Commentary on 1 John, Pt.2
THE JOY OF THE LORD, AND ITS FULNESS. "These things write we unto you, that your joy maybefull." - l John. 4.
THE apostle could not write these words without having full in his
memory, and in his heart, the Lord's own thrice-repeated intimation of a
similar sentiment in his farewell discourses and farewell prayer ; - " These
things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your
joy might be full" (John xv. 11) ; - "Ask and ye shall receive, that your joy
may be full" (xvi. 24) ; - " These things I speak in the world, that those whom
thou has given me" - " might have my joy fulfilled in themselves" (xvii.
It is surely very wonderful that the occasion on which Jesus manifests so intense an anxiety about his disciples having enough of joy - and of his own joy - . should be the eve of his last agony. Is it really with him a time of joy? Are the bloody sweat and the cry as of one forsaken by his God the signs of joy? Is that the joy - his joy - which he prays they may have fulfilled in themselves? At all events, his joy, whatever it may be, must be of such a nature that it can be compatible with experience as dark as that. For his joy must be, like himself, "the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever." It cannot be fluctuating and intermittent. It cannot be merely one of many emotions, alternating or taking its turn with others, fitfully swaying the mind at intervals, according to the shifting breezes of the outer atmosphere. His joy must partake of his own unchangeableness, as the eternal Son of the Father. It is true that in his human nature and in his earthly history he is subjected to the impulses and influences of this chequered human and earthly scene. He meets with what may move, at one time to tears, at another time to gladness.
Nor is he unsusceptible of such impressions. But beneath all these his real joy must be deeper far; a fathomless, infinite ocean, whose calm repose the wildest agitations of the upper sea cannot reach or ruffle. "My joy," he says to the Father, my joy in and with thee, I would have to be theirs, through their fellowship with thee and me. Such, in substance, is the Lord's own desire, as expressed to his disciples and to his Father. And such is his beloved apostle's aim in his teaching - " that your joy may be full" The nature of this joy, as primarily Christ's; the reality and fulness of it, as Christ's joy becoming ours; - these are the topics suggested by this text.
I Joy, as it is commonly understood and exemplified among men, is a tumultuous feeling; a quick and lively passion or emotion, blazing up for the most part upon some sudden prosperous surprise, and apt to subside into cold indifference, if not something worse, when fortune threatens change or custom breeds familiarity. "As the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of fools" (Eccles. vii. 6). It is indeed vanity; an outburst or outbreak of exuberant hilarity, subsiding soon into weariness and vacancy; the dull cold ashes of a brilliant but passing flame. All the joy of earth partakes, more or less, of that character; for it is dependent upon outward circumstances, and has no deep root in the soul itself. Even what must in a sense be called spiritual joy may be of that sort. There may be joyous excitement when the glad jubilee-trumpet fills the air with its ringing echoes, and an enthusiastic multitude are hastening to keep holiday.
There may be a real elevation of spirit when some affecting scene of spiritual awakening is witnessed, or some gracious ordinance is celebrated, or some stirring voice is heard. Such joy is like "the goodness which, as a morning cloud and as the early the dew, goeth away." There may be the joy also of complacency in one's own success in a good and holy work; such joy as the Baptist's disciples feared that their tidings would mar in their master's breast, when they came to tell him, "Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond tha Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come unto him" (John iii 26)
His answer is very memorable, and very much to the purpose of our present inquiry : - " He that hath the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice; this my joy therefore is fulfilled" (ver. 29). It is Christ's joy that is fulfilled in him who is so truly and heartily the "bridegroom's friend ;" Christ's twofold joy; first, his joy as the bridegroom possessing the bride; "as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee" (Isa. lxii. 9) ; - and, secondly, his joy as the Son possessing the Father; as the Baptist goes on to testify so affectionately; "The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand" (ver. 35). Now, upon the subject of this "joy of the Lord," this joy of Christ, this double joy of Christ; his joy as the bridegroom having the bride; his joy as the Father's beloved Son and trusted servant, into whose hand he giveth all things ; - I would beware of "exercising myself in things too high for me." I would not venture so much as to imagine the ineffable joy of the Son dwelling from everlasting in the bosom of the Father, and with the Father and the Holy Spirit ordering the eternal counsels of the Godhead ; - the whole vast ideal of creative and providential goodness, all holy and all wise and especially the covenanted plan of electing love, for gathering into one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are in earth" (Ephes. i. 10).
Neither dare I do more than touch on what, as the eternal wisdom, he himself says about the Father "possessing him in the beginning of his ways, before his works of old ;" - "Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men" (Prov. VIIL 22-31). I come at once to his earthly course - his human experience. And, first, I see him in the temple, when he was twelve years old. I hear his answer to his mother and the Joseph, "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business ?"
How intense his consciousness even already, at an age so tender, of the trust committed to him; his Father's business, the business on which his Father's heart is set, for glorifying that name of his which is light and love, and saving a people to bask in that light and that love evermore! "I must be about it." There is deep joy in such a consciousness as that (Luke ii. 49). Then, secondly, I see him as the disciples left him, faint and wayworn at Jacob's well. On their return they find him fresh and bright. Is it an outward cordial, or is it inward joy, of which he speaks as having revived in that "I have meat to eat that ye know not of: my meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work" (John iv. 32-34). And, thirdly, I find it once, and once only, said in that express terms that "Jesus rejoiced in spirit" (Luke x. 21).
The statement is a very strong one; it implies inward leaping for joy. And the occasion is remarkable. It is connected with the mission of the seventy. In sending them forth, the Lord has been much exercised with thoughts of the failure, to a large extent, of their ministry and of his own, and the aggravated guilt thus entailed of his on the highly-favoured objects of that ministry. In receiving them back, he sympathises so far with their delight at finding even "the devils subject to them ;" but he adds, "Notwithstanding, in this, rejoice not, that the spirits are subject to you; but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven." "In that hour," and in the view of the names of these his little ones being written in heaven, "Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, 0 Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight" (ver. 21).
There is here the joy of full, filial acquiescence, for himself, in the gracious and holy will of his Father. And there is added to that the crowning joy of so making known the Father to these babes that they too may acquiesce as he does; "All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him" (ver. 22). Thus "the joy of the Lord is his strength ;" prevailing over the diffidence of extreme youth, the exhaustion of nature, and "the contradiction of sinners against himself" Nothing - either in his being a mere child, as when Jeremiah complained, "Ah, Lord God, behold I cannot speak, for I am a child" (Jerem. i. 6); or in his being overcome by distress, hunger, and fatigue, as when Elijah sat down in the wilderness and requested for himself that he might die (1 Kings xix. 4); - or in his being forced to utter triple woes against the cities of his own habitation, as when Isaiah, sent on an errand of judgment to his people, was fain to cry, "Lord, how long 7" (Isa. vi. 11) ; - nothing, I say, in any such trials of his flesh and heart, causes either flesh or heart to faint. At least, when flesh and heart faint, his spirit is refreshed with joy. To be about his Father's business; is to be doing the will of him that sent him, and finishing his work; to say, "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight " - such joy is his always. Throughout the whole of his painful toil and solitary suffering there may be traced an undercurrent of real joy, with out which, I am persuaded, that countenance "so marred with grief" could not have worn, as it did, the aspect of one "fairer than the children of men, into whose lips grace was poured." Nay, even of his last agony is it not said that "for the joy set before him he endured the cross?" (Heb. xii. ra 2).
There was joy set before him, lying full in his view, in his very endurance of the cross. But what! one says - joy in that dark hour? Over the most excruciating torture of body the brave soul may rise triumphant. But when his soul was exceeding sorrowful even unto death when his Father was hiding his face from him; when the wrath of a holy God and the curse of a broken law were upon him; when literally the pains of hell gat hold of him; how could there be joy then? Nay, I cannot tell how. But I bid you ask yourselves ifs, when he cried, "Father, glorify thy name ;" if, when he said, "The cup which my Father giveth me shall I not drink it ?" if, when in his bloody sweat these words came forth, "Father, thy will be done," - there was no joy in his spirit.
More than that, I ask if you can conceive of him, in his utmost extremity of peril, endurance, and expiatory woe, ever for a moment losing the consciousness that he was doing his Father s will and finishing his Father's work? Could that consciousness be ever interrupted? Could it ever cease to be a source of inward joy? There is joy lying before him, beside him, as he hangs on the accursed tree; not the joy of hopeful anticipation merely, in the near prospect of victory, but the stern joy of battle in the midst of the hot and heady fight, as - true to the trust committed to him by his Father and loving to the last his own whom he came to save - he bares his bosom to the sword awaking in its righteousness to smite the willing victim. That joy no man, no devil, taketh from him; the joy with which he meets the Father s just demand of a great propitiation - " Lo, I come; I delight to do thy will, 0 God ;" -the joy with which he sees already of the travail of his soul when he says to the dying penitent, "To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise." Not in heaven only, among the angels of God, but on earth also, in one holy bosom at least, there is in that hour joy "over one sinner that repenteth."
II. This joy, "his joy," is to become ours; it is to remain in us." " Our joy is to be full by " his joy being fulfilled in us." Let us notice first the reality, and then the fulness, of this fellowship or partnership of joy between Christ and us. Christ would have his joy to be really ours. The bridegroom's friend, standing and hearing him, is to rejoice greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. But that is not all. Something more than the Baptist's official joy, as the bridegroom's friend, waiting upon him as his minister, is to be ours. For the Lord says that "to be least in the kingdom of heaven is to be greater than John the Baptist."
In all that constitutes the essence of his own joy the lord associates us in intimate union with himself. Thus, first, in his standing with the Father, and before the Father, he calls us to share. The position which he occupies in the Father's house and in the Father's heart is ours as well as his. It is that which opens the way to his joy being ours. And what opens the way to that? His making our standing and our position his. There is an exchange of places between him and us. Our state of guilt as criminals and prodigals, with all its misery, he takes to be his, that his state of acceptance as the Father's righteous servant, and exaltation as the Father's acknowledged Son, with all its joy, may be ours.
Hence our sharing his joy begins with our sharing his cross. It begins with our mourning for our sin as piercing him. The very mourning itself has in it an element of joy; a certain feeling of calm and chastened satisfaction that the strife with God is ended, through our being moved by his Spirit to give in to him. And soon clearer, fuller joy comes. looking still on that pierced one, pierced for us as well as by us, we see how thoroughly, by putting himself in our place, he has so met and discharged all our liabilities, that we, "being redeemed from the curse of the law," may, by his putting us in his own place, "receive the adoption of sons., Then, secondly, he makes us partakers of the very same inward evidence of acceptance and sonship which he himself had when he was on earth. The Baptist testified, "God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him." How much the presence of the Holy Ghost, ever consciously realised, contributed to keep alive in the holy human soul of Jesus, amid all his toil and pain, a joyful sense of his being still the Father s chosen servant and beloved Son - who can tell?
Thirdly, we have the same commission with Christ; the same trust reposed in us; the same work assigned to us. Accepted and adopted in him; sealed as he was sealed by the Spirit; we are sent as he was sent into the world. This capital ingredient, this great element of his joy is ours. It was a deep, secret wellspring of joy in his heart; the feeling, never for a moment lost or interrupted, of his being the Father's fellow, the Father's agent, in carrying out that wondrous plan that had been concerted between them, in the council-chamber of the Godhead, from everlasting. There could be nothing, in all his experience, so mean but that this thought must ennoble it; nothing so dark but that this thought must enlighten it; nothing so toilsome or so tearful but that this thought must gladden it.
And now, he takes us into his counsels, as the Father has him in his. "All that he has heard of the Father he makes known to us. He does not keep us, as mere servants, in the dark, about what he is doing; prescribing to us our tasks, without information or explanation, to be blindly executed by us in ignorance of what it may all mean. We are "his friends ;" the men of his secret; with us he has no reserve; from us he keeps back nothing (John xv. 14, 15). He admits us to his fullest confidence. Some matters, indeed, pertaining to "the times and seasons which the Father hath put in his own power," it may not be for us to know. They are such as he himself in the days of his manhood, did not care to know. But as to all that is essential, we have the same intelligence that he had, and the same insight. He sends us, as the Father sent him. Have you, let me ask, - have you duly considered what community of mind and heart between Christ and you all this implies? And what community of joy? Ah! when you wearily pace the beaten round of certain devout observances; or when you painfully deny yourselves this or that gratification on which your inclinations remain as much set as ever; or when, with half-opened hand, you dole out your measured mite, as you call it, in a good cause, or a cause you cannot venture to put away as bad; or when you labour hard at your cheerless daily toil, or drag your lazy limbs along in some self-prescribed walk of beneficence, - as if you were doing the dullest piece-work for the scantiest wages ; - and when you count such sort of service religion, as if that were the new obedience to which you are called ; - can you wonder that you have no joy in the Lord? May not God say to you, as he said once to another, who, however grudgingly, must yet do his pleasure, - " Have you considered my servant Jesus ?" Get something of his acquaintance with me, and with my plans and my ways. Get something of his spirit as he rejoiced to feel always the greatness of the trust committed to him. Get it from himself. Get it in himself. "Take his yoke upon you, and learn of him."
For, fourthly, here is the chiefest element of his joy. He is "meek and lowly in heart ;" and therefore "his yoke is easy, and his burden is light ;" so easy, so light, that he may count it joy to bear them. It is not an easy yoke in itself that is his; nor a light burden. But his meekness and lowliness in heart makes the yoke easy, and the burden light. The yoke that was laid on his neck when he took the form of a servant was hard indeed; the yoke of subjection to the law, as broken by us and demanding satisfaction from him. The burden that was lying on his shoulders all the time he was doing the work of a servant was heavy indeed; the burden of bringing in an everlasting righteousness, with full expiation of guilt on behalf of us, miserable sinners. But as the seven years of service seemed to Jacob but one day for the love he bore to Rachel, so the meek and lowly heart of Jesus makes the hard yoke easy and the heavy burden light. In his case, as in Jacob's, the charm is love; love, rejoicing in his Father, whose will he is doing; love, rejoicing over us, whom he is purchasing to be his spouse. For, in a word, it is his self-renunciation, so absolute and entire; his self- forgetting, self-sacrificing affection; his so completely losing himself, merging himself, in the Father whom he serves and the people whom he saves; this is that meekness and lowliness of heart which, making his yoke easy to him and his burden light, moves him, "rejoicing in spirit," to cry, "I thank thee, 0 Father." We must share that meekness of his; that lowliness of heart.
We, like him, must be emptied of self. For no true joy is or can be selfish. I may hug myself, and applaud myself, and pamper myself, and think to laugh all thought of others, and all care about their thoughts of me, away. I do but kick against the pricks. The task of vindicating my self-sufficiency and asserting my self-will, to my own contentment, against all and sundry, I soon find to be no child's play; but a hard yoke indeed, and a heavy burden. Let me get out of my own narrow self into Christ, and the large heart of Christ. Let me, like him, be meek and lowly in heart; accepting the conditions of my earthly lot; discharging the duty of my earthly calling; meeting the trials of my earthly pilgrimage; not as if I were entitled selfishly to take credit for what I do, or take amiss anything I have to suffer; but simply in loving obedience to my heavenly Father, and loving sympathy with him in his truth and holiness and wide and pure benevolence. That was Christ's way; that was Christ's joy.
Then may I have freedom, enlargement, joy, as Christ had, in walking with my Father in heaven always; going about in my Father's name doing good; drinking whatever cup my Father giveth me; and on whatever cross he may see fit to nail me, saying still, as I give up the ghost, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit."
(II.) The reality of this joy, - Christ's own joy remaining in us, - may now be partly apparent. But who shall venture to describe its fullness? "That my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full ;" so he speaks to his apostles. "That they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves ;" so he speaks to the Father concerning them. "That your joy may be full ;" such is the beloved apostle's longing on behalf of his disciples, as it was his master's on behalf of his chosen ones. Surely, one would say, it is to the future state, the life to come, the world beyond the grave, that these expressions point. And that is doubtless true. In its utmost and ultimate perfection, this full joy belongs to heaven. So it is with Christ's own personal joy. In heaven he fully rejoices with the Father and the eternal Spirit over his fulfilled work of glorious righteousness and grace, and the fulfilled fruits of it, in the fulfilled salvation of all the multitude of his redeemed. Was it something of that joy that Paul caught a glimpse of in that strange ecstasy of his, when he was caught up into the third heaven, - into paradise, - and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for man to utter? (2 Cor. xii. 1-4.)
Was it Moses and Elias that he overheard, as on a higher mount of transfiguration, talking with Jesus about the decease now accomplished at Jerusalem? Or was it Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; the everlasting Father, communing with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, now in his bosom evermore, and the blessed Spirit plying evermore his ministry between God and men? But "something sealed the lips" of Paul. Let me, therefore, be silent, and wait. Let me rather see if there is not some sense, - some humbler and more practicable point of view, - in which I have to do with that fulness of joy. In the 45th Psalm, the Messiah, rejoicing over his church as a bridegroom over his bride, is thus saluted: "Thou lovest righteousness and hatest wickedness; therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad." This gladness of the anointing oil and the sweet-smelling spices is all as sociated with his loving righteousness and hating wickedness. The secret of his full joy lies in his being, as his Father is, the holy one and the just. Hence there can be no discrepancy of thought, or taste, or feeling, between him and the Father who has sent him. All things about his mission appear to him as they appear to the Father; they are to him what they are to the Father. No painful effort is ever needed to bring his judgment into subjection to the Father's; or his will into harmony with the Father's. No lurking tendency of his own nature toward evil; no insidious suggestion of the tempter ; no impatience of subordination; no secret longing to taste the liberty of self-will ; - can ever interfere with his walking in the light as God is in the light. And that is the perfection of blessedness. To one who is at once a servant and a son that is "fulness of joy."
Is it attainable by us here? Yes, in measure, and in growing measure. Let our nature be assimilated to that of God; our mind to his; our heart to his. Let our souls learn the lesson of seeing as lie sees and feeling as he feels. Let sin be to us what it is to him; and righteousness and truth as well. Let there be a clear understanding between him and us upon all questions; a thorough identity of interest and inclination in all points; an entire agreement of opinion and choice in the great strife of good and evil going on in the world. That was Christ's own joy. And it was fulness of joy, even when his personal share in that strife cost him the tears of Gethsemane and the bitter cry of Calvary. Let it be ours, more and more, through our growth in grace and in holiness. All misery lies in our judgment not being in subjection to God's; our will not being in harmony with his. Misery ends, and fulness of joy comes, when we think and feel and wish as God does. Therefore fulness of joy may be ours; ours more and more; when "beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord," - this glory of his being the Father's willing servant and loyal Son, - " we are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." And now, perhaps, we may see more clearly than we have been accustomed to see the propriety of this "joy of the Lord," - this "joy in the Lord," - being represented as not merely a privilege, but a duty.
"Rejoice in the Lord; and again I say unto you rejoice." For this joy is not anything like that sort of mysterious incomprehensible rapture into which the spirits may be occasionally thrown under some sudden and irresistible impulse from without or from within. It is not mere excitement. It is not what is called enthusiasm, proper to high festivals. It is a calm and sober frame of mind, suited for everyday wear and everyday work. Neither is its nature recondite, abstruse, and mystical; nor does it come and go in flashes, like the winged fire of heaven. It can be explained and accounted for; analysed and described. Its elements and causes can be specified. Its rise and progress can be traced. It is not, therefore, an attainment with which we can dispense; it is "our strength." Nor is it a grace for which we may idly wait until it drop upon us unawares from above. We have it in us, the germ of it, the essence of it, if we have Christ in us; if we have the Spirit of Christ. "And if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his."Stir up, then, the gift that is in you. Do you ask how? Observe the different connections in which your sharing the Lord's joy stands in the farewell discourses and the farewell prayer; as first, with your keeping his commandments and abiding in his love, as he kept the Father's commandments, and abode in the Father's love (Jh xv. 10); secondly, with your asking in his name as you have never asked before (xvi 24); and, thirdly, with your being kept in the Father's name, in ever-brightening disclosures of the Father's glorious perfections (15: 11, 13).
And observe, in the fourth place, a the beloved apostle's warm appreciation of this joy as realised in the communion of saints: "Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink; but I trust to come unto you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full" (2 John .12).
Surely this joy of the Lord, as it is thus intimately associated ; - first with obedience, secondly with prayer, - thirdly with the study of the divine character, - and fourthly with the cultivation of Christian communion ; - is no rare rapture, to be snatched at intervals of excited devotion. It is, on the contrary, a calm and chastened frame of mind ; - such as may be realised in every common duty, in every humble supplication, in every devout exercise of soul upon the divine word, in every greeting exchanged lovingly with any of the Lord's people. Well therefore may the apostolic precept run thus - "Rejoice evermore." For this joy is independent of events and circumstances. The labours you are engaged in may be the hardest drudgery; the people to whom you are seeking to be useful may be the most perverse of all men. Your temper, patience, love, faith, hope, may be tried to the very utmost; all may seem dark; friends may change, and enemies may be round about you. But Christ is the same, and his joy is the same; the joy of doing and suffering his Father's will. "Rejoice ye if ye are counted worthy to suffer for his sake." "Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience," and that if "patience has her perfect work" ye shall be "perfect and entire, lacking nothing." Let nothing mar or damp your joy. What can mar or damp it if it is Christ s joy remaining in you; Christ's joy fulfilled in you; Christ's joy and yours together in his Father and your Father - his God and your God?
"Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fall, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall he cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation" (Habak. iii 17, 18). That was the prophet's joy, because he apprehended it as Christ's joy, seeing his day afar off and being glad as he saw it. Let it be your joy also, your joy in him, "whom having not seen you love, and in whom, though now you see him not, you rejoice ;" with his own joy fulfilled in you; and therefore "with joy unspeakable and full of glory."
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