'The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Ghost.' -- Acts xiii.52.
'Then Nehemiah said, This day is holy unto the Lord: neither be ye sorry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. So the Levites stilled the people, saying, Hold your peace; for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved. And all the people went their way to make great mirth, because they had understood the words.' -- Neh. viii.10-12.
The deep significance of joy in the Christian life is hardly understood. It is too often regarded as something secondary; whereas its presence is essential as the proof that God does indeed satisfy us, and that His service is our delight. In our domestic life we do not feel satisfied if all the proprieties of deportment are observed, and each does his duty to the other; true love makes us happy in each other; as love gives out its warmth of affection, gladness is the sunshine that fills the home with its brightness. Even in suffering or poverty, the members of a loving family are a joy to each other. Without this gladness, especially, there is no true obedience on the part of the children. It is not the mere fulfilment of a command, or performance of a service, that a parent looks to; it is the willing, joyful alacrity with which it is done that makes it pleasing.
It is just so in the intercourse of God's children with their Father. Even in the effort after a life of consecration and gospel obedience, we are continually in danger of coming under the law again, with its, Thou shalt. The consequence always is failure. The law only worketh wrath; it gives neither life nor strength. It is only as long as we are standing in the joy of our Lord, in the joy of our deliverance from sin, in the joy of His love, and what He is for us, in the joy of His presence, that we have the power to serve and obey. It is only when made free from every master, from sin and self and the law, and only when rejoicing in this liberty, that we have the power to render service that is satisfying either to God or to ourselves. 'I will see you again,' Jesus said, 'and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy shall no man take from you.' Joy is the evidence and the condition of the abiding personal presence of Jesus.
If holiness be the beauty and the glory of the life of faith, it is manifest that here especially the element of joy may not be wanting. We have already seen how the first mention of God as the Holy One was in the song of praise on the shore of the Red Sea; how Hannah and Mary in their moments of inspiration praised God as the Holy One; how the name of the Thrice Holy in heaven comes to us in the song of the seraphs; and how before the throne both the living creatures and the conquering multitude who sing the song of the Lamb, adore God as the Holy One. We are to 'worship Him in the beauty of holiness,' 'to sing praise at the remembrance of His Holiness;' it is only in the spirit of worship and praise and joy that we fully can know God as holy. Much more, it is only under the inspiration of adoring love and joy that we can ourselves be made holy. It is as we cease from all fear and anxiety, from all strain and effort, and rest with singing in what Jesus is in His finished work as our sanctification, as we rest and rejoice in Him, that we shall be made partakers of His Holiness. It is the day of rest, is the day that God has blessed, the day of blessing and gladness; and it is the day He blessed that is His holy day. Holiness and blessedness are inseparable.
But is not this at variance with the teaching of Scripture and the experience of the saints? Are not suffering and sorrow among God's chosen means of sanctification? Are not the promises to the broken in heart, the poor in spirit, and the mourner? Are not self-denial and the forsaking of all we have, the crucifixion with Christ and the dying daily, the path to holiness? and is not all this more matter of sorrow and pain than of joy and gladness?
The answer will be found in the right apprehension of the life of faith. Faith lifts above, and gives possession of, what is the very opposite of what we feel or experience. In the Christian life there is always a paradox: what appear irreconcilable opposites are found side by side at the same moment. Paul expresses it in the words, 'As dying, and, behold, we live; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing all things.' And elsewhere thus, 'When I am weak, then am I strong.' The apparent contradiction has its reconciliation, not only in the union of the two lives, the human and the Divine, in the person of each believer, but specially in our being, at one and the same moment, partakers of the death and the resurrection of Christ. Christ's death was one of pain and suffering, a real and terrible death, a rending asunder of the bonds that united soul and body, spirit and flesh. The power of that death works in us: we must let it work mightily if we are to live holy; for in that death He sanctified Himself, that we ourselves might be sanctified in truth. Our holiness is, like His, in the death to our own will, and to all our own life. But -- this we must seek to grasp -- we do not approach death from the side from which Christ met it, as an enemy to be conquered, as a suffering to be borne, before the new life can be entered on. No, the believer who knows what Christ is as the Risen One, approaches death, the crucifixion of self and the flesh and the world, from the resurrection side, the place of victory, in the power of the Living Christ. When we were baptized into Christ, we were baptized into His death and resurrection as ours; and Christ Himself, the Risen Living Lord, leads us triumphantly into the experience of the power of His death. And so, to the believer who truly lives by faith, and seeks not in his own strugglings to crucify and mortify the flesh, but knows the living Lord, the deep resurrection joy never for a moment forsakes Him, but is his strength for what may appear to others to be only painful sacrifice and cross-bearing. He says with Paul, 'I glory in the cross through which I have been crucified.' He never, as so many do, asks Paul's question, 'Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?' without sounding the joyful and triumphant answer as a present experience, 'I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.' 'Thanks be to God, which always leadeth us in triumph in Christ.' It is the joy of a Present Saviour, of the experience of a perfect salvation, the joy of a resurrection life, which alone gives the power to enter deeply and fully into the death that Christ died, and yield our will and our life to be wholly sanctified to God. In the joy of that life, from which the power of the death is never absent, it is possible to say with the Apostle each moment, 'As dying, and, behold, we live; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.'
Let us seek to learn the two lessons: Holiness is essential to true happiness; happiness essential to true holiness. Holiness is essential to true happiness. If you would have joy, the fulness of joy, an abiding joy which nothing can take away, be holy as God is holy. Holiness is blessedness. Nothing can darken or interrupt our joy but sin. Whatever be our trial or temptation, the joy of Jesus of which Peter says, 'in whom ye now rejoice with joy unspeakable,' can more than compensate and outweigh. If we lose our joy, it must be sin. It may be an actual transgression, or an unconscious following of self or the world; it may be the stain on conscience of something doubtful, or it may be unbelief that would live by sight, and thinks more of itself and its joy than of the Lord alone: whatever it be, nothing can take away our joy but sin. If we would live lives of joy, assuring God and man and ourselves that our Lord is everything, is more than all to us, oh, let us be holy! Let us glory in Him who is our holiness: in His presence is fulness of joy. Let us live in the Kingdom which is joy in the Holy Ghost; the Spirit of holiness is the Spirit of joy, because He is the Spirit of God. It is the saints, God's holy ones, who will shout for joy.
And happiness is essential to true holiness. If you would be a holy Christian, you must be a happy Christian. Jesus was anointed by God with 'the oil of gladness,' that He might give us 'the oil of joy.' In all our efforts after holiness, the wheels will move heavily if there be not the oil of joy; this alone removes all strain and friction, and makes the onward progress easy and delightful. Study to understand the Divine worth of joy. It is the evidence of your being in the Father's presence, and dwelling in His love. It is the proof of your being consciously free from the law and the strain of the spirit of bondage. It is the token of your freedom from care and responsibility, because you are rejoicing in Christ Jesus as your Sanctification, your Keeper, and your Strength. It is the secret of spiritual health and strength, filling all your service with the childlike happy assurance that the Father asks nothing that He does not give strength for, and that He accepts all that is done, however feebly, in this spirit. True happiness is always self-forgetful: it loses itself in the object of its joy. As the joy of the Holy Ghost fills us, and we rejoice in God the Holy One, through our Lord Jesus Christ, as we lose ourselves in the adoration and worship of the Thrice Holy, we become holy. This is, even here in the wilderness, 'the Highway of Holiness: the ransomed of the Lord shall come with singing; the redeemed shall walk there; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness.'
Do all God's children understand this? that holiness is just another name, the true name, that God gives for happiness; that it is indeed unutterable blessedness to know that God does make us holy, that our holiness is in Christ, that Christ's Holy Spirit is within us. There is nothing so attractive as joy: have believers understood it that this is the joy of the Lord -- to be holy? Or is not the idea of strain, and sacrifice, and sighing, of difficulty and distance so prominent, that the thought of being holy has hardly ever made the heart glad? If it has been so, let it be so no longer. 'Thou shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel:' let us claim this promise. Let the believing assurance that our Loving Father, and our Beloved Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, who in dove-like gentleness rests within us, have engaged to do the work, and are doing it, fill us with gladness. Let us not seek our joy in what we see in ourselves of holiness: let us rejoice in the Holiness of God in Christ as ours; let us rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. So shall our joy be unspeakable and unceasing; so shall we give Him the glory.
BE YE HOLY, AS I AM HOLY.
Most Blessed God! I beseech Thee to reveal to me and to all Thy children the secret of rejoicing in Thee, the Holy One of Israel.
Thou seest how much of the service of Thine own dear children is still in the spirit of bondage, and how many have never yet believed that the Highway of Holiness is one on which they may walk with singing, and shall obtain joy and gladness. O Father! teach Thy children to rejoice in Thee.
I ask Thee especially to teach us that, in deep poverty of spirit, in humility and contrition and utter emptiness, in the consciousness that there is no holiness in us, we can sing all the day of Thy Holiness as ours, of Thy glory which Thou layest upon us, and which yet all the time is Thine alone. O Father! open wide to Thy children the blessed mystery of the Kingdom, even the faith which sees all in Christ and nothing in itself; which indeed has and rejoices in all in Him; which never has or rejoices in ought in itself.
Blessed God, in Thy Word Thou hast said, 'The meek shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.' Oh, give us, by Thy Holy Spirit, in meekness and poverty of spirit, to live so in Christ, that His Holiness may be our ever-increasing joy, and that in Thyself, the Holy One of Israel, we may rejoice all the day. And may all see in us what blessedness it is to live as God's holy ones. Amen.
1. The great hindrance to joy in God is expecting to find something in ourselves to rejoice over. At the commencement of this pursuit of holiness we always expect to see a great change wrought in ourselves. As we are led deeper into what faith, and the faith-life is, we understand how, though we do not see the change as we expected, we may yet rejoice with joy unspeakable in what Jesus is. This is the secret of holiness.
2. Joy must be cultivated. To rejoice is a command more frequently given than we know. It is part of the obedience of faith, to rejoice when we do not feel like doing so. Faith rejoices and sings, because God is holy.
3. 'Filled with joy and the Holy Ghost,' 'The Kingdom is joy in the Holy Ghost.' The Holy Spirit, the Blessed Spirit of Jesus is within thee, a very fountain of living water, of joy and gladness. Oh, seek to know Him, who dwells in thee, to work all that Jesus has for thee: He will be in thee the Spirit of faith and of joy.
4. Love and joy ever keep company. Love, denying and forgetting itself for the brethren and the lost, living in them, finds the joy of God. 'The kingdom of God is joy in the Holy Ghost.'