We can monitor the pulse of our soul by considering what we long for most frequently and in the strongest way. Our hearts naturally go out to that which we value most. We may wish for and aspire to many things that are not only worthwhile but necessary. The farmer wishes for the right weather and the businessman favourable market conditions. Yet above all these are the highest wishes of the soul for our eternal good and the good of others. We desire that others would prosper in outward things but the prosperity of their souls comes first (3 John 2). Outward things are limited and finite but spiritual blessings are infinite. We may desire everyone to be filled with these and the same fulness will remain in God.
Hugh Binning speaks of “the highest wish of a holy heart” for itself and those it loves best. He says it summarised in this: “The God of hope fill you with all peace and joy in believing” (Romans 15:13).
There is nothing can be spoken which sounds more sweetly in the ears of men than peace and joy. They do not need to be commended, everyone testifies to them in their affections. What does everyone seek after but this? They do not seek any outward earthly thing for itself, but rather for the peace and contentment the mind expects to find in it. Anyone would think themselves happy if they could attain this without having to go through all other things one by one. The believing Christian is merely a wise person, who is instructed where true peace and joy lie. They seek to be filled with these things themselves.
The Soul’s Feast
These are the fruits of the Spirit Paul desires to be filled with and feed on. He desires to feed on peace as an ordinary meal and joy as an extraordinary dessert, or a powerful cordial. The believer would refuse the finest food to sit at this table. It is a full feast which fills the soul with peace, joy and hope, as much as it is capable of in this life.
The Soul’s Fruits
The words of the verse point to both the root that produces these fruits and the branch that bears them. The root is the God of hope and the power of the Holy Spirit. A soul that has been grafted in as a living branch by faith into Christ receives strength to produce such pleasant fruits. They grow on the branch of believing, but the sap and life of both come from the Holy Spirit and the God of hope.
The Soul’s Streams
Think of it in a different way. This is the river which makes glad the city of God with its streams, it waters the garden of the Lord with its threefold stream. It is divided into three streams every one of which is derived from another. The first is peace — a sweet, calm and refreshing river which sometimes overflows like the river Nile. Then it runs in a stream of joy, which is the high spring tide but ordinarily it sends out the comforting stream of hope in abundance. This threefold river has a high source, as high as the God of hope and the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet the channel of the river runs on low ground, this channel is believing in Christ.
1. A Wish for Peace
Our Saviour found no better word to express His matchless good-will to the well-being of his disciples than peace. After His resurrection He said “Peace be unto you,” (Luke 24:36). As though He wished them absolute satisfaction and all the contentment and happiness that they themselves would desire.
We must consider this peace in relation to God, to ourselves, and fellow Christians. Brotherly concord and peace are the main subject of Romans chapter 15. This involves bearing with the weaknesses of our neighbour, not pleasing ourselves and similar mutual duties of charity.
But peace in relation to God and ourselves are most essential to happiness. The foundation of all our misery is the enmity between man and God. All our being, all our well-being, hangs on His favour. All our life and happiness is in His favour. But since the fall everyone is contrary to God, and in his affections and actions declares war against heaven.
When a soul sees this enmity and division in sad earnest, there is war in the conscience. The terrors of God raise up a terrible arm within, the bitter remembrance of sins. These are set in battle-array against the soul, and everyone pierces an arrow into his heart. It is the business of the gospel to quell this storm, because it reveals the glad tidings of peace and reconciliation with God. This is the only grounds for perfect calm in the conscience. The atonement which has pacified heaven and appeased justice is declared in this. Only this can pacify the troubled soul and calm the tumultuous waves of the conscience (Ephesians 2:13-20; Colossians 1:19-22).
God in Christ is reconciling sinners to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). He entreats us to lay down our hostile affections and the weapons of our warfare. The love of God carried into the heart with power, gives that sweet calm and pleasant rest to the soul, after all its tumult. This commands the winds and waves of the conscience, and they obey it.
2. A Wish for Joy
Joy is the effect of peace. It flows out of it in the soul laying hold of the love of God and the inestimable benefit of the forgiveness of sins. It is peace in a large measure, running over and resulting in refreshing of all that is in the believer: “My heart and my flesh shall rejoice.” This is the very exuberance and high sailing-tide of the sea of peace that is in a believer’s heart. It swells sometimes on the favour of God beyond its usual bounds to a boasting in God. When a soul is filled with glory by the Holy Spirit in possessing what it hopes for it enlarges itself in joy. In this inward jubilation, the heart leaps for joy.
This is not the ordinary experience of a Christian. It is not even as constant as peace. These ripe fruits are not always on the table of every Christian, and for some not at all. It is sufficient that God keeps the soul in the healthy condition of being neither completely cast down or discouraged through difficulties and weakness. It is sufficient if God speaks peace to the soul, even though it is not acquainted with these raptures of Christianity.
It is not fitting that this would be our ordinary food, lest we mistake our pilgrimage for heaven, and start building tabernacles in this mount. We would not long so earnestly for the city and country of heaven, if we had anything more than tastes of that joy to sharpen our desires after its fulness. It is a fixed and unchangeable statute of heaven, that we should here live by faith, and not by sight.
The fulness of this life is emptiness to the next. But there is still a fulness in comparison with the abundance of the world. Their joys and pleasures, their peace and contentation in the things of this life, are only like “the crackling of thorns under a pot” (Ecclesiastes 7:6). They make a great noise, but vanish quickly. It is like the loudest laughter of fools, which has sorrow in it and ends in heaviness (Proverbs 14:13). It is superficial not solid. It is not heart joy but a picture and shadow of the gladness of the heart in the face outwardly. Whatever it may be, sorrow, grief, and heaviness inevitably follow at its heels.
But certainly the wisest and most learned men cannot have any real understanding of the life of a Christian, until they experience it. It is beyond their comprehension, and therefore called “the peace of God” which passes “all understanding,” (Philippians 4:7). It is a “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). The natural mind esteems foolishness whatever is spoken of the joy of the Spirit or the peace of conscience and abstaining from worldly pleasures.
3. A Wish for Hope
Our peace and joy is often interrupted in this life and very frequently weakened. It is not so full a feast as the Christian’s desire seeks. The enjoyment we have here does not reduce the pain of a Christian’s appetite, or supply their emptiness. Hope must make the feast complete and to moderate the soul’s desire until the fulness of joy and peace come. Though there is less of the other benefits, there is abundance of hope. The Christian can take as much of that as they can hold, it is both refreshing and strengthening. We cannot be pleased with having or enjoying anything without adding hope to it.
Everyone has their eyes on the future. Looking for future benefits can often reduce our current enjoyments. But the Christian’s hope is a very sure anchor within the veil, it is secured on the sure ground of heaven. This keeps the soul firm and steadfast (albeit not unmoved) but protected from tossing or drifting. As a helmet, it protects against the power and force of temptations. It guards the main part of a Christian and keeps resolutions towards God unharmed.
The source of these sweet and pleasant streams is the God of hope and the power of the Holy Spirit. There is power in God to make us happy and give us peace. The God of power, as well as hope, both can and will do this. In His promises and acts He given us grounds for hope in Himself. He is the chief object of hope and the chief cause of hope in us too. Everything is to be found in this fountain.
These streams run into the channel of believing, not doing. It is true, that righteousness and a holy life is a notable means to preserve them pure, unmixed and constant. The peace of our God will never live well with sin, the enemy of God. Joy, which is so pure a fountain cannot run in abundance in an impure heart. It will not mix with worldly pleasures. But the only source of true peace and joy is found by believing in Christ.
Whatever else you do to find them you will not find this solid peace and surpassing joy except by looking away from yourselves. You must fix your hearts on another object, Jesus Christ. “Peace and joy in believing”. What is this believing? It is the soul heartily embracing the promises of the gospel. Believing involves meditation on and deep consideration of these truths. Believing brings peace, and peace brings joy.