Reading: John 15.
I believe that, in these last days, there ought to be a very definite, a very clear cut, difference between the Lord’s people and the world. I believe that, in these end days, God would have it that, whilst men of the world are fainting for fear, His own people are lifting up their heads; whilst men of the world are in panic, His own people should be in peace; and whilst other men are perplexed, the Lord’s people should be they who make other men to know that they have found the solution; and I think preeminently that, in these days, when other men are marked by despair, we, as the Lord’s people, ought to be marked with joy. The Lord has been speaking to my own heart in these days, and I have been seeking to take stock and to measure myself before the Lord, and I make this confession that I have come to the conclusion that my life at least is not as joyful as it might be. There is much room for the joy of the Lord. Maybe you will agree with that; that, as the Lord’s people, we need the joy of the Lord; we need to be marked with the joy of the Lord.
I believe that is the thing that convinces men of the world of the reality of the thing that we preach, of the thing that we say. You know the world today, perhaps as never before, is asking this question: Does it work? We have had years, nay, we have had ages of a theory, and when the test has come, it has broken down and there has been very little manifestation of joy. What was it that brought the Philippian jailer to the feet of the Lord Jesus? It was the joy of the Apostles in the dungeon. If men of the world see in men of like stuff as themselves something that in adversity rises above in songs of praise instead of being submerged, they will say, That is other than what I am! There is something there that is worthwhile! Was it not so with Stephen? They argued, they disputed, with Stephen. They argued about the things that he said, but there was one thing against which they could not argue, and that was the light in his face. They “saw his face as it had been the face of an angel”; – joy, the joy of the Lord, and men cannot argue with that.
The Lord’s Joy
Here, the Lord Jesus, giving His farewell counsel to His disciples, says to them, amongst other things, that one of the purposes of His speaking to them is that His joy might be in them, and I feel led to bring to you something that the Lord has been saying to my own heart about the joy of the Lord, and that is a phrase that we become accustomed to. May we turn it round and make it a little more direct – the Lord’s joy, His own joy.
When I first came upon this passage recently, I was startled somewhat. I began to meditate upon it, and I found that the thought of joy associated with the Lord Jesus came rather strangely to me. If you think of the Lord Jesus during His earthly walk, at least it has been with me, my first thought has been immediately, “A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief “. “When we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.” “His face was so marred more than any man.” That almost instinctively is the picture that arises when we think of the earthly walk of the Lord Jesus. That has its place, but I want to suggest to you that He was not only a Man of sorrows; He was a Man of joy. You notice what the word is – a Man of joy, not a Man of hilarity, not a Man of exuberance – a Man of joy. There was no extravagance in the makeup of the Lord Jesus, but perfect balance, and in Him I believe was found in its perfection every attribute of the Godhead, and one of the marks of God is this mark of joy, the blessed God, the God of joy. The Lord Jesus was a Man of joy. It must be so.
If you find it difficult to receive that, let me suggest just one or two touches from the Gospels to support it. You remember that the Lord Jesus gathered His disciples around Him and He warned them of things that would come upon them. He told them straight out what they might expect. He did in this passage, you remember. “If they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.” “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.” But He said this to them, “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad”. Can you imagine a man with a long face saying that? I cannot. If that was to carry any weight to His disciples, the very rejoicing He spoke about must have been upon His face. You say that is not compatible with being a Man of sorrows? Yes, it is. I have seen joy shining through tears. I have seen a woman who has just laid in the ground the remains of her husband whom she loved, with tears streaming down her face. I have seen such a woman singing, “When the roll is called up yonder”, and the joy of the Lord shining through the tears. I believe His joy shone even through that face that bore the marks of unequalled sorrow.
Little children run to a man who is joyful. You get a joyless man, and you will not find many children round his knees. The little children came to Jesus. He did not repel them, He drew them. When the disciples caught their first glimpse of their Lord, there was something that attracted them, not repelled them. I suggest to you it was this joy.
Now, I said that this joy was not hilarity, it was not exuberance, and that is perhaps why we miss it or why it is so largely missed. We are caught by the things that ebb and flow. If a man is up in the clouds today, we take account of him; maybe he will be down in the dumps tomorrow and we do not take account of him. That is exuberance, but with the Lord Jesus, it was one even tenor right through His life. There was no ebb and flow, but it was a fulness of joy the whole time. It was not dependent on outward things. There is a word that we use – it was a good word when it was born, and with overmuch use it has become very poor – that is the word ‘happiness’. Take it in its present day meaning, and happiness is something that depends on what happens, ebbing and flowing. If circumstances are propitious, well, then we are very happy. If things are against us, we are anything but happy, and that is not joy. Joy is deeper down than that which can be touched by the things that happen.
Was not that true of the Lord Jesus? Look at another incident in His life. He touched men around Him and He was disappointed. Martha and Mary have just reproved Him – “If thou hadst been here, my brother had not died”. And the Jews round about were saying all kinds of things, and putting all kinds of interpretations upon His movements, and He groaned in spirit. That is the Man of sorrows. But the joy was underneath that. When He came to the tomb of Lazarus, He lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me”. That is joy; you see, it was there. Oh, He groaned in spirit, yes. But the real true joy was down underneath, deeper down than that that was moved, could be moved. Don’t misunderstand that. I know where the Lord Jesus was moved – He was moved in His spirit. There may be something hard to reconcile there, but the point I want to stress is that these two things are not incompatible – suffering and joy. The Lord’s joy had its spring, not in His soul. The Lord’s joy was not in His affections, in His will. His joy was not in His emotions. It was deeper down than that. The spring of the Lord’s joy was in His spirit. It is so, it must be so, with man.
You remember Mary, when she is caught up by the Spirit and blesses the Lord, how she expresses herself. “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46-47). There is the seat, there is the spring, of joy – in the spirit, and that is why it is that it is not touched by the things that otherwise would move it.
Just in passing, perhaps it would be as well to say something about the emotion. We are terribly afraid of emotion. Listen – “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deut. 6:5). With all thy soul! God is not out (we have heard it many times from this platform) God is not out to destroy the soul, He is out to save it, and in saving it, He safeguards it, but what we do need to recognize is this, I believe, that the emotion is only the seat of joy and not its spring. I believe if God gets hold of our very innermost being by His Spirit, there will be some emotion about it. It will be under the hand of the Holy Spirit, it will be safe, and instead of being emotionalism, it will be emotion. We love with our hearts and love is an emotion. Joy is something that must be expressed through our emotion, but it must have its seat deeper down than that or it will just ebb and flow. It will not be that deep thing it was with the Lord. The joy of the Lord was such as it was because its spring was in God in His spirit. So much for the joy of the Lord. So much more could be said. But that was His joy. It was something very deep. If I may use this word, it was something very solid. I want to say this because I have such a feeling that immediately you begin to talk about joy, there are some people that will jump up and run out of hand and begin to mistake one thingfor the other. I have seen this joy manifested in some, and there was no excitement about it. Oh, something very solid, something very deep, something very real!
The Secret of the Lord’s Joy
What was the secret of the Lord’s joy? “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” I want you to turn to Psalm 40. “Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I come; in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart” (Psa. 40:6-8). “Jesus saith… My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (John 4:34).
I believe there you have the secret of the Lord’s joy. There is no joy in pleasing ourselves. It takes us a long time to learn that, but it is very true. There is no joy whatever in serving and pleasing ourselves. The reason the Lord was so full of joy was that He was completely detached from Himself, and utterly given over to the serving of the pleasure of Another. I have been struck with that lately. We pray and we pray rightly, for singleness of eye. We pray to be pure in our motives. We pray with desire for these things. Well, the reason the Lord Jesus was in the place where He was was just that – that He was detached, He was separate. He said it of Himself – “I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29). And later on, one who companied with Him, said, “Even Jesus pleased not himself”. This may sound a paradox, but it is very true. There is no joy in pleasing yourself. There is no joy in seeking to bring joy to yourself. That is not the way.
If you and I, as we hear this word of the Lord and as we hear the exhortation of the Apostle Paul saying, “Rejoice, and again I say, rejoice”, if we start trying to rejoice, we will make a hopeless business of it. Try to rejoice and see how you get on! I remember hearing brother Sparks say from this platform, ‘You can try to love somebody, but it’s a miserable business!’ Well, you try rejoicing in the same way! It does not come like that. Tomorrow I’m going to be joyful! I have been miserable today, but tomorrow I will rejoice! You will find the devil waiting for you tomorrow morning, and you will probably have the worst day you have ever had. That is, unless you have found the secret. Unless you know the secret of the Lord’s joy, you will have a miserable time trying to rejoice. It does not come that way. You see, the Lord was utterly separated from Himself. His joy, He tells us Himself, My meat, that which I feed on, that which satisfies Me, that which is My delight (and He is the One spoken of in the fortieth Psalm) is to do Thy will! That word ‘delight’ there, is a word which is translated in another place, ‘precious’ – precious stones. Thy will to Me is precious! Could not the Lord Jesus say that? I delight to do Thy will!
I believe the way into it for you and for me is to get a fresh perspective of the will of God. When the will of God is spoken of, very often our reaction is this. Well that is something dreadful, that is something very drastic, that is something very terrible! It means suffering and it means chastening and it means sorrow! Is that your conception of the will of God? When you hear the exhortation saying, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove” – what is that terrible and hard to be borne and dreadful and irksome will of God? It does not say so. It says “what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God”. It depends how we look upon the will of God. If we are going to walk in the way of the Lord and if we are going to fulfil by His grace the will of God, all these things will come. Suffering, yes; chastening, yes; the pruning knife, yes. It will all come. I am not here to say there will be nothing of that; there will. In the will of God, we shall find that. I wonder if we are not inclined to look upon the near will of God and forget the far will of God? You see what I mean. Suffering, chastening, the hardship of the way – that has to do with the present phase of the will of God. It is not all the will of God. It is the present phase of the will of God.
Let us come back to the Lord. It is His joy. In the Hebrew letter it says concerning Him, “He endured the cross”. Now the Cross for Him was everything that was painful. It was sorrow, it was suffering. It may be there is someone that has been harassed by the devil. You have heard somebody speaking perhaps about glorying in tribulations, and you have said, Well, I am not there; I do not find anything in tribulation to glory in! Well, listen, it does not say that the Lord Jesus enjoyed the Cross. It says he endured it. There was no joy in the Cross for Him, but there is a little phrase that goes before that – “for the joy that was set before him” He endured the Cross. Do you get it? The joy set before Him! The joy is not in the suffering. I believe that, if there had been no more to that expression of Paul’s than just that – we glory in tribulation – it would never have been written. That is not the end. “We glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation worketh patience” (Rom. 5:3). Now patience is something to rejoice in. “And patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.” You see my thought. It is not in the tribulation. There is no joy in sorrow, there is no joy in suffering, but it is what is at the end of it that brings the joy, and so, if the immediate will of God for you and for me is suffering, do not let us get our eyes on that and keep them there. We shall be going about as a suffering people, not as a rejoicing people. It is on the will of God in its entirety.
What is the will of God for you and for me? What was it for the Lord Jesus? “My joy.” Do you think that, if the will of God for His Son had finished at the place called Calvary, the Lord would have had any joy? If there had been no resurrection morning, if there had been no Throne, if there had been no nearness to the Father Whom He loved throughout the ages of the ages, do you think He would have been a joyful Man? I believe that, if that had been the end, Paul’s word would have fitted Him more than any other man, “We are of all men most miserable”. The Cross was not the end for the Lord Jesus. He did not look upon it as the end. When He was talking with the two on the Mount of Transfiguration regarding His outgoing that He should accomplish at Jerusalem, that does not look like an end. It looks like a beginning. When He had gone through death and when He emerged on the resurrection morning and He greeted His disciples, He greeted them with a word which we have translated, “All hail”, and that means very little to you and me. The word He used meant something to them. What he said was, O joy! The joy of the resurrection morning, the joy of the ascension, the joy of the enthronement, and the joy of a finished purpose to present to the Father. That was His joy. “I have finished the work.” Is that not what He says? “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” The joy of accomplishing something that was to bring pleasure to the heart of His Father. “The pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand” (Isa. 53:10).
You see, the whole secret, the source, the spring of the joy of our Lord Jesus was just in pleasing the Father, doing His will, and oh, how the controversy rages around that will of God! How the devil does seek and how he succeeds in painting the will of God as other than it really is. Do you shrink from the will of God? Does the devil tell you all kinds of things and are you listening to him, about the will of God? I want to ask you to do something. I am speaking to those who know the Lord. Maybe you are having a controversy with Him about His will for the time being in some matter or other, and the devil is telling you that it will be a costly way, a way of loss and not a way of gain, and you are shrinking from the way. I want to ask you to do something. I want you to take a look back. I want you to look back upon the way that the Lord has led you hitherto, and I want to ask you what your testimony is concerning it, and I will anticipate your answer. “As for God, his way is perfect” (Psa. 18:30). All the way He has led me has been good, and the only sorrow and regret as I look back is upon those periods in my life when I have missed the way of God. If God’s will in the past has been good and acceptable and perfect, why believe the devil when he tells us it is other in the day to come? God’s way is good. Even if it leads into the darkness, God’s way is right, and our attitude towards it ought to be, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me”.
Those of us who were here this morning were brought to think about Peter walking on the water. Whilst our brother was speaking, it came home to me that, whilst Peter was walking towards the Lord Jesus, he walked on the waves, and he came to Jesus and he came alongside, and then he turned alongside the Lord Jesus, and instead of looking at the Lord Jesus he looked at the waves and immediately his eyes were turned from the Lord, instead of being rock under his feet, there was sea, and down he went. Whilst he was with the Lord it was all right. The wind could be as boisterous as it liked. He did not see the effect of the wind; the waves might be mountain high, but perfectly flat where he was because he saw the Lord. The moment his eyes were moved from the Lord, things went all wrong.
The Fruit of the Spirit
Finally, this is the fruit of the Spirit, the fruit of the Holy Spirit. “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom. 14:17). The kingdom of God is a joyful kingdom. The kingdom of this world is anything but a joyful kingdom. Men think it is, but it is anything but a joyful kingdom. It may have its transient pleasures, it may have its happiness that comes and goes, but there is nothing concrete, nothing consistent, about it. You that have tasted it will bear that out. “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again” (John 4:13). If there is a soul here that knows not the Lord, I challenge you that what you have tasted does not satisfy. I have tried it all, and oh! it was thirsty work. Two hours on the dancing floor might be all right, but next morning there was a thirst. It had to be kept up with something else, always something doing, always something going on. “He that drinketh of this water shall thirst again.” Is that your experience? Listen, these are the words of the Lord Jesus. “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.” Oh, get a draught at the well of salvation. Come and receive what the Lord Jesus offers you Himself, and you will no longer thirst. “I give the water of life freely.” Not meat and drink, but righteousness, peace, joy in the Holy Ghost. It is a joyful kingdom. I dare make this statement, that there is no people on the earth that suffers like the Lord’s people, and there is no people on the earth that knows anything at all of joy but the Lord’s people. Yes, you will enter the kingdom through much tribulation, but the kingdom itself is one of joy. It is the fruit of the Spirit. Oh, it is “My joy”, He says, My joy. When it is His joy, you don’t want any other, do you? I don’t. I want His joy. I want it to fill my heart, to fill my life, and though we may be called upon to go through sorrow, though the suffering may be intensified and increased, oh, that we may be an enigma among people so that they have to say, We don’t understand those people. They are going through it and they are rejoicing all the time! Backs may be smarting from the thongs of the Romans, but they can sing praises at midnight! If that is their God, we want their God! That is testimony. It is the fruit of the Spirit. The other thing is the fruit of the flesh. This is the fruit of the Spirit. The up and down business is the fruit of the flesh. This is the fruit of the Holy Ghost. It is the life of the Lord Jesus.
Don’t you try and produce it. You cannot; He can. It is fruit. “Herein is my Father glorified that ye bear much fruit”; much joy, much love – yes, but it is joy we are seeing now. My joy. I want the Lord’s joy, His joy. I believe that if we can only get into this secret, these last few days will be the most joyful days we ever spent on earth, though maybe the most intense in suffering. Oh, there is a secret here that I want to learn. I want to know it. I feel I want to come to the Lord and say, Lord, lead me into this, I want to be led into this! I want to see Thy will as I have never seen it before; I want to see it as the most acceptable thing in the world, that, even if it is linked with death, I will say, Not my will, but Thine, be done! I would rather die in that will than be outside it! Oh, to come there. We may. I delight to do Thy will. But it is only as He abides in us. “If my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will.” Himself abiding within us. He will be our joy, He will be our peace. Oh, may He do it. May He make us a rejoicing people; like the Apostle Paul, at the end of the course, able not only to tell others to rejoice but exemplifying it, and to rejoice even in suffering, nay, rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer.
“These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” John 15:11
Published in “This Ministry” Vol. 1, 1941 by A Witness and A Testimony Publishers.