Trials do more than cast a shadow, they often bring us into periods of darkness. It seems that, as Rutherford says, Christ’s purpose is to have joy and sorrow equal sharers in the life of His people. As though “each of them should have a share of our days, as the night and the day are kindly partners and halfers of time”. To some it may seem that they have more sorrow than joy. Rutherford says that even though “sorrow be the greediest halfer of our days here, I know joy’s day shall dawn, and do more than recompense all our sad hours”. In the midst of trials and darkness the light of joy is sown for the righteous (Psalm 97:11). Faith brings Christ near and His presence floods the dark room of sorrow with the light of joy.
This is expressed in 1 Peter chapter 1: it is possible to “greatly rejoice” even though we “are in heaviness” through the trial of our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7). We should not forget that the Christian has spiritual trials and afflictions that every bit as real and troubling as their outward trials. Of course they may, and frequently do, come together. We can even have joy during such trials. Those to whom Peter was writing had never seen Christ in the flesh, but by faith they loved Him. They could “rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). This is a remarkable joy, even in the midst of trials, its nature and extent cannot be fully expressed. It is the beginning of the joy that glorified spirits have in heaven. The following updated extract comes from Alexander Nisbet’s reflections on these words in 1 Peter 1:8.
1. Where There is Faith in Christ, There Will be Love to Him
True faith in Jesus Christ always has love to Him flowing from it. This will make the soul hate everything it knows to be contrary to His nature and will (Psalm 97.10). It will constrain the soul to endeavour everything it knows will please and honour Him (2 Corinthians 5:4). In this verse love to Christ is the effect of faith that has been proved genuine by trials.
2. This Brings Joy, Even in the Worst Trials
Faith which has love to Christ flowing from it will bring much joy into the soul of the believer even under sore trials. They may have sore heaviness of spirit as a result of these trials. Faith is the grace which secures the soul’s chief good (Song of Solomon 2:16). It lets the soul see clearly through present afflictions to a certain and blessed deliverance (2 Corinthians 4:18). Love to Christ is also a clear proof of the love of God to us (John 16:27). True faith not only has love to Christ flowing from it but also produces joy.
3. Faith Makes Christ Real and Present
They who heartily embrace Christ offered to them in the Word by faith, will love Him and rejoice in Him as though they had seen him and conversed with him bodily. True faith makes the thing it lays hold of spiritually present to the soul (Hebrews 11:1). Thus suffering believers are commended in that they loved and rejoiced in Jesus Christ though they had never seen him as the apostle had i.e. in the flesh.
4. We are to Consider Ourselves as Joyful Even When we Struggle
Many true lovers of Jesus Christ have now and then a good measure of spiritual joy in Him, but they do not consider and appreciate this as they ought. They do not, therefore, persevere so cheerfully in their trials as they otherwise would. The Spirit of the Lord directs the apostle to lead suffering Christians to reflect on themselves as those who did love Christ and rejoice in Him. This implies that they needed this pointed out to them. It also indicates that if they considered themselves to be such, they would be greatly encouraged to cheerful perseverance under their sufferings.
5. Christ Notices our Trials and Will Reward Them
Christ takes great notice of any difficulty a believer experiences in exercising any grace. This will be to the great benefit of the believer when Christ and he meet. The difficulty that these sufferers experienced in exercising their love and faith is twice expressed, implying that the fewer conscious helps faith has (besides the Word) the more highly it is esteemed by Jesus Christ. So much the more also it will “be found to praise and honour and glory” (1 Peter 1:7) at His appearance.
6. Inexpressible Joy is not Impossible Amidst Trials
It is not impossible for a child of God to rejoice in the midst of many trials and discouragements. Even though they may have nothing that can give them comfort except the Word of the Lord. They may have their heart now and then filled with such a joy as can hardly be kept within doors. It may be such a joy that no tongue nor words can sufficiently express. By faith the believer lays hold of God as his father in Christ. He views by faith his spiritual privileges, such as the certainty of his perseverance and the excellence of his reward. The apostle affirms that these suffering and sad-hearted exiles rejoiced in believing. The word used means the kind of joy that breaks out in outward expressions, yet it cannot be sufficiently expressed – it is “joy unspeakable”.
7. Lively Faith Experiences Foretastes of Glory
Lively exercise of faith will sometimes give the soul some foretastes of the first fruits of glory. It may, for instance, experience that sweetness in communion with God which those in glory live on. The believer may have in his heart the well-grounded assurance of the ultimate full possession of this (Romans 5:2, 8:38). This will enable the soul humbly to glory over all possible difficulties, while it takes hold of that power which is committed to carrying it through (1 Peter 1:5). Thus, the apostle affirms the joy which flows from believing, to be “full of glory”.