You Need the Vital Impact of Spiritual Joy

You Need the Vital Impact of Spiritual Joy

You Need the Vital Impact of Spiritual Joy
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
24 Dec, 2020

We seem to have an in-built need for joy. Many direct us to look within us to find joy. We are told to navigate our lives by asking whether things will bring us joy. But Christian joy is not a self-centred principle offering false, short-term happiness that leaves us empty and frustrated. It comes from outside of themselves, from Christ Himself and He does not give it as the world gives. Because it is His joy it is true and lasting and has a vital impact. It has an altogether different quality, because it is heavenly. It is vital for living the Christian life in this world with all that this means.

Christ’s great prayer for His people was “that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13). What is the nature of this joy? Anthony Burgess says that it comes from God only as part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It is centred on God through knowledge of Him and faith in Him as He is revealed in His Word.

As a person is so is their joy. We must be spiritual and heavenly people to have spiritual joy. The heavenly heart delights in heavenly things. The soul must be renewed and sanctified before it can delight in that which is good. The people of God being made new creatures and made partakers of the divine nature, they now come to love and delight in the things they once hated. God is now their delight (Psalm 16:5; Psalm 73:25). They already possess something of this joy. Even in this life, God is the God of His people. They are said to have Him and enjoy Him. Christ is said to dwell in their hearts; the Father and the Son are said to be in them and dwell amongst them. Thus, even in this life they may have unspeakable joy.

But Christians often experience sad trials, it cannot be their duty to be always rejoicing can it? There are particular times when God calls us to mourn (Isaiah 21:12; Ecclesiastes 3:4; Psalm 126:5). In such cases it is our duty to be humbled and to mourn under His hand. They may make us abstain from the natural and lawful joy we might take in created things (such as in fasting), but not to abstain from spiritual joy. In days of humbling ourselves it is a duty to rejoice in the Lord, and such joy will like fire melt and thaw the heart. This joy is so useful that it must not be laid aside. Spiritual joy may abound most when the soul is humbled and there is godly mourning. No grace of God’s Spirit is contrary to another. The same Spirit that works joy is also the Spirit of supplication and mourning. Joy and trembling can go together (Psalm 2:11) as can joy and fear (Acts 9:31). So godly sorrow and joy are also consistent with each other. It is never unlawful to rejoice in God any more than it is to love or to believe in Him.

In this updated extract, Anthony Burgess shows the remarkable effects of Christian joy.

1. It enlarges the heart

The saints glorified in heaven enjoy more of God than ever they could here because their hearts are widened and prepared. Our souls are narrow until joy expands them. A person of a joyful spirit is like a vessel with a large opening. They receive far more of God and Christ than someone who is dejected and unbelieving. We are commanded to open the doors of our heart that the Prince of glory may enter into us. Joy will prepare us. Many of God’s children complain of their narrowness of heart. Fears and worldly cares fill the heart so that they have no room for Christ. They have great difficulty in praying or doing any heavenly duty. Joy is excellent at opening and removing these sinful obstructions. This should make you endeavour after a joyful life; it will make you increase in all dimensions of grace. You will be a Christian in a higher degree.

2. It makes us useful to God

“The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Weak hands and feeble knees (by which we act and move) are caused by fear. On the contrary, joy makes strong hands and firm knees. Any service done to God which is accompanied with dejections and sorrow has a kind of uncleanness in it, as it was with mourning in the Old Testament (Hosea 9:4). All sinful sorrow and dejection, makes your duty unclean, it pollutes you. God not only loves a cheerful giver but cheerfulness in all duties (Deuteronomy 28:47). You may say, “God is of such infinite purity and holiness that because I am full of infirmities I have reason to tremble before Him”. Granted, but remember the psalmist’s advice, “rejoice with trembling” (Psalm 2:11). You complain of your lukewarmness and lack of liveliness in God’s service. Consider whether your lack of heavenly joy is the cause of this. Consider whether you might have fulfilled all relations and opportunities more fruitfully, if this joy had been fulfilled in you.

3. It weans our heart from the world

It will make you undervalue all those earthly things which the world admires so much (Psalm 4:7). If then the soul has more joy and gladness in God’s presence and favour than in all earthly contentment whatever, no wonder if the heart sits loose to the one and is fixed on the other. The heart that has been ravished with the sweetness and glory that is in God and Christ, does not know how to stoop to these inferior fading joys. No one sits so loose in their heart from earthly comforts as those who have this heavenly joy.

4. It expels sinful joys

Those that rejoice in the Lord cannot rejoice in sin, because they are so contrary to each other. If you complain of the proneness of your heart to rejoice in earthly and worldly things; there is no medicine like heavenly joy to cure that. What made David express so much joy in God except the heavenliness of his heart. This greater joy must put out the lesser. Pray and endeavour that the joy of the Lord may take up your heart, when this sun is in your soul, the stars cannot be seen. Those who have this heavenly joy may be said to be in heaven while here on earth. No life comes so near to that of the glorified saints in heaven as a holy life accompanied with this joy.

5. It facilitates holy activities

Heavenly joys make us think that the time serving God is short, and to grudge that the work of God is over so soon. The sabbath is their delight (Isaiah 58:13), they are not like worldly people who ask when it will be over so they can go back to the world (Amos 8:5). Nothing makes the duties of holiness so burdensome as lack of joy. If they were your delight you would with joy wish that the sun would stand still and be grieved to stop. The worldly man thinks the day or week is not long enough to enjoy his delights, the godly man thinks the time for enjoying God is too short. Eternity will not make the saints in heaven weary of God.

6. It will sustain us through all afflictions

They are to account it all joy when they fall into trials (James 1:2). It is possible to greatly rejoice in manifold trials with “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). How happy it is when your trials do not devour your joy, but your joy takes away the sting of your trials. If we had the joy the martyrs had it would be no more for us to endure their sufferings than it was for them.

7. It increases our desires for heaven

If we have not been able to completely enjoy anything in which we delight our appetite is stirred up to have more of it. David’s incomplete enjoyments of God made him restless and impatient for further communion with Him. Thus, David exhorts us to taste how good God is, if we tasted by experience the sweetness of the excellency of His love, we would still be breathing after Him like David (Psalm 119:20). Heavenly joy makes us look for the coming of Christ and seek to hasten it by our prayers and desires. This is because it is that which will complete our joy. Here sorrow and joy will always be mixed together, but there there is pure and unmixed joy to all eternity.

Conclusion

Spiritual joy is the life and marrow of religion, it is the spur and goad to all holiness. How deceived the world is in looking for joy and consolation any other way whether through reputation and honour, wealth or greatness. These will not give you true solid joy, all these things will become bitter. Whatever joy is treasured up in reference to heaven will always abide, it will never forsake you. But joy that only has reference to earthly things will vanish.

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Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?

Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?

Spiritual Joy Despite the Coming Mega-Recession?
George Hutcheson (1615-1674) ministered in Ayrshire and Edinburgh and was a noted bible expositor. Like many other ministers he was removed from his congregation in 1662 for refusing to conform to the rule of bishops.
14 May, 2020

Foreboding concern and fear is the natural response to the news that “a recession to end all recessions” is inevitable. No doubt the deepest recession for 300 years will wreak across industries, businesses, livelihoods and lives. No one can expect to be immune as it turns upside down the continued prosperity that western society has come to expect. It is hard to look into a bleak future of potential hardship and expect contentment. How is it possible that anyone could experience joy in the midst of this? Evidently it can only be the case if the source of our joy is above and apart from material things. A remarkable verse in Scripture offers real joy in God despite economic collapse. Even though food supplies were going to be cut off, the prophet Habakkuk could say “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:18). How can we share the same experience?

Habakkuk is looking into a future where warfare has stripped the land bare, taken numerous lives and seen many people carried away into captivity. The fruit trees are not going to blossom (which means no fruit). There will be no oil from the olive trees and no crops in the fields or livestock for work or food. Every source of economic subsistence has disappeared. That is real and total economic collapse.

Not only all creature comforts will be removed but also every means of subsistence. Everything is going to be taken away, except God Himself. That is why it is still possible to rejoice in God. His joy does not come from the outward blessings God bestows or the fact that things are going well. He looks the inevitable disaster full in the face and resolves to be joyful in God. Only faith can grapple with trouble in this way. Faith rejoices with hope of deliverance and draws consolation from God Himself. It looks to God’s covenant and promises for His people.

Habakkuk is able to believe that God would be the Church’s strength when all other means of support failed. God would gather and bring them back His Church after scattering them. He would even make them as nimble as hinds skipping over mountains in overcoming all difficulties in their way. They would once again enjoy communion with God in the temple, on the holy mountains (Psalm 87:1). The following updated extract is from George Hutcheson’s comments on these verses (Habakkuk 3:17-19). It shows that this spiritual joy arises from firmly exercising faith in God.

1. Faith Trusts God Alone

It is the Lord’s way in the Church’s trouble during great and distressing calamities, to remove all grounds of confidence in anything beneath God. It is no baseless or impossible speculation that “the fig tree shall not blossom etc”. It is what the Church may expect in her afflictions.

2. Faith Trusts God No Matter What

Faith never gets a right footing or activity so long as the believer limits the extent of the trouble it can endure. If must not say that trouble may come thus far and no further. It must see beyond such limits and be willing to submit to the worst that may possibly come. The prophet anticipates that the very course of nature for human preservation may fail so that he may simply cast himself wholly on God.

When all grounds of encouragement on earth fail, there are abundant resources to support God’s people. These will be enough to make them subsist, act, suffer or whatever He calls them to do. These resources will be readily available to those who deny themselves and wait on God. The prophet, in denying self, esteems the Lord as his strength (v19, see Isaiah 40:29-31).
Faith in hard times gets sure footing, when it considers that God (who is omnipotent and all-sufficient) lives, whatever may come or go. It is usual for God to give deliverance according to the covenant when all other means fail. It is also usual for the saints to get it in such a way and at such a time (and not before) that God is known in the Church by this title, “the God of our salvation”.

3. Faith Trusts the Promises Despite the Worst Trial

The Church’s promised mercies are surer than the very course of nature. Thus, faith laying hold of these promises, will out-live the worst of storms without fainting. The prophet is able to say on behalf of the Church that “although the fig-tree shall not blossom…yet I will rejoice in the Lord” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

The fulfilment of the Lord’s promises is so certain that every promise of a mercy is also a guarantee that every impediment that may stand in the way of it will be removed. The prophets says that God “will make my feet like hind’s feet”. He will carry me over all impediments and make me to walk upon my high places (v19).

4. Faith Values God’s Mercies

God’s mercies are often little thought of when they are enjoyed. The lack of them will, however, reveal how rich they were and make their restoration sweet. Enjoying God in His ordinances is, to the godly, far above any other portion. The prophet therefore calls the land and mountain of the temple his high places (v19). This was to show that although it was a hilly land compared to the pleasant land of Babylon, yet it was his choice above all the world besides. It would be sweet to be restored to it again with liberty.

5. Faith Produces Joy as Well as Endurance

Faith is not only given in hard times for bearing us up, but also to provide us with reasons for joy and triumphing. We should strive after this as something honouring to God. It is evidence that we received more in Him than trouble can take from us. It is also a means to make trouble easier to bear. This is because it avoids the extreme of discouragement to which it drives us. It is also a testimony that we expect to receive good by means of trouble, to have something that it cannot reach and remove. The prophet therefore resolves to rejoice in joy in the midst of his calamity.

It is a remarkable evidence of love to the afflicted Church and ought to be grounds for joy, when she is supported and kept from fainting under her troubles, even if she has nothing more than this. The prophet rejoices here that he has strength (v19, see 2 Corinthians 12:8-10). When faith has laid hold on God for strength in a hard time with a blessed outcome, it should stir up hopeful praise even in the midst of the trouble.

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The Highest Wish of a Holy Heart

The Highest Wish of a Holy Heart

The Highest Wish of a Holy Heart
Hugh Binning (1627–1653) was a young minister who also taught philosophy at the University of Glasgow. He was a prolific author and popular preacher with a gift for clear teaching.
8 Jun, 2018

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.

 

Conclusion

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.

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