The consequent obligation and wisdom of taking our God-given joys.
‘They kept the feast with joy, for the Lord had made them joyful.’ Ezra 6:22. It is our obligation to accept and use what our blessed God gives. Be sure you take Him. When He is waiting to pour all His love into your heart, and all His sweetness into your spirit, to calm your anxieties, to deepen your peace, to strengthen everything that is good in you, to be to you a stay in the midst of fragile prosperity, and a Light in the midst of gathering darkness, be sure that you take the joy He gives. Do not let it be said that, when the Lord Christ has come down from heaven, and lived upon earth, and gone back to heaven, and sent His Spirit to dwell in you, you shut the door against the entrance of the joy-bringing Messenger, and are sad and restless and discontented because you have locked out the God who desires to abide in your hearts.
‘They kept the feast with joy, because the Lord had made them joyful.’ Oh! how many Christian men and women there are, who in the midst of the abundant provision for continual cheerfulness of spirit given to them in the promises of the Gospel, in the gifts of Christ, in the indwelling of the Divine Spirit, do yet go through life creeping and sad, burdened and anxious, perplexed and at their wits’ end, just because they will not have the God who yearns to come to them, or at least will not have Him in the fullness in which He desires to bestow Himself. If God gives, surely we are bound to receive. It is an obligation upon Christian men and women, which they do not realise, to be glad; the commandment needs to be reiterated: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, rejoice.’ Philippians 4:4. Would that Christian experience today was more alive to the obligation and the blessedness of perpetual joy arising from perpetual communion with Him.
Further, another obligation is to recognise Him in all common mercies, because He is at the back of them all. Let them always proclaim Him to us. Oh! if we did not go through the world blind to the real Power that underlies all its motions, we should feel so much in our life reflecting the loving-kindness of our Father in heaven. Link Him, dear friend, with everything that makes your heart glad; with everything pleasant that comes to you. There is nothing good or sweet but it flows from Him. There is no common delight of flesh or sense, of sight or taste or smell, no little enjoyment that makes the moment pass more brightly, but it may be elevated into greatness and nobleness if it is linked with Him. God does not desire to be put away high up on a pedestal above our lives, as if He regulated the great things and the trifles regulated themselves; but He seeks to come, as air into the lungs, into every particle of our life, and to fill it all with His own purifying presence.
Recognise Him in common joys. If, when we sit down to partake of them, we would say to ourselves, ‘The Lord has made us joyful,’ all our home delights, all our social pleasures, all our intellectual and all our sensuous ones—rest and food and drink and all other goods for the body—they would all be felt to be great, as they indeed are. Enjoyed in Him, the smallest is great; without Him, the greatest is small. ‘The Lord made them joyful’; and what is large enough for Him to give ought not to be too small for us to receive.
Another piece of wholesome counsel in this matter is—Be sure that you use the joys which God does give. Many good people seem to think that it is devout and becoming to pitch most of their songs in a minor key, and to be habitually talking about trials and disappointments, and ‘a desert land,’ and ‘Brief life is here our portion,’ and so on. There are two ways in which you can look at the world and at everything that befalls you. There is enough in everybody’s life to make him sad if he sulkily selects these things to dwell upon. There is enough in everybody’s life to make him continually glad if he wisely picks out these to think about. It depends altogether on the perspective through which you look at your life and what you see in it. For instance, you know how children do when they get a bit of a willow wand into their hands. They cut off rings of bark, and get the switch alternately white and black, white and black, and so on right away to the tip. Will you look at the white rings or the black ones? They are both there. But if you rightly look at the black you will find out that there is white below it, and it only needs a very little stripping off of a film to make it into white too. Or, to put it into simpler words, no Christian man has the right to regard anything that God’s Providence brings to him as such unmingled evil that it ought to make him sad. We are bound to ‘rejoice in the Lord always.’
I know how hard it is, but sure am I that it is possible for a man, if he keeps near Jesus Christ, to reproduce Paul’s paradox of being ‘sorrowful yet always rejoicing,’ and even in the midst of darkness and losses and sorrows and blighted hopes and disappointed aims to rejoice in the Lord, and to ‘keep the feast with gladness, because the Lord has made him joyful.’ Nor do we discharge our duty, unless side by side with the sorrow which is legitimate, which is blessed, strengthening, purifying, calming, moderating, there is also ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory.’ 1 Peter 1:8.
Again, be sure that you limit your delights to God-made joys. Too many of us have what parts of our nature recognise as satisfaction, and are glad to have, apart from Him. There is nothing sadder than the joys (i.e. pleasures) that come into a life, and do not come from God. Oh! let us see to it that we do not fill our cisterns with poisonous sewage when God is waiting to fill them with the pure ‘river of the water of life.’ Do not let us draw our satisfaction from the world and its evils. Does my joy help me to come near to God? Does it interfere with my communion with Him? Does it aid me in the consecration of myself? Does my conscience go with it? Do I recognise God as the Giver of the thing that is so blessed? If we can say Yes! to these questions, we can venture to believe that our blessedness comes from God, and leads to God, however homely, however sensuous and material may be its immediate occasion. But if not, then the less we have to do with such false gladness the better. ‘Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful, and the end of that mirth is heaviness.’ Proverbs 14:13. The alternative presented for the choice of each of us is whether we will have surface joy and a centre of dark discontent, or surface sorrow and a centre of calm blessedness. The film of stagnant water on a pond full of rottenness simulates the glories of the rainbow, in which pure sunshine falls upon the pure drops, but it is only painted corruption after all, a sign of rotting; and if a man puts his lips to it it will kill him. Such is the joy which is apart from God. It is the ‘crackling of thorns under a pot’—the more fiercely they burn, the sooner they are ashes. And, on the other hand, ‘these things have I spoken unto you that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.’ John 15:11.
It is not ‘for seven days’ that we ‘keep the feast’ if God has ‘made us joyful,’ but for all the rest of the days of time, and for the endless years of the calm gladnesses of the heavens.