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VOL. VIII.-NEW SERIES.]
[DECEMBER 1, 1864.
“Built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the
THE JOY OF THE LORD.
ALEXANDER MACLAREN, B.A. “The joy of the Lord is your strength."-Neh. viii. 10. JODAISM, in its formal and ceremonial aspect, was essentially a religion of gladness. The feast was the great act of worship. It is not to be wondered at, that Christianity, the perfecting of that ancient system, has been less markedly felt to be a religion of joy; for it brings with it far deeper and more solemn views about man in his nature, condition, responsibilities, destinies, than ever prevailed before, under any system of worship. And yet all deep religion ought to be joyful, and all strong religion assuredly will be. Here, in the incident before us, there has come a time in Nehemiah's great enterprise, when the law, long forgotten, long broken by the captives, is now going to be established again as the rule of the newly-founded commonwealth. Naturally enough, there comes a remembrance of many sins in the past history of the people; and tears not unnaturally mingle with the thankfulness that again they are a nation, having a divine worship and a divine law in their midst. The leader of them, knowing for one thing that if the spirits of his people once began to flag, all was over, said to them, “This day is holy unto the Lord; this feast that we are keeping is a day of devout worship; therefore mourn not, nor weep: ‘go your way; eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared ; neither be ye sorry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. You will make nothing of it by indulgence in lamentation and in mourning; you will have no more power for obedienee, you will not be fit for your work, if you fall into a despondent state; be thankful and glad; and remember that the purest worship is the worship of God-fixed joy—the joy of the Lord is your strength.” And that is as true with regard to us, (as it ever was in those old times; and we, I think, need the lesson contained in this simple saying of Nehemiah's—we need the lesson, because of some prevalent tendencies amongst
us, no less than these Jews did. Let me offer you a word or two on this passage before us, looking at “ JOY IN THE
as THE NATURAL RESULT OF FAITH; then, secondly, as A MATTER OF CHRISTIAN OBLIGATION; and then, thirdly, as a SOURCE OF CHRISTIAN STRENGTH. Religious joy is, first,' the natural result of Christian faith. Joyful religion is
, secondly, a matter of Christian obligation. Lastly, such gladness lies at the foundation of, or at least is a very important element in, all Christian obedience and strength First
, JOY IN THE LORD" IS THE NATURAL RESULT OF CHRISTIAN FAITH. I need not dwell here, I suppose, at any length, upon what one may call the natural adaptation or provision that there is in the Gospel, both in what it brings to us, and in what it
away from us, to make a calm, and settled, and deep gladness, the prevalent
temper of the Christian heart, In what it gives us, I say, and in what it takes away from us. It gives us what we call well a sense of acceptance
with God, it gives us God for the rest of our spirits, it gives us the coinmunion with Him which, in proportion as it is real, will be still; and in proportion as it is still, will be all bright and joyful. It takes away from us the fear that lies before us, the strifes that lie within us, the desperate conflict that is waged between a man's conscience and his inclinations, between his will and his passions, which tears the heart asunder, and always makes sorrow and tumult wherever it comes. It takes away the sense of sin; it gives us, instead of the torpid conscience, or the angrily-stinging conscience—it gives
us a conscience all calm from its accusations, with all the sting drawn out of it ; for quiet peace lies in the heart of the man that is trusting in the Lord. The Gospel works joy, because the soul is at rest in God; joy, because every function of the human nature has found now its haven and its object; joy, because health has come, and the healthy working of the body or of the spirit is itself a gladness; joy, because the dark future is painted (where it is painted at all) with shapes of light and beauty, and hecause the very vagueness of that is an element in the greatness of its revelation. The joy that is in Christ is deep and abiding. Faith in Him naturally and neces
cessarily works gladness.
I am not forgetting that, on the other side, it is equally true that the Christian faith has as marked and almost as strong an adaptation to produce a solemn sorrow -solemn, manly, noble, and strong. "As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,” is the rule of the Christian life. If we think of what our faith does--of the light that it casts upon our condition, upon our nature, upon our responsibilities, upon our sins, and upon our destinies—we can easily see how, if gladness be one part of its operation, no less really and truly is sadness another. Brethren, all great thoughts have a solemn quiet in them, which not unfrequently merges into à still sorrow. There is nothing more contemptible in itself, and there is no more sure mark of a trivial nature and a trivial round of occupations, than unshaded gladness, that rests on no deep foundations of quiet, patient grief, -grief because I know what I am and what I ought to be; grief because I have learnt the “exceeding sinfulness of sin ;" grief because looking out upon the world, I see, as other men do not see, hell-fire burning at the back of the mirth and the laughter, and know what it is that men are hurrying to ! Do you remember who it was that stood by the side of the one poor dumb man, whose tongue He was going to loose, and looking up to heaven, sighed before He could say, " Be opened”? Do you remember that of Him it is said, “ God hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows;" and also, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”?-and do you not think that both these characteristics are to be repeated in the operations of His Gospel upon every heart that receives it? And if, by the hopes it breathes into us, by the fears that it takes away from us, by the union with God that it accomplishes for us, by the fellowship that it implants in us, it indeed anoints us all “with the oil of gladness;" yet, on the other hand, by the sense of mine own sin that it teaches me; by the conflict with weakness which it makes to be the law of my life; by the clear vision which it gives me of "the law of my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into subjection;" by the intensity which it breathes into all my nature, and by the thoughts that it presents of what ein leads to, and what the world at present is--the Gospel, wheresoever it comes, will infuse a wise, valiant sadness as the very foundation of character. Yes, anointed, but crowned with thorns; joy, but sorrow: the "joy of the Lord,” but sorrow about myself! These two things are not contradictory; these two states of mind, both of them the natural, operations of any deep faith, of any deep religious feeling, may co-exist and blend into one another, so as that the gladness is sobered, and chastened, and made manly and noble; and that the sorrow is like some thunder-cloud, all streaked with bars of sunshine, that go into its deepest depths. The joy lives in the midst of sorrow—the sorrow springs from the same root as the gladness. The two do not clash against
each other, or reduce the heart to a neutral indifference, but they blend into one another; just as, in the Arctic regions, deep down beneath the cold snow, with its white desolation and its barren death-you shall find the budding of the early spring flowers and the fresh green grass ; just as some kinds of fire burn below the water; just as there may be, in the midst of the barren and undrinkable sea, there may be welling up some little fountain of fresh water that comes from a deeper depth than the great ocean around it, and pours its sweet streams along the surface of the salt waste. Gladness, because I love; for love is gladness : gladness, because I trust; for trust is gladness : gladness, because I obey ; for obedience is a “meat that others know not of," and a delight when we do His will! But sorrow, because still I am sold under sin ; sorrow, because still I have not perfect fellowship; sorrow, because mine eye, purified by my living with God, sees earth, and sin, and life, and death, and the generations of men, and the darkness beyond, in some measure as God sees them! And yet the sorrow is surface, and the joy is central; yet the sorrow springs from circumstance, and the gladness from the essence of the thing; and therefore the sorrow is transitory, and the gladness is perennial. For the Christian life is all like one of those sweet spring showers in early April
, when the rain-drops weave for us a mist that hides the sunshine ; and yet the hidden sun is in every sparkling drop, and they are all saturated and steeped in its hidden light.
“ The joy of the Lord” is the natural result and offspring of all Christian faith.
And now, secondly, the "joy of the Lord” (rejoicing in God, that is to say) is A MATTER OF CHRISTIAN DUTY. It is a commandment here, and it is a command in the New Testament as well. “Neither be, ye sorry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” I need not quote to you the frequent repetitions of the same injunction which the Apostle Paul gives us, “ Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice; “Rejoice evermore," and the like. Well
, the fact that this joy is given us in the shape of a precept, suggests to us a thought or two worth looking at. A man may say with truth, My emotions of joy and sorrow are not under my control ; I cannot help being glad and sad as circumstances dictate. But yet here it lies, a commandment—it is a duty, a thing that the apostle eujoins ; from which, of course, it follows that somehow or other it is to a large extent within one's own power, and that even the indulgence in this emotion, and the degree to which a Christian life shall be a cheerful life, is dependent in a large measure on our own volitions, and on our own obedience to God's commandments.
We can, to a very great extent, control even our own emotions; but then, besides, we can do more than that. It may be quite true, and is quite true, that a man cannot help feeling sorrowful in the presence of sorrowful thoughts, that a man cannot help feeling glad in the presence of thoughts that naturally kindle the appropriate emotion ; but I will tell you what you can do or refrain from doing—you can either go and stand in the light, or you can' go and stand in the shadow; that is to say, you can either fix your attention upon, and make the prevalent predoniinant subject of your religious contemplations, a truth which shall make you glad and strong, or a half-truth which shall make you sorrowful, and therefore weak. Your Christianity may either centre mainly upon your own selves, your faults and failings, and the like;
or it may centre mainly upon God and His grace, Christ and His strength, the Holy Spirit and His divine influence. You may either fill your soul with joyful thoughts, or you may, though a true Christianreal, devout, God-accepted believer-you may be so misapprehending the nature of the Gospel, and your relation to it, its promises and precepts, its duties and predictions, as that the prevalent tinge and cast of your religion shall be solemn and almost gloomy, but not lighted up and irradiated with the felt sense of God's presence, and with the strong, robust consciousness that you are a forgiven man, and that you are going to be a justified and a glorified one. And thus far (and it is a long way), thus far, by the selection or the rejection of the appropriate and proper subjects which shall “ The joy of
make the main portion of our religious contemplation, and shall be the food of our devout thoughts, we can determine the complexion of the religion which we possess and profess. 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 selfdespondency; and the result will be according to the thing that he has put into them. Appetite grows by what it feeds upon ; and the cast of our religion depends
, to a large extent, upon the external object on which mainly our thoughts fix when we think of religious matters at all,-- whether it is God (in one word)—whether it is God and God's love; or whether it is ourselves, and our own unbelief. the Lord” is a duty, Christian man! and it is a duty because, first (as we have seen), the natural adaptation of the Gospel is to produce it; and then, because you can control your emotions; and then, because you can wisely and rightly apprehend the prevalent cast of the Gospel as an outward system which you profess to believe ; and if you do it, it will be joy, and not sorrow, which will mainly mark your Christian experience.
It seems to me that this is a 'truth which we have great need to lay to heart. It is of no great consequence that we should practically confute the impotent
, lame old sneer about religion as being a gloomy thing. One does not need to mind much about what people say on that matter. The world would call “ the joy of the Lord” gloom, just as much as it calls “Godly sorrow gloom. But we are losing for ourselves a power and an energy of which we have no conception, unless we feel that joy is a duty, and unless we feel the opposite thing, toothat not to be joyful in the Lord is, therefore, more than a misfortune, it is a fault. I believe that the comparative absence of this happy, peaceful sense of acceptance, harmony, oneness with God, springs sometimes from temperament, depends on our natural dispositions, and can be controlled and overcome by the slow and gradual process of elerating that disposition to a higher level. Of course, to the very end, the natural character of a man will determine, to a large extent, the perspective and cast even of his Christian experience ; and I am not meaning to say, even for one moment, that such is to be in all cases of one type.
But whilst making all allowances for the diversity which comes from “ diversities of gists,” and diversities of disposition, will you let me say that there are two things that have a great deal more to do with the absence of gladness from the Christian life than disposition and temperament? The one is, an actual deficiency in the depth and reality of our faith ; and the other is, a misapprehension of the position which we have a right to take and are bound to take! An actual deficiency in our faith! Oh, it is not to be wondered at that Christians do not find that the Lord with them is the Lord “their strength and joy," as the Lord “their righteousness," when the amount of their fellowship with Him is so small, and the depth of it is so shallow as it is. A little religion, a little beginning of religion, drives a man into agonies of conscience; a little more makes him, perhaps, a believer, but leaves him still troubled and sad; and it is only when there is much love that there is much joy. Let us search our own hearts. say nothing ; I put it before you, and leave it with you to apply the test. If there is but little heat beneath 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. The road into Giant Despair's castle is through doubt, which doubt comes from an absence, a sinful absence, in our own experience, of the realized presence of God, and the felt force of the verities of His Gospel.
But then, besides that not a fault in the sense of crime or sin, but a fault (and a great one) in the sense of error and misapprehension,-it seems to me that we as Christians do not take the high ground that we have a right to take and that we are bound to take. Men venture themselves upon Christianity as mariners in the frozen regions do on broken ice, timidly putting a light foot out, to feel if it will
bear them, and always having the tacit fear," Now, it's going to crack and give way!” You must cast yourselves on Him with all your weight, without any hanging back, without any doubt, with not even the shadow of a suspicion that it will givethat the firm, fast, pure floor will give, and let you through into the water! A Christian shrink from saying what the apostle said, "I know in whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him until that day !” A Christian fancy that salvation is a future thing, and forget that it is a present thing! A Christian tremble to profess“ assurance of hope," forgetting that there is no hope deep enough to bear the stress of a life's sorrows, which is not a conviction certain as one's own existence! Brethren, understand that the Gospel is a Gospel which brings a present salvation ; and try to feel that it is not presumption, but simply acting out the very fundamental principle of it, when you are not afraid to say, "I know that my Redeemer is yonder, and I know that He loves me!" Try to feel, I say, that you have a right to take that position, “Now we know that we are the sons of God;" that you have a right to claim for yourselves, and that you are falliug beneath the loftiness of the gift that is given to you unless you do claim for yourselves, the place of sons, accepted, loved, sure to be glorified at God's right hand. Ám I teaching presumption ? am I teaching carelessness, or a dispensing with self-examination ? No, but I am saying this : if a man has once felt, and feels, in howsoever small and feeble a degree, and depressed by whatsoever felt sense of daily transgressicns—if he feel, faint like the first movement of an imprisoned bird in its egg-if he feel the feeble pulse of an almost iinperceptible and fluttering faith beat—then that man has a right to say, "God is mine!" As one of our great teachers, not long gone from us, said, “ Let me take my personal salvation for granted”-and what? And“ be idle”? No. "And work from it." Ay, brethren, a Christian is not to be for ever saying to himself, “Am I a Christian ?” he is not to be for ever looking into himself for tests, and marks, and sigos; he is to look ito himself to discover sins that he may by God's help cast them out, to discover sins that shall teach him to say with greater thankfulness, “What a redemption this is which I possess !”—but he is to base his convictions that he is God's child upon something other than his own characteristics and his own feebleness. He is to have "joy in the Lord," whatever may he his sorrow from outward things. And I believe that if Christian people would lay that thought to heart, they would understand better how the natural operation of the Gospel is to make gladness, and how rejoicing in the Lord is a Christian duty.
And now with regard to the other thought that still remains to be considered, namely, that REJOICING IN THE LORD IS A SOURCE OF STRENGTH, I have already anticipated, fragmentarily, pretty nearly all that I could have said here in a systematic form." All gladness, all cheerfulness, 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. That good old proverb about " a sad heart tiring in a mile," is as true in regard to the Gospel
, and the works of Christian people, as in any other case. If we have a heart full of light, and a soul at rest in Christ, and the wealth and blessedness of a tranquil gladness lying there, and filling our being--work will be easy, endurance will be easy, sorrow 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 the assault of any temptation ? If it appeal to fear, the gladness that is there is an answer; if it appeal to passion, desire, wish for pleasure of any sort, there is no need for any more—the heart is fubl. And so the gladness which rests in Christ will be a gladness that will fit us for all service, that will fit us for all endurance, that will be unbroken by any sorrow, and that-like the magic old shield that the fairy-tales tell us about, invisible, slender, in its crystalline purity-will lie around the tempted heart, and will repel all the "fiery darts of the wicked.” “The joy of the Lord is your strength," ny brother-nothing else is. No Tehement resolutions, no sense of your own sinfulness, no, not even contrite remem