Rev. Smit is pastor of the Immanuel Protestant Reformed Church in Lacombe, Alberta, Canada. Previous article in this series: January 15, 2008, p. 186.
In the previous article about “Joy,” we learned that Christ calls us unto the production of His wonder-fruit by His Spirit through His Word, which includes, for example, the command, “Rejoice in the Lord, and again I say, Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4)
Because in fulfillment of that call of Christ the sovereign Spirit works in and through us the gift of joy, we consciously learn and experience this joy according to our new nature. This joy is not a mere emotion, although it is often true that, because of this joy in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are moved emotionally. This is a virtue that is connected with the knowledge and conviction of our faith. Hence, as the Lord works this fruit of joy in us by His Word and Spirit, we rejoice for knowable and worthy reasons. In antithetical contrast to all the sinful and self-centered reasons that the wicked world has for its fleeting joys, the child of God has many good, virtuous, substantial, and lasting reasons.
The primary reason for joy in our hearts is that God, whom Christ our Lord reveals, is great in His being, power, and majesty. Delight in God because He is God. Rejoice in the Lord Jesus Christ because He is God!
What is even more joyful is that the triune God for Christ’s sake is our God! He is the God who dwells in Zion. He is God who is our guide even unto death!
We rejoice in the Lord, who is God the Creator. By Christ, God made the heavens and the earth and all the creatures therein. God instantaneously, by His Word and Spirit, made all things. By faith, the child of God delights in the glory of the living God that His handiwork displays day unto day. What delight it is to know that the God whose creation shows forth His sovereignty and omnipotence is our great Creator.
We have joy because this God is the God of our salvation. We are His new creation in Christ Jesus.
We rejoice because, to make us that new creation of God, Christ has removed from us the curse due to our sin. We rejoice that Christ became for us the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, feeling the weight and inexpressible anguish of the suffering of God’s wrath, especially when it engulfed Him on the cross. We rejoice that He became the man of sorrows so that we might be His joyful children.
When beholding the wonder of Christ’s redemptive suffering for us, we rejoice to know that the Lord joyfully gave Himself for us. Even in the darkness of being forsaken, it was His joy to do the Father’s will, which required that hellish death on the cross for our redemption. That it was Christ’s delight to do the will of God, even in that hellish hour, is evident when He cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” That word of Christ on the cross was both the fullest expression of His complete agony under the wrath of God for our sin, and also, at the same time, the clearest expression of His obedience and joy to fulfill the Father’s will. As He was made to feel the utter bitterness and misery of the curse for our sin, there were upon His heart the psalms of God, one of which He uttered upon the cross in the darkness (Ps. 22:1). When Christ came out of that second death, His joy was His God because He declared, “I thirst!” He thirsted for the living God! His joy and delight in His misery and humiliation remained in the Father. What a joy to know that because of Christ’s redemptive joy and delight, we have righteousness in Christ before the Father through faith alone. Therefore, rejoice for the deliverance we have in and through Christ from the eternal misery of our sin, and for the right we have in Him to eternal joy with the Father.
Then, we may rejoice that the Lord counts it all joy to come into us and dwell in us. The Lord does not remain far from us. He does not forget about us, nor does He regard our needs as a hindrance to His joy. Rather, He delights to dwell in us by His Spirit. He delights to work in us sovereignly and in His wisdom and good time by His grace what is beautiful and pleasing in His sight. Rejoice that He is the author and finisher of our faith. Rejoice that He is our wisdom, strength, and very present help in trouble.
This Lord who dwells in us by His Spirit is the Lord at God’s right hand. He is seated in all royal power and authority. Before Him shall every knee bow. All shall declare Him to be Lord. What a reason for us to rejoice! Why? This truth shows that nothing in heaven or on the earth happens by chance, but that all things in our present history are directed and governed by Christ according to the Father’s will for the sake of the church, His body.
We are given another reason for joy in the hope that Christ will establish and preserve His church by His Word and Spirit. This is the church to which He has knit Himself. To each of the living stones, eternally chosen and redeemed by His blood, Christ is joined by His Spirit. To Himself, Christ joins a body with infinite variety and diversity, and makes us all one in Himself. Against that church, which Christ builds upon Himself, the solid Rock, the gates of hell cannot prevail. We rejoice in the preserving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which keeps us as living members of His church.
As members, then, of His church, as sheep of His flock, we rejoice because the Lord cares for us.
He does care for us, does He not? Is He not our shepherd, because of whose care we lack nothing? Is He not our great high priest, who knows our tribulations and constantly seeks from the Father and obtains for us the grace sufficient for each day? Is He not our refuge and rest in times of trouble? Has He not carried us through the fires and the floods of life? Has He not shown that He is ever-merciful and gracious? Rejoice that, because the Lord is your shepherd, you lack nothing.
Regarding those things that we need each day, rejoice in the sure promise that your God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).
We have another reason for joy, in the privilege that Christ has given us to serve Him together in the fellowship of the saints. The Lord, having saved us, does not save us and preserve us like a fine heirloom, placed in a locked cabinet, there to be observed unmoved. The Lord, having saved us, gives us the privilege to be His servants in His holy temple. He has given us the privilege to spend ourselves for the cause of His kingdom and covenant. He has given us that privilege to work together in a congregation for the faithful proclamation of His gospel, or to work to our utmost in the faithful education of our covenant children. He has given us the privilege to witness, in our daily life and work, of the greatness of our Lord and His grace.
Under the faithful proclamation of the Word of Christ, you are given a great reason for joy. There, through the Word preached, Christ is not silent to us. He does not leave the child of God to guess what He is thinking, or what He might be saying at God’s right hand about him. Through the preaching of the Word, Christ declares the love of the Father for His church. Therein He reveals His grace and goodness towards us; He declares our justification; and He assures us of eternal life. He works in us powerfully, by that means, a growing faithfulness and a life of thankfulness. Rejoice that the Word of the Lord is powerful to save and powerful to comfort.
As we live at the end of the ages, there is also reason for joy in the fact that God has graciously preserved and entrusted to us the rich heritage of the Reformed faith. Rejoice in the truth of God’s sovereign, particular, unconditional, and adorable grace in the Lord Jesus Christ!
Concerning all those promises of the Lord to bless us, be joyful! Those promises are not shaky, uncertain, man-dependent possibilities. God’s promises are rock-solid in the Lord Jesus Christ for His people. Although they are proclaimed through all the earth unto countless generations, yet they, by the Spirit and grace of Christ, are fulfilled particularly in believers and their spiritual seed. Rejoice greatly when God in His grace fulfills His promises in your life.
Rejoice evermore, because the Lord will work all things together for good (Rom. 8:28). Rejoice that all the events in your life do not unfold arbitrarily and without any real purpose. Rejoice that the Lord sovereignly governs and fulfills every detail of your life, and does that with the goal of good. That goal is chiefly that throughout your whole life God’s greatness and glory may be revealed. That goal is that you may fully taste and see that the LORD is good in the full salvation and glory that awaits us.
When ought we to exercise this fruit of joy? We must rejoice at many times in our lives.
We must rejoice in the Lord as we worship in God’s house (Ps. 100:1-2) or worship God in our family and personal devotions.
We rejoice when we may baptize our children and receive a token of God’s covenant faithfulness.
We have great joy when we see our children walking in the truth (III John 4).
We have joy when we see our children faithfully marry in the Lord.
We have an occasion to rejoice when God grants us, for another day, food and health, and grants that to us as a blessing for Jesus’ sake.
Besides that, there are numerous other occasions and circumstances in which God provides us with ample reasons to grow in the gift of joy in Him.
But now listen to God’s Word again in Philippians 4:4. God through the apostle says, “Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say, Rejoice.”
When ought we to exercise this fruit of joy? The Lord’s answer is “alway.” Rejoice, not only in times of spiritual positives in our lives, but also in times in which, according to our flesh, we would be prone never to do it.
Is it even possible to rejoice in the time of trouble and anguish?
How can a believer rejoice when he is persecuted for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41, Acts 16:25)? How can we glory in tribulations (Rom. 5:2)? How can the child of God rejoice when he is gripped in tribulations or in the dark way of depression or loneliness? How can we be joyful when afflicted with constant, gnawing pain? Joy when near the stepping stone of death and in the heat of that last battle (II Tim. 4:8, 17-18)?
It is humanly impossible to bring forth this fruit of joy in such tribulations. Nevertheless, the Spirit of the Lord by His grace will have His own wonderful way with us, in us, and through us. After all, He is the master grower and pruner, working on and in us, who are His living branches and who are ingrafted into Christ. By His mighty Word and grace He calls us in a living faith unto joy. He works in us by His grace the blessed fruit of joy, which is always in Him.
Therefore, even in the darkest gloom and sadness, we possess in Christ that deep-seated, spiritual, heavenly, triumphant joy. Although when you and I might even feel physically or mentally miserable and lonely beyond description, yet by the grace of God we possess in the Lord the joy that the misery of this life cannot destroy. We may still enjoy, even in the darkest gloom, that one and only, constant delight: “That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ…” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1). And that is our one and only constant delight because Jehovah’s almighty, tender, and sustaining mercy towards us endures forever (Ps. 90:14, Ps. 100:5).¹
May the Spirit of Christ guard us from all ungodliness that would pollute and quench this joy, and may He work in our regenerated hearts His wonder-fruit of heavenly joy… alway.
¹ For more on the relationship between joy and God’s mercy, read: “Christian Joy,” by Rev. D. Kleyn, in the Feb. 15, 2002 issue of the SB, pp. 236-237.