Joy at Conversion
Charles H. Spurgeon
This updated and revised manuscript is copyrighted ã 1999 by Tony Capoccia. All rights reserved.
‘The Lord has done great things for us, whereof we are glad.’—Psalm 126:3
‘O love, you bottomless abyss!
My sins are swallowed up in thee;
Covered is my unrighteousness,
Nor spot of guilt remains on me;
While Jesus' blood, through earth and skies,
Mercy, free, boundless mercy cries.
With faith I plunge me in this sea;
Here in my hope, my joy, my rest;
Here when hell assails I flee;
I look into my Saviour's breast;
Away, sad doubt, and anxious fear!
Mercy is all that’s written there.
Fixed on this ground will I remain,
Though my heart fail, and flesh decay;
This anchor shall my soul sustain,
When earth’s foundations melt away;
Mercy's full power I then shall prove,
Loved with an everlasting love.’
He who dares to prescribe one uniform standard of experience for the children of God, is either grievously ignorant or hopelessly full of self‑esteem. Facts teach us that in the highway to heaven there are many paths, not all equally near to the middle of the road, but nevertheless trodden by the feet of real pilgrims. Uniformity is not God's rule; in grace as well as providence he delights to display the most charming variety. In the matter of conversion this holds good of its attendant rejoicing, for not everyone loudly sings the same rapturous song. All are glad, but not all are alike. One is quiet, another excitable; one is constitutionally cheerful, another is inclined to sadness: these will necessarily feel different degrees of spiritual ecstasy, and will have their own peculiar modes of expressing, their sense of peace with God.
It is true, God usually displays to the newly regenerate much of the riches of his grace; but there are many who must be content to wait for this until a future time. Though he dearly loves every penitent soul, yet he does not always manifest that love. God is a free agent to work where he will and when he will, and to reveal his love even to his own elect in his own chosen seasons. One of the best of the Puritans has wisely written, “God oftentimes works grace in a silent and secret way, and takes sometimes five, sometimes ten, sometimes twenty years—yes, sometimes more—before he will make a clear and satisfying report of his own work upon the soul. It is one thing for God to work a work of grace upon the soul, and another thing for God to show the soul that work. Though our graces are our best jewels, yet they are sometimes, at the beginning of our conversion, so weak and imperfect that we are not able to see their lustre.” All rules have exceptions; so we find there are some who do not rejoice with this joy of harvest, which many of us have the privilege of remembering.
Therefore, let none conceive that our book pretends to be an infallible map from which none will differ; on the contrary, it considers itself happy if it shall suit the experience of even a few, and shall break the chains of any who are enslaved by the system of spiritual standards set up by certain men against whom it enters its earnest protest. Like the tyrant Procrustes [a mythical Greek giant who stretched or shortened captives to make them fit his beds], some classes of religionists measure all men by themselves, and insist that an inch of divergence from their own views must entail upon us present and eternal severance from those whom they delight to speak of as the peculiar people, who through much tribulation must enter the kingdom of heaven. Thus much by way of caution; we now proceed.
The style of our last chapter scarcely allowed us to ask the question, Whence this happiness? or if it suggested itself, we were in too much of a hurry to express our gladness to reply to the inquiry. We will. now, however, sit down coolly and calmly to review the causes of that exceeding great joy; and, if possible, to discover God’s design in affording us such a season of refreshing. Those who are now mourning the loss of the peaceful hours, sweet still to their memory, may perhaps be cheered by the Ebenezers then erected, and by them may be guided again to the Delectable Mountains [Pilgrim’s Progress]. Great Light of the soul, illuminate each of us while meditating on your former, mercies!
I. We shall discuss the causes of the happiness which usually attends a sense of pardon.
The study of experience is one far more calculated to excite our admiration of the wisdom, love, and power of God than the most profound researches which contemplate only the wonders of nature and art. It is to be regretted that masterminds have not arisen who could reduce a science so eminently practical and useful into some kind of order, and render it as rich in its literature as the science of medicine or the study of the mind. An exceedingly valuable volume might be written as a book of spiritual family medicine for the people of God, describing each of the diseases to which the saint is subject, with its cause, symptoms, and care and enumerating the stages of the growth of the healthy believer. Such a compilation would be exceedingly interesting, and its value could scarcely be estimated. In the absence of such a guide, let us continue our musings by the help of the little experience that we may have acquired.
1. Among the many things which contribute to the ravishing sweetness of our first spiritual joy, we must mention the circumstances in which it found us.
We were condemned by God and by our conscience, and harassed by fears of the immediate execution of the wrath of God upon us. We were exercised, both day and night, by sorrows for the past and apprehensions of the future; impending destruction prevented sleep, and the sense of guilt made life a burden. ‘When,’ says one, ‘the usual labours of the day required that I should sleep, and my body, toiled and wasted with the disquiet of my mind, made me heavy, and urged it more, yet I was afraid to close my eyes lest I should awaken in hell; and durst [dared] not let myself sleep till I was by a weary body beguiled into it, lest I should drop into the pit before I was aware. Was it any wonder then that the news of pardon and forgiveness was sweet to one in such a case whereby I was made to lie down in safety, and take quiet rest, while there was none to make me afraid? “For so He giveth his beloved sleep”’ [Halyburton]. It is but natural that rest should be exceedingly sweet after such a period of anxiety. We expect that the sailor will exhibit his joy in an extraordinary manner when, at last, after a weary and tempestuous voyage, he puts his foot upon his native shore. We did not wonder when we heard of festivities in the islands of the West among the slaves who were declared free forever. We do not marvel at the shouts of soldiers who have escaped the hundred hands of death in the day of battle. Shall we then be surprised when we behold justified men exulting in their liberty in Jesus, and their escape from fearful perdition?
We think it is only the ordinary course of things that when, like the Psalmist, we have received answers to our prayers, we should also sing like him, ‘Come and hear, all you who fear God, And I will declare what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, And he was extolled with my tongue’ (Ps. 66:16,17). ‘I will go into your house with burnt offerings; I will pay you my vows, which my lips have uttered and my mouth has spoken when I was in trouble’ (Ps. 66:13,14). You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever’ (Ps. 30:11,12). Men put dark colours into the picture to make the lights more apparent; and God uses our black griefs to heighten the brightness of his mercies. The weeping of penitence is the sowing of jewels of joy. The poet [Moore] sang in another sense that which we may well quote here—
‘And precious their tears as that rain from the sky, [‘The Nisan, or drops of spring-rain, which the Easterns believe to produce pearls if they fall into shells.’—Richardson.] Which turns into pearls as it falls in the sea.’
Spiritual sorrow is the architect of the temple of praise; or at least, like Hiram, it floats on its seas the cedars for the pillars of the beautiful house. To appreciate mercies we must feel miseries; to value deliverance we must have trembled at the approach of destruction. Our broken chains make fine instruments of music, and our feet just freed from fetters move swiftly, dancing to the song: we must be glad when our bondage is yet so fresh in our memory. Israel sang loud enough when, in the sea of Egypt, her oppressors were drowned, because she knew too well from what kind of slavery she was rescued. Shushan was glad, and rest was in the city, when the Jews had made such a clean escaped from the wiles of Haman. No Purim was ever kept more joyously than that first one when the gallows were still standing, and the sons of the evil counsellor was yet unburied. We may mourn through much of the long pilgrimage to heaven, but the first day is dedicated to feasting, because yesterday was spent in slavery. If we were always mindful of the place from whence we came out, perhaps we should be always rejoicing.
2. There is given unto us at this period a peculiar outpouring of grace not always enjoyed in later days.
The heart is broken—it needs soft lineaments with which it may be bound; it has been wounded by the robbers, and left half dead upon the road—it is fitting that the good physician should pour in oil and wines; it is faint—it needs stimulating; it is weak—it is therefore carried in the bosom of love. He who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb breathes gently on the newborn child of grace. He gives it milk‑-the ready‑prepared nutriment of heaven; he lays it in the soft cradle of conscious security, and sings to it sweet notes of tender love. The young plant receives double attention from the careful gardener; so do the young plants of grace receive a double portion of sunlight by day, and of the dew by night.
The light wherein for the first time we discover Christ is usually clear and sparkling, bringing with it a warming force and reviving influence to which we have been strangers before. Never is it more truly sweet to see the light, or a more pleasant thing to the eyes to behold the sun, than when he shines with mild and favorable rays upon our first love. Grace then is grace indeed; for then it effectually operates on us, moving us to hearty affection and burning zeal, while it absorbs the passions in one object, wrapping us up in itself. So rich are the manifestations of Jesus to our souls at that hour, that later in life we look back to that time as ‘the days of our espousals;’ so passionate are we then in love to our Lord, that in succeeding years we are often compelled to ask for the same grace, desiring only that it may be with us as in months past.
Though our head shall be anointed with fresh oil every day of our life, yet on the first coronation morning the fullest horn is emptied upon us. A man may have such a clear and glorious revelation of Christ to his soul, and such a sense of his union with Jesus on that beginning of days, that he may not have anything like it for the rest of his life. ‘The fatted calf is not every day slain; the robe of kings is not every day put on; every day must not be a festival day or a marriage day; the wife is not every day in the bosom; the child is not every day in the arms; the friend is not every day at the table; nor the soul every day under the manifestations of Divine love’ [Brooks]. Jacob only once saw the angels ascending and descending; Samuel did not hear from God every night. We do not read that the Lord appeared to Solomon except once in a vision. Paul was not forever in the third heaven, nor was John in the Spirit every Lord’s day. Grace is at all times a deep, unfathomable sea, but it is not always at flood tide.
When we are going to our Jesus he will send wagons to fetch us to his own country—he will come out to meet us in great pomp, and will introduce us to the king; but when we are safely settled in Goshen he will love us equally, but it may be he will not make so great a point of honouring us with high days and festivals. Christ will array his chosen ones in goodly attire, and bind flowers about their brows, on the day of their union to him; but, perhaps, tomorrow he may, for their benefit and his glory, ‘plunge them into the ditch, so that their own clothes shall abhor them.’ It may be we have a greater sense and sight of grace at first than we do afterwards, and this is the reason of our greater joy.
3. The exceeding value of the things revealed naturally produces a sense of unutterable delight when perceived by faith.
It is not joy at a fictitious blessing—but the benefit is real, and in itself of a nature calculated to excite wonder and praise. The mercies received are discovered to be inestimably precious, and hence there springs at once emotions of joyous gratitude. He would scarcely be of a sane mind who would not smile upon the receipt of a treasure which would free him from heavy liabilities, and secure him an abundant provision for life. When the naked are clothed, when the hungry are fed, and when beggars are elevated from dunghills to thrones, if they exhibit no signs of gladness, they give grave cause to suspect an absence of reason. And can a sinner receive a royal pardon, a princely robe, a promise of a crown, and yet remain unmoved? Can he banish hunger at the King's own table, and feel the embraces of his reconciled Monarch, and restrain his joy? Can he behold himself adopted into the family of God, made joint heir with Christ, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven, and still behave without emotion? No! he must—he will rejoice,—
‘For should he refuse to sing
Surely the very stones would speak.’
It is no small thing to receive a succession of mercies—all priceless, all unmerited, all eternal, and all our own. Justification in itself is a ‘joy worth worlds;’ but when its attendants are seen at its heels, we can only say with the Queen of Sheba, ‘There is no heart left in me.’ It is not enough that we are washed and clothed, but there is our Father's banqueting house open to us—we are feasted—we hear music—a fair crown is set upon our head, and we are made kings and priests unto our God; and, as if all this were little, he gives to us himself, and makes himself our Lord, our God.
Can a mortal become possessor of Christ, of his person, his attributes, his all—and can he then restrain the bliss which must find his heart a vessel all too narrow to contain it? Surely sweetness in only sweetness when we discern Him as our everlasting Friend—ours entirely, ours securely, ours eternally.
‘Known and unknown, human, divine!
Sweet human hand, and lips, and eye,
Dear heavenly friend that cannot not die,
MINE, MINE—forever, ever MINE!’ [in Memoriam]
Truly, the believer might be excused if at the first recognition of the Redeemer as his own, own Friend, he should become lovesick, or faint with overflowing happiness. Rhoda did not open the gate, because of her gladness, when she heard Peter's voice; who shall wonder if the believing penitent should behave like one who is in a dream, and should subject himself to the imputation of madness! Conceive the rapturous delights of the sailors of Columbus when they hailed the land, or their beaming countenances when they found it to be a goodly country, abounding with all wealth; picture the heroic Greeks when from the mountaintops they saw the flood which washed their native shore, and shouted ‘The sea! the sea!’ and you may then look on another scene without wonder—a company of pardoned sinners, singing with all their heart and soul and strength the praise of One who has done great things for them, whereof they are glad.
4. At this season the spirit lives nearer to its God, and thus it dwells nearer heaven.
The things of the world have less power to charm us when we have only lately proved their vanity; the flesh has scarcely ceased to smart with the pain caused by the burnings of sin, and therefore we are more afraid of the fire; we have just escaped the paw of the lion and the jaw of the bear, and, having the fear of these before our eyes, we walk very near to the Shepherd. Bear witness, you saints of God, to the holy dew of your youth, for which, alas! you now mourn. Can you not remember how you walked with God, how calm was your frame, how heavenly your spirit! You never saw the face of man when you left your chambers till you had seen the face of God; nor did you shut your eyes in slumber on your beds till you had first commended your spirit to your Father in heaven. How natural was your simplicity! how fervent your prayerfulness! how watchful your daily behaviour! What a marvellous tenderness of conscience characterised you!—you trembled to put one foot before the other, lest you should offend your God; you avoided the very appearance of evil; you were moved by the faintest whispers of duty; and all the while what a quiet state of repose your soul did swim in, and how pleasantly did you commune with heaven! Grace had planted an Eden around you, where you walked with Jehovah amid the trees of the garden. You were like Daniel by the river Ulai—THE MAN'S hand was on your shoulder, and his voice called you, ‘Man, greatly beloved.’ You drank out of your Master's cup, and fed out of his hand, like the poor man’s ewe lamb in Nathan’s parable. Your eyes were up unto Him, as the eyes of handmaidens to their mistresses; nor could you afford the vain, harlot world so much as an instant's gaze. In the religious shows of old times they often represented Meditation, an a fair maiden, with her eyes fixed upon a book which she was intently studying; around her they placed young boys, dressed as fairies, demons, or harlequins [clowns], who, with their dancing, tricks, jokes, or frightful howlings, sought to divert her from her reading; but she, not moved, still continued wholly occupied with it: now such were we at the young springtime of our piety, when we were first consecrated to the Lamb. We were wholly engrossed with Jesus, and nothing could draw us from him. His name was the sum of all music; his person the perfection of all beauty; his character the epitome of all virtue; himself the total sum of the riches, the glory, the love of an entire universe. ‘One sweet draught, one drop of the wine of consolation from the hand of Jesus, had made our stomachs loathe the brown bread and the sour drink of this miserable life’ [Rutherford]. We were wholly lost in admiring him, and could only ask, ‘Who knows how far it is to the bottom of our Christ's fullness? who ever weighed Christ in scales?’ or, ‘Who has seen the heights, and, depths, and lengths, and breadths of his surpassing love?’
Here is one grand secret of our greater flight of joy at that time—we had then more wing than now, for we had more communion with God. We were living on high, while men lay grovelling below; we were above the storms and tempests then, for we had entered into the secret place of the tabernacles of the Most High. We bathed our brow in the sunlight of an unclouded sky, standing on an eminence, up whose lofty sides the clouds did not know how to climb. If we lived nearer to our Lord now, we would beyond a doubt enjoy far more of the cream of life, and know less of its wormwood. We cannot expect to have the same enjoyment unless we are occupied in the same employment. He who goes away from the fire should not ask many times why he does not feel the same heat. The young convert is in a holy frame—he is most sure to be in a happy one. Distance from God is the source of the major part of our doubts, fears, and anxieties; live nearer to him, and we shall be all the further from the world, the flesh, and the devil, and so we shall be less molested by them. We cannot make the sun shine, but we can move away from that which may cast a shadow on us. Remove then your sins, O weak believer, and you can yet hope to see Him again!
5. Immediately after conversion we are eminently careful to use all the means of grace, and therefore we derive more comfort from them than in later years, when we are more negligent of them.
The young convert is to be seen at ever prayer meeting, early or late; every religious service, even though it is at a considerable distance, finds him as an attendant; the Bible is seldom closed, and the season for private devotion is never neglected. In later days any excuse will enable us to be absent from Divine service with an easy conscience; but then it would have been a high crime and misdemeanour to have been absent at any available opportunity. Hence the soul, feeding much on heavenly food, grows fat, and knows nothing of the sorrows of the hungry one who neglects the royal table. The young footman on the heavenly race exerts all his strength to win the race, and his progress is thus far greater at first than afterwards, when his breath fails him a little, or the natural slothfulness of the flesh induces him to slacken his pace. I pray to God that we would maintain the speed of our youth! we should then retain its comforts. We have met with some few of the eminently holy who have enjoyed a continual feast ever since the day of their espousals; but these were men who were constantly fervent in spirit, serving their Lord with a diligent heart. Why should it not be so with many more of us? John Bunyan has well written, ‘You that are old professors, take you heed that the young striplings [adolescent youths] of Jesus, that began to strip but the other day, do not outrun you, so as to have that Scripture fulfilled on you, ‘The last shall be first, and the first last,’ which will be a shame to you and a credit to them’ [Heavenly Footman]. Oh! that we were as obedient now as we were then to the voice of the Word from heaven, then would that voice be more sweet to our ear, and the face of heaven would not be so full of frowns. ‘The soul of the diligent shall be made rich,” is true in spiritual matters equally with temporal. ‘Be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 1:10,11). He that would be rich must still continue to pay attention to his flocks and his herds. It is not one venture which makes the soul rich; it is continued perseverance in the business of salvation. None but lively, active Christians can expect to feel those ravishing joys, sweet comforts, and blessed delights which follow at the heels of a healthy soul. Stagnant water never sparkles in the sun—it is the flowing brook which shines like a vein of silver: set your grace at work, and your joys shall marvellously increase. If our bucket is empty, we had better ask ourselves whether it might not be full again if it were sent down into the well. Truly, a neglect of means robs us of much consolation.
6. Novelty no doubt had some hand in the singular feelings of that joyous season.
As an eminent saint says, ‘They were new things, things that I was utterly unacquainted with before, and this made them the more affecting.’ We have all felt the great exciting power of novelty in everyday life, and the same influence exerts itself upon the inner life of the soul. At first, pardon, adoption, acceptance, and the kindred blessings, are new things, and, besides their own value, have the brightness of newly‑minded mercies to recommend them to our notice. Prayer, praise, meditation, and hearing, are fresh exercises; and, like a horse just brought to his labour, we are in a hurry to be engaged in them. ‘In the morning of life, before its wearisome journey, the youthful soul expands in the simple luxury of being—it has not contracted its wishes nor set a limit to its hopes.’ The morning sun is shining on the yet glistening hedgerows, and the dewdrops are all pearls; the smoke of earth has not yet darkened the skies, and they are one pure firmament of azure. There is more than a little of the Athenian in every man; there is not one of us who is not charmed by something which has but lately come to the light of observation. True, we shall find the glories of the cross as marvellous in later years as they are now, but now they are so startling to us that we cannot but feel astonishment and wonder. As he who after a life of blindness at the first sight of the stars would naturally lift up his hands in amazement, so does the man from whose spiritual eye the film has been removed, exult in his first vision of the heavenly gifts of God. Never is the rose more lovely than in its bud; so grace is never more graceful than in its beginnings. The young lambs frisk in the fields—they will assume a steadier gait [walk] when they become ‘the sheep of his pasture;’ but till then let them show their joy, for it is the necessary consequence of their new‑created being.
7. We are inclined to believe that the most common cause is the fact that, at first conversion, the soul relies more simply, upon Christ, and looks more attentively at him than it does in later days, when evidences, good works, and graces, become more an object of regard than the person of Jesus.
When the glorious Redeemer finds us lost and ruined in the fall—when he makes us deeply conscious of that ruin—then we take him, and him alone, for our treasure; but in future years he gives to us various rings, jewels, and ornaments, as love tokens—and we most foolishly set our eyes more upon these than upon the Giver, and consequently lose much of the cheering effect of a constant view of the Saviour. At the first time of love we are too weak to venture on our own feet, but cling with both our arms around the neck of Jesus; there we find an easy carriage, which we lose when our overweening pride constrains him to set us on the ground to run alone. He who has a speck in the eye of his faith, obscuring his vision of the Saviour, will find much pain resulting from that. That which removes us from the simplicity of our faith in Christ, although it is in itself most excellent, yet to us becomes a curse. Many of us might be willing to renounce all our experience, our graces, and our evidences, if we might only return to the former childlike faith of our spiritual infancy. To lie quietly afloat on the stream of free grace is the very glory of existence, the perfection of earthly happiness.
No seat is so pleasant as that which is beneath the shadow of Jesus. We may fetch our spices from afar, but they shall yield no such fragrance as that which is shed from the robes of the all‑glorious Emmanuel, of whom it is written, ‘All your garments are scented with myrrh and aloes and cassia.’ Whatsoever spiritual joy we have which does not spring from Christ as the Fountain, we shall find it sooner or later bitter to our taste. The young convert is happy because he drinks only from Jesus, and is yet too full of infirmity to attempt the hewing of a cistern for himself.
If we are unfaithful to Christ, we must not expect many of his smiles. It matters little what the object of our delight is, be it never so lovely, if it becomes a rival of Jesus, he is thereby grieved, and makes us mourn his absence. ‘When we make creatures, or creature‑comforts, or anything whatever but what we receive by the Spirit of Christ to be our joy and our delight, we are false to Christ’ [Owen]. He gave himself wholly for us, and he thinks it serious that we will not give him sole possession of our heart. Jesus, like his Father, is a jealous God—he will not tolerate a rival. He will have us rejoice only in His love, listen only to His voice, and keep our eyes constantly on him, and only him. Beyond a doubt, if we were in constant fellowship with our loving Redeemer, we might always retain a measure, if not the entire fullness, of our early joy; and if we labour to improve in our acquaintance with him, and our devotion to him, our joy might possibly increase to an indefinite degree, until our tabernacle on earth would be like a house built upon the wall of heaven, or at least in the suburbs of the city of God. It is no wonder that so many lose their first joy when we remember how many lose their first love. ‘It may be,’ said a holy Puritan to the doubting soul, ‘it may be, if you had minded and endeavoured more after community with God and conformity to God, you might at this time have looked upward, and seen God in Christ smiling upon you, and have looked inward into your soul, and seen the Spirit of grace witnessing to your spirit that you were a son, an heir, an heir of God, and a joint heir with Christ. But you have minded more your own comfort than Christ’s honour; you have minded the blossoms and the fruit more than Christ, the Root; you have minded the springs of comfort more than Christ, the Fountain of life; you have minded the beams of the sun more than the Sun of righteousness: and, therefore, it is but a righteous thing with God to leave you to walk in a valley of darkness, to hide his face from you, and to seem to be as an enemy to you.’ Let us labour then to keep our eye focused on Christ, then shall our whole body be full of light—light reassuring and delightful beyond what we can even dream. It is quite impossible to define the limit of the happiness mortals may experience in the condescending company of a gracious Saviour; let us each seek to soar into the loftiest air, that we may prove what is the joy unspeakable and full of glory. It is certain that faith is the golden pipe which conducts the living waters of the mount of God to the pilgrim sons of Jehovah. Let us keep the course unobstructed, and we may hope to drink deep draughts of true delight.
It cannot be supposed that we have enumerated more than a small proportion of the causes of this spiritual phenomenon; the rest lie beyond the writer's limited experience, or do not at this moment suggest themselves. These, perhaps, are the most frequent, and consequently the most apparent.
Should we have a reader who has lost his first love, it may be he will, by these suggestions, be able to detect the secret robber who has stolen his substance. If so, we beseech him, as he loves his own soul, to be earnest to remedy the evil by driving out the insidious enemy. O spirit of God, restore to each of us ‘the years which the locust has eaten!’
II. We shall now endeavour to discover the designs of our heavenly Father in thus favouring us on that happy day of conversion.
These are many, and most of them unknown: we must, therefore, be content to behold some of them; and may the contemplation excite wonder, gratitude, and love.
1. Doubtless our Lord would have us to always remember that day, and regard it with a special interest; therefore he crowned it with loving. kindness and tender mercies.
It was a birthday—he distinguished it with festivities; it was a marriage‑day—he celebrated it with music; it was a resurrection—he did attend it with joyful sound of trumpet. He illuminated that page of our biography that we might refer to it with ease. It was a high day, and he made it high in our esteem by the marvellous grace which he displayed towards us. At the signing of Magna Charta, if on no other occasion, the king and his courtiers would array themselves in all their dazzling robes and glittering jewels; surely it is not unbecoming even in the majesty of heaven to reveal something of its glories when making peace with rebels. The black cap is but the fitting accompaniment of the sentence of death; why should it be thought unseemly that garments of praise should be displayed on the day of acquittal? In heaven there is held a solemn festival when heirs of glory are begotten, and the heart of Jesus rejoices over the recovery of his lost sheep: we need not wonder that the cause of such sublime delights is himself made a sharer in them. Men strike medals to commemorate great national successes; should it be considered a strange thing that Jesus gives tokens to his people in the day of their salvation? We are too little mindful of the benefits of the Lord; he therefore marks this day of the calendar in golden letters, that we may be compelled to remembrance.
It can never happen to us again: we are regenerated forever—saved in a moment from sin and its consequences; it is fitting that we should make merry and be glad, for the dead are alive, and the lost are found. The peace [of nations] has just now been welcomed with fireworks and with national festivities; shall the eternal peace between heaven and the soul not be attended with rejoicings? The greater the occasion, the more proper is its remembrance—and what can be a happier event to us than our salvation? Therefore let it be kept in perpetual remembrance, and let ‘all kinds of music’ unite to sound its praise. Some among us honour the anniversary of the building of the house of the Lord [our local church]; but far more do we delight in the returning day which saw us placed as living stones in the temple of Jesus. Bless the Lord, O our souls, who has forgiven all our iniquities and healed all our diseases!
2. Our wise and loving Lord graciously designed to give us something which might in every coming trial be a sweet support to the soul when a present sense of his love should be absent.
How often have we been enabled, to recover confidence in the day of our infirmity, by remembering ‘the years of the right hand of the Most High!’ (Ps. 77:10). David, when his soul refused to be comforted, found it good ‘to consider the days of old,’ and to rehearse his former ‘song in the night.’ He declares that his ‘spirit made diligent search,’—meaning, that he turned over the register and records of God's former mercies, in order that some record, still existing, might help him in his need. When the heir of heaven is in doubt as to his inheritance among them that are sanctified, it affords a great degree of assurance to be able to turn to the birthday register, and read ‘of Zion it is said, “this one was born there;”’ (Ps. 87:5, 6) this decides the case at once in our favour. In times of contention, when ‘we do not see our signs,’ (Ps. 74:9) we shall find it eminently comfortable to look back to the consecrated hour which witnessed our acceptance in the beloved, for so shall we again be able to assure ourselves of our election by a remembrance of our calling.
We at times should have had no heart for song if we had not found our harp already tuned, having not yet become unstrung since the hour of high festivity in the halls of bounty. Some despise Ebenezers [memorials of the Lord’s help], and belittle the hope which issues from them; such persons can scarcely have had more than a superficial experience, or they would have learned far better.
The future would lie forever in obscurity if we did not borrow a lamp from the hand of the past to cheer the gloom, and show where a sure foothold is to be found. This, then, is God's design in lighting up the hill Mizar (Ps. 42:6) of our first conversion, that it may cast a light, like Malvern's [A range of hills of west-central England rising to 425.5 m (1,395 ft)] watch fire [A fire kept burning at night, as a signal or a guard], for many a mile beyond.
A pleasant anecdote is told of Mr. Kidd, once minister of Queensferry, near Edinburgh. He was one day very much depressed and discouraged, for want of that comfort which is produced by simple faith in Jesus. He therefore sent a note to Mr. L—-, the minister of Culross, requesting a visit from him, that a brother's help might lift him out of his Slough of Despond [Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress]. When the servant arrived at Culross, Mr. L—- told him that he was too busy to wait upon his master, but he was charged to deliver these words to him—‘Remember Torwood!’ The man, like Jonathan's lad, knew nothing of the matter, but Mr. Kidd understood it well for at Torwood he had received manifestations of Jesus. Upon being reminded of this, his darkness vanished, and he joyfully cried out, ‘Yes, Lord! I will remember Thee, from the hill Mizar, and from the Hermonites!’ (Ps. 42:6). It may be that in periods of gloom and distraction, that place, that spot of ground where Jesus met with us for the first time, will prove a very Bethel [a hallowed or holy place] to our spirits. Here is wisdom in this day of joy, let him that knows it be thankful.
3. We had suffered so much in the time of conviction that we needed much tenderness, and therefore He gave it to us.
There was great fear that we would be swallowed up by sorrow, and die under the pangs and throes of the new birth, therefore he attended to us with the carefulness of a mother, and watched over us with abundant compassions. Like a sailor snatched from the deep, we were ready to perish, and would have expired in our deliverer's arms had he not used the most compassionate skills to restore us to life. We were painfully broken and wounded, therefore he placed us in an infirmary on the hills of Delight, where he made our bed in our sickness, poured out his best wine with his own hand, fed us with royal dainties, and all the while watched us, lest anyone should disturb our rest. When we become somewhat stronger, he leaves us to share with our fellow-soldiers in the camp, whose rations are not quite so full of substance and fatness.
The wise shepherds said to the pilgrim band, ‘Come in, Mr. Feeblemind; come in, Mr. Ready‑to‑halt; come in, Mr. Despondency and Mrs. Much‑afraid, his daughter.’ [Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress] These were called by name because of their weakness, while the stronger sort were left to their own liberty. So also at their feast they made the provisions suitable to the condition of the tender ones ‘of things easy of digestion, and that were p1easant to the palate, and nourishing.’ Many of the promises are made especially for the feeble among the Lord's flock, to be heavenly ambulances for the wounded. When grace is young, and as yet but a spark, the kind hand of the Lord preserves it from the rough wind, and his own warm breath fans it to a flame. He does not deliver the soul of his turtledove into the hand of its enemies, but for a while houses it in the rock, or carries it in his hand. The tender plant of grace is covered throughout the day, watered every moment, protected from the frost, and fostered in the warm air of communion and endearing fellowship. It should be accepted as a conclusive proof of the wisdom and prudence of our gracious God, that he sends the soft and refreshing showers upon the new mown grass, and in that blessed manner wipe outs all the ill effects of the severe discipline of conviction. ‘If,’ says Austin, ‘one drop of the joy of the Holy Spirit should fall into hell, it would swallow up all the torments of hell;’ assuredly it soon removes all the sadness produced by pains of repentance.
4. The journey before us was a very long one, therefore he refreshed us before he sent us on our way. Elijah was made to eat twice before his forty days of travelling—so must the spirit be refreshed before it sets out on its long pilgrimage. Jesus, in this hour of heaven, drops such tokens of love into the hands of his children that in days to come they may recruit their strength by looking upon the heavenly promise. The smiles, embraces, and assurances of that hour put spirit and courage into the Christian warrior, enabling him to be defiant to the stoutest enemies, and brave the greatest dangers. Before fighting, feasting. The angels met Jacob at Mahanaim before he heard of Esau's threatening approach. Paul was caught up into the third heaven before he was buffeted by the messenger of Satan. There should be cheering words at the buckling on of the harness, for they will all be needed after a while. God fills the believer's bottle full when he starts, for he has a wide desert to traverse, a thirsty heart to carry, and few wells on the road. Although grace, like manna, must descend day by day—yet comforts, like the quails, come only at seasons, and we must gather enough at those times to last us many days. It is certain that the delights of the past afford the readiest means for exciting pleasure in the present, we carry from the fires of yesterday burning coals for the kindling of today. The ship has more provisions on board when it starts upon its voyage than it is likely to have in a few weeks, and it then shows all its flags and streamers which must soon be furled, and the canvas will be spread, which, though more useful, is not so glorious for show. The remembrance of the happy shore, and the gaiety of the departure, will support the spirit of the mariners when storms assail them, and the comforts then placed on board will be found none too many for the greatness of their toil upon the wide and stormy sea. Gurnal says that past experiences are like cold dishes reserved at a feast, from which the child of God can make a hearty meal when there is nothing else on the table; and when we consider how long a time has sometimes elapsed between one banquet and another, it is doubtless intended that we should set aside an abundant provision from the well-spread table which furnishes the feast of the penitent's reception. Take your first joys, O little faith, and drink full draughts of refreshment from them.
5. By the joy of his right hand, He put to flight our cruel thoughts of him.
Deceived by the outward appearance, we thought his chastenings were unkind; we attributed his wounds to cruelty and enmity; nor could our mistake be corrected until He displayed the richness of his love in the most compassionate way—by restoring our soul and renewing our strength. Oh! what a death blow was his love to all our unkind thoughts of him; how were we ashamed to look at the dear friend whom we had so distastefully slandered! We saw it all then, clear as noonday, and wept at the remembrance of our premature judgment and rash surmises. The Lord soon changed our thoughts concerning his dealings. We said, ‘It is enough; these things are not against me: surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.’
We might to this hour have been mindful of our agonies, if the succeeding joy had not obliterated everything; so that, like the woman after her delivery, ‘we no longer remember the travail’ for the joy of the result. If we had only felt the painful woundings of his arm, and had never had a look at his sweet loving face, we might have written cruel things against God as well as against ourselves; but now that he visits us in mercy, we gladly confess, ‘You have dealt well with your servant, O Lord, according to your word.’ When reaping the fruit of that rough sowing, we most truly repent of the impatience and unbelief which dared to lie against the Lord, and accuse him of unkindness. We retracted every word, and would have washed those feet with tears which we had spattered with our vile suspicions, and kissed away every stain which our unbelief had put upon his pure, unmingled love.
6. This cheering manifestation of mercy made us full of love to the good ways of holiness, which we then found to be exceedingly pleasant.
Henceforth we believe and know the King's highway to be a path of peace; and when at any time we lose the happiness once enjoyed, we look back to the time of love, and remembering how sweet was the service of Jesus, we march forward with renewed vigour. We had heard the vile misrepresentation that religion was a thing of misery and sadness, and that its followers were the companions of owls and lovers of weeping; but the jubilant nature of our reception into the house of the saints laid bare the slander, and discovered the reverse of our gloomy apprehensions. We thought that valleys, ravines, wildernesses, clouds, tempests, lions, dragons, and all kind of horrid things, were the sum total of Christian experience; but instead we were ‘led out with peace;’ where we feared a wilderness we found a Sharon, and the oil of joy was given us instead of the expected mourning.
We labour now to exhibit cheerfulness, since we firmly believe that this recommends the way to the indecisive person, and is the true method of honouring the God of all consolation. ‘This world is a howling wilderness to those alone who go howling through it;’ but—
‘The men of grace have found
Glory begun below;
Celestial fruits, on earthly ground,
From faith and hope may grow.’
He who affirms that godliness is gloominess does not know what he is saying. The Lord desires to teach us, at the very beginning of our Christian career, that he would have us be happy, happy only in himself. He makes us glad when we are but beginners, and little in Israel, that we may see that we can be made blessed by simple faith, without any other assistance. ‘Christians might avoid much trouble,’ says Dr. Payson, ‘if they would only believe what they profess—that God is able to make them happy without anything else. They imagine, if such a dear friend were to die, or such and such blessings were removed, they would be miserable; whereas, God can make them a thousand times happier without them. To mention my own case—God has been depriving me of one blessing after another; but as every one has been removed, he has come in and filled up its place; and now, when I am a cripple, and not able to move, I am happier than I ever was in my life before, or ever expected to be; and if I had believed this twenty years ago, I might have been spared much anxiety.’ This is the very thing our very gracious Jesus would teach us, if we were not so slow to learn; for, in the very first dawning of life, when graces and virtues are not yet developed, he makes himself so precious that we may know that he alone is the fountain of delights, and the very soul of rejoicing. He puts into us a constant love of his ways, by that delightful beginning which he gives us at the very first step we take. It is of no use for the infidel to tell us our course will not end in bliss—it began with it, and we are compelled to believe that, if the same Jesus is also the Alpha and Omega, then the end must be eternal happiness.
7. We may also regard these great delights as guarantees of the future bliss of the righteous.
A pledge assures the indecisive and confirms the, weak; wisdom, therefore, bestows the guarantee upon the young believer that he may be rendered confident of ultimate bliss. During our progress to the celestial city, our Lord is pleased to refresh our souls with various ’drops of heaven,’ as the foretaste of that glorious rest which remains for his people, and this early joy is the first of a series of foretastes of heaven which we hope to receive while sojourning below. It is, so to speak, the enlisting money with which the young recruit is pledged to the king's service, and assured of his payment.
The Apostle Paul tells us that the holy spirit of promise is the guarantee of our inheritance. ‘The original (Greek) word, seems to properly denote the first part of the price that is paid in any contract as an earnest and security of the remainder, and which therefore is not taken back, but kept till the residue is paid to complete the whole sum’ [Chandler]. Such are the raptures of the newly pardoned soul—tokens which he will keep forever, as the first installments of an eternal weight of glory, and which he may safely retain as a portion of his own inheritance. These spiritual joys are like the cluster of grapes which the spies brought from Eschol—they are sweet in themselves, but they become more delightful still when they are regarded as proofs that the land of Canaan is fertile, and flowing with milk and honey. Thus the rest of the Sabbath is described by Stennet as ‘the antepast [foretaste] of heaven,’ and of its true enjoyment he says—
‘This heavenly calm within the breast
Is the dear pledge of glorious rest,
Which for the Church of God remains—
The end of cares, the end of pains.’
The last of the seers, whom we feel constrained to quote in almost every page, makes ‘Hopeful’ victorious over the scoffing ‘Atheist’ by the simple expression, ‘What! no Mount Zion? Did we not see from the Delectable Mountains the gate of the city?’ These Sabbath mercies, delectable views, and days of espousals, are a witness within the believer which all the sneers of man, the malice of devils, and the doubts of corrupt nature cannot disprove. Such things are designed to be the true ‘internal evidence’ of the power of the Gospel.
The ends and purposes of God which we have mentioned are far from despicable, and when we remember the marvellously pleasant process by which such great effects are produced, we would desire to ascribe honour to that eternal wisdom which can use rich wines as well as bitter medicines in the cure of souls.
And now, reader, what do you say to these things ? Have you tasted the ‘thousand sacred sweets" which are afforded by the hill of Zion ? Have you felt the ‘heaven begun below’ of which we have discussed? If you have not, then allow a word of advice which may well be furnished from the subject:—Never believe the falsehood which pronounces true religion to be a miserable thing, for a more ungrounded slander can never be imagined.
The godly have their trials as well as the rest of the human family, but these are rather the effects of sin than of grace. They find this world at times a howling wilderness—but then the manna from above, and the rock which follows them, combine to prevent their howling as they pass through it, and constrain the wilderness and the solitary place to be glad for them. Some of them are of a sorrowful countenance—but their gloom is the result of temperament rather than of religion, and if they had more grace, the wrinkles upon their brows might become fewer.
The Gospel is in itself ‘glad tidings of great joy;’ can you suppose that misery is the result of that which is essentially joyful? The very proclamation of it is a theme for exulting song; (Isa. 52:7-10) how much more the reception of it? If the hope of reconciliation is a just ground of rejoicing, how much more the actual agreement of the soul with its God? ‘We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation’ (Rom. 5:11). To us there are express precepts given to ‘rejoice in the Lord always’ (Phil. 4:4). And that the exhortation might have its full weight, and not be considered hastily, it is solemnly repeated, ‘and again I say, rejoice.’ Therefore, we may safely conclude that the genuine right temper and frame of a healthy Christian mind will be an habitual joyfulness, prevailing over all the temporary occasions of sorrow which in this life must unavoidably beset us.
No trial can be thought of so heavy as to outweigh our great cause of joy; nor can the kingdom of God ever be in its constitution, even when attacked by the most furious assaults, anything other than ‘righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Rom. 14:17). ‘Nor,’ says Howe, in a letter to the bereaved Lady Russell, ‘is this a theory only, or the idea and notion of an excellent temper of spirit, which we may contemplate indeed, but can never attain to. For we find it also to have been the attainment and usual temper of Christians heretofore, that, “being justified by faith, and having peace with God, they have rejoiced,” in hope of the glory of God, unto that degree as even to “glory in their tribulations also;” (Rom. 5:1,3) and in the confidence that they, should “be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation,” they have therefore “greatly rejoiced,” though with some mixture of heaviness (whereof there was need) from their manifold trials. But that their joy did surmount and prevail over their heaviness in manifest, for this is spoken of with much diminution, whereas they are said to “rejoice greatly,” and “with joy unspeakable and full of glory”’ (1 Peter 1:5,6,8).
If, when the believer is but a feeble thing, ‘carried about with every wind,’ (Eph. 4:14) he is, despite his weakness, able to rise to raptures of joy, who shall dare to suppose him unhappy when he has become strong in faith and mighty in grace? If the porch of godliness is paved with gold, what must the interior of the palace be like? If the very hedgerows of her garden are laden with fruit, what shall we not find on the goodly trees in the centre? The blade yields much, shall the ear of corn be empty? No, ‘the ways of the Lord are right,’ and those who walk therein are blessed. Do not think otherwise of them, but as you wish to share their ‘last end,’ then think well also of the way which leads there.
May the Lord direct his children, by his Holy Spirit, in reviewing this subject by prayer, to give all the glory of their mercies to the adorable person of Jesus. Amen.
TO THE UNCONVERTED READER
FRIEND,—We have been answering questions concerning a joy with which you cannot interfere with—for you are, to your own loss and shame, a stranger from the commonwealth of Israel. But you too have a question or two which it would be good to ask yourself. Whence that misery which you are at times the victim? Why do you tremble under an arousing sermon? Why does the tolling of the funeral bell grate on
your ear? What makes your knees knock together at the sound of thunder? Why do you quiver at nightfall, though a single leaf, was the only thing which stirred within many of your yards? Why do you feel such alarm when pestilence is at large? Why so anxious after a hundred remedies? Why so fearful if you are but sick for only one hour? Why so unwilling to visit the grave of your companion? Answer this, O soul, without reserve! Is it not that you are afraid to die? It is!—you know it is!
But, O my friend, fear death as much as you will, you cannot escape it. On his pale horse he is pursuing you at no slow pace, but at a rate which you may guess of by the wind or the flashing lightning. Noiseless is the wing of time, dumb is the lip of death; but time is none the less rapid for its silence, and death not one bit the more uncertain because he does not trumpet his coming. Remember, while you are fearing, the messenger is hastening to arrest you. Every moment now gliding away is another moment lost, and lost to one who little can afford it. Oh! before the wax has cooled which is sealing your death warrant, listen to a warning from God, for once the book of your doom is sealed, it shall never be opened for erasure or inscription. Hear Moses and the prophets, and then hear the great Jesus speak:—‘The soul that sins shall die.’ ‘He will by no means spare the guilty.’ ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’ ‘“Behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” says the Lord of hosts, “that will leave them neither root nor branch”’ (Mal. 4:1). Regard then the voice of Jesus, full of mercy:—‘The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."
‘Sinner, is thy heart at rest?
Is thy bosom void of fear?
Art thou not by guilt oppressed?
Speaks not conscience in thine ear?
“Can this world afford thee bliss?
Can it chase away thy gloom?
Flattering, false, and vain it is;
Tremble at the worldling's doom.
“Long the Gospel thou hast spurned,
Long delayed to love thy God,
Stifled conscience, nor hast turned,
Wooed though by a Saviour's blood.
“Think, O sinner! on thy end;
See the judgment‑day appear;
Thither must your spirit wend,
There your righteous sentence hear.
“Wretched, ruined, helpless soul,
To a Saviour's blood apply;
He alone can make you whole—
Fly to Jesus, sinner, fly.”’ [Waterbury]
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