"We joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
- Romans 5:11
R. J. Drummond: Christianity is essentially joyous. There is something wrong with the Christian who is habitually somber and austere. A Christian should naturally, persistently and deliberately look at the bright side of things, court the sunshine, reassure himself with thoughts of the clouds' silver lining and the day when the clouds will break, the sun shine through, and the shadows flee away. He will make the best of the most unpromising situation, find good in everything.
"Be glad in the Lord and rejoice" (Psa. 32:11) is his motto. And this, the joy of the religious man, is the subject on which I wish to dwell with you this morning.
I. Now this joy begins in the joy of forgiveness.
There is a part of the service in the Book of Common Prayer, very near the beginning, which paves the way for all the rest. It is the Confession and Absolution - the united Common Confession of Sin - "We have erred from Thy ways like lost sheep, we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against Thy holy laws, we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us"; and the Absolution - "He pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent, and unfeignedly believe His Holy Gospel." That is gloriously true. No thinking man ever objected to that part of the Liturgy, except for the one cause, namely this, that only the minister is allowed to pronounce the Absolution. In reality it is the blessed assurance that any believer can give to any anxious, sin-burdened, penitent soul. And "Oh the blessedness of the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose iniquity is covered, and to whom the Lord doth not impute his sin, in whose spirit there is no guile" (Psa. 32:1-2). That is the beginning of Christian joy.
It is the joy of the ransomed - the liberated captive, the prisoner released from the debtor's prison. It is the feeling which is struggling for expression all through the beginning of this fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. Paul has brought his readers to see that if they believe in Jesus Christ they are set right with God - justified by that faith. So there is no cause for timid misgivings as to God's attitude. There may be tribulations; but a Christian, rid of his burden, will meet them with a light heart. The thought of God that was once a source of uneasiness, dread, and even dismay, has become rich in comfort, courage, and confidence, a pleasure, a gladness, and a joy.
Christ's Atonement has done this. "We joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:11). Paul saw that. Paul did that. Brethren, do we? Do we? Are we glad that we are forgiven? If not, were we ever sad that we were not forgiven? If not, are we truly penitent? Have we a right to be glad? Can we be glad in the Lord - nay, glad at all, if we are yet in our sins, and under the wrath and curse of God?
II. This joy of the religious is the joy of surrender, sacrifice, renunciation - call it which you will.
Surrender, sacrifice, renunciation: they are none of them words which on the face of them suggest what is pleasant to the natural man. There is a joy in giving: I am not so sure that we so often think that it is a joy to give up. But the Christian, who has fully entered into this secret of joy, knows how real it is. It is two-fold.
For one thing, what a Christian gives up for Christ is the small return he can make for the great sacrifice the Saviour made for him. It does not matter what it is he gives up. The sacrifice may be great or little. It may be a career, honorable in its kind, or a business of the most remunerative character, set aside for the sake of doing direct work in Home or Foreign Mission Field. It may be the sweets of home or favorite pursuits and studies. It may be engrossing sports or amusements. It may be the object of the heart's tenderest affections, but in whom there is found to be no love for Christ or His Cause. Great or small, the sacrifice is real; the pain is acute; but the joy is genuine. We have suffered something for Him Whose sufferings for us we can never repay. Love has had its opportunity and rejoices.
But there is another element in the joy of surrender. We have all an idea that it is a splendid thing to be our own masters, to shape our own careers, to go our own ways, to do as we like. We often change our minds about that when we begin to feel the burden of the responsibility which it entails. Ah, free will - to be our own masters - is a dazzling position, but it is on a giddy eminence; and no serious, humble-minded man fails to feel at times overwhelmed with the duty of choosing aright, of determining the path of service, of work, of conduct, which he ought to follow. He becomes terribly conscious of his own limitations, of the limits of his knowledge and ability. He decides for himself and directs others, and is immediately filled with misgivings. "Oh for someone," he cries, "to take the responsibility. I am ready to go anywhere, do anything, endure anything, if only someone on whom I can absolutely depend will take the responsibility and give me my orders."
And here is Christ: and he surrenders to Him. He casts his burden on the Lord, weary and heavy-laden with the burden of directing his own life, and making a poor job of it at that. He accepts Christ's invitation, takes His yoke which is easy, His burden which is light (Matt. 11:3), and finds rest to his soul. And once more the joy of surrender, surrender to Christ as Master, to be His servant and simply be guided by His Word and do His will, is the joy of relief. He discovers what is true liberty (Gal. 2:4). His service is perfect freedom.
III. Then, again, isn't the Christian's joy the joy of work?
Children are not the only people that are fond of a holiday. We all like a day off. We talk about our holidays, and as soon as one spell of holiday is over, begin to plan for the next. One might almost think, to hear us talk, that we lived for them. But is that true? "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." But all play and no work makes Jack - what? A nuisance to everybody that knows him, and a burden to himself. No, a man is happiest - there is a ring in his voice, a spring in his step, and a sparkle in his eye - when he is engaged in congenial work and is busiest at it.
Now this is the Christian's joy. It is the joy of work - congenial work that demands all our powers. It is sure to be congenial, because its variety is so great that every man, woman, and child can select just what he prefers, and what he is best suited for.
For thousands it is simply their daily toil, but it is this approached in a new spirit. It has ceased to be merely a means of earning food, clothes, and shelter. It has become a medium through which a man can reveal what he really is, reveal the spirit of Christ that is in him. How? Is it a workman? By the conscientiousness and care and finish with which he does his work, by the obvious pride he has in it. His fellow-worker, his employer, sees this, seeks out the secret, and discovers that in him there is one who is working, not with eye-service as a man-pleaser: but he thinks of his work as something which in the last resort he is doing for God.
Or it's an employer. But he has ceased to think of his business principally as a means of bringing gold to his coffers. He is thinking of it as a grand enterprise to make the most of some of the gifts which God has stored in the earth, to put them at the service of his fellow-men, to afford remunerative employment under fair, healthy conditions to those he employs, and, from the returns it brings him, to enable him to relieve the needy and promote the interests of the cause of Christ. What joy it is, what a delight, to tackle work in this spirit! It redeems work from the mire of materialism, the blight of secularism, makes it a holy thing, a calling from God, a service of Christ.
But the joy of work gives a still keener zest to the Christian when the work is directly for the advancement of the kingdom of the Redeemer. It may be the work to which a man devotes his leisure hours, work as an elder, say, in a share of the. oversight of a congregation, or work devoted to the management of its temporal affairs, work for the ingathering of funds and for their judicious expenditure. It may be work in choir or in the Sabbath school. It may be in direct personal contact by visitation or club life with those indifferent to things religious, or specially exposed to influences hostile to a godly life. It may be care for the sick, the sad, the poverty stricken or the bereaved. But men and women who give themselves to this, share in the travail of the soul of the Saviour, and are satisfied. They see the pleasure of the Lord prospering in their hand, and work seems a glorious privilege, the most inspiring of all recreations. Though they may be left fatigued in body by it, they are refreshed in spirit, and will go on their way rejoicing.
Again, this may be a man's life-calling in the Church at Home or in the Mission Field. Then how rich in inspiration is every side of his work. Is it the study of God's Word, that he may exhibit its message to others? He grudges every hour that draws him from it; while every book he reads, every person he meets, every experience through which he passes, every event that transpires, is put under contribution to illuminate the theme. Is it the presentation of the faith in public worship or Bible Class, or where you will? He hails the opportunity; for it enables him to tell the glory of his Saviour, the worth of His salvation, and point the way of life to men groping in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Is it the visitation of his people in health or sickness, to join with them when the marriage bells ring, or condole with them when the death-bell tolls? Again his heart is glad, for these afford openings when heart opens to heart and soul communes with soul, and he has his opportunity to speak a word in season to him that is weary and ready to faint, to remonstrate with the refractory, counsel the inexperienced, reassure the doubting and hear the first confessions of faith in an accepted Lord. Talk not to him of weariness; he waives it aside in the joy of his work. He says with the Apostle, and takes for his motto, "I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls" (2 Cor. 12:15).
You see, the Christian's joy in work is the joy of service. And who would not count it all joy to serve such a Master as Jesus Christ our Lord? The soldier or sailor counts it an honour to serve under a distinguished commander no matter how exacting his commands, how strict his discipline may be. The lad counts it a benefit to get work with a good firm, even though it means longer hours and sharper scrutiny. But to serve the Lord Christ, so gracious, so considerate! Look at Him! Girt with a towel, doing menial service, washing His disciples' feet!
We once heard Him in a parable, in order to suggest the delight of a master at finding trusty servants all on the alert for his coming, though it be at the dead of night, saying, that if he found them so, he would gird himself and bid them sit down to meat and himself serve them (?). And as we listened we said, "That is exaggeration, that is hyperbole - he would never do that!" But here we see Him at that very task. No wonder a simple, healthy soul like Peter will scarcely accept such service, feels it too much honour for him, too great self-abasement for his Lord; and when at last he is persuaded, it is for such a Master he says, "I will lay down my life for Thy sake" (John 13:37). It is the keenest joy to serve such a Master, such a Lord.
IV. Once more the joy of the Christian is the joy of worship.
I wonder how many of you agree with what was said to me by one of our members the other day. She said, "When I come to church, I don't want to sing any of those doleful psalms or hymns. I want to sing bright glad psalms and hymns of praise." She feels "like singing all the time." Now don't you shake your heads and say, "That must be a very inexperienced young thing, who has known very little of earth's sorrows and cares." You are quite mistaken. She has been through bereavement in most trying circumstances, and faces tragedy at home every day. But in the hour of worship the clouds roll back and she knows its joy.
Now what is the joy of worship? First of all there is a natural side to it. There is something soothing to the nerves in the quiet of a place of worship. Even to be there alone is to leave the world with its rush and noise behind, and feel that there is much in life for which there is no need to strive to outstrip one's neighbors, but which will simply flow into the soul that will be still and wait to receive it. And when others gather in the sanctuary, and voices rise unitedly in praise to God, or in pleading entreaty, is there not a great sense of fellowship, something that speaks of what men may attain, if they work together for a common end; not thrust each other aside, each seeking but to serve himself?
"Prayer is the expression of our yearning, our desire and need for the God who is absent, distant, or silent; praise is the expression of our joy in and gratitude for God's presence. Prayer is the expression of our life as lack, as poverty, as emptiness; praise is the expression of our life as abundant, overflowing, full, and exuberant. [Adoration, Thanksgiving, Rejoicing, Offering.] These different acts are complementary, and belong together."
Theodore W. Jennings, Jr., (1982) "Life as Worship: Prayer and Praise in Jesus' Name", Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans
Common praise, common prayer, common message, obliterate the obnoxious divisions and distinctions of earth and call men to the one great family of God; and brotherhood in Christ supersedes every other relation.
Besides, worship points to the ideal, counteracts the cleaving of our souls to the dust, and draws us up. Our actual is so inferior to our possible of work and service. We are so prone to sink to the hum-drum and mediocre, to be content with something less than the best, in work for Christ, in the service of God. But in worship our imagination is stirred.
In the hour of worship we stand with Isaiah in the Temple. We see "the Lord seated upon a throne high and lifted up" (Isa. 6:1), and His train fills the Temple: the posts of the door are shaken: cherubim and seraphim veil their faces before Him, while they cry, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory" (Isa. 6:3). And as this vision of heaven and its holy mysteries floats before our eyes, we are carried out of ourselves: we are painfully reminded, like Isaiah, how unfit we are to serve God as He should be served, but the desire grows for fitness: and if only He will take us, fit us, and use us, then no task will daunt us, no demand seem more than meet. And it is joy, holy joy, to find the conviction stealing into our souls, that God is responding to our yearnings and meeting our deep desires.
Yes, that is the deepest joy of worship, be it in the house of God or in the quiet of our own rooms. It is the thrill of holy emotion in the thought that God is near. We are in touch with Him. His ear is listening to our voice. His Spirit is speaking to our soul. Thus to be in touch with the Eternal, in tune with the Infinite, is what one is tempted to call a rare privilege. But to say "rare" is to suggest that it is within the reach of but a favoured few, and even for them only once in a while. And that is not true.
It may be yours, it may be mine, whenever we enter this church; whenever we gather our families around us to sing God's praise, to read His word, to lift our hearts in prayer; whenever at early morn or as the day closes we turn our thoughts inward and upward, meditate on God's presence, commune with Him in prayer.
Oh, my brethren, do we cultivate this spirit of holy joy? Does our union with Christ bring gladness into our lives? Does it enable us to face the darkest phases of earthly life with a buoyant spirit that will not sink beneath the waves of despair? It should. If it does not, we have somehow missed the encouragement in Christ's farewell, "In the world ye shall have tribulation, but, be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Let us, therefore, joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Sermon preached by R. J. DRUMMOND, Edinburgh, Scotland, ca. 1920
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