Once more we return to our exposition of the first epistle of Peter. In doing so it is important to bear in mind, that in these verses of the first chapter of Peter our attention is called to our new and exalted status quo before God, our new relationship to God by virtue of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have passed from death unto life in Him; a transition has taken place whereby we have been taken, from the power of darkness and set in the Kingdom of God’s Son in the flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ.
And by the virtue of this change wrought by God objectively for us in the death and resurrection of Christ, and subjectively by His Spirit in our hearts, we have now a living hope, which reaches out to the final revelation of Jesus in the new creation in the ages to come. In this hope we rejoice; we are saved in hope. We rejoice seeing from afar, even as Abraham, the father of all believers, saw afar, and rejoiced. Old things have, indeed, passed away; all things are become new. The next great act of the wonder of God’s grace is, that Christ comes upon the clouds of heaven to be revealed as the Lord of glory, and as the Heir of all things together with His co-heirs, the redeemed saints.
Mighty perspectives we are shown in this first Chapter of I Peter.
And wonderful things Peter tells us concerning the deepest yearnings and aspirations of our redeemed souls.
We read: “Whom having not seen ye love; on whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice greatly with a joy unspeakable and full of glory; receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.”
In this wonderful passage of holy writ there is discovered to our believing eyes the secret of the joy of the hoping Christian. We notice that mention is here made of a joy, of exceedingly great rejoicing, and that, too, in a world where the Christian must suffer manifold trials and temptations. And yet these temptations cannot dim the joy of the Christian. Then too mention is made of a joy that is “full of glory”. It is world conquering joy. Pray, what may be its secret?
We notice the following concerning this remarkable joy in the text.
In the first place, we notice that this joy can only be explained because of what Christ Jesus is and means to us. All our joy is based upon and flows to us from Him. Apart from Him we can do nothing; without Him we cannot rejoice in glad triumph. The Apostle intimated in the foregoing verses, that all our attention is focused upon the revelation of the Son of God in the final coming. Then we shall be glorified with Him, since we now suffer with Him for righteousness sake. Then shall the preciousness of our faith be to the praise and honor and glory of God in Christ. O, what a marvelous revelation that will be when history is shown to be what it is, in the revelation of the righteous judgment of God. All the tears collected in God’s bottle of the saints shall then be correctly, publicly and irrefutably evaluated. The just shall have their recompense, and wisdom shall be justified of her children!
But that is all “not yet”. And what is more we see nothing of it; in fact, we seem to behold the very opposite. The wicked seem to prosper, while the chastisement of God’s children is new every morning in the never ending chain of manifold temptations and trials.
And, yet, we rejoice with so great a joy.
Says Peter “rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
We should bear in mind in attempting to understand these words, that “joy” is not at all to be confused with hilarious fun, and silly, empty pleasures. In all the laughter of the wicked there is not an infinitesimal speck of joy; their laughter is wearisome. The themes of their songs and laughter always is the tragic; they feed upon the husks of life: corn and plenty they do not even behold. Singing of the “sweet mystery of life” they have never understood the “mystery of faith and godliness”. They are Godless. Here joy is unknown. Only weeping and woe.
But what is joy?
It is the great salvation of God and the knowledge of the same as the wind of the Holy Spirit blows upon the lyre of our souls; it is the satisfaction of the heart, which can only be filled with the knowledge of God, and by being partaker of the Divine nature. It is the joy which the Holy Spirit works in our hearts, while He testifies with our Spirit that we are the children of God and heirs of eternal life. It is to taste fellowship with the ever blessed God; to walk with Him and to dwell with Him and He with us in Christ through the Spirit of sanctification.
Have I told you now what this joy is?
Listen: this joy is “unspeakable and full of glory!”
Words must needs fail to express this joy. The word “unspeakable” indicates that this joy is beyond description. It is called the “fruit of the Spirit”. () Jesus says repeatedly: I tell you these things, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. ; . This joy is heaven’s gift; gift of grace it is. The Psalmist prays from out of the depths: Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me by Thy free Spirit. ( ). When the “free Spirit upholds us” then the “joy of salvation” is our portion. We will have more to say of this presently. But this joy, although we can speak of it, it nevertheless excels our words? The term “unspeakable” suggests immensity. Why? Because this is not a joy which simply is given us from God, but it is a joy in which God gives Himself to us, and God is immense! The finite cannot comprehend the infinite; and finite words cannot utter fully infinite joy. Don’t we sing “God, my God, my boundless joy”? In this joy we sing: “My God how wonderful Thou art; Thy majesty how great”. The entire psalmist of Scripture only touches the hem of this garment and garlands of joy. Our God in Christ is immense, unspeakably rich in divine depths. The mighty Augustine says: Our thoughts of God are richer than our words, but God is greater than both.
But we must proceed.
This joy is also “full of glory”. The term, in the original Greek can also be translated “glorified up to the present moment”.
That this joy is “glorified”, full of glory does not simply mean that it is we, the saints, who glorify God. That is true in itself. But that is not the entire matter here referred to by the Apostle, It means too, and that first of all, that our joy is in its very nature full of the glory of God’s grace in the saints. This glory is an ever present reality now. The Church on Sunday morning is full of the glory of God; so very really this is true as it shall be true in the day when we shall rejoice in perfection before the great white throne. And this glory of God of which all men “fall short” by nature, is the very quality of the joy of the saints. What a glory of God in the joy of the dying patriarchs, who see Christ’s day afar. Can human tongue express it fully? Thank God, it cannot. O the blessedness of serving such a God, whose praises can never fully be sung, and whose joys in the saints can never fully be expressed; they are the length and breadth, the height and depth of the love of God, and being filled with all the pleroma (fullness) of God, prepared for the saints.
But we do not yet see this God in the face of Jesus Christ; fact is, no one has ever seen Jesus as He will be the Lord of glory over all things unto the Church.
The immensity and glory of our “joy” cannot be explained from the present earthly senses of sight, touch, tasting and hearing. Peter tells us: “Whom having not seen ye love”. This means that our loving and adoring God with unspeakable joy needs another explanation than that of mere physical sight of our Lord. Our connection with the living Lord, with our covenant God in Christ Jesus, is a different one than sight. It is the contact, the living fellowship of faith. Says Peter “though now ye see Him not, yet believing”.
What is faith?
Certainly we must say that this faith is the gift of God, the creative gift of God. Faith is a gift of God in its inception in our hearts as well as in every activity of faith, and in all of its duration. And certainly faith is Mystery. It is something which we only know because God Himself tells us in His Word what it is, and gives us to taste it by the application and efficacious calling of the Spirit. By it we eat and drink Christ.
Its elements are certainly a certain knowledge of all that God has revealed in the Scriptures, but it is also a hearty and joyful confidence that all that Christ has done on the cross was in my behalf. Faith is joy, true joy in God. Without this faith then is no joy possible. For all joy is in God through Christ to us and we only receive that joy from God through the Spirit.
Also this faith is an unspeakable gift!
It is immense because it lays hold on the immensity of the love of Christ that passeth knowledge.
Yes, unless we have this faith, the joys of salvation are not ours. Unto this faith and trust we are kept by the power of God through the preaching of the gospel and the use of the sacraments. And here too our wondering gaze of faith sees deepest mysteries of godliness. By faith we see God our God, our boundless joys.
Finally, we must say of this faith that it is really a faith that reaches into Christ. We grow in knowledge and confidence, and in boundless joy. The more we grow in grace and knowledge, the more we see the wonder of faith. In love and devotion we then cling to Christ, keep His commandments which are not grievous. And for the love that we then haw; for Christ, resting upon His mighty labors, the time of our sojourn is not long,
The morning beckons; presently we shall see Him face to face in that revelation of Jesus Christ. Then we shall receive an eye to see, and an ear to hear, and a mouth to sing the praises of God weariless in His temple day and night. But, O wonder, it will still be “joy unspeakable”. It will be then “full of glory”! The immensity of God will be greater than all the redeemed saints and redeemed creation.
Here the fount of joy does not go dry; the fountains of living water flow forever; we shall drink with Christ out of the brook. God shall be the light of the City of God, the heavenly Jerusalem. For, behold, He creates Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. God says: And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people!