JOYFUL IN MY GOD
"I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be JOYFUL IN MY GOD!" Isaiah 61:10
In the course of 35 years 1 have been permitted the privilege of preaching on the Church Motto on 34 occasions. We have often found that the Motto year by year was almost a thermometer recording the spiritual state and outlook of the people of God. To what extent that has been so in the past will depend upon memory not merely in recalling the Motto but in reviewing again the particular circumstances year by year.
This time, however, the last of this unduly protracted period, will certainly reflect what most Christians are feeling or if they do not, will have to feel, if the hour is to be met. There is not much about which to be joyful ! We are watching a world in transformation as new ideas like dynamite are being exploded in the minds of men. Many of these ideas are right, noble and have been overdue in coming to birth, but in some strange way every fetter,that is broken is reconstructed and refitted to the miserable millions living in all parts of the globe. That this is not the pessimism of religious circles as they are losing grip on the masses can be demonstrated from the New Year's message of the gentleman who is entitled the Leader of the Opposition: He is glad to see the end of 1960, which he describes as a year of difficulty, disappointment and disillusion.
Mr. Grimond sees the need of a new leadership, apparently younger in years, after the type of the new President of the United States, but we are needing something very much more radical than that ! Setting aside pessimism and embracing realism, it can be said that never in the history of mankind has the whole human race been in such a ferment as today. The white man is in the minority, and within ten years there will be few, if any, of the coloured races who are not in the grip of Communism. Unless a God-given revival comes to our Churches, there will be no way out but for Churches to scale down their convictions, huddle together in some kind of alliance which will be called Christian unity and, like a captain on the bridge, stand by the wreckage until there is no wreckage by which to stand.
Between the upper and nether millstones of Communism and Clericalism a broken humanity is certain to be crushed. That is why the Christian, if he is to know any real satisfying, creative joy, will be compelled to find it more and more in God. That is how 1961 can be a happy year! In the measure in which we find our joy in God we shall find joy in the midst of a world that is really without hope.
The Motto could not have been found in a more suitable chapter. Let me remind you that when our Lord had been baptised in the Jordan with water, and baptised from heaven with the Holy Spirit, He was driven bv the same Spirit into the wilderness where He was tempted of the devil. He emerged from the wilderness in the power of the spirit and forthwith made His way to Nazareth where He had been brought up. Entering into the synagogue on the Sabbath, He read from the Scriptures this chapter. He was inaugurating His public ministry. He read the first verse and the first sentence of what we now call the second verse: "To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." There in His infinite wisdom He stopped and turning to the congregation declared that that day the Scripture was being fulfilled in their ears. If, of course, they shut their hearts to Him, then indeed would come " the day of vengeance of our God." This chapter then declares the truth that Christians may indeed be joyful in their God. To me, therefore, it seems that Christians will do well to look into this chapter, this chapter with which our Lord inaugurated His ministry, this chapter which is His first recorded utterance in ministry, this chapter therefore so closely linked with,all the ages as He steps out to be the Messiah to His nation and the Saviour of the world. His first joy was-
1) THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL MESSAGE
It is a thousand pities that we have allowed the world to succumb to the delusion that we have nothing to say to them out of our own witness. I deplore the fact that we are today hewers of wood and drawers of water to the social workers and the politicians. We cannot escape blame if the people are under the impression that we belong to the Victorian past when the poor had little else but God to comfort them and the wealthy salved their consciences with religious observance and gave their cast-off clothing to cover the naked poor. Now is the time to declare the message with increased conviction and with greater emphasis. Note well the first word of the Messiah as He undertakes His public ministry. There are good tidings for the poor, a binding up for the brokenhearted, liberty to captives and the opening of prisons to those who are bound.
This surely is a message about which to be joyful. Let us be done with talking about the Church as an organisation, let us be done with the effort to adapt our life and witness and rather strike this note that in the Gospel we preach there is good news,.liberty and deliverance. God wants no human life to be deformed, hemmed in or circumscribed. He plans for every human being liberty in the highest and truest meaning of the word. Liberty from evil habit, liberty from the dominance of circumstances, liberty from all that enthrals the soul and in enthralling the soul sends it down into the abyss of despair. We are to tell men that the greatest Dictator in the world is the Devil and the greatest curse of the race is the rebellious heart of man against God. There is no need for any individual to succumb to the power and tyranny of evil.
We are to tell men there is greater joy in being free in one's soul than in one's circumstance, that falsehood, error, are greater fetters on any man than any economic limitation. The greatest freedom of all is to be free from sin, its power and its condemnation and that as men embrace the truth in the grace of God they will know a freedom, which mankind outside of Christ has never known and never will know. When one sees how various detergent manufacturers advertise their wares one wonders what has been the value of all the millions of pounds spent on education. A store will advertise that all our cares will disappear if we pay for our goods with the Budget Plan. An insurance company tells us we can face the future with confidence, that is if we are paying the premiums in the meantime. But all these are half truths that disguise and hide the stark falsehood within. There is absolutely nothing visible or temporal that containswithin it good news from beginning to the end ! That supreme joy is found within the Gospel message and there alone. If we are dumb before the oraclle of death, we have no word to speak to men. The Christian message deals with death, and with the answer to death, has the answer to every other problem. Let 1961 be a year in which we stress with renewed emphasis the joyful message God has given us to proclaim. Then we are to be joyful in
2) GODS GLORIOUS PURPOSE
Nothing is more important than that we should bring home to men that God has a purpose. It is our privilege to declare to men that this is the one and only purpose that matters. See what is in God's mind. What He did as recorded in Genesis 1, when He restored cosmos out of chaos, is what He is always doing with individuals, will do with society and will consummate in the entire universe. He has it in purpose to deal with the bitterness of tears. There are occasions in life when the tears will fall, but Messiah declares that while the tears fall we are to be sure of the purpose of God to give the mourner beauty for ashes, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. The Christian is to declare his faith that tears are not the final experience. The spirit of heaviness is a passing experience, the garment of praise will surely be ours. Nothing helps a man more than to realise that somehow out of the garbage of life, its mistakes, errors, follies and sins, God will yet accomplish His purpose and that while as the years pass by we are bowed down with a sense of utter failure, and could sometimes wish the earth would open and swallow us up, yet that is not the last word.
The purpose of God is greater than all and will assuredly create the positive out of all our negatives. There is a great future in store for God's ancient people. They shall be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord. The old wastes are to be built, former desolations are to be repaired and through them shall proceed a testimony to their Messiah which shall embrace the whole earth. God has in purpose to deal with robbery, violence, hypocrisy, falsehood in the world and to demonstrate to men in His Son the glories of a marvellous redemption. That purpose, as the New Testament envisages it, declares that nothing evil shall continue. God will never be satisfied until through His Beloved Son all evil has been banished, the power of the Devil broken for ever and man is so reconciled to God that God is all in all. Let this year when in its gathering gloom, its foreboding events, its growing evils we shall as the men and women of God be confident to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, the onward march of the eternal purpose of God in His Beloved Son until every knee bows to His Name and every tongue that ever was, is or shall be shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. In such a wonderful purpose we who are redeemed in the blood of Christ can be joyful in our God.
3) THE JOY OF PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
So many people imagine that religion is largely a matter of discipline, restraint, prohibition endured for the doubtful possibility of a good time in heaven. There are many professing Christians whose manner of life rather encourages that delusion. It may as well therefore be stated categorically that no human being will ever know outaide of God any joy comparable with the experience of joy in fellowship with God. Any forsaking of God for the better thing outside of God will end in total despair! It is for each member of the Church on the threshold of this New Year to assess his joy in God. The text speaks of the garments of salvation. I am not sure how these garments should be interpreted, but if experience is brought to bear then I would say I am joyful in God for the marvellous gift of eternal Life that in His Sovereign mercy He has been pleased to give me. Whatever ills may attendthis life, I thank God my supreme joy is in the life Jesus in heaven has given me. I thank God for the marvellous blessing of the Holy Spirit Who in miraculous ways indeed sustains, encourages, directs and helps. And who can say what a priceless garment is the garment of the imortal body in the world to come? To whomsoever the Holy Spirit is given, to that person the Spirit is the seal of the body of immortality. What a garment!
There is also the robe of His righteousness This is not the place for an exposition of righteousness, but let me say that there is an aspect of righteousness in which the humble believer trusting in Christ will be seen by God in the righteousness of Christ. At that great day it will be His righteousness and not ours upon which God will look. When I think of that glorious truth I rejoice with great thanksgiving. " Bold shall I stand in that great day ? For who aught to my charge shall lay? " seems almost incredible, but when faith asserts its truth, it makes us joyful indeed.
Finally, there is the bride decking herself with jewels. That somehow speaks of present experience. When I first started dealings with God in prayer I found the task irksome, often dull, and it seemed unrewarding, but in the course of the years one realises certain simple truths. The Throne of Grace is where the believer meets with Jesus. Never draw near there and certainly never leave the Throne until you have really had contact with Jesus. Jewels are rare, but that jewel can be the enjoyment of any believer. I learned also to stand with Christ in all His victory against every evil that assailed my life, and I hope He will continue His grace to enable me so to do until I see Him in some clearer way. And then I learned that many of the evils of life are made so much more burdensome because Satan uses them to cast us down, and it is so easy to plunge into a pit of despair. There is a great deal in taking any matter to the Lord in prayer and so using the evil as an occasion for seeking Him that rescued, renewed, the soul itself is uplifted and inspired. That will make any Christian joyful ! Joyful in My God! What a marvellous possibility and what a wonderful year this can be! May joy in our God be the supreme and uninterrupted experience of the,people of God in this year of challenge and opportunity.
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