A flower in a well-stocked garden excites no surprise. When a traveller found a flower under a glacier, he was more affected by it because it grew under the cold bosom of the ice than he would have been by the most gorgeous garden bloom. Times and places are considerations which naturally affect our estimation of men and things. This little violet of joy is growing under a glacier: Paul is in prison, daily suffering is meted out to him by the tyrant, and yet he boldly counsels men who are at large, and who therefore may be supposed to be rich in blessing, to "rejoice in the Lord." It would appear as if the message came in the wrong direction: it would seem as if it ought to have gone into the prison as a message from the praying Church outside, instead of issuing from the prison from the very man who was feeling the power and humiliation of oppression. What is the secret of the eternal joy in the Apostle"s heart? It would appear as if the Apostle Paul were in joy always, and not only in joy himself but that he was really desirous that other people should share his gladness and thus increase it. Religion and joy have been most unjustly separated; the sweet countenance of religion has been elongated and marred; plunderers have taken away from the Church her very highest music, and have compelled her lo sing some mournful and depressing strain, instead of blowing the trumpet of joy and singing the song of jubilee. The separation is unjust, and ought instantly and universally to be repaired. Life in the Lord should be joyous, because the Lord is God over all, blessed for evermore; he is essentially and unchangeably happy; without irreverence, we may say that he is the happy God. If we look to his handiwork in the very lowest form of life, we find that he lavished the conditions of happiness even upon the most inferior creatures. All nature is full of music, brimful of glee; in the summer time it would seem as if the whole earth were about to break forth into a loud and lofty song of praise. The birds awake, not with a dry mouth and a parched tongue, but with a bosom full of morning psalms to gladden the day with their sweet carolling. God baptises his newborn air, the land, the sea, with joy, and he admits them to full communion in his great Church, and permits no sparrow to fall to the ground without his notice. All young things join in the great hymn of praise; flowers appear to be embodied joys, as if they needed but a glance, a touch, a whisper, to make them fly to the heavens in sweetest offering of praise. Marvellous is the economy of God in the whole world. Even in the presence of the most overwhelming signs of sorrow and pain we are called upon to rejoice in the Lord, and to rejoice evermore. Even when Christians assemble around the sacramental board, and have before their eyes the memorials of the Lord"s death, they are called upon to see the joy rather than the sorrow, the triumph rather than the defeat, and whilst the bread is in their hands, and the cup is lifted to their lips, they are expected to be songful, joyful, triumphant, in the spirit and comfort of God"s grace.
Christians have received a true revelation of the Divine nature. They are not in the darkness of Pagan speculation, or in the starless night of heathen superstition; they believe that they see God as he really is in all his largest attributes, in all the perfection of his nature, in all the meaning of his fatherhood. They have left the idea of despotism, and oppression, and mere sovereignty, and they have come to see that the sceptre which God waves over the universe has in it the pathos of the Cross of Christ. The heathen god looks upon all his victims with sourness; his lips, where he is at all represented by living energy, seem to be open that they may swallow human blood. Some of the earlier theologians too, even of the Christian sort, hardly saw God in his full-orbed love in Christ Jesus; they saw his sovereignty, his justice, the terribleness of his law, and the exacting character of his righteousness; but they did not see how, over all, above all, and better than all, there shone a redeeming love in the whole economy and providence of grace. Human genius has taxed itself to conceive the grimmest of symbols whereby to set forth the idea of God. Thunder, and clamour, and storm, and judgment, earthquake, and volcano, and howling tempest, and devastating whirlwind,—all these have been thought of in connection with the Divine economy. But in Christ we see that God"s purpose has always been one of redemption, reclamation, renewal, and the investment of the world with eternal youthfulness. Christians hold a clear revelation of God in which they profess to have put their hearts" deepest trust. What is the meaning of that revelation? Jesus Christ came down to make the Creator more perfectly known to the creature, to teach all human kind to say, "Our Father in heaven": he dispelled the thunder-clouds, he threw off all the grotesque disguises with which men had loaded the idea of God, and he showed that infinite love glowed in the infinite heart. Jesus Christ spake familiarly of the Creator, and yet his familiarity was marked by that filial emphasis which shows that he had proceeded from the bosom of the Father. Jesus Christ would take us immediately into the presence of the heavenly majesty:—"I and my Father are one: he that hath seen me hath seen the Father"; and apostles who knew the spirit of Christ most intimately said, "Let us come boldly to the throne of grace." Now, as Christians, we necessarily profess to hold this view of God. We say that he is to us a Father; we see him in the seasons, and over our cup of cold water we bend to thank him for his. simple gift; we have come to believe in him as a God of particular providences; we say the lily is his, and the bird, and the young lion, and great behemoth; we say also that the very hairs of our head are all numbered, that he knows our downsitting and our uprising, our going out and our coming in; and we profess that there is not a thought in our hearts, and not a word on our tongues that the Lord doth not know altogether. All this we say and sing. I hold that, if we believed this with all our hearts and soul and mind and strength, we should rejoice in the Lord, and rejoice in him alway, and would say with the Apostle, "And again I say, Rejoice." Is it nothing to have the assurance that God"s arms are round about us for purposes of defence? Is it nothing to know that our bread shall be given and our water shall be sure? Ought not he to rejoice concerning whom God has said, "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper"? Is it not a spring of joy to feel in the soul that the word is true which God hath spoken, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee"? Have we not heard the sweet word and obeyed it—"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest"? Have we not received the assurance that there is laid up for us an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away? Jesus Christ has brought all these good things to light, and has through our faith conferred them upon us; he has told us what the earth really is; he has brought us to feel the nothingness of time and space; he has made us believe that his kind eye is on every grave that contains the dust of his redeemed; he has even assured us that God is more pitiful than a father and more loving than tenderest mother. Jesus Christ has, therefore, given us the true idea of God: no longer is God covered with clouds and darkness, hidden away as an infinite terror, but he is brought near to us, and he shines upon us with the gentlest face of love, and speaks to us with the tenderest gospel of music; Jesus Christ has cleared away our mistakes, he has strengthened our vision, he has turned night into day, he has filled the heavens with light, so that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper: I will not fear what man can do unto me. In proportion as we enter into these assurances, and gratefully apply them to our own necessities, are we enabled to respond to the exhortation of the Apostle when he exclaims, "Rejoice in the Lord."
We cannot shut out the fact that man is guilty, and wherever there is guilt joy is impossible. All this is true—sadly, awfully true. Man is guilty in very deed. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." But in this connection arises the thought that we have through the Son of man the richest revelation of God"s mercy: we should not have known grace but for sin; sin is the ground on which the brightness of God"s glory most perfectly discovers itself. God hates sin; it is for ever offensive to him; he cannot look upon it with the least degree of allowance; but he meets great sin by greater love. The devil"s greatest feat is opposed by God"s greatest manifestation. When the devil created rebellion God did not create a brighter sun in order to show that he was still omnipotent: he might have torn down his universe and Revelation -constructed it on a scale infinitely surpassing the lines on which it now stands; having done so he might have addressed his angels and said, You see that my power is unimpaired; I am still the Lord God omnipotent: what has happened in the world in no wise lessens my sovereignty, or throws into the shadow my authority. That was not the method of God. The immoral must be met by the moral. Evil must be grappled by good. Light must encounter night This is the foundation fact in redemption. God does not redeem from on high, he redeems from below; he goes down to the very lowest line of life, and from that he conducts his redeeming work. The story is told from the lowest position to which sin has driven Prayer of Manasseh, up to the very highest height possible to Christian attainment and progress. We say, That man is guilty; but it is to be remembered that God has specially addressed himself to guilty man. God has brought all the forces of his moral power to bear upon this question of growth. In one word, God has provided an atonement for sin. He so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Song of Solomon, that whosoever believeth on him might not perish, but have everlasting life. He must make one grand demonstration of his view of sin, and consequently one of two things must be done: either God must offer up in one great slaughter all human kind as a sacrifice to himself, and see in the smoke of their torment an eternal proof of his own righteousness; or he must go back into his own heart, and find there a method of crushing the rebellion without destroying the rebel. That was the problem. Never was such a problem submitted even to the infinite intellect. What shall be done? Shall the earth be bathed in the blood of its inhabitants, and then relegated back into nothingness? Shall anger leap upon the petty orb and destroy it for ever from the brotherhood of worlds? Amid the awful silence which must necessarily follow such a question, a voice was heard saying, Here am I, send me: I will die, the just for the unjust; I will become the way back again to love and loyalty, to purity and peace; I will give my back to the smiters and my cheek to those that pluck off the hair. In this spirit Jesus Christ came into the world; we cast him out of it as an unclean thing: he said, "I came to save you"; we answered, "Save thyself": he said, "Believe on me"; we said, "Thou hast a devil": he said, "Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out"; we answered, "Thou blasphemest against God." All this we cannot explain in words; against all this indeed it would be easy for the intellect in many moods to urge objections of a very grave and complicated kind; but in the depth of our misery, in the agony of our despair, we have seen the Cross of Christ, and we have answered its appeals with the offering of our heart"s deepest and tenderest trust. We know now what is meant, spiritually if not literally, by the words, "He was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification"; and therefore, seeing this, we feel burning within us the glowing joy which filled the Apostle with ecstasy, and turned earth itself into heaven. Had redemption still been a problem, we could have understood the sigh, the sorrow, and the gloom of those who have no joy; but the problem is solved, the question is answered: while a man is considering how he may be freed we may allow him to sigh the deep sigh of wonder and of mingled hope and fear, but when he is emancipated—when the testimony of his perfect and everlasting freedom is offered to him—the only sigh that should escape him should be a sigh of a deep and immortal joy. "Rejoice in the Lord"—rejoice in his pitying eye; rejoice in his redeeming sacrifice; rejoice in his protecting arm; "finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord; and again I say, Rejoice."
We cannot forget that we are still in the land of the enemy, and that the enemy is still pursuing us in a thousand subtle ways. All this is true. Notwithstanding this we are also in the Lord. The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation. There hath no temptation happened unto you but such as is common to man. When Jesus Christ left us he did not leave us alone; he sent the Paraclete or Comforter to abide with us for ever. We are not living under the dispensation of sight; we are living under the dispensation of the Spirit. Only the young ages of the world needed sensuous and visible testimony: children must be taught by pictures; it is right that the juvenile world should be trained through its senses. The higher we rise in education the more thoroughly we comprehend the spiritual. The young arithmetician has to sit down and with his slate and pencil figure his way to conclusions, but the older head sees through the process and comes to results as it were by intuition. He does not require the material slate, or the material pencil, or even the material figure; he is so far independent of the flesh, that he has risen into the spiritual. All the world is being conducted up to the point of spirituality. Materialism will presently be thrown off like an outworn garment. The signs of the times point to this. Men are impatient of time and space; men who once would have thought six hours a short time are now impatient of the work that cannot be done in six minutes. Thus we are continually contracting the material. By-and-by we shall travel by thought, write by thought, do everything as quick as thought. That is the great ideal towards which we are rising: God is a Spirit; we too shall be spirits, and in the moral summertime we shall be holy as our Father in heaven is holy, perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect, and being so like him in his perfectness we cannot be unlike him in his blessedness.
Mark the ground of joy: the Holy Spirit is our teacher, comforter, guardian, and sanctifier. The angels of God have charge over us. We know not what legions are marshalled at our very side. How little we can see even at the best of times! Our eyes are holden. Do not imagine that we can ever be the prey of the wicked one. Though we fall we shall not be utterly cast down: the saint shall stand on the mountain of the Lord: the Lord is our refuge and strength, therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. Will God cast off his redeemed? That would be trampling under foot the blood of the everlasting covenant. Praise the living God; look up into his face smilingly, and tell him that he is the joy of your heart and your portion for ever.
It is not to be forgotten that this joy is to be "in the Lord." We have no occasion indeed to joy in ourselves. So far as I am concerned, I have every reason to mourn, but in the Lord I have nothing to do but to rejoice. I cannot pine for bread, because he has distinctly told me it shall be given. I cannot mourn on the ground of redemption, for this would be to question the power of God; I cannot mourn on the subject of protection, for he says that the everlasting arms are round about me. Still we are in the body; we are subject to pain, we are exposed to insults; we have to grapple with an unsympathetic and misapprehending world.
We are not forbidden to mourn but to murmur; we are not forbidden to weep, we are men and to the laws of our kind we must submit: but we are to rejoice in the Lord. I mourn myself, and am full of bitterness, but in God I often shout for very joy of heart: he draws me so closely to himself; he breathes such sweet and tender promises; he fills me with emotion. I understand what the poet meant when he desired to be "swallowed up in love." God speaks with infinite comfort and consolation. We may remind ourselves that Jesus Christ was often sorrowful. That is true. On one occasion he said, "my soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death," but at that time the work was before him; now it is behind him: he has endured the cross, he has despised the shame, and henceforth he reigns over the universe as its Redeemer and Lord. Some men may say that they have joy apart from religion. I deny it. It is not joy: it is excitement; it is a pleasant dream; it is a well-compounded opiate. Let me tell you that, if your joy is apart from Christ, it is but a poor wandering Hagar—a little water spent, bread all gone, and no angel to conduct her to the well, where she will find water for her fainting child and say, "Thou God seest me." We may so employ these words as to take out of them all terror. Hitherto we have been inclined to regard the expression "Thou God seest me" as a judgment, a fire, a terrible scrutiny, under which our poor quaking life is spent. On the other hand, we may use it as an encouragement and a blessing of the highest quality; we may be able to say in our sorrow and in our want, "Thou God seest me"; and to know that the very fact that God sees us is the pledge that he will come to us and redeem our souls from despair. Speaking again to the religious, I would remind you that sorrow and gloom are not religion. Some of the old saints have said this life is all given to us for weeping and penance, not for idle discourses. But from all this monastic narrowness we have grown into the genial familiarity of reverent and loving fellowship with God, and henceforth we know that it is not by scourging and self-immolation that we attain heaven, but by trust in the Cross of Christ. We believe in philanthropy, in the love of man and the service of man; we gather flowers from the garden of usefulness. There is no cure for the world"s woes but in Christ
Christians are called upon to vindicate their Christianity by their joyfulness. If they persist in being sombre, despondent, dejected, heartless, then they persist in inflicting cruelty upon the Son of God: their despair does not end in itself or upon themselves; it exercises an evil contagion, which brings other men into bondage, and thus becomes a double curse. Men should fight against the spirit of darkness and of fear, as against an enemy that is personal to themselves, and that is general to the whole world. When we sing intelligently, when we rejoice with reason, when even in sorrow we can smile, when in the darkest night we can find some bright star, men will ask us how it comes that we can thus triumph over circumstances; in that hour of inquiry we may tell them that we are rejoicing not in ourselves but in the Lord, and that in so rejoicing we are acting an obedient part, for we have been exhorted to this joy, and can answer the exhortation with reason, and with all the fellowship and sanction of a diversified and sanctified experience.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Philippians 3". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany