(Letter 149 in my series of letters on assurance and fighting for joy
In my post Three Years Later: Dancing & Skipping with Mrs. Durham
, I had written:
Three years ago this month, I became desperate to know, to really know, the joy of the Lord. I had found myself continually overwhelmed and overcome by the here-and-now, by my circumstances, unable to run the race set before me, being dragged down, down, down into doubt, depression, and despair. I was wilting and withering, and not thriving and blossoming as I knew I ought to be as a Christian.
At that time, through my reading and studying the Bible, as well as through other reading (including that of Jonathan Edwards and Martyn Lloyd-Jones ~ and Lord willing, in the near future, I'm hoping to blog on a portion from one of ML-J's books about this, and when I do, I'll add the link here), I'd begun to see there was a supernatural joy available to all the children of God (no exceptions) that I'd not yet experienced – though I'll admit that for quite some time prior to that, I was skeptical about it, and I balked at the notion; I doubted and even argued that such a joy wasn't a real possibility for me due to my own personality (prone to depression and unhealthy introspection). I'd put myself in the very dangerous position of limiting and provoking Holy One of Israel (see Psalm 78).
The Bible must always
be our primary authority. We are to test and try all things
against the God-breathed, infallible Word. However, in addition to the Bible, God has always provided His Church with ministers to instruct and equip and build us up and guard us in His ways (~ Eph. 4:7-16). If you've been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that the late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) was one of those men who has been instrumental in my life (in addition to that post
, please see my posts here
, and here
As I titled this blog, I truly did bristle at much of what ML-J had written about joy in his book "Safe in the World" (a compilation of his sermons on John 17) – in particular, these words from Chapter 9 ("True Joy") really provoked and incited me:
And now I come to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves (v. 15).
We have been considering together the ways in which, as Christians, we manifest our Lord's glory, and we have reminded ourselves of our tremendous responsibility as we realize that we, and we alone, are the people through whom the Lord Jesus Christ is glorified in this world of time.
Now that was the second reason for our Lord's prayer –– the first reason, you remember, was because of who and what we are – and here we come to the third reason, which he puts quite plainly in verse 13. He says, in effect, 'I am praying all these things audibly in their presence because I am anxious that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.' He is anxious that this joy that he himself had experienced should also be fully experienced by these his followers. There is, therefore, a very definite logical sequence in the arrangement of these matters. In dealing earlier with the ways in which the Lord Jesus Christ is glorified in us, we spoke of the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, and so on. At that point, in dealing briefly with joy, I said that I would not go into it in detail, because we would be returning to it, and this is where we must do that. And what we see here is that one of the ways in which we, as Christians, can glorify Christ is this life and world, is by being filled with this spirit of joy and rejoicing. This is a fruit of the Spirit which our Lord singles out in particular in this prayer to the Father on behalf of his followers. And so we glorify him in a very special way be being partakers of this his own joy.
Obviously, therefore, this is an important subject. Our Lord would not have singled it out like this and given it a special place and emphasis unless it was something of vital concern. So clearly we must start our consideration of it by reminding ourselves again of what a wonderful display this is of our Lord's care and solicitude for his own people. How anxious he is that their welfare should be catered for! He is going to leave them, he is going back to the Father, but he does not lose interest in them for that reason. In a sense he is still more interested in them, and though he is going to face the shame and the agony of the cross, what is uppermost in his mind is the condition and the future of these disciples of his, whom he is leaving behind.
But there is more than that – indeed it is something which is of even more vital concern. All that we have been saying is something to rejoice in, but there is a bigger, deeper lesson here. This whole subject of joy is one which is prominent in the New Testament, and, therefore, it must be of primary importance to Christian people. We can see in John 16 how our Lord constantly referred to it, and if you go through the four gospels and look for it, you will find that he was always emphasizing it. And if you read the epistles you will find the subject of joy there, in perhaps a still more striking manner, for some of them are almost exclusively devoted to it. It is a great theme, for instance, of the epistle to the Philippians. Paul's concern there is that Christian people should experience this joy – 'Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice' (4:4). It was his burning desire for all Christian people. And then, what, after all, is the purpose of the book of Revelation except that God's people should be taught how truly to be filled with joy and to rejoice? John himself in his first epistle very specifically says, 'These things write I unto you that your joy might be full' (1:4). He was an old man realizing that he was at the end of his journey and thinking of the Christian people he was leaving behind in this difficult world. So he wrote his letter to them in order that their joy might be full. It is, I say, one of the outstanding themes of the entire New Testament, and so it behoves us to be very clear in our minds about it.
There are certain principles that seem to me to stand out very clearly. The first is that we are not only saved for eternity. The gospel of Jesus Christ, of course is primarily something that does safeguard our eternal destiny. Its fundamental purpose is to reconcile us to God and to see that we are saved in that final and eternal sense. It puts us right once and for all and into a right standing in the presence of God. It reconciles us to God, and establishes definitely in our experience that we are his children. It takes from us the fear of the death, of the grave, and of judgement, and it assures us that our eternity and our eternal destiny is safe and secure. But – and this is what is emphasized in this particular verse – we are not only saved for eternity. It is a false and incomplete view of Christian salvation that postpones its blessing to the realm that lies beyond this present life and beyond the grave.
This sounds so obvious that it is almost foolish to emphasize it, and yet if you go into the history of the church you will find that very often, and sometimes for a very long period, Christian people, by the subtlety of Satan, have been entirely robbed of this particular aspect. This has very often been a result of our reaction – a healthy and right reaction – against worldliness. Christian people have realized that because they are not of the world they should separate themselves form everything that belongs to it. They interpret that as meaning that while they are in this life they are – to use that line of Milton's – 'To scorn delights, and live laborious days'. So they have thought of the Christian as someone who is melancholic, someone who is never going to experience any happiness or joy in a sinful world like this, but who really does look forward to a great joy of unmixed bliss in the land that lies beyond the present and the seen. Thus they seem to rob themselves entirely of any benefits or blessings from salvation in this present life. Now that is tragically and pathetically wrong. The blessings of Christianity are to be enjoyed in this world as well as in the world to come. There are different aspects, of course, of salvation, but we must never so emphasize the future as to derogate from the present and detract from the future. There are blessings to be enjoyed here and now and our Lord emphasized that very clearly in this verse.
But then I draw a second deduction, which is that one of the particular blessings which the Christian is meant to enjoy in the present life is this experience of joy. Our Lord says that he prays in order that this joy might be 'fulfilled in themselves'. We see that in John 16 when he exhorts us to pray: 'Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full' (v. 24). The Christian is meant to be a joyful person, one who is meant to experience the joy of salvation. There is no question about that; it is something which is taught everywhere in the New Testament, and so it is our duty as Christians to have this joy, and to be filled with it. And we must give ourselves neither rest nor peace until we have it.
But there are many obstacles to that, and many things which hinder the Christian from having it. There are certain people, I know, who react against the false and carnal sort of joy, that they rob themselves of true joy. But the opposite of carnal and fleshly joy is not to be miserable. It is to have true joy, the joy of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. And in the light of all these exhortations from him and from the apostles we must start by realizing that it is our duty to possess and to experience this joy of which our Lord speaks. We have no right not to have it. Indeed, I put it as my third principle that it is clearly dishonouring to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to the work he has done, not to have this joy. The teaching seems to be that he came into this world in order that we might have it. Take, for instance, the words at the end of chapter 16: 'These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace' (v. 33). That verse couples peace and joy together: 'In the world ye have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.' And because he has overcome the world, we are meant to have this joy and to experience it; we are meant to be Christian people who rejoice.
This links very naturally with the precious subject of glorifying him – a miserable Christian does not and obviously cannot glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. Everybody else is miserable, the world makes people so. But if the Lord Jesus Christ has done what he claims to have done, and has come to suffer all the he suffered in this world, to the end that his people might be made different, they are obviously to be a joyful people. He has done all that in order to make it possible for us, and so our failure to be joyful in our lives is to detract from his glory and to cast queries upon his wonderful work. It thus behoves us as Christian people to realize that is out duty to be joyful. This is often put to us in the New Testament as an injunction. We are commanded to rejoice and if you are commanded to do something, it means that you must do it. Now that, obviously, is going to raise a question in our minds as to the nature of this joy. People say that it is no use going to a miserable man and telling him to cheer up. But there is a sense in which you can do that – not directly, but indirectly – and it will result in joy. This is what we must consider together. 'Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice' – that is what we are meant to do, and we are meant to be joyful, not only for our own sakes, but still more for his.
So that leads us to the vital question – what is this joy, and what do we know about it? We will content ourselves, for the moment, with just looking at what our Lord himself tells us in this particular verse. The first thing is that it is his joy. 'These things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.' Now this is most important because it means that it is not the kind of joy that some people sometimes seem to think it is. It is the kind of joy that he himself possessed and therefore we can say of necessity that it was not carnal or fleshly, it was never boisterous.
I emphasize those negatives because it is always essential to point out that in a matter like this there are two extremes that must always be avoided. I have already mentioned one of them, that of being so anxious to avoid the carnal as to become almost melancholic, but we must also avoid this other extreme. There are certain people – and they have been very much in evidence I should think for the last fifty years or so – who, having realized quite rightly that a Christian is meant to have joy, have been so anxious to manifest the fact that though they are Christian they are still joyful, that they assume a liveliness which is certainly not the joy of the Lord Jesus Christ. They are a kind of boisterous Christian, but our Lord was never boisterous. Our Lord's joy was a holy joy. Yes – let us not hesitate to say it – it was a serious joy. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief and yet joyful.
~ "Safe in the World: The Assurance of Our Salvation (Studies in Jesus' Prayer for His Own: John 17:6-19)" by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, ed. by Christoper Catherwood (Westchester, Il: Crossway,1988), from Chapter 9, "True Joy," 106-111, italics original; boldface mine.
At the time I first read those words of Lloyd-Jones, I felt them to be goads, and I was vigorously kicking at them! But now I thank and bless and praise God for each and every one of those words!
In Ecclesiastes 12, Solomon wrote about such blessed goading...
10 The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth. 11 The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.
Though I initially didn't welcome those words of Lloyd-Jones (far from it!), in retrospect, I can see his words were words of truth
and words of the wise
, and they were much-needed goads
for my miserable and misdirected and misguided soul, words which came to me from the Good Shepherd through one of His undershepherds, so I might begin to learn to rejoice in the Lord always!
In his Complete Commentary on Ecclesiastes, here's Matthew Henry writing about God's blessed and precious goading and nailing:
That which he [Solomon] and other holy men wrote will be of great use and advantage to us, especially being inculcated upon us by the exposition of it, 11. Here observe,
(1.) A double benefit accruing to us from divine truths if duly applied and improved; they are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness. They are of use, [1.] To excite us to our duty. They are as goads to the ox that draws the plough, putting him forward when he is dull and quickening him, to amend his pace.
The truths of God prick men to the heart (Acts ii. 37) and put them upon bethinking themselves, when they trifle and grow remiss, and exerting themselves with more vigour in their work. While our good affections are so apt as they are to grow flat and cool, we have need of these goads. [2.] To engage us to persevere in our duty. They are as nails to those that are wavering and inconstant, to fix them to that which is good. They are as goads to such as are dull and draw back, and nails to such as are desultory and draw aside, means to establish the heart and confirm good resolutions, that we may not sit loose to our duty, nor even be taken off from it, but that what good there is in us may be as a nail fastened in a sure place, Ezra ix. 8.
(2.) A double way of communicating divine truths, in order to those benefits:-- [1.] By the scriptures, as the standing rule, the words of the wise, that is, of the prophets, who are called wise men, Matt. xxiii. 34. These we have in black and white, and may have recourse to them at any time, and make use of them as goads and as nails. By them we may teach ourselves; let them but come with pungency and power to the soul, let the impressions of them be deep and durable, and the will make us wise to salvation. [2.] By the ministry. To make the words of the wise more profitable to us, it is appointed that they should be impressed and fastened by the masters of assemblies. Solemn assemblies for religious worship are an ancient divine institution, intended for the honour of God and the edification of his church, and are not only serviceable, but necessary, to those ends. There must be masters of these assemblies, who are Christ's ministers, and as such are to preside in them, to be God's mouth to the people and theirs to God. Their business is to fasten the words of the wise, and drive them as nails to the head, in order to which the word of God is likewise as a hammer, Jer. xxiii. 29.I invented and concocted a long litany of arguments and excuses for why Lloyd-Jones' words didn't apply to me, and, even more gravely, for why Jesus' words didn't apply to me. But the Lord was patient and longsuffering with me, and I will tell you this: God kept goading, and kept nailing! Thank God for grace that abounds to stiff-necked sinners like myself! God intended all that goading and all that nailing for my good... every prick and every puncture sovereignly ordained, coming down from the Father of lights in order to excite my dull soul to my duty as a Christian to pursue and possess joy, and to engage me to persevere in that duty. As part of that process, God began to hedge up my way with thorns and make me even more miserable (much like Hosea's wife ~ see Hosea 2). In the Valley of Achor (trouble), God did open wide a door of hope, so I might begin to drink of the joy that Jesus died to give me. But along the way I had to let God explode my flawed, false, and faulty theological concepts that a Christian shouldn't and couldn't really be joyful, and that any experience of God's joy I might have would have to be somehow limited by my own personality and my own particular circumstances. Though like Sarah, I didn't exactly laugh at the prospect of joy being a reality for me, I confess that I did smirk...
Genesis 18:11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? 13 And the LORD said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? 14 Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son. 15 Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh.
My brothers and sisters, how dare you and I smirk or laugh at the exceeding great and precious promises
of God! We are not only justified by faith, but we LIVE by faith. We live by faith in the God who makes promises that seem
so far-fetched and so absurd and so impossible to our puny and pygmy fleshly understanding. However, let us never forget this: we have the mind of Christ, and we have the Holy Spirit that we might know the the things that are freely given to us of God (see I Cor. 1:6-16)
, that we might begin to know and plumb and dip into and taste and see and savor the unsearchable riches of the glory of our inheritance in Christ.
Is anything too hard for the LORD? Is it too hard for the LORD to grant you
joy in Him?
Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and pow'r are such
None can ever ask too much.
("Come, My Soul, Thy Suit Prepare" by John Newton)
Go to the Scripture, and seek out good, orthodox instruction from men like ML-J, and pray to the Holy Spirit to lead you into all truth (remember: the devil is a liar and the father of lies!), and then watch God begin to blow-up your own home-spun theology and your ill-formed and false conceptions about the character of God and of Christianity, and I will guarantee you this: you will find God to be more precious and more glorious and more wonderful than you could have ever imagined, and you will begin to get a taste of what the Psalmist wrote when he said:
Psalm 16:11 Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.
All who are Christ's have already been reconciled to God by the Lord Jesus Christ by grace through faith in the the offering of Jesus' body and blood on our behalf. Therefore, all who believe have already been brought on to that path of life, and we have already been given access to drink of that fullness of joy and to sup of those pleasures forevermore beginning in the here and now!
As I said, God kept goading and nailing, and the discipline was very grievous at many times, but it was all for my good. (And He continues
to goad and nail: that's part of His loving discipline to all His children ~ the Father chastens those He loves! If we are without such discipline, then we are illegitimate children and not His children! ~ Heb. 12:3-11). God opened my heart to consider His precious Word, so that I eventually began to understand and embrace that Jesus' words were spoken to me
and were prayed for me
... Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word
It was just over three years ago that I began to ask, seek, and knock for that joy which was my duty to have, and that joy which is the duty of all
Christians to have. (I recounted some of that story in my post here
.) I got tired and weary of being miserable, and by faith I put myself into the blessed yoke of Jesus. I had come to see that my choosing
to live as a miserable Christian was living (if you want to call that living
!) at such a low level because I was flat-out refusing to embrace and trust God's blessed promises, and to pray for and to expect God Himself to impart to me His joy. Many of you are in that very same place right now. I urge you to go to the Good Shepherd and read and soak in His promises for you, and then to ask, seek, and knock. He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Wrestle with Him like Jacob, and importunately plead like the widow! Remember: without faith it is impossible to please Him! Ask God to bless your mustard seed of faith, or if you don't even have a mustard seed of faith, ask Him to give it to you! Remember: to enter into Jesus' joy is the duty of all
Christians, no exceptions. May God guard us so we might not be guilty of provoking, grieving, tempting, and limiting our God as the Israelites did:
Psalm 78:40 How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert! 41 Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel. 42 They remembered not his hand, nor the day when he delivered them from the enemy. 43 How he had wrought his signs in Egypt, and his wonders in the field of Zoan...
When we're not seeking by faith what has been already purchased for us at Calvary and what is already ours by the second birth, we are not only robbing ourselves of joy, but we are also robbing our God of the glory due His name. Remember His hand! Remember His power! Remember His love! Remember His mercy! Remember His grace! Remember the day He delivered you from the devil's realm of darkness, sin, and death!
May the Holy Spirit of God continue to guide and lead us into all truth, and by His truth set us free to glorify and enjoy God as God has intended for us. God willing, I will continue goading and nailing you, as my Lord did for me. May God make my efforts effectual for your progress AND JOY in the faith... ~ Karen
Related posts:my other posts on assurance & fighting for joy.
my posts on Christian hedonism
More from Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
Updated 2/12/13: Thanks to the MLJ Trust you can access for free over 1600 sermons of the late Dr. Lloyd-Jones at the Martyn Lloyd-Jones Audio Library here: (http://www.mljtrust.org/). I regret to say that the sermon I cited here as well as the other sermons from this book aren't currently available on the site.Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Holy Bible.
You can also subscribe to a weekly Podcast of Dr. Lloyd-Jones' sermons at Living Grace Ministries at oneplace.com.
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I edited the Work found at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oxen.jpg / Public Domain