Fullness of Joy

This is from Psalm 16, verse 11: ” in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore”: one of many references in the bible to the joys of heaven.

The christian life is not an easy life. We live our lives in an alien environment. We are in a war which has many battles. The world is hostile to christianity, especially to christians who believe that the bible is the word of God, and the rule for life and teaching. We believe in applying the whole of  the bible to the whole of life. Thankfully, this hostility is greatly compensated for us by many consolations; chiefly the assurance of heaven after death.

What a great blessing it is that we are given information about what is in heaven now, and that we are not kept in suspense till we get there to find out what awaits us.  While this information is not exhaustive, the christian must make use of the information given in order to increase his present joy, and help him on his earthly pilgrimage. It is essential for the christian to spend some time in bible-based meditation, especially on the subject of heaven, not just as it will be for us when we get there, but as things are there now. So what is there? There is the ambience, or ‘atmosphere’ of heaven. It is a place where there is fullness of joy. In our thoughts, we struggle with the phrase, ‘fullness of joy’: it speaks of perfection of joy, and the absence of even the slightest speck of disturbance. This is really difficult for us to grasp, because the joys of this life are largely fleeting joys, and are often mixed with sorrows and heartbreaks. This is the norm of our present existence.

However, the christian can find great blessing in stretching his spiritual imagination regarding heaven with the help of scripture.  In this,  he is given special help: this fullness of joy is related to a Presence, without whom there would be no joy there. “In thy presence is fullness of Joy”.  That Presence is, of course, the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God.  In His presence there is always fullness of joy. Moreover, for us, one of these three persons is like us. God the Son is now the God/man, who took our human nature into union with His Person in the womb of the virgin Mary. This union is permanent, and will never be reversed. He will be visible to our human eyes, and He Himself looks forward to the time when He will have all His saved people with Him. “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory” (John 17:24). That will be fullness of joy indeed.

Our warfare in this world will continue till the end; that is the lot appointed to all who are RightWithGod through faith in Jesus Christ. However, we can exercise our faith while we battle on, to taste a little of the joy of heaven here and now. We can do so by meditating on the truths of the word of God, regarding the heavenly environment. In this,  our hearts are lifted up with a little of the joy of that wonderful place. This is not fantasizing, but a legitimate exercise of faith based on biblical truths. It is one of the many ways in which God makes our time in this world not only survivable but often extremely pleasant.

God-willing we will look at the second part of this blessed text next week.

 

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A Happy Wedding Day

Yesterday, I had the great privilege of being present at a marriage ceremony. It was a particularly happy occasion for me, because the two being married were christians,  RightWithGod and well-known to me. Of course there had to be the official formalities, because in the UK marriage is under the control of the State. Even the minister who conducts the service must be certified by  the state as someone who is on the official list of persons authorised to conduct marriages. He, for a short moment, is a servant of the State. However, this being a christian wedding, the formalities were dealt with quickly, and most of the time was devoted to what the bible  has to say about marriage.

There were many references to what the bible says about marriage, but one of the most startling references  was the oft-quoted verse, Ephesians 5:25:  “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it”. The particular words that always bring me up with a jolt are the two little words, ‘even as’. This translation lacks the full emphasis of the original. Perhaps a slightly better understanding of the original would be given by the words, ‘just as’. Anyway, the inference is clear: the husband is to love his wife just as Christ loved the church (meaning, the true church, all those who are and will become true believers).

What is the measure of Christ’s love for the church? It is that He gave Himself for it. This giving was supremely exercised on Calvary’s  cross, where He was crucified in the place of His beloved Church in order to purchase for them forgiveness of sins and an eternal inheritance with Himself. Now, we cannot love our wives just in exactly the same way that Christ loved the church, and it would be wrong of us to try. Yet we must not lose sight of the words, ‘just as’. The principle is self-sacrifice. The husband is commanded to love his wife with a self-sacrificing love. This has always been difficult, but is more difficult than ever today because it is against the philosophy of the age, which is based on each person claiming their rights. This means that the christian husband must reject the philosophy of the age, and put in its place the christian philosophy: being willing to deny ourselves for the sake of others, especially for our wives.

Is this a difficult thing for a man to do? Yes. Indeed it is impossible for us to do in our own strength. We must surrender to the word of God, and be ruled by it. We must put our whole lives under the rule of the bible, especially in our love for our wives. Let us make no mistake, our christianity begins within the four walls of our home. Our rule is the example of Christ. We must give ourselves for our wives Just as Christ gave Himself  for the church. Our own welfare and comfort must take second place to the welfare and comfort of our wives. Some might think this this is a miserable way to live. It is not; indeed it is the way to happiness in marriage, because it is God’s way, which is always best. God gives strength to those who are right with Himself and submit themselves to His rule.

I have high hope that that submission would be shown forth in the  marriage I witnessed yesterday. Hence it was for me, a happy wedding day.

 

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Water, Rivers, Fire

Our title refers to the well-known text in Isaiah 43:2, which reads, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you: when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned, neither will the flame kindle upon you”. This is one of the most important texts in the bible for the child of God to learn, believe and possess as a special treasure from God. It deals with a very important area of the christian life: trials. Trials in the life of the believer are not an indication that things have gone wrong. In 1 Peter 4:12, we read, “Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you”.  There are few christians who do not go through trials at some point in their lives. Personally, I have not come across any experienced christians who have not had trials at some point in their lives. Hence it is very important for us to learn and understand as much as we can of what the bible  says about the matter of trials in the life of the christian. The more we understand the purpose of trials, the easier it will be for us to cope when the day of trial arrives. Let us see what we can learn from our text in Isaiah 43: 2.

Three naturally occurring phenomena are used here to illustrate  trials: waters, rivers and fire. Each of these things are suited to describe different degrees of trial. Water is always a threat when it is not under control, as in flood water, but we are able to walk through it to the ‘other side’. This represents a gentle trial, which  is nevertheless hard to bear: but God has promised to be with us as we pass through.  Although the next two degrees of trial are not specifically accompanied  by the promise, “I will be with you”, it is inconceivable that the same promise does not apply. The next degree of trial is passing through the ‘rivers’. Passing through a fast-flowing river is terrifying. I remember as a young boy, having experience of that due to my own foolishness. It was an experience I would never forget. I was alone, and tried to cross a small river which was in spate and thought I was going to be carried away and drowned. The promise attached here is that the rivers of trial  ‘shall not overflow you’.  The third degree of trial is walking through the fire. This is the kind of trial which we all fear, such as losing a child, especially if the  child is not found, alive or dead. Some of God’s children have experienced such trials, and they can easily feel as if the fiery trial is going to destroy them. But the amazing promise is, “you shall not burned; neither will shall the flame kindle upon you”.

How can this possibly be? The answer is in verse 1, which is the basis of verse 2: “Fear not: for I have  redeemed you, I have called you by your name; you are mine”. God’s children must expect trial, because, throughout their lives since receiving Christ, God is doing a work in them, namely, sanctification. God’s main instrument in this work is trial. The believer must learn that trials are the hand of God, working in them “that which is well-pleasing in His sight   (Hebrews 13: 21).”  Our text in Isaiah 43:2, begins with the word “When”, not the word, “If”. At some time we will experience trial. The promise is not, ‘ you will not go through the trial’, but, ‘when you go through the trial, I will be with you’.

 

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“The joy of the Lord is your strength”

Our title is a quotation from Nehemiah 8:10. The Jews had been in exile in Babylon for 70 years. This was the judgement of God upon them for their idolatry. Now the 70 years had come to an end and some, though not all, had returned to Jerusalem. They had a very difficult and discouraging time since their return, trying to rebuild the temple and then the walls of Jerusalem. Now they had just finished building the walls. This had been a massive achievement for so few, and with meagre resources, but was accomplished under the hand of God by the dynamic leadership and energy of Nehemiah. The law had now been read and that had been a chastening experience for them. Nehemiah rebukes them for their mourning and weeping, and reminds them that the day was holy unto the Lord, and a day of gladness, rejoicing and mutual generosity after all that God had enabled them to do; and he adds this interesting comment, ‘For the joy of the Lord is your strength’. How can joy be strength? Only when it is the joy of the Lord: the joy of those who are RightWithGod. Let us then look at some of the peculiarities of the Joy of the christian.

Firstly, it is a deep-seated joy. It has its fountain in the heart. It is a joy which has no pretence in it, neither is it forced. Its energy comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart.

Secondly, it is based on facts, the wonderful facts of the gospel: that God sent His Beloved Son to bear the penalty for our sins by suffering and dying in our nature on the cross of Calvary. Inseparable from this is the wonderful truth that in His suffering and death, He satisfied the perfect justice of God. Even God Himself has no charges against us. It is when we contemplate and meditate upon these amazing facts, that our joy is greatest.

Thirdly, it is not dependent on circumstances. The christian may be sorely tried in this world, and may pass through ‘deep waters’. The joy may even seem to melt away, but it is soon recovered when we meditate on Christ and His work.

Fourthly, it is not cancelled out by our sin. Yes, sin often throws us into grief and regrets, and that is as it should be, but our mourning over our sin has the promise attached to it: “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Confession and repentance are ‘natural’ to the christian, and the further promise to him is, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” 1 John 2;1).

Fifthly, it thrives in aloneness. Matthew Henry said, “The christian is never less alone than when he is alone”; why? Because God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is with him.

Now what about the statement, ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength’? Notice, it is not saying, the joy of the Lord gives you strength’, but the joy of the Lord IS your strength. If your strength is God-given, it is internal, in the heart, as is your joy. It is not what the world calls ‘strength’, but a strength which is quiet, not puffed up, but is inseparable from the joy of the Lord.

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