow be expressed in fear of everlasting ruin? Observe, then, how nobly Nehemiah here appears to give direction and counsel to his people, mourning all of them for their iniquity: "This day is holy unto the Lord your God; mourn not, nor weep." It is not implied that their sorrow was altogether wrong or without foundation, but it was out of time end defective in its views of the Divine mercy. It might not take too lowly a view of their own sinfulness, but it was wanting in a believing apprehension of the loving-kindness of the Lord, their covenant God. This is needful caution for awakened ones, to make sure that they exercise the full look of faith upward to grace as well as downward to guilt. This counsel to Judah not to weep prepares the way, and then follows this threefold call for relieving their sorrows: "Go your way, cat the fat and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy unto our Lord; neither be ye sorry: for the joy of the Lord is your strength." This is first a call to assuage their griefs in social enjoyment of the gifts of Providence. It is not best always to seek to cure sorrow by reasoning against it; it is often more effectual to meet it with a counteracting joy; and this is the course here followed by this "son of consolation." This is a call, moreover, to relieve sorrow by the exercise of benevolence to poor brethren. "Send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared." To inherit the full blessing of life it is not enough to partake of the comforts of Providence; there requires to be joined with this a compassionate charity to the needy and the destitute. This compassion of the needy sanctifies all the enjoyments of life. It possesses a wonderful power of removing the load of sorrow from the giver's heart and of chasing the cloud of sadness from his brow.
I. THAT THE WORD OF GOD IS THE GREAT MEANS FOR THE INSTRUCTION OF HIS PEOPLE.
II. THAT THE WORD OF GOD IS NOT ONLY TO BE READ, BUT UNDERSTOOD.
III. THAT IT MUST BE READ WITH PRAYER.
IV. THAT THIS WORN WILL OFTEN REBUKE US AND LEAD US TO MOURN AFTER A GODLY SORT.
V. THAT IT WILL ALSO ENCOURAGE US, AND IN THE END BRING US MUCH JOY AND GREAT GLADNESS.
VI. THAT THE SOURCE OF JOY AND THE SECRET OF STRENGTH IS DIVINE.
(W. P. Lockhart.)
And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation1. The people of Jerusalem, like the disciples at Pentecost, were of one accord, in one place. Their hearts were inclined to God's testimonies.
2. The standing position is one of respect. Men stand before their superiors. Moses before Pharaoh, Daniel before Nebuchadnezzar.
3. The messages of a king are entitled to respect. I once witnessed the reception of a royal message by the Parliament of Prussia. As the messenger entered the hall and the royal seal was broken "all the people stood up." Officers, members, and visitors by one impulse rose to hear the writing of their king. A like impulse moved the people before whom Ezra brought the law.
4. A proper appreciation of God's Word is necessary to spiritual success.
5. Respect for God's Word involves respect for His day. It is interesting, in this age of Sabbath desecration, to notice that in the revival of Jewish institutions the observance of the fourth commandment was enforced both among Jews and unbelievers.
6. Respect for God's Word also involves respect for His worship (vers. 14-16). Worship will be a delight.
7. Religion is not only joyous, but unselfish.
8. Respect for God's Word involves respect for all His commandments.
9. A proper appreciation of the Bible is possible only as its Divine authorship and object are recognised.
10. The object of the Bible is to reveal God and the duty He requires of men.
11. How are we to show our appreciation of the Bible? Our duty is to receive and use it. The whole mind suet soul must lay hold of and appropriate its truths. It must be esteemed above all books, and its decisions recognised as final, a wealthy gentleman, having built him a library, placed in it, on a pedestal high above all the shelves, a copy of the Bible. We should do for the sacred volume what he signified by this act. We should give it also a place in our affections — such a place as it had in the heart of the Scotch girl, who, when driven from her burning home, cared first for her copy of the Scriptures.
12. We do appreciate the Bible. We read it at family prayers, and in our closets, and learn verses, and hear it on Sabbath from the pulpit. I have heard that when, in a long war, the city of Haarlem had been desolated by fire and sword, the news of peace was a long letter, which a feeble old man read from a window. His voice could scarcely be heard, yet the people gave profound attention. When the Bible is read men should listen as those burghers listened.
13. The best acceptance of such news is an acceptance of the relief it brings. So the best appreciation of the Bible is an acceptance of its salvation in Christ.
14. Respect for God's Word places it above all creeds and criticism.
15. Respect for God's Word also demands that it be handled reverently. This condemns all trifling with God's truth. All puns, parodies, and riddles based upon misquotation of the Scriptures are hereby condemned.
(F. C. Monfort, D. D.)
Monday Club Sermons.I. A NEGLECTED DIVINE ORDINANCE MAY BE RESTORED AS A CHANNEL OF DIVINE GRACE. Is there not a suggestion in this incident of how we may often return to methods of service, to means of grace that have been passed by, as useful for the present time? Certain truths have been allowed to remain in the background for a time which may be wisely pressed at another. Currents never carry all that floats on their surface to the sea. Much is left on the banks of the channel. So currents of thought in any age or time do not carry forward all that is valuable. There are cargoes of flotsam and jetsam that will reward the wreckers along the shore.
II. RELIGIOUS QUICKENING MAY RESULT FROM MORAL REFORMS AND WISE MEASURES OF CIVIC RULERS.
III. ALL DIVINE ORDINANCES, AS WELL AS PROVIDENTIAL EXPERIENCES, ARE CHANNELS FOR THE JOY OF THE LORD.
(Monday Club Sermons.)
I. THE ACTUAL SPEECH IN WHICH THE GOSPEL WAS FIRST UTTERED BY JESUS AND PROCLAIMED BY THE APOSTLES AMONG THE ISRAELITES IS HERE, PROBABLY FOR THE FIRST TIME, PUBLICLY PUT TO SACRED USE. The old Hebrew language in which the law was written had become, when the exile was over, the tongue of the learned. It was unknown to the common people, as that of Spencer and Chaucer is unknown to us. Interpreters were necessary. Ezra knew the need, and provided for it. The Levites gave the sense and caused the people to understand the reading.
II. IN THIS EVENT WE BEHOLD THE RISE OF THE SYNAGOGUE AND OF SYSTEMATIC BIBLE STUDY. From the time of Ezra the temple gradually retired into the background, and the synagogue came into prominence. The pulpit and sermons were institutions. The soul was nurtured by Bible study. Less and less did the priests wield power in the regions beyond Jerusalem, and more and more did the congregations or synagogues become like our best modern prayer-meetings, where speech and devotional service are free. When Christianity spread over the world the synagogue was its cradle. Every. where the apostles found first welcome here and the place and privilege of preaching Christ. In the substitution of prayer for sacrifice, in the triumph of moral over mechanical functions of worship, we see a tremendous advance, and read for our times an inspiring lesson.
(W. Elliot Griffis.)
Monday Club Sermons.In this scene are suggested —
I. SOME SOURCES OF POWER IN PREACHING.
1. The simple proclamation of the law of God.
2. The statement of God's work in human history.
3. The earnest utterance of intelligent faith.
II. THE CONDITIONS FOR PROFITABLY HEARING THE WORD OF GOD.
1. An aroused interest.
2. A prayerful spirit.
3. Listening with the resolve to obey.
III. PRACTICAL LESSONS.
1. Love for the law makes noble men.
2. Honouring the law insures the prosperity of the Church.
(Monday Club Sermons.)
Expository Outlines.I. A LARGE GATHERING. There are two important advantages connected with a numerous congregation over one that is thinly attended.
1. It gives an opportunity for more extensive usefulness. We grant that there is not a little to encourage even those whose hearers are few, "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." "A sportsman," says Jay, "has fired into a flight of birds and not killed one, and he has killed one when he had only one to aim at." That maybe true; but on the other hand, if two anglers went forth with rod and line to spend a day in fishing, it would be naturally expected that the largest number would be caught by him who had secured a pond where fish were abundant, rather than by the other, who had toiled from morning till night in a place where they were scarce.
2. Large congregations possess a peculiar power of stimulating those who have to address them. Probably the man has never yet lived who could long be an orator before a small assembly. Even Cicero could not deliver his famous oration in behalf of the poet Archias, though addressed to a single man, without having all that was learned and great in Rome to listen to him. Those who love the means of grace should do all they can to induce their friends and neighbours to attend.
II. AN OPEN-AIR GATHERING.
III. A PROTRACTED GATHERING.
IV. AN ATTENTIVE GATHERING.
V. A DEVOUT, EARNEST, AND REVERENTIAL, GATHERING. To stand in awe of God's holy Word, whenever it is read and expounded in our hearing, indicates a right state of mind; and those who are thus influenced are regarded by God with approval and delight (Isaiah 66:2).
VI. AN INTELLIGENT AND WELL-INSTRUCTED GATHERING.
Sunday School.Every great revival of religion has had its beginning in this hunger for the Word, and has been permanent and widespread exactly in proportion as it has been rooted in the Scriptures. There is Wickliffe, frightened like the rest of the nation by the plague that had swept from Asia to Europe, and now had burst upon England, sounding in the ears of men like the trump of the judgment day. Lying in his cell poring over the pages of an old Latin Bible, he finds the truth that fills his soul with the sweetness of God's peace and the music of heaven. At once he began to translate passages of the blessed book into English, and sent them forth by his "poor priests," as they were called, to be read as best they might amongst the peasants of England; and so came the dawning of the day of God upon our land. Thus, too, was it that the later reformation had its birth. Erasmus had sent to Cambridge his new translation of the Greek Testament; and a copy of it comes into the hands of "Little Bilney," who tells us how that on the first reading of it he chanced on these words, "It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all men to be embraced, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." "These words," says he, "by God's inward working did so lift up my poor bruised spirit, that the very bones within me leapt for joy and gladness." Then forthwith, he, unable to keep the sweet secret to himself, goes to confess his soul to Father Latimer, and pours out the story of his great discovery, how that being justified by faith he has peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ; and thus Latimer was led into the light, and became the great preacher of the English Reformation. And Luther, more slowly, but no less surely, is led by the study of the Word of God to the great truth which comes back again to him, as from the lips of God, whilst crawling up the steps of the sacred stairs in Rome, "The just shall live by faith." It was two hundred years later that a little meeting was being held in Aldersgate Street, London, where one was reading Luther's Preface to the Romans; and amongst the company was one who, as he listens, tells us that he felt his heart strangely warned: "I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation," says he, "and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine." So was it that John Wesley went forth to claim the whole world for his parish(and uplift the nation by the Word of truth, the gospel of our salvation.
Great Thoughts.A little blind girl in Cairo, who had read a copy of the Psalms in Arabic, by the aid of Dr. Moon's "Alphabet for the Blind," sent a message by a gentleman who was coming to England, "Please tell Dr. Moon, when you see him, I am so hungry, I want all the Bible."
(D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
And the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law
Christian Age.It is related that Gotthold had for some purpose taken from a cupboard a phial of rose-water, and, after using it, inconsiderately left it unstopped. Observing it some time after, he found that all the strength and sweetness of the perfume had evaporated. Here, thought he, is a striking emblem of a heart fond of the world and open to the impression of outward objects. What good does it do to take such a heart to the house of God, and there fill it with the precious essence of the roses of paradise, which are the truths of Scripture? What good to kindle in a glow of devotion, if we afterward neglect to close the outlet — that is, keeping the Word in an honest and good heart? (Luke 8:15). How vain to hear much, but to retain little, and practise less! How vain to experience within us sacred and holy emotions, unless we are afterward careful to close the heart by careful and diligent reflection and prayer, and so keep it unspotted from the world[ Neglect this duty, and the whole strength and spirit of devotion evaporates and leaves only a lifeless froth behind.
And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood
Homilist.We offer three remarks upon this old pulpit.
I. IT WAS OCCUPIED BY DULY QUALIFIED MEN. Ezra the priest and scribe, with thirteen other Levites, occupied this pulpit. They were the recognised teachers of Israel. Who is the duly qualified preacher of the truth? The man who is superior to the people in mental capability, spiritual intelligence, and practical godliness, having the power to convey his thoughts acceptably, and with propriety and force.
II. THIS OLD PULPIT WAS ATTENDED BY AN EXEMPLARY CONGREGATION.
1. It Was a congregation disposed to hear.
2. It was a congregation competent to understand.
3. It was a congregation deeply interested in the discourse.
4. It was a congregation inspired with religious reverence.
III. THIS OLD PULPIT ACCOMPLISHED THE GRAND END OF PREACHING.
1. It imparted spiritual instruction.
2. It made a deep religious impression.
3. It stimulated a practical godliness.
And all the people answered, Amen, Amen.
I. I WILL EXPLAIN WHAT IS MEANT BY "AMEN."
1. There is an amen substantive. And that is God Himself (Revelation 3:14).
II. SHOW WHAT WARRANT THERE IS FOR THE PRACTICE.
1. Assent to repetitions is essential unto prayer, and it is not signified publicly but by our amen.
2. We have the practice of the Old and New Testament believers for our example. Moses in Numbers and Deuteronomy; David (Psalm 51:18, 106:48); Jeremiah (Jeremiah 11:5); Paul (1 Corinthians 14:16; Ephesians 3:21); Christ Himself (Matthew 6:9-18; Revelation 5:14; Revelation 7:11, 12; Revelation 19:1-6; Revelation 22:20).
3. Amen after prayer and praise is the man's consent, judgment, and approbation of what is offered unto God.
4. This vocal amen is, as it were, the epitome and sum of all our petitions and praises to God. It is the centre which all those lines are drawn towards. It is all the duty virtually reduced to one word and point. It is the repeating and echoing, or redoubling of all over again. As the mercury behind the glass, it reverberates the lively image of all preceding devotion, it is the drawing the arrow to the pile by a strong ejaculation in Bellarmine's phrase, "Whereby the whole heart is darted up to God." It is a "stirring up of ourselves to take hold of God" (Isaiah 64:7). It is taking aim, and "directing our prayer to Him and looking up" (Psalm 5:3), as if they would hand up God's praises to Him, and stand ready to receive His mercies with open hands and mouths. It winds up all together in one bundle.
5. Amen, rightly pronounced, is an intensive act of faith, or it involves a strong faith.(1) That God is firm and immutably true in Himself and His Word.(2) That we will not only believe His truth, but trust to His veracity and build upon it (Jeremiah 11:5). The Jews say "amen" hath three kernels; the one is of an oath, the second of faith, the third of confidence.
7. This unanimous amen of faith strikes terror in the enemies of the Church, whether devils or men. When the Romans had conquered Philip and the Grecians, and Flaminius caused peace to be proclaimed to the Grecians, "there was such a shout," says Plutarch, "that the very crows and other birds fell down to the ground." Our amens must not drop like a cold bullet of lead out of the mouth of a musket, bowing to the ground; but they must be fired by preparations of the heart and warm affections, they must be discharged and shot off with the utmost vehemency of the soul and fervency of the spirit. When God's people can unite in one voice, God gives His voice with them and for them.
(Thomas Woodcock A. M.)
So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense.
(T. Campbell Finlayson.)
1. It is the duty of the pulpit to give the sense of Scripture. It is no part of that duty to make nonsense of it, to wrest it, to handle it deceitfully. This has too often been done. Even by learned men — e.g., insisted that the Psalms ascribed in their titles to Korah are descriptions of the Passion, and that the sons of Korah are Christians because Korah in Hebrew and Calvary in Latin may be translated "baldhead," and because Elisha was derided under that name. saw the twelve apostles, and therefore the clergy in the seven sons of Job, and the lay worshippers of the Trinity in his three daughters. Scripture is not to be played with in that style. "We must give the sense."
2. Not only was the sense given, but it was given in the language of the people, their common, every-day speech. It is our duty to set forth God's law in language that will be intelligible to the people. It is possible to put it into English and yet be unintelligible. If the law be made known in the technical language of theology, or even of literature, it may utterly fail of its purpose. The law of God may be spoken in speech understood of the people, and yet not adapted to their needs. It must be spoken not only in the language of our time, but suited to its present wants. In his Aids to Reflection, S. T. Coleridge says "that there is one sure way of giving freshness and importance to the most commonplace maxims, that of reflecting on them in direct reference to our own state and conduct, to our own past and future being." When you think of those whose high functions are discharged in the pulpit there is no prayer more necessary to be offered than this, that they may be" men having understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do."
3. It may be still further worthy of remark that Ezra and his disciples spoke to the people the law of God. Printed will never take the place of spoken words. Christ said to the disciples, "Go and preach the gospel to every creature." The word "preach" means to make known as a herald. The herald's voice is more powerful than a printed proclamation. The voice carries feeling better than the printed page. Life expresses itself more fully through the voice than by paper or book. The world has caught its highest inspiration through spoken words. Great changes, political, social, moral, religious, have been brought about by the speech of mighty men. The Corn Laws would never have been repealed by books on the subject. Slavery would never have been abolished by anti-slavery literature.
(W. Garrett Horder.)
This day is holy unto the Lord your God; mourn not, nor weep.
Go your way, eat the fat... send portions... for whom nothing is preparedI. THE CHARACTERS SPECIFIED IN THE TEXT. They are said to be those "for whom nothing is prepared." The Scriptures, when speaking of man's condition by nature and practice, in the sight of God, very pointedly state the matter. The language of the text speaks of our poverty, destitution, starvation, and ruin.
II. THE "PORTIONS" — these blessings. Behold the grace and mercy of God! If God meted out to us mere justice, where should we be? and if God left us in our condemnation and ruin, where should we go? If God neglected us, in what condition should we be? Was God under any obligation to us? And yet we are in mercy spared, and instead of vengeance, behold our text speaks of "blessings." And these are not only worthy of God to give, but blessings suitable to us.
III. THE COMMAND; "Send."
(H. Allen, M. A.)
For the Joy of the Lord is your strength
I. A BRIGHT AND HAPPY WALK IS ONE OF THE GREATEST ORNAMENTS OF OUR CHRISTIAN PROFESSION.
II. INDULGENCE OF SIN, CARELESSNESS OF WALK, INCONSISTENCY OF CONVERSATION, WILL SURELY BRING A CLOUD OVER THE CHRISTIAN'S JOY.
III. IN CHRIST ALONE MUST WE PLACE ALL OUR HOPE AND CONFIDENCE.
(J. M. Randall.)
(T. Campbell Finlayson.)
I. BELIEVERS IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST ARE CALLED UPON TO REJOICE. Would that this were more remembered by us, and experienced by us, and gloried in!
1. None but the believer ought to rejoice. I do not deny that there is such a thing as natural joy in natural objects. There is such a thing as natural joy oftentimes stirred up on spiritual subjects. It is like the arrow that passes through the air; it is like the early frost — the sun arises and it is gone. Oh! no one can rejoice but the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ; the worldly man does not know what true joy is. You cannot explain it to him; he cannot receive it; he calls it enthusiasm, fancy, and imagination. A Christless man, a graceless man, a prayerless man, a thoughtless man, a godless man, a hopeless man, how can I expect him to rejoice. In this one thing thou canst rejoice: thou canst rejoice that the door of mercy is not closed. For their own sakes, the Lord will have His people to rejoice. He loves them; and therefore He commands them to be happy. For the sake of others, He would have them to rejoice. He would have them bring the grapes, to show the fruit of the land. And not only so, but for His own great name's sake, for His glory's sake, He would have His people rejoice. As He is Himself infinitely happy in Himself, He would have His people reflect Himself.
II. As THIS JOY IS NOT A NATURAL JOY IN NATURAL OBJECTS, SO IT IS NOT A NATURAL JOY IN SPIRITUAL OBJECTS, BUT IT IS "THE JOY OF THE LORD."
1. It is pre-eminently and peculiarly the joy of which the Holy Ghost is the author. Nature gives it not; nature maintains it not. It is the fruit of the Holy Ghost: "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace."
2. But observe, it is not only the joy of the Lord, but it is joy in the Lord. That which made the eunuch's heart rejoice was Jesus. And if you and I see Him with the eye of faith at this moment, we shall rejoice and be glad too. Oh! there is everything in Jesus to make the soul to rejoice. What is there not in His work, to make the soul to rejoice? The completeness of His atonement. Is there not enough cause in the matchless, majestic, glorious righteousness to make the soul rejoice?
III. THAT THIS "JOY OF THE LORD" IS NOT FOR OUR OWN ENJOYMENT MERELY, NOR FOR OUR SELF-GRATIFICATION, BUT TO STRENGTHEN US. There are two passages of Scripture, to which I would direct your attention here. In the first place, remark in the first of the Epistle to the Philippians, the twenty-fifth verse — "And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith." See how "furtherance" stands connected with "joy of faith"; icy springing from faith, and that joy furthering, advancing, leading onwards and forwards, in the Divine life. Observe too in the third of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the sixth verse, there is that same rejoicing, "the rejoicing of hope," and see how it stands Connected with the confidence of hope: "if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end." We have some precious instances in the Word of God, to show the strengthening power of joy. Observe one in the thirtieth of the first of Samuel. David was, as you and I often are, "greatly distressed," "for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons, and for his daughters; but" — ah! that "but," it is a volume, it is a folio — "but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God." Observe how that strengthened him. Do you ask, What is that which strengthens for service? It is "the joy of the Lord." Take the instance of the prophet Isaiah. Now observe — "Also I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me." "Then" said
I. "The joy of the Lord was his strength": "whithersoever Thou wouldst send me I go." And now there are some few remarks I would make by way of conclusion.
1. In the first place, I would say, that the believer is placed by his covenant God and Father in that position that he requires day by day fresh accession of strength.
2. Then the question now arises, How comes it to pass that there is so much feebleness amongst many of the real children of God if the "joy of the Lord" is our strength? May we not at once answer, Because they do so little enjoy "the joy of the Lord"?
3. Remember that this is a joy which the Holy Ghost alone can give; ask it, then, of Him; wait on Him for it; use every means for it.
(J. H. Evans.)
Homiletic Review.There is a joy that enervates one's powers. The joy of the miser, the joy of the worldling, the joy of all carnal gratification. The strength of a good man is "the joy of the Lord." Observe —
I. THE NATURE OF RELIGIOUS JOY.
1. It is pure.
2. It is elevating.
3. It is solid.
4. It is durable.
5. It is heavenly.
6. It is Divine.
II. THE CONDITIONS OF RELIGIOUS JOY.
I. THE JOY HERE SPOKEN OF IS SAID TO BE "OF THE LORD," AND IT IS SO IN A TWOFOLD SENSE.
II. THE JOY OF THE LORD IS TO BE A STRENGTH; AND IT IS SO.
1. Because it is of God.
2. Because, as such, it enables us to bear up against the ills and disappointments of life (Psalm 4:7). Witness what it did for David, Daniel, Paul, and Silas.
3. Because, when earthly joys fail, the "joy of the Lord" remains ("your joy no man taketh from you"); and on the very ruins of the former the latter ofttimes finds the soil most fitted to its growth.
III. TO WHOM THE "JOY OF THE LORD" IS GIVEN. It is imparted to those only —
1. Who are in union and communion with Jesus Christ; this is its true source.
2. Who ask for it by earnest prayer. "Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full" (John 16:24).
3. Who love God, and keep His commandments (Psalm 19:8).
IV. FOR WHAT PURPOSE IT IS GIVEN. It is imparted —
1. To be as "oil to the wheels of our devotion." Joys are our wings, sorrows are our spurs.
2. To be an inward testimony to ourselves that we have the smile of God's approval coming down upon our efforts to do what is "pleasing and acceptable in His sight"; and —
3. To be an outward testimony that our religion is not the "joyless " service that the world judges it to be; but that all its crosses and calls for penitence and self-denial lead, even in this life, to an inward joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.
(C. G. E. Appleyard, B. A.)
1. It has nothing to do with worldly joy. It is substantial, eternal, shines brighter and brighter unto the perfect day of its consummation in the saints around God's heavenly throne (Galatians 3:22; Romans 14:17).
2. It belongs to the people of God to rejoice in a sense of their reconciliation; to know their salvation is sure through Christ's life; to rejoice in the glorious Creator Himself (Romans 5:11).
II. MANY A TIME HAVE THESE SHORT WORDS DELIGHTED THE BELIEVER'S EAR, AND CHEERED HIS HEART.
1. Mark their excellency. Sound like a sentence uttered in the full knowledge of the gospel rather than under the law. Weak and helpless in yourselves, the Spirit can strengthen you, and supply you with new motives and ability to please the Lord. God has given His only Son to be our joy and our strength. We have a strong city (Isaiah 26:1; Hebrews 6:18; Ephesians 6:10).
2. But how does joy act in rendering us strong — strong to deny ourselves, to suffer, to labour in the cause of Christ? We know our privileges in Christ. This makes us joyful and happy.
3. The Christian rejoices in the past work of Christ, who died; in the present work, intercession; in the future work, returning again in majesty, to endow His servants with eternal bliss (Romans 8:82).
4. Again, joy in the Lord will enable the Christian to accomplish works for the glory of God and the good of others. We know that "heart" or "spirit" will enable the competitor for a prize to go through extraordinary exertion. It is the same with the soldier, the labourer, all who have to exert themselves with their bodies or minds. So with the Christian.
1. The sources on which he draws may be drained dry.
2. The satisfaction which these resources yield is a measurable quantity.
3. Men are not happy, because they seek happiness as an end, and not as a means. Now, if Christianity be Divine, it will accomplish for me what I cannot do for myself. It claims to give men true lasting happiness, because it opens a perennial fountain. In other words, the source of Christian joy is God. This joy is the secret of Christian strength.
I. THE SOURCE OF CHRISTIAN JOY IS GOD. Not without significance that one of Divine attributes is "blessedness." God is absolutely happy in Himself, and happy in relation to His creatures.
1. We can tell something of a man's character and disposition by his works. Now God's works are full of gladness. There is joy in the streams, the woods, the meadows, the cornfields.
2. As in nature, so in grace. The Bible, from cover to cover, warrants the conclusion. The Old Dispensation a much brighter and more beautiful scheme than many superficial students will allow. Law, Prophets, Psalms are full of declarations that God's people are a happy people. Moses: "Happy art thou, O Israel, O people saved of the Lord!" David: "Blessed are the people that Know the joyful sound!" Isaiah: "With joy shall ye draw water from the wells of salvation." And when we turn to the New Testament the wittness becomes over whelming. The, Man of Sorrows" went to the house of feasting to hallow it with the sunshine of His presence, and to the house of mourning to make it radiant with His everlasting joy. One of His last bequests was this: "These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full."
II. THE JOY OF GOD IS STRENGTH.
1. The joy of the Lord is our strength for service. No man can work well unless his heart is in it. The three essential elements of successful service are fitness, enjoyment, enthusiasm. God has a work for all that is in harmony with the best powers of each.
2. The joy of the Lord is our strength against temptation. We are tempted to doubt, but the joy of the Lord will afford a sufficient answer to all anxious questions. We are tempted to fear, but fear is the child of doubt or suspicion. We are tempted by the pleasures of sin, but God's ways are the ways of pleasantness.
3. The joy of the Lord is our strength for endurance. Christ: "In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer," etc. (John 16:88). Paul: "I am filled with comfort," etc. (2 Corinthians 7:4).
III. THE JOY OF THE LORD, THEREFORE, BECOMES A CHRISTIAN LAW OF LIFE. Ingratitude not to accept rich provision God has made for profoundest needs of human spirit. And, further, this provision stands in relation to our duty as means to an end. To neglect our joys is to leave our work undone. But it maybe said that our emotions are the creatures of circumstances. But then we are not the creatures of circumstances. The man who turns his thoughts in upon himself creates for himself an atmosphere in which there can be no joy. Look away from self to God. "Walk in the light, as He is in the light." Or if you must look at sell, let it be as "accepted in the Beloved"; if at the past, as forgiven; if at the present, as full of Divine favour; if at the future, as bright with all the promises of God.
(J. W. Burn.)
Homilist.The physical strength of a man as a labourer is not unfrequently regarded as the measure of his worth; but mental strength is as much superior to the physical as the soul is to the body. Physical weakness often co-exists with mental might; but both bodily and mental strength may be found in combination with the utterest spiritual weakness.
I. HUMAN JOY IS IDENTICAL WITH DIVINE JOY.
1. The joy of atonement with God. God and man atoned by Christ's death, de facto as well as de jure, produces joy in God and man. "We joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have received the atonement."
2. The joy of reciprocated love. Antecedent to reconciliation with God, His love to us is love of pity and compassion; but atoned in Christ, God's love to us is that of moral esteem, and our love to Him is the re-percussion of His love to us. "We love Him because He first loved us." "If any man love Me," etc. (John 14:23).
3. Joy of assimilated character. As an element of the kingdom of God joy is a Divine attribute, inherited by those who are "one with Christ." "That they might have My joy fulfilled" (John 17:13). "That they all may be one," etc. (John 17:21). Divine strength and joy are our everlasting inheritance.
II. HUMAN STRENGTH IS GENERATED BY DIVINE JOY.
1. As experienced in freedom from man-fear. "Only fear the Lord" is one of the first lessons of Christian manliness. God-fear annihilates man-fear, which ever "bringeth a snare."
2. As experienced in freedom from death-fear. Really in birth we take up death; but in Christian decease death dies. "That through death He might destroy, etc. (Hebrews 2:14, 15.)
3. As developed in all holy action and endurance. The strength of health must be operative. To use is to gain strength. "They go from strength to strength" (Psalm 84:7).
Homiletic Review.A morose man is generally morally weak. "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine," and medicates itself. Men weary with sombre thoughts, and are disposed to get rid of them; hence the danger of lapsing from harsh theology into infidelity Christ came with "glad tidings." Strengthening influence of Christian joy shown in the elements of it.
1. The joy of faith is strengthening. Faith is enlargement of mind, seeing man in relation to the Creator, a system of providence, redemptive love, immortality, etc. It is intellectual patience — the "truss-beam" of the soul.
2. The joy of a free conscience is strengthening. No man has courage for high duty who does not know of a forgiven past. The Cross has done more for building up character than did the law.
3. The joy of Divine companionship and help is strengthening. Dependence upon God does not destroy the courage of self-reliance; just the reverse. Bismarck said that without his faith in God's purpose with him, he would not have courage to keep the German portfolio a single day. Read Froude's "Calvinism" for the influence of Divine faith upon the enterprise of nations. Gibbon explains the fulfilment of prophecies by assuming that the belief in God's presence and plan for them gave men the ability to accomplish the predictions.
4. The joy of love to Christ is strengthening. We always serve willingly, patiently, unswervingly, according as we put our hearts into the duty.
I. THE JOY OF THE LORD — WHAT IS IT?
II. HOW DOES IT CONSTITUTE THE MORAL STRENGTH OF A MAN? It has been well remarked that even cheerfulness of animal spirits is of great aid to virtuousness. There are certain temptations to which a joyous temperament is at once a bar. For example, hardness in judging others, malice, pride, can scarcely coexist with brightness and cheerfulness of heart. Many temptations at once flee away when cheerfulness is enjoyed within. The power of exertion revives after sorrow from the habit of looking at the brighter side. There is one special way in which gladness in God is essentially strength. What, it may be asked, is to be the uneducated man's guard against unbelief? What shall garrison his soul against the infidel tract? I reply, the "joy of the Lord," that secret complacency which he consciously gathers from the practice of the commandments of Christianity, and from the resting in the doctrines of Christianity. Teach a man to find a happiness in his Sundays, a gladness in the going up to the house of God, knitting the pleasures of hie life with the mysteries of his faith, and the wave of unbelief will only break itself upon him. It is when you separate pleasure and duty; giving to the things of time all the bright colours, and to the things of eternity all the dark; calling men away from what they like, to pay the debt of a dull, forced uninteresting homage to God, instead of making the rendering such homage in itself a delight — it is then that you create a temptation to withhold the homage, and a temptation to the unbelief which comes in secondly to justify such withholding. When the lamp is gone out in the temple of the Lord, what marvel if the world stands aloof?
II. CHERISH THE SPIRIT OF CONTENTMENT.
III. ALWAYS MAINTAIN AN ABIDING FAITH IN GOD AND IN THE PROVIDENCE WHICH GOVERNS THE WORLD.
(W. J. Hocking.)
I. THE SOURCE FROM WHICH IT PROCEEDS.
1. Joy is mentioned next to love amongst the fruits of the Spirit, and this order is usually illustrated in spiritual experience. Joy is one of the earliest signs of the new life; if there is joy in heaven over the sinner saved, no wonder that there is joy on earth in the sinner's consciousness of salvation.
2. It is also the product of the new and wondrous influence which stirs the soul to its depth when we are restored to our proper relations to the Divine, the mighty impulse of renewed vitality. There is always something essentially joyous in the bursting forth of new life. As in nature, so it is in grace. The new life that is born is indeed an Isaac — a child of laughter. When the Divine Spirit enters and takes possession of our quickened nature He necessarily brings His own joy along with Him.
II. THE CHARACTERISTICS THAT BELONG TO IT.
1. As joy flows from a renewal of our proper relations with God, so it is dependent upon the maintenance of those relations. St. Peter tells us that it is in Him "whom having not seen we love "that we "rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory," and Paul, "Rejoice in the Lord." Twice he speaks of joy in the Holy Ghost.
2. There is always something in God that we may rejoice in (Habakkuk 3:17, 18). It is this characteristic of true spiritual joy that raises those that possess it superior to the circumstances with which they may be surrounded, and which makes it possible for them to realise in their experience what may seem a paradox — "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing."
3. This joy is enhanced by all that is in accordance with the mind and will of God. What causes joy to Him, causes joy naturally enough to those whose joy is in Him. Thus we have —
(1) (2) 4. The intensity of this joy will be in proportion to its purity. Conclusion: It may be asked, How are we to get this joy?I answer — 1. Cease to seek joy for its own sake. Self-abnegation is the condition of the higher joy, and when we are pursuing joy for its own sake, we are not complying with this condition. 2. Remember that joy is a fruit of the Spirit, and you can't make fruit grow. It is the life that produces the fruit; but you must see to it that the life has fair play. Beware of loss of communion. Guard against disobedience. Exercise yourself in contemplation, in praise, and in adoring worship. The tree needs to be bathed in sunshine if its fruit is to be ripe and perfect; and nothing must some between us and the light of His face if our joy is to be perfected. In heaven it will be all joy, because in that fair land God has His way. (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A. .)
(2) 4. The intensity of this joy will be in proportion to its purity. Conclusion: It may be asked, How are we to get this joy?I answer — 1. Cease to seek joy for its own sake. Self-abnegation is the condition of the higher joy, and when we are pursuing joy for its own sake, we are not complying with this condition. 2. Remember that joy is a fruit of the Spirit, and you can't make fruit grow. It is the life that produces the fruit; but you must see to it that the life has fair play. Beware of loss of communion. Guard against disobedience. Exercise yourself in contemplation, in praise, and in adoring worship. The tree needs to be bathed in sunshine if its fruit is to be ripe and perfect; and nothing must some between us and the light of His face if our joy is to be perfected. In heaven it will be all joy, because in that fair land God has His way. (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A. .)
4. The intensity of this joy will be in proportion to its purity. Conclusion: It may be asked, How are we to get this joy?I answer —
1. Cease to seek joy for its own sake. Self-abnegation is the condition of the higher joy, and when we are pursuing joy for its own sake, we are not complying with this condition.
2. Remember that joy is a fruit of the Spirit, and you can't make fruit grow. It is the life that produces the fruit; but you must see to it that the life has fair play. Beware of loss of communion. Guard against disobedience. Exercise yourself in contemplation, in praise, and in adoring worship. The tree needs to be bathed in sunshine if its fruit is to be ripe and perfect; and nothing must some between us and the light of His face if our joy is to be perfected. In heaven it will be all joy, because in that fair land God has His way.
(W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A. .)
I. THAT IN THE PRACTICE OF RELIGIOUS DUTIES THERE IS FOUND AN INWARD JOY, here styled "the joy of the Lord."
1. Joy is a word of various signification. By men of the world it is often used to express those flashes of mirth which arise from irregular indulgences of social pleasure. It will be easily understood that the joy here mentioned partakes of nothing akin to this; but signifies a tranquil and placid joy, an inward complacency and satisfaction, accompanying the practice of virtue, and the discharge of every part of our duty.
2. In order to ascertain this, let us consider the disposition of a good man with respect to God. When we consider in what manner religion requires that a good man should stand affected towards God, it will presently appear that rational enlightened piety opens such views of Him as must communicate joy. It presents Him, not as an awful unknown Sovereign, but as the Father of the Universe, the lover and protector of righteousness, under whose government all the interests of the virtuous are safe. With delight the good man traces the Creator throughout all His works, and beholds them everywhere reflecting some image of His supreme perfection. Amidst that Divine presence he dwells with reverence, but without terror. Conscious of the uprightness of his own intentions, and of the fidelity of his heart to God, he considers himself, by night and by day, as under the protection of an invisible guardian. He listens to the gracious promises of His Word. With comfort he receives the declarations of His mercy to mankind, through a great Redeemer. All the various devotional exercises of faith and trust in God, all the cordial effusions of love and gratitude to this Supreme Benefactor in the acts of prayer and praise, afford scope to those emotions of the heart which are of the most pleasing kind. But it may here be objected, Are there no mortifications and griefs that particularly belong to piety? What shall we say to the tear of repentance, and to that humiliation of confession and remorse which may, at times, be incumbent on the most pious, in this state of human infirmity? To this I reply, first, that although there may be seasons of grief and dejection in s course of piety, yet this is not inconsistent with the joy of the Lord being, on the whole, the predominant character of a good man's state; as it is impossible that, during this life, perpetual brightness can remain in any quarter, without some dark cloud. But I must observe, next, that even the penitential sorrows and relentings of a pious heart are not without their own satisfactions. A certain degree of pleasure is mingled with the tears which the returning offender sheds.
3. When we consider, next, the disposition of s good man towards his fellow-creatures, we find here the joy of the Lord exerting its influence fully. That mild and benevolent temper to which he is formed by virtue and piety; s temper that is free from envious and malignant passions, and that can look with the eye of candour and humanity on surrounding characters, is a constant spring of cheerfulness and serenity. With respect to that part of religion which consists in the government of a man's own mind, of his passions and desires, it may be thought that much joy is not to be expected, for there religion appears to lay on a severe and restraining hand. Yet here also it will be found that the joy of the Lord takes place, To a person just reclaimed from the excesses of sensual indulgence, the restraints imposed by virtue will, at first, appear uncouth and mortifying. But let him begin to be accustomed to a regular life, and his taste will soon be rectified, end his feelings will change. In purity, temperance, and self-government there is found a satisfaction in the mind similar to what results from the enjoyment of perfect health in the body. A man is then conscious that all is sound within. There is nothing that gnaws his spirit; that makes him ashamed of himself, or discomposes his calm and orderly enjoyment of life. His conscience testifies that he is acting honourably. He enjoys the satisfaction of being master of himself. He feels that no man can accuse him of degrading his character. From this slight sketch it plainly appears that there is an inward satisfaction, justly termed "the joy of the Lord," which runs through all the parts of religion. his is a very different view of religion from what is entertained by those who consider it as a state of perpetual penance. But what it concerns us at present to remark is, that some experience of this joy of the Lord which I have described enters as an essential part into the character of every good man. In proportion to the degree of his goodness, to his improvement and progress in virtue, will be the degree of his participation in the pleasure and joy of religion.
II. TO SHOW IN WHAT RESPECTS THE JOY OF THE LORD IS JUSTLY SAID TO BE THE STRENGTH OF THE RIGHTEOUS.
1. In the first place, it is the animating principle of virtue; it supports its influence, and assists it in becoming both persevering and progressive. Experience may teach us that few undertakings are lasting or successful which are accompanied with no pleasure. H a man's religion be considered merely as a task prescribed to him, which he feels burdensome, it is not likely that he will long constrain himself to act against the bent of inclination. It is not until he feels somewhat within him which attracts him to his duty that he can be expected to be constant and zealous in the performance of it. Was it ever found that a person advanced far in any art or study, whether of the liberal or mechanical kind, in which he had no pleasure? A sense of duty may sometimes exercise its authority, though there be no sensations of pleasure to assist it. Belief of those religious principles in which we were educated, and dread of future punishment, will, in cases where no strong temptation assails us, restrain from the commission of atrocious crimes, and produce some decent regularity of external conduct. But on occasions when inclination or interest prompt to some transgression of virtue, which safety or secrecy encourages, and which the example of the world seems to countenance, is it to be thought that conscience will then stand its ground with one who never was attached to virtue on its own account, and never experienced any joy in following its dictates? But these are the occasions when the joy of the Lord proves the strength of the righteous man. Accustomed to take pleasure in doing his duty; accustomed to look up to God with delight and complacency, and to feel himself happy in all the offices of kindness and humanity to men around him; accustomed to rejoice in a clear conscience, in a pure heart, and the hope of heavenly bliss, he cannot think of parting with such satisfactions for the sake of any worldly bribe. There is something within his heart that pleads for religion and virtue.
2. In the next place, the joy of the Lord is the strength of the righteous, as it is their great support under the discouragements and trials of life. From the view which we have now taken of the subject, it must clearly appear, that to every one who wishes to possess the spirit, and to support the character of genuine goodness and virtue, it is an object most desirable and important, to acquire a prevailing relish for the pleasures of religion. To attain this spirit, of considering the discharge of our duty as our pleasure and happiness, is certainly not incompatible with our present state of infirmity. It is no more than what good men have often attained, and have testified to it, that their delight was in the law of God; that His statutes were sweet to their taste; that they had taken them as an heritage for ever, for they were the rejoicing of their heart: "I delight to do Thy will, O my God; Thy law is within my heart." It is therefore of high importance, that all proper means be employed to form our internal taste to a proper relish for this joy of the Lord.
(H. Blair, D. D.)
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY THE JOY OF THE LORD.
1. Much is said of the joy of the Lord in sacred Scriptures; sometimes the Lord Himself is said to rejoice over His people; of Christ it is said, "For the joy that was set before Him," so also in prospect of His death, He rejoiceth over the truly repentant sinner. When the Lord assures His people of their salvation from every danger and every enemy, He says," The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty, He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy." In like manner they also are exhorted to joy in Him: "Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King." Indeed, the gospel itself is a gospel of joy. As such it was announced by the angel to the shepherds: "Behold I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." And we find that the preaching of that gospel was a matter of joy to the poor sinners to whom it was sent. Philip, we are told in the Acts, "went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them," and the consequence was that there was great joy in that city. Now we shall find that their joy arose from a threefold source —
1. What the Lord had done for them. The Lord had brought them back from a miserable and degrading captivity. He had brought them from under the yoke of Babylon; they had been protected and delivered in a more marvellous manner; they were restored to Zion, the city of their solemnities; the king's heart had been softened towards them, and under his authority and protection they were obtaining a secure settlement in their own land. Surely this was a cause for joy. When they looked at the difficulties that stood in their way, and the steps by which the Lord had led them, they could not but rejoice.
2. What the Lord would do for them. Why, even before they took possession of the land of Canaan, while they were under the guidance of Moses, and under the Lord's special care in the wilderness, in the foresight of their future dangers and sins, the Lord had declared, even in their greatest straits and most pressing difficulties, though those very straits and difficulties were occasioned by their sins, that He would never forget His covenant, and would still receive them with mercy (Leviticus 26:40-45).
3. That the people understood all this. When Ezra read in the book of the law of God, he did it "distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading" (ver. 8).
II. ITS HAPPY EFFECTS. When Nehemiah called upon the people thus to joy in the Lord, he told them at the same time what effect it would produce in them. It would be their strength.
1. It will support the Christian under all difficulties. This world is not one of ease and prosperity to the children of God.
2. It will sustain him in all his temptations.
3. Encourage him for the performance of all duties. It will make duties which without it would be burdensome and irksome, pleasant.
4. It will encourage him in prayer. He who has the joy of the Lord for his strength, does not live upon his joy, nor upon his strength. His life is in the Lord, and in proportion as he lives upon Him, he has joy and strength both in and from the Lord.
5. Incite him to hold on to the end. He who has the joy of the Lord for his strength will not rest in present attainments. The joys that are in store for the people of God are far greater than those already tasted.(1) How greatly are many people mistaken as to the nature of true religion.(2) Learn what you should be anxious to obtain. No man can joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ till he has received the atonement.(3) What a vast difference between the empty joys of the world and the solid joys of the gospel!
(G. Maxwell, B. A.)
I. Our joy in the Lord is the effect of HIS JOY IN US. As, for example, the brightness of the stars of night is derived from the unseen sun, so the light of our joy beams from the face of the Sun of Righteousness, which is the God-Man, Christ. Now, God's joy in His people is most wonderful, as we find in the hundred and forty-seventh Psalm, the eleventh verse. In the moral world all happiness and joy are but reflections of heaven's light. Peace and order are but the echoes of His Holy Spirit, amidst the tumultuous tossings and confusions of this world. Again: other and unfallen worlds might cause joy to God; for remember, God must rejoice in His own image, which is reflected more perfectly in unfallen creation; for example, angels are a perfect mirror, in which His image is reflected. They have larger capacities for comprehending God's perfections. But mark the littleness of man's mind. If we compare our own modes of feeling towards one another, we shall find that the philosopher delights not in the company of the unlearned, but rather despises it, and seeks the companionship of those who move in a more congenial element. Hence it is wonderful that God should delight in us, fallen sinful creatures. But the measure of God's joy in us is the more wonderful when we come to consider the language of David in the hundred and thirty-fifth Psalm and the fourth verse, wherein it is written of His rebellious children, "For the Lord hath chosen Jacob unto Himself, and Israel for His peculiar treasure." God's people are also called His portion, as we read in Deuteronomy, the thirty-second chapter and ninth verse — "For the Lord's portion is His people. God's joy in His people, as we read in Ephesians, the first chapter and the tenth and eleventh verses, is the cause of the rich inheritance which He has provided for them — "that in the dispensation of the fulness of times, He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth, even in Him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will." But we must remember also the other and numberless sources of glory to God, namely, the glory of the kingdom of nature stretching along infinity which is only filled with the beauty and majesty of the Deity itself. But it is not wonderful that God should joy in us, when we reflect upon it, for He is more glorified in us than in any other portion of His creation, considering that the work of redemption stamps a value upon us; for human nature, and none other, was taken up into the Godhead, so that our fallen condition opened up a way for glorifying God. Whether we consider His mercy or His justice, His long suffering or His love, all of which were exercised and glorified by the redemption scheme, God rejoices over the theatre where His own glory is exhibited amongst His redeemed children rather than over angels, just as a parent rejoices more over the sick child restored to health than he does over the naturally robust and strong one. God blesses other worlds through the medium of ours.
II. Let us now consider OUR JOY IN THE LORD. We have greater cause to rejoice in the Lord than the Jews, for our deliverance is from s worse captivity, namely, from the bondage of sin. Nehemiah could not set before his people anything but a distant hope of things to come. For how indistinct must have been their views of the promised Saviour compared with ours!
III. THE JOY OF THE LORD IS OUR STRENGTH. A broken spirit disqualifies us for action. "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine; but a broken spirit drieth up the bones"; while, on the contrary, a joyous spirit disposes man for action, as may be seen in Psalm fifty-one, and the twelfth and thirteenth verses — "Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with Thy free Spirit: then will I teach transgressors Thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto Thee." The condition of the animal spirits is admitted to have a powerful influence upon all our faculties. Sorrow and dejection unnerve the body as well as the mind, and take away the power of exertion. The discharge of our several duties depends upon the spirit in which they are conducted; for an earthly servant, brooding over his misfortunes, would be unfit for his position in life. The soldier entering the battlefield must have a spirit and courage to encounter the enemy. So likewise must a Christian feel competent for the encounter with his spiritual duties and enemies. No man can diligently and cheerfully apply himself to any duty unless he has the hope of success in the performance of it. In conclusion, let us consider, how this strength is to be attained. It is not to be procured by any intellectual process of reasoning, nor is it the creature of imagination. We must move into an atmosphere of holiness in order to secure it; for the Christian's joy is the fruit of another clime. We must embark for a foreign land. It is the fruit of the tree of life, and must be plucked by the hand of faith. We must yield ourselves up to the guidance of the Holy Ghost; our souls must be tuned and re-tuned to heaven's harmonies by Him. Joy is the voice of order, and peace, in the soul; and God the Holy Spirit, who moved over creation's dark waters, must breathe over the angry passions of our fallen nature to produce this result.
(G. F. Galaher, M. A.)
I. THE ESSENTIAL JOYOUSNESS OF GOD. This is seen-1. In nature. All simple things in nature are joyous — flowers and fruits, woods and streams, the meadows and the breezes, the song of birds, the movements of animals, the irrepressible mirth of children. All the strong things of nature are magnificently joyous. The sun, the sea, the tempest, etc. What are we to think of Him, what must He be like, who has so constituted man that the very aspect of the world in which he lives furnishes him with quenchless impulses of gladness. The maker is known by his work; his thoughts will be in it; as he is so it will be.
2. In the Christian revelation. The Jewish system enters into the history of the Christian revelation. This system was in the main a festal, joyous service. Its restrictions were for the well-being of the people, and added comfort to their life; its festivals were more numerous than its fasts. If anywhere we should find an incident typical of Jewish history, we should find it in our tart, where we see a grave preacher calling on remorseful and broken-hearted penitents to be more glad for God's sake than they were mournful for their own, because the Lord was still joyous, and the joy of the Lord was their strength. Christ is the Christian revelation; the Son and manifestation of God. Although we call Christ a "man of sorrows" yet it should be impossible to speak of Him as an unhappy, a wretched, a miserable man. "He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows"; but He was not daunted by them, not worn down by them. Sadness oppressed Him, but never gloom; care, but not despondency. He was a welcome guest at feasts. Mothers brought their children to Him; little ones sang around Him, and He was glad to hear their singing. There broke from Him signs of a quenchless joy: "At that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit." He has no better thing to leave His disciples than His own joy. He was sustained under the tribulation of His mission by the deeper joy of His achievement. The deep, unquenchable joy of Christ is itself a revelation of the essential joyousness of God.
3. In the spiritual life. Speaking doctrinally, joy is the "fruit of the Spirit," and a direct result of the gospel: "Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." God intended to give to the penitent the joy of pardon; to the defiled the icy of holiness; to the feeble the joy of strength. God intended by His promises to lift our hearts to exultation; and therefore He sent His Son for our acceptance. Christian history and experience confirm the testimony. Witness the writings of Paul to the buoyancy of his spirit. Strong Christians are always gladsome men; they find inspiration in their mission, bliss in their work. "The voice of rejoicing and thanksgiving" is in their "tabernacles"; they "rejoice in the Lord alway"; they "rejoice with them that do rejoice," and thus give full play and scope to the spirit of their Father who dwelleth in them. The inspirations of the indwelling Spirit declare the essential joyousness of God.
II. THE BLESSEDNESS OF APPREHENDING THE ESSENTIAL JOYOUSNESS OF GOD. It is too much forgotten that joy equally with sorrow enters into a true human development. "Tis held that sorrow makes us wise"; but it needs a strong soul to endure the discipline. "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine." Joy is the tonic of the mind. There are some households into which it does us good to enter; the inmates are so happy, so frank, so loving, that only to be with them refreshes the weary spirit. We thus see how the joy of others may be our strength. It is a refuge for the distressed, a hiding-place from the storm, as " the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." And "the name of the Lord" is above all others the "strong tower" into which "the righteous runneth and is safe." To turn from the contemplation of a smiling world, and smiling men and women, to the thought of a joyous God: what inspiration is bevel
Congregational Remembrancer.A few years ago a fierce and violent dispute was carried on between the chief physicians of Europe concerning antimony. And while some maintained that this mineral was a most valuable medicine, and extolled it to the skies, others asserted that it was injurious, and ought to be classed among the deadly poisons. The debate at length subsided; and it is now admitted that the article in question may be useful when administered with sound judgment. The opinions of men have always been greatly divided on the subject of religious joy — some extol it in the highest strains; others reprobate and condemn and labour to extinguish it.
I. THE NATURE AND SOURCE OF RELIGIOUS JOY. An able writer on the passions says, "Joy is the vivid pleasure inspired on our receiving something peculiarly grateful; something evidently productive of advantage, or something which promises to contribute to Our present or future happiness." The worldly man exults in the acquisition of wealth, power, titles, and honours. When religion enters the mind it both informs the understanding and moves the passions. Among the passions joy holds a conspicuous rank.
1. Religious or holy Icy arises from a sense of the free favour of a merciful, covenant God.
2. Religious joy arises from a sense of the special presence of a merciful, covenant God.
(1) (2) II. HOLY JOY TENDS TO INVIGORATE AND SUSTAIN THOSE WHO ARE THE PARTAKERS OF IT. There are certain states of mind which we are accustomed to express in figurative terms and in the form of maxims. Thus we say knowledge is power, and ignorance is imbecility; hope braces, and fear relaxes the soul. If there be any aptness in such contrasts, we may assert, that as melancholy is weakness, joy is strength. Joy has a manifest tendency to invigorate and sustain — 1. The Christian's resolutions, in prosecuting all the arduous labours of virtue and piety. 2. The Christian's faith under the afflictions and trials he is called to endure (Habakkuk 3:17-18).Conclusion: We have an express warrant to rejoice: "Rejoice in the Lord alway." 1. Our personal interest is wrapt up in this duty. 2. The welfare of our brethren is in a certain degree involved in this duty. 3. The honour of our Master is implicated in the right discharge of this duty. (Congregational Remembrancer.)
(2) II. HOLY JOY TENDS TO INVIGORATE AND SUSTAIN THOSE WHO ARE THE PARTAKERS OF IT. There are certain states of mind which we are accustomed to express in figurative terms and in the form of maxims. Thus we say knowledge is power, and ignorance is imbecility; hope braces, and fear relaxes the soul. If there be any aptness in such contrasts, we may assert, that as melancholy is weakness, joy is strength. Joy has a manifest tendency to invigorate and sustain — 1. The Christian's resolutions, in prosecuting all the arduous labours of virtue and piety. 2. The Christian's faith under the afflictions and trials he is called to endure (Habakkuk 3:17-18).Conclusion: We have an express warrant to rejoice: "Rejoice in the Lord alway." 1. Our personal interest is wrapt up in this duty. 2. The welfare of our brethren is in a certain degree involved in this duty. 3. The honour of our Master is implicated in the right discharge of this duty. (Congregational Remembrancer.)
II. HOLY JOY TENDS TO INVIGORATE AND SUSTAIN THOSE WHO ARE THE PARTAKERS OF IT. There are certain states of mind which we are accustomed to express in figurative terms and in the form of maxims. Thus we say knowledge is power, and ignorance is imbecility; hope braces, and fear relaxes the soul. If there be any aptness in such contrasts, we may assert, that as melancholy is weakness, joy is strength. Joy has a manifest tendency to invigorate and sustain —
1. The Christian's resolutions, in prosecuting all the arduous labours of virtue and piety.
2. The Christian's faith under the afflictions and trials he is called to endure (Habakkuk 3:17-18).Conclusion: We have an express warrant to rejoice: "Rejoice in the Lord alway."
1. Our personal interest is wrapt up in this duty.
2. The welfare of our brethren is in a certain degree involved in this duty.
3. The honour of our Master is implicated in the right discharge of this duty.
I. ITS NATURE. There is a broad distinction between mere gladness and spiritual joy. Spiritual joy rises from within the soul, and does not depend on the outward circumstances of its life. It wells like a fountain from the inner soul. it is con fined to no place. It is bounded by no time. It may grow where earthly gladness would perish. It is a joy springing from the inner communion of the spirit with its God.
1. It is the joy of self-surrender to God. True joy can only begin when the self-life has been surrendered. Until this surrender has been made the consciousness of a guilty past hangs like a burden on the heart. Men know that their gleams of joy are only like flowers growing on the edge of a dark volcano, which when they are alone and outward excitements have passed away will waken in lurid glare and thunder, and distract their repose. They want a joy that shall pierce deeply into the region of self and rise from the consciousness of self-surrender and forgiveness. At the Cross of Christ the burden of the past falls, for at the Cross he yields himself.
2. The joy of fellowship with the Father. All profound gladness springs from sympathy with a spirit or a truth higher than ourselves. Why do our hearts bound on spring mornings with the joy of nature? Why does the beauty of a summer evening calm us? Why do we feel a "glory and a joy" as we tread the mountain sides? Why do we feel a deepening peace as we walk amid the splendours of the golden autumn? Is it not because we realise the presence of s spirit of beauty surrounding us, and inspiring us with an emotion which no words can describe? Or why is it when a truth breaks in upon us through clouds of doubt, and a clear vision of its beauty is gained after long and fruitless searching, that we feel a thrill of joy deep and unspeakable? Have we not after communion with some greater soul felt our own darkness dissipated and our own isolation broken down? In that hour has not the touch of a greater Spirit made us feel nobler, stronger, wiser? And if this be true of earthly communion, must it not be supremely so when we realise the fellowship of God as our Father? It is this which makes "our joy full."
II. THE POWER OF THIS JOY OF THE LORD. We may trace it in three ways.
1. It is power to resist temptation. It forms in itself the fulness of emotion, and surrounds us with a heavenly atmosphere in which the assaults of evil fall powerless away.
2. It is strength for Christian action.
3. It is strength for patient endurance. We are too weak to endure the discipline of life unless we have joy — the present earnest of the future reward.
(E. L. Hull, B. A.)
I. THERE IS JOY AND HAPPINESS IN LIVING WITH AND FOR GOD. I can well remember the first time I saw an engraving of the picture, "The Pursuit of Pleasure." In the picture was the beautiful figure of a woman, with butterfly wings gliding through space. Following hard after her were all ranks and conditions of men, so arranged by the artist as to suggest many forms of enjoyment and excitement, but all eager to get the goddess. In the haste and whirl, and rush, some had fallen and were trampled, but all who could were pressing on, eagerly on, to the abyss. Men pursue that goddess still, forgetting that peace, joy, real happiness, must arise from within, from the state of the mind and heart, from union with God and all that is purest and best men rush blindly off into a thousand outward diversions, all which fail to give rest to the troubled conscience, ease to the sore heart, or anything of the nature of permanent joy and happiness. This is only realised by those who will live with and for God.
II. THERE IS JOY IN WORKING FOR GOD.
1. All work for the good of man is work for God.
2. Those have greatest joy who work in a godly spirit, and put heart into their work.
3. God has a work for us all, and can give us joy in it. I know what it is to have the good word of one's fellow-men, to have the confidence of one's companions and helpers in toil, to have some of the honours which men have to bestow, to enjoy the comforts of home and to share the advantages and blessings of travel, but not all these equal the blessing which God gives me when I am used as the instrument to make one sad heart happy.
III. THE JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH.
1. In temptation.
2. In suffering and loss.
3. In all your life.
(Charles Leach, D. D.)
I. JOY IN THE LORD IS THE NATURAL RESULT OF CHRISTIAN FAITH.
1. Because of what it gives us.
(1) (2) (3) 2. Because of what it takes away from us. (1) (2) (3) II. JOY IS A CHRISTIAN DUTY. It is a commandment here and also in the New Testament. It follows from this that the degree to which a Christian life shall be a cheerful life is dependent in a large measure upon our own volitions. By the selection or the rejection of the appropriate subjects which shall make the main portion of our religious contemplations we can determine the complexion of our religious life. Just as you inject colouring matter into the fibres of some anatomical preparation, so a Christian may, as it were, inject into all the veins of his religious character and life, either the bright tints of gladness, or the dark ones of Self-despondency. If your thoughts are chiefly occupied with God, and what He has done and is for you, then you will have peaceful joy. If, on the other hand, they are bent ever on yourself and your own unbelief, then you will always be sad. It is only where there is much faith and consequent love that there is much joy. If there is but little heat around the bulb of the thermometer, no wonder that the mercury marks a low degree. If there is but small faith there will not be much gladness. III. REJOICING IN THE LORD IS A SOURCE OF STRENGTH. All gladness has something to do with our efficiency; for it is the prerogative of man that his force comes from his mind, and not from his body. If we have hearts full of light and souls at rest in Christ, work will be easy, endurance will be easy, sorrows will be bearable, trials will not be so very hard; and above all temptations we shall be lifted and set upon a rock. If the soul is full, and full of joy, what side will be exposed to any temptation? If it appeal to fear, the gladness that is there is the answer. If it appeal to passion, desire, wish for pleasure of any sort, there is no need for any more -the heart is full Christian gladness, like the magic shield of the old legends, invisible in its crystalline purity, will repel all the "fiery darts of the wicked." (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(2) (3) 2. Because of what it takes away from us. (1) (2) (3) II. JOY IS A CHRISTIAN DUTY. It is a commandment here and also in the New Testament. It follows from this that the degree to which a Christian life shall be a cheerful life is dependent in a large measure upon our own volitions. By the selection or the rejection of the appropriate subjects which shall make the main portion of our religious contemplations we can determine the complexion of our religious life. Just as you inject colouring matter into the fibres of some anatomical preparation, so a Christian may, as it were, inject into all the veins of his religious character and life, either the bright tints of gladness, or the dark ones of Self-despondency. If your thoughts are chiefly occupied with God, and what He has done and is for you, then you will have peaceful joy. If, on the other hand, they are bent ever on yourself and your own unbelief, then you will always be sad. It is only where there is much faith and consequent love that there is much joy. If there is but little heat around the bulb of the thermometer, no wonder that the mercury marks a low degree. If there is but small faith there will not be much gladness. III. REJOICING IN THE LORD IS A SOURCE OF STRENGTH. All gladness has something to do with our efficiency; for it is the prerogative of man that his force comes from his mind, and not from his body. If we have hearts full of light and souls at rest in Christ, work will be easy, endurance will be easy, sorrows will be bearable, trials will not be so very hard; and above all temptations we shall be lifted and set upon a rock. If the soul is full, and full of joy, what side will be exposed to any temptation? If it appeal to fear, the gladness that is there is the answer. If it appeal to passion, desire, wish for pleasure of any sort, there is no need for any more -the heart is full Christian gladness, like the magic shield of the old legends, invisible in its crystalline purity, will repel all the "fiery darts of the wicked." (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(3) 2. Because of what it takes away from us. (1) (2) (3) II. JOY IS A CHRISTIAN DUTY. It is a commandment here and also in the New Testament. It follows from this that the degree to which a Christian life shall be a cheerful life is dependent in a large measure upon our own volitions. By the selection or the rejection of the appropriate subjects which shall make the main portion of our religious contemplations we can determine the complexion of our religious life. Just as you inject colouring matter into the fibres of some anatomical preparation, so a Christian may, as it were, inject into all the veins of his religious character and life, either the bright tints of gladness, or the dark ones of Self-despondency. If your thoughts are chiefly occupied with God, and what He has done and is for you, then you will have peaceful joy. If, on the other hand, they are bent ever on yourself and your own unbelief, then you will always be sad. It is only where there is much faith and consequent love that there is much joy. If there is but little heat around the bulb of the thermometer, no wonder that the mercury marks a low degree. If there is but small faith there will not be much gladness. III. REJOICING IN THE LORD IS A SOURCE OF STRENGTH. All gladness has something to do with our efficiency; for it is the prerogative of man that his force comes from his mind, and not from his body. If we have hearts full of light and souls at rest in Christ, work will be easy, endurance will be easy, sorrows will be bearable, trials will not be so very hard; and above all temptations we shall be lifted and set upon a rock. If the soul is full, and full of joy, what side will be exposed to any temptation? If it appeal to fear, the gladness that is there is the answer. If it appeal to passion, desire, wish for pleasure of any sort, there is no need for any more -the heart is full Christian gladness, like the magic shield of the old legends, invisible in its crystalline purity, will repel all the "fiery darts of the wicked." (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
2. Because of what it takes away from us.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. EZRA FELT THE UNIQUE POWER OF THE NATION'S LITERATURE. For him it contained all that is best for men to do, and happiest to desire. Therefore, he and his fellow-reformers were "the men of the book" of the law of the Lord, using it as "the man of their counsel" a fount of refreshing, a goad to penitence, and a stimulus to faith, generosity, and joy.
II. GOD IS INFINITE, AND NO MAN, NAY, NOT ALL MEN, CAN EXPRESS HIM; BUT EVERY TRUE SOUL MAY SAY SOMETHING ABOUT HIM, and every nature He trains by His spirit may either add something of freshness of setting and force of applicability to an old truth, or open for some soul new glimpses of His wondrous fulness. High thoughts do not disdain lowly minds. The ascent to the loftiest ranges of light and power is given, not to a prophet like the seraphic Isaiah, nor to a singing poet like David, nor to a great leader like Moses, but to Nehemiah, a courtier and a statesman, a politician and a reformer. Nehemiah is for the moment lifted to the highest grade of teachers, and placed by the side of Christ when He says, "These words have I spoken to you that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full." He has fellowship with Paul, when he rejoices that he is counted worthy to preach "the glorious gospel of the happy God." He anticipates Christianity in its most vital and essential element; links together in natural sequence the two economies; shows that God is a Being hot coldly impressive, stolidly majestic, without sympathy, but tender-hearted, forgiving, delighting in mercy, and plenteous in redemption; a God whose joy is strength for troubled men.
III. TO ME IT APPEARS LIKE A STROKE OF TRUE GENIUS AS MEN CALL IT — a breath of inspiration from God, as I would name it — THAT NEHEMIAH DELIVERS THIS HIGHER AND RICHER MESSAGE CONCERNING GOD AT THE MOMENT WHEN THE PEOPLE ARE PROFOUNDLY STIRRED BY THE RECENTLY REDISCOVERED MESSAGE OF THE ANCIENT LAW, AND OVERWHELMED WITH DEJECTION AND SORROW for their newly-revealed sins. The law is not a goal, but a light and a goad; a light on the way to God, and a goad to petition for His pardon. This disclosure of sin and penalty is intended, like the flames out of the mountain, to hurry the approach of the pilgrim to the wicket-gate of repentance.
IV. "GOD'S JOY A STRONGHOLD" (marginal rendering). Who can tell the immense strength infused into a soul to whom God is an ever-present, ever-bright consciousness of infinite joy? Such a consciousness of the presence of the joyful God flings around us an all-protecting shield from the shafts of doubt and care; builds about us a defensive tower from obtrusive fears; delivers us from the world, with its ceaseless din, low ideals, etc.; from the flesh, with its blinding passion, base motive, and thwarting caprice; and from the devil, with his insinuations of the necessity of evil, the selfishness of the good, and the folly of righteousness.
1. This consciousness of God's presence makes to us this world of nature a new creation, instinct with a new significance, and potent with an evangelical energy. We know we are under law. We accept the teachings of science as the teachings of our Father God, and rejoice in its demonstrations of the Abiding Order and Fixed Law of this world because we know the Lawgiver Himself is not a stern Draco, imaged only in the desolating earthquake, fire-belching volcano, and fierce tornado; but a Father, yea, our Father and Redeemer, and that we belong to Him and not to the house in which He has put us.
2. This consciousness makes us feel that the bitter and painful experiences of life are part of the Divine order and plan of a loving and rejoicing Father. A poor fellow said to me after thrusts and stabs of bewildering pain that almost made him reel, "Still, we know it's all right, don't we? We know whom we have believed, and are persuaded we are not going to lose anything we have given over to Him." Such testimonies show how the consciousness of God changes the very face of sorrow; that grief is a joy misunderstood; that the burdens of life are its benedictions; that the old gospel is still new, and that though in the world men may have tribulation, in Christ they have peace. Such testimonies interpret to me the rapturous experiences of persecuted and afflicted men that in my earlier years I was tempted to think over-weighted and unreal: Samuel Rutherford, Payson, Doddridge, Erskine, Robertson, F. R. Havergal, Mrs. Prentiss, and many others.
3. This pervading consciousness of the happiness of God invests death itself with a new mission, forces it to take its place amongst the servants of the Father and the friends of His children. "Absent from the body, we are at home with the Lord."
V. THE JOY OF GOD IS THE SOURCE OF OUR ACTIVE, SELF-FORGETTING GENEROSITY. "Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions for whom nothing is prepared." Whatever God is, He is for us. Whatever God is for us and to us, it is that we may be the same for and to others. Joy in the Lord is strength, positive actual power for ministry. It creates around us the most favourable atmosphere for evoking our resources; raises our entire nature to the highest pitch of energy, and gives unwonted elasticity and capacity of tension to all our faculties. As bodies expand under heat, so the soul enlarges under the genial influence of joy. Indeed, men never reach their best before they have mastered the whole gamut of joy, from the lowest note of cheerfulness to the highest of rapture. As some men do business without obtaining s fiftieth part of the profit gained by others, so some Christians never "nett" the "great gains" that flow from a cheerful piety. Vast is the difference between working for God from a sense of responsibility and from a delight which springs out of fellowship with Christ. Responsibility is a goad. Joy is a magnet. One pricks and urges forward by a sense of painfulness that reduces all work to the severe limits of obedience to imperative and resistless orders. The other is life; and such is its magic it converts even hard toil into play, and makes it as welcome as song to the merry birds, or sport to romping children. The joy of God is strength for the suppression of all life's evils, the solace of all sad hearts, and the service of all for whom nothing is prepared. Conclusion
: 1. The God of the Hebrews is no mere object of worship seated coldly apart and awaiting the homage of men; He is a radiant presence, inspiring the mandate, "Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous." 2. Remember, too, that the joy of our friends is our strength. The bare sight of some men is an instant dismissal of despair. The arrival of another is as the report of a disaster. A light heart dissipates gloom as the sun lifts fog. The joy of friends is a flowing fountain of perennial strength. 3. What an exhaustless fund of gladness is a free, healthy, simple, and natural child; how unspeakably indebted many of us are to the irrepressible joy and strange, heaven-sent wisdom of children for the loss of our moroseness, acerbity, and misery. The joy of children is our strength. 4. It is a common experience, this contagion of joy —this conversion of joy into power. Rejoice, then, in the God of joy, and minister to those for whom nothing is prepared. Pour out your gladness for other hearts. Restrain it, and you destroy it. Cage your lark, and it will not sing. Open the door, give it access to the wide heavens, and away it goes merrily chanting its music up to heaven's gate. (J. Clifford, D. D.)
1. The God of the Hebrews is no mere object of worship seated coldly apart and awaiting the homage of men; He is a radiant presence, inspiring the mandate, "Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous."
2. Remember, too, that the joy of our friends is our strength. The bare sight of some men is an instant dismissal of despair. The arrival of another is as the report of a disaster. A light heart dissipates gloom as the sun lifts fog. The joy of friends is a flowing fountain of perennial strength.
3. What an exhaustless fund of gladness is a free, healthy, simple, and natural child; how unspeakably indebted many of us are to the irrepressible joy and strange, heaven-sent wisdom of children for the loss of our moroseness, acerbity, and misery. The joy of children is our strength.
4. It is a common experience, this contagion of joy —this conversion of joy into power. Rejoice, then, in the God of joy, and minister to those for whom nothing is prepared. Pour out your gladness for other hearts. Restrain it, and you destroy it. Cage your lark, and it will not sing. Open the door, give it access to the wide heavens, and away it goes merrily chanting its music up to heaven's gate.
(J. Clifford, D. D.)
I. THERE IS A JOY OF DIVINE ORIGIN.
1. It springs from God and has God for its object.
2. It springs from a deep sense of reconciliation to God, of acceptance with God, and yet beyond that, o! adoption and close relationship to God.
3. It springs from an assurance that all the future, whatever it may be, is guaranteed by Divine goodness.
4. There is an abyss of delight for every Christian when he comes into actual fellowship with God.
5. Another form of "the joy of the Lord" is the honour of being allowed to serve Him.
II. THIS JOY IS A SOURCE OF GREAT STRENGTH.
1. It is so because it arises from considerations which always strengthen the soul. Very much of the depth of our piety will depend upon our thoughtfulness. He is the joyful Christian who uses the doctrines of the gospel for spiritual meat, as they were meant to be used.
2. "The joy of the Lord" within us is always the sign and symbol of strong spiritual life. The warmth of the South of France does not spring from soft, balmy winds, but from the sun; at sunset the temperature falls. A man who walks in the sunlight of God's countenance for that very reason is warm and strong.
3. It fortifies him against temptation.
4. It makes him strong for service.
5. A joyous man such as I have in my mind's eye is to all intents and purposes a strong man. He is strong in a calm, restful manner. Whatever happens he is not ruffled or disturbed.
III. THIS STRENGTH LEADS TO PRACTICAL RESULTS.
1. Great praise.
2. Great sacrifice.
3. Other expressions of joy. When a man has the oil of joy, then in his business and in his family the wheels of his nature glide along sweetly and harmoniously.
4. Family happiness. "The wives also and the children rejoiced." I dislike much that Christianity which makes a man feel, "If I go to heaven it is all I care for." Why, you are like a German stove which I found in the room of an hotel — a kind of stove which required all the wood they could bring up merely to warm itself, and then all the heat went up the chimney.
IV. THIS JOY, THIS STRENGTH, ARE BOTH WITHIN OUR REACH.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. ASCERTAIN WHAT IS THE JOY OF THE LORD. The joy of the Lord is that sweet and holy gladness which springs from and originates in a calm, humble faith that we are the recipients of the Divine favour, under the Divine protection. In the followers of the Lord it is holy cheerfulness founded on the belief that they are the children of God by Jesus Christ. That their Substitute has paid the debt and accomplished the work of redemption; that they are saved now. Just in proportion as you make salvation a contingency you undermine the basis of Christian joy. Dr. Doddridge once succeeded in procuring the pardon for one condemned to die. As the cell-door was thrown open the poor man cast himself down, and clasping the feet of his deliverer, exclaimed, "Every drop of my blood thanks you, for you have saved them all." This was the joy of salvation realised as a fact.
II. LET US SEE HOW THIS JOY OF THE LORD IS OUR STRENGTH.
1. It strengthens us negatively in the removal of anxieties.
2. It imparts assurance of final victory.
3. It permits a concentration of the whole life force upon a single point. The Christian who believes himself saved trains all his guns in one direction, the end of which is his Master's glory.
4. It reinforces all other motives by the power of gratitude, and puts us under the sweetest and holiest of obligations.
(W. T. Sabine.)
I. THE NATURE OF JOY IN CHRIST.
1. It is the joy which springs from the knowledge of the reconciliation of God to His sinful creatures; by which our lives are saved from destruction, and we are brought into a condition to enjoy His presence and favour.
2. It is such a joy as arises from the possession of a perfect revelation of the character and will of the Most High, and consequently of our interest, duty, and destination. Before the coming of Christ idolatry reigned, and with it necessarily prevailed a general depravation of morals, and a total want of those spiritual excellences and comforts which exalt and bless the human character. Some few sages, indeed, shed by their researches a dubious light on the path of life. But they were like the scattered and glimmering stars of a cloudy midnight. They could neither impart the warmth nor give the light which the wretched traveller needed. Their occasional twinklings only rendered the darkness more apparent and oppressive. This darkness was dispersed by the rising of the Sun of Righteousness. The gospel makes us acquainted with all that it is necessary for us to know of God and with all that He requires of us.
3. It is the joy which springs from the well-grounded hope of inheriting heaven and immortality.
4. It is the joy which arises from our knowledge of the exalted character of our Redeemer, which furnishes a peaceful assurance of the sufficiency of the atonement and of the greatness of the Almighty's love.
II. THIS JOY IS OUR STRENGTH.
1. It is the foundation of our encouragement in approaching our Maker.
2. This joy which we have in the character, instructions, and achievements of Christ animates us in the performing of the duties of life.
3. It is our strength in bearing up under life's troubles and adversities.
4. It gives us comfort in the approach and will give us victory in the conflict with death.
5. It is the principal source of composure and hope when we contemplate the final judgment.
I. THE NATURE OF A TRUE BELIEVER'S JOY. It is "the joy of the Lord." Why?
1. Because God is its author. This joy is no mere animal sensation. It is not the same thing as what we call "good spirits." It is not that flow of lively feelings and sensations which spring up themselves in a man's heart when things are grateful and agreeable. Such feelings are of nature only, and never hold. Religion has no root in them (Matthew 13:20, 21). The joy of true believers is a spiritual gift (Galatians 5:22).
2. Because God is its subject. True believers "joy in the God of their salvation."
(1) (2) 3. They joy in God as the Giver of their present privileges and the Preparer of their future glories (2 Corinthians 5:21; 2 Corinthians 12:9, 10; Isaiah 61:10; Romans 5:5; Philippians 4:7; Proverbs 3:17; James 1:2.) II. THE EFFECT OF THIS JOY UPON THE BELIEVER'S HEART AND LIFE. 1. It strengthens him for duty. How beautifully is this exemplified in the case of the Churches of Macedonia (2 Corinthians 8:2-5). What made them so warm, so zealous in their duties? "The abundance of their joy." The joy of the Lord was their strength. 2. It strengthens him for suffering. See this exemplified: David (1 Samuel 30:6); the apostles when they were beaten before the Jewish council (Acts 5:41); Paul when he calls his heavy trials "light afflictions" (2 Corinthians 4:17); Paul and Silas in the prison at Philippi (Acts 16:25); the victories in the dying hours of true believers (Psalm 149:5, 6; 2 Corinthians 4:16). (A. Roberts, M. A.)
(2) 3. They joy in God as the Giver of their present privileges and the Preparer of their future glories (2 Corinthians 5:21; 2 Corinthians 12:9, 10; Isaiah 61:10; Romans 5:5; Philippians 4:7; Proverbs 3:17; James 1:2.) II. THE EFFECT OF THIS JOY UPON THE BELIEVER'S HEART AND LIFE. 1. It strengthens him for duty. How beautifully is this exemplified in the case of the Churches of Macedonia (2 Corinthians 8:2-5). What made them so warm, so zealous in their duties? "The abundance of their joy." The joy of the Lord was their strength. 2. It strengthens him for suffering. See this exemplified: David (1 Samuel 30:6); the apostles when they were beaten before the Jewish council (Acts 5:41); Paul when he calls his heavy trials "light afflictions" (2 Corinthians 4:17); Paul and Silas in the prison at Philippi (Acts 16:25); the victories in the dying hours of true believers (Psalm 149:5, 6; 2 Corinthians 4:16). (A. Roberts, M. A.)
3. They joy in God as the Giver of their present privileges and the Preparer of their future glories (2 Corinthians 5:21; 2 Corinthians 12:9, 10; Isaiah 61:10; Romans 5:5; Philippians 4:7; Proverbs 3:17; James 1:2.)
II. THE EFFECT OF THIS JOY UPON THE BELIEVER'S HEART AND LIFE.
1. It strengthens him for duty. How beautifully is this exemplified in the case of the Churches of Macedonia (2 Corinthians 8:2-5). What made them so warm, so zealous in their duties? "The abundance of their joy." The joy of the Lord was their strength.
2. It strengthens him for suffering. See this exemplified: David (1 Samuel 30:6); the apostles when they were beaten before the Jewish council (Acts 5:41); Paul when he calls his heavy trials "light afflictions" (2 Corinthians 4:17); Paul and Silas in the prison at Philippi (Acts 16:25); the victories in the dying hours of true believers (Psalm 149:5, 6; 2 Corinthians 4:16).
(A. Roberts, M. A.)
1. Listen to God's comfortable words of reassurance to hearts filled with shame and sorrow. "Grieve not, grieve not"; and it is said over and over again. Such comfortable words can only be spoken to men and women already softened. To most people the trumpet call is rather, "Grieve and lament for your sins; abase yourselves for your follies and self-willed lives." But here the people's hearts have been made soft. Encrusting callousness has been broken through; a wave of tender feeling is passing over them. And God is quick to speak peace to them and offer them "the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." When men's hearts are moved and softened, when at last they let all the barricades of feeling give way and the long pent-up sin and the hunger for good and love Divine pour out in the hidden chambers of the soul, then God hastens to them with His generous assurances. "Do not lay waste your hearts with grief. Take comfort to yourselves. Rejoice that now at last the (lead and careless years are gone, and that the words of life and love ring in your ears once more." In every company of people there are some whose shame and grief over past folly and misbehaviour is a sore that runs perpetually, they cannot get over it nor escape its anguish, the dark burden on memory paralyses them. Yet, if only they could get the records on the table of the heart wiped clean they would be strong men of God. Let me echo the generous comforts of Divine compassion. Oh, let the Divine heart bear away these curses that lie heavy on you. Yield to the goodness that has come into your life. Let sheer goodness and love swamp all self-accusations. Then will you enjoy the sacrament of forgiving grace. Your life will be given back to you as a new and clean thing. Many, I feel sure, are going cold and comfortless, wearing out their spirit in secret regrets that are never salved and soothed away with love. The one thing they need most is a bit of gladness in their life, sun's warmth in enveloping love.
2. The proper Christian note is gladness of heart. What a piece of irony is the laughter and merry-making of the careless, unforgiven maul Underneath the mirth and free play, what a region of unpurged evil deep down within them in their tastes, memories, and habits! How dare men sing and take the delight of life while they are moribund with sin's leprosy and going forward to face the last reckoning unprepared? But Christians — they have the heritage of Christ, the peace that makes the singing heart. True, you cannot ignore the inevitable hardships and pains of living, which are no respecters of persons; and the Christian is as open as any one to the cut of unkindness, the depression of dark times, and the heartache over others' wrongdoing. Yet so far as the inevitable will allow, you are entitled and required to accept the good and joy of your days, to delight in all beauty, all the cheer of human love, all stimulating influences and glad hopes. The common delights of human life are all the more yours because you have the diviner reasons for happiness. I am certain that numbers of Christians have never accepted the full gladness of their high calling in Christ. What is the reason? Is it that they think it unbecoming to let their hearts swell with natural joy? Has religious seriousness overpowered their natural good spirits, a tradition of sombre piety suppressing their buoyancy? It is a false conception of the Christian mind. Take joy in, and let radiance suffuse your life. Yes, I know there is a heartless element in the unmitigated delight of some people. There is a heartless mirth which is careless of mankind. And it is possible for us to take the pleasure of our days without regard to the sore problems of the world and the sins of men. Christian music must have its minor as well as its major notes. Yet we are not meant to surrender our hearts much or long to the oppressing burden of human sin and distress. We are to feel it so far that we shall "send portions to them for whom nothing is prepared," to better the hard lot of such as we can reach and assist Christ to gladden the whole race. That is an essential condition of a joy that is Christian. But, having done this, we are to take the sun. If we took all the world's misery into our hearts it would crush us, spoiling our personal influence, without doing any good. We must leave the most of it to Almighty God to bear, who alone has the almighty heart. The sun of righteousness is not sinking in the sky, but ascending over the world. In spite of evil we rejoice by faith, by anticipation of what God in Christ is in process of achieving, because of the entrance of Divine power into the world in Christ. Even our sins which sadden us will be overcome if we remain faithful.
3. There is God's tonic for our hearts in this devout gladness. Happiness is a bracing tonic in its own time and place. I do not forget — it is often enough said — that suffering and sorrow are bracing forces, and they, too, are required to make men sterling and strong in virtue and godliness. Shadow and discipline have their indispensable work to do in forging Christian character. The paler hues of character, the sombre greys of meekness and gentleness, are not the sole Christian colours. Those who suffer prolonged discipline are apt to lose the warmer tints which brighten the Christian faith, and to miss the elasticity of spirit which helps us to rise from our errors and press toward the mark. If we could get some rays of luminous sunshine transmitted into our hearts we should take a new lease of life; new springs would be opened in us for the refreshment of others.
(R. E. Welsh, M. A.)
I. IN RENDERING EFFECTIVE OUR SORROW FOR SIN. Sorrow alone and by itself can produce no genuine repentance; but "the joy of the Lord" — the assurance of a free and unqualified forgiveness — must be mixed with the sorrow to produce such a result. We understand by repentance, not only the lamenting sin, which is a part, but the forsaking sin, which is a greater part. It is the pleasure of God, the joy of God, that men should forsake their sins and receive salvation at His hands without money and without price. "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked shall die, saith the Lord God, and not that he should return from his wicked way and live?" God joys in nothing so much as in welcoming transgressors who trust themselves to the suretyship of His Son. It is right to tremble at the wrath of God. It is right to mourn over your sins. But you must do more than tremble and mourn — you must" eat the fat and drink the sweet." "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin " — here is the fat. "Come unto Me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest " — there is the sweet.
II. IN ENCOURAGING US AND HELPING US TO WRESTLE WITH TEMPTATION. The assurance of Divine help is "the joy of the Lord," and in this joy does the true Christian's strength consist. The encouragements of the gospel are encouragements to strive, encouragements to labour — to resist evil, to mortify passions, and to cultivate holiness. They are encouragements to hold on through a course of temptation in the assurance that the Redeemer will furnish help proportionate to the attack. The slave may be kept in awe by the scourge, but the affectionate son is best ruled by a smile; and as soon as the believer has been admitted into the very family and, household of God, he will derive from "the joy of the Lord" his best strength for the mastery of evil.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
I. IN THE DIVINITY OF HIS JOY.
II. IN THE UTILITY OF HIS JOY.
1. In the profession of his religion. Joy is the very strength of this.
2. In his concern to recommend religion to others.
3. In the discharge of his duties.
4. In his perils.
5. In his sufferings.
6. In death.
(Hugh S. Carpenter, D. D.)
Psalm 149:2; Philippians 4:4).
(Dr. Fergus Ferguson.)
(J. R. Miller, D. D.)
(R. J. Campbell.)
(F. Harper, M. A.)
So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves boothsI. WE ARE REMINDED HERE THAT THERE IS SUCH A THING AS BURIED TRUTH. True reformations and revivals of religion have always consisted in people's minds being directed to some portion of truth which, though contained in the Word of God, has for a time been lost sight of.
II. WE OBSERVE THAT IN THIS INSTANCE THE JEWS DARED TO FOLLOW GOD, APART PROM AND IN SPITE OF THE TRADITIONS OF A THOUSAND YEARS. It is not a valid argument against a view of truth that it has found no acceptance for long, or even that the testimony of successive generations is against it.
III. WEAK AND DESPISED INSTRUMENTALITY IS OFTEN USED OF GOD TO RECOVER LOST TRUTH. "It was reserved for the feeble remnant that returned from the Babylonish captivity to do what had not been done even in the bright days of Solomon." The Waldenses bearing dogged testimony against Rome for centuries. The Gospellers of Wycliffe's and other days in our own land. George Fox and his noble band of "Friends."
IV. IT WAS AFTER BITTER CHASTISEMENT OF CAPTIVITY THAT THE NATION WAS THUS MADE "WILLING AND OBEDIENT."
(W. P. Lockhart.)
I. THE "OLIVE" BRANCH IS ALWAYS USED AS A SIGN OF PEACE. The olive-tree grows in warm climates to the height of about twenty-five feet, has an upright stem, and many out-shooting branches which can easily be stripped off. If a twig of this tree, in time of war, is handed from one general to another, it means the unsaddling of cavalry horses and the hanging up of the war knapsacks. After hostilities have ceased, these branches are placed over doorways, and they are built into triumphal arches, and they are waved in processions. They spell out in verdurous letters that heaven-born word of "Peace!" Now in this gospel arbour which God sends us to build we must have two of these olive branches.
1. Peace with God.
2. Peace with each other.
II. My text, in the next place, suggests that in this arbour for our soul, on the way toward glory, WE OUGHT TO HAVE A GOOD MANY "PINE BRANCHES." Now, pine is healthful, aromatic, and an evergreen. It has often been the case that invalids have been sent into the regions where the pine grows, and they have come back thoroughly well. It is a frequent prescription, on the part of physicians, to say, "Go for a few weeks amid the pines, and you will be better." Now we want in this gospel arbour pine branches. We want something that means health, aroma, and evergreen. This is a very healthy religion. I have known an old Christian, with no capital of physical health, and carrying about him all the respectable diseases that one can carry, and yet kept alive by nothing at all but his religion. But this gospel is evergreen. What does the pine forest care for the snow on its brow? It merely considers it a crown of glory. You cannot freeze out the pine forest, and this grace of God is just as good in the winter of trouble as it is in the summer of prosperity. It is the religion you want — not dependent upon weather or upon change.
III. My text suggests still further that this arbour of Christian grace ought to have in it A GOOD MANY "PALM BRANCHES." You know that it is a favourite tree at the East. The ancients used to make it into three hundred and sixty uses. The fruit is conserved. The sap becomes a beverage. The stones are ground up as food for camels. The base of the leaves is twisted into rope. Baskets and mats are made out of it, and from the root to the tip-top of the palm it is all usefulness. It grows eighty-five feet in height, is columnar, its fringed leaves sometimes four or five yards long, and the ancients used to carry it in processions as a symbol of victory. Oh, for more palm branches in our gospel arbour! Usefulness and victory! Head, heart, tongue, pen, money, social position — all employed for God. Counsel is often given on worldly matters — about investments — that you must not put all the eggs in one basket; but in this matter of religion I wish that we might give all to God, and get in ourselves. "Oh," says some man, "my business is to sell silks and calicoes." Then sell silks and calicoes for the glory of God. Says another man, "My business is to edit a newspaper." Then edit a newspaper for the glory of God. Anything that a man cannot do for the glory of God he has no right to do. The vast majority of professed Christians in this day do not amount to anything. You have to shovel them off the track before the chariot of God's grace can advance. What we want in the Church now is not weeping willows, sighing and weeping by the Water-courses, admiring their long fringes in the glass of the stream; not hickories full of knots; not wild cherry, dropping bitter fruits; but palm-trees, adapted to three hundred and sixty purposes — root, trunk, branch, leaf, producing something for God and man and angels.
IV. My text demands that in the making of this gospel arbour we shall get "BRANCHES OF THICK TREES." You know that a booth or arbour is of little worth unless there be stout poles at the corners, or the wind will upset the booth; and you will be worse off than without shelter unless you have strong branches of thick trees. A gospel that is all mellowness and sweetness will have no strength to withstand the blast of temptation and trial and trouble. We want a brawny Christianity. We want a gospel with warnings as well as with invitations. While olive branches are good in their places, and the palm branches, and the myrtle branches, we want the stout branches of thick trees. The tempest of temptation will come down after a while; the hurricane of death will blow; and alas! for that man who has not his soul sheltered under the stout branches of the thick trees.
(T. De Witt Talmage.)
Also day by day... he read in the book of the law of God.I. WHY?
1. Because of its infinite preciousness and value.
2. Because of its tendency to build up the inner and spiritual life.
3. Because all great revivals of the power of religion have been associated with high reverence for the written Word.
4. Because by this Word you must be judged.
1. With reverence.
2. With special affection and prayerfulness.
3. Take time.
4. Keep the end in view.