A Lost Gift.
by W. Taylor
Notes of an Address in Leeds, July 1st, 1911.
OUR brother who has just spoken has read and said things which, if our hearts are rightly tuned, should give us a thrill of joy. He read the memorable closing words of John xvi., "In the world, ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." Whenever the Lord bids us be of good cheer, depend upon it; He has some rich blessing in store for us, as He had for those who saw Him in the flesh. We too often forget, that God is the God of joy, and that the Lord Jesus revealed the character of God in this respect as He went about among the people. No wonder He was welcome everywhere He went, for often must the sad and ailing and depressed have heard Him say: "Son, be of good cheer," followed by the never-to-be-forgotten words: "Thy sins be forgiven thee." No wonder that He was looked for from village to village, for wherever He went, He brought brightness and joy into dark places, and gladness into depressed and sorrowful hearts. "Be of good cheer"—that is His great message, and that is the message which He hands on to us.
THE LACK OF THE CHURCH.
The Church appears to be suffering to a large extent to-day from a lost gift, the gift mentioned by the wise Pessimist in Ecclesiastes ii. 26: "God giveth to a man that is good in His sight, wisdom, and knowledge, and joy." He does that because He is the God of joy, as Jesus was the Christ of joy; for let us remember that it was "for the joy set before Him," that "He endured the Cross, despising the shame." "Ah!" you say, "it is all very well to talk about being full of joy when things are going all right, in the youth of life; but it is difficult when troubles are coming thick and fast in the years that are whitening one's hair, and the outlook is dark." We who are approaching middle age cannot but realize that there are from time to time, grey patches in one's life when it is difficult to be joyful, when things go wrong, and the spirit is bowed down. It is an experience through which many have passed; it was the experience of the writer of the xliii. Psalm, who felt for the moment that God had cast him off; and it was not until he recollected that, after all, God was "the gladness of his joy" (margin) that his spirit recovered their tone. "Then," he says, "will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy; yea, upon the harp will I praise Thee, O God, my God" (ver. 4). The joy of the Lord, in fact, was his strength, and he can now question his soul as to why it was cast down and disquieted and bid it once again to "hope in God." Now, that is just the remedy, the joy of the Lord. Not only on bright but on dark days, when perhaps temptations harass the soul, for "happy is the man that endureth temptation." How can we be anything but joyful if we are consciously in touch with Him Who is on the Throne, Who feels for us—that High Priest Who "is touched with the feeling of our infirmities" and invites us to come boldly to the Throne of Grace to secure His help?
How different He is from mere man. In your younger days, you perhaps knew someone who took a keen interest in your welfare. Your smallest trouble drew out his sympathy. But all that is changed now. He has got on in the world, pushed his way upwards, and your poor little concerns are of no account to him; he scarcely gives them a passing thought. I am not going to blame such a man. His horizon is bigger, his interests are enlarged, and smaller things naturally must sink out of sight. But not so our Lord. There, as He sits on the right-hand of the glory of the Father, having passed through His time of rejection and humiliation, He remembers us; our concerns are His concerns; He is not too great to sympathize with and to help the feeblest of us. And helping us as He helped others when He walked, a man amongst men, He inspires us with fresh courage and joy.
THE JOY OF EARLY DAYS.
I have said that this gift of joy is to a large extent a lost gift, and you will see what I mean when we compare the Church now with the Church of early days, when "the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Ghost," and when they realized that the Kingdom of God was not meat and drink but "joy in the Holy Ghost." Their faces recommended their gospel. They were cheerful and not gloomy Christians. Would you not rather any day listen to the preaching of a happy man than to that of a depressing one? And are we not more influenced by a cheerful man than by one who is sad? Not for our own sakes only, but for that of others, God wishes, to inspire us with joy.
If we have lost this gift, let us not rest until we have restored to us the joy of His salvation. I remember hearing a gifted brother speak at a Conference. After his address, another brother, meeting him in the street, casually remarked, "And how is your soul, brother? Are you rejoicing in the Lord?" He could not say that He was; he had been so much taken up with other things—even with his service for God—that he had for the moment lost sight of the joy of the Lord. May we be equally honest, and if we give the same answer, let us get right. For after all, we know that we are saved, that our sins are forgiven for His Name's sake, that our peace is secure—that should give us joy, and it is for each one of us quickly to put away that which hinders the joy of the Lord.
A REJOICING EPISTLE.
It was because the early Christians were a rejoicing people that Paul wrote so much of joy in his letter to the Philippians. Examine it at your leisure and you will find it full of instruction.
First, he is joyful in prayer (Phil. i. 4), realizing the promise of the Master, "Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full."
Next, he is glad because the Gospel is spread abroad, and would to God, we saw a greater gladness among His people nowadays for this reason—"Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached, and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice."
But if his joy is to be complete, it can only be because the gospel message bears practical fruit in the lives of the Philippian Saints. Would we not naturally have thought that to a man of Paul's great intellect, the social uplifting of the Philippians through the gospel, their high spiritual attainments, their growth in knowledge, would have caused him the greatest satisfaction? But it is not so. If you are to fulfil my joy, he says, you must be likeminded—there must be no squabbling among you, no contention, no fighting for the supremacy—having the same love, you who are alike dear to Christ, being of one accord, of one mind. Vain glory must be put out of sight; there must be lowliness of mind, and no self-esteem. You must take a lively interest in the welfare of others, and manifest humbleness of spirit. To Paul, as to Christ, the fruits of the Spirit were the highest of all attainments. To see that new-born soul walking in love, that proud man meek, that quarrelsome man gentle, that irritable man long suffering, that hard man tender-hearted—these were the things that produced, and always will produce Divine joy.
THE SOURCE AND OBJECT OF OUR JOY.
Again, Paul rejoices (ii. 17) in mutual Sacrifice and Service, and in practical fellowship one with another (ii. 28). Finally—and we are brought back to our starting point—we are never to forget that, after all, if we are to rejoice truly, we must "Rejoice in the Lord" (iii. 1). That is the sum and substance of the whole thing. How wonderful Scripture is! We never get a precept, but Scripture explains exactly what it means. We are to rejoice in Him as Lord, with all that that involves. We are to rejoice in the One to Whom He has reconciled us, for do we not "joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom we have now received the Atonement?" We rejoice, too, in Jesus as Saviour, "Whom having not seen, we love, in Whom . . . we rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory." And do we not also "joy in the Holy Ghost"? Let us see to it that we "make our boast" in the Lord, that He is our portion and our joy. True, we rejoice in the fact that "God is my salvation," and His Word should be, to us, as it was to Jeremiah, the "joy and rejoicing of our heart." "We rejoice, too, in hope of the glory of God"—that time when we shall be in His presence where "there is fulness of joy, and pleasures for evermore." But after all, it is the Lord Himself Who is the source and object of our joy. If we understand this aright, God will fill the soul to overflowing. And in that coming day, we shall know the truth of the words of Zephaniah, "He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will be silent in His love; He will joy over thee with singing."
"The Faith and the Flock" 1911