Fullness of Joy

“Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand are pleasures forevermore.” —Psalms 16:11

IT IS the Creator’s design that all of his creatures be happy, but to enjoy happiness it is necessary to be in harmony with him. Those who resist God’s will are sure to find that, ultimately, their pathway leads to sorrow. In verse four of the sixteenth psalm, the prophet declares that “sorrows shall be multiplied” to those who “hasten after another god.” Just as sorrow, suffering, and death are partners, so joy, happiness, and life go together. That is why we read, “Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Our text is part of a prophecy relating to Jesus, and the fullness of joy referred to evidently relates to that which he experienced when, following his resurrection, he entered into the actual presence of his Heavenly Father. By faith he entered into that joy even while he was being persecuted unto death by his enemies. It was this “joy that was set before him” which enabled him to “endure the cross, despising the shame.” (Heb. 12:2) Proving faithful under that test, he was exalted to “the right hand of the throne of God;” and the joys thus attendant upon his complete submission and faithfulness unto death were those of the divine life, the unmitigated pleasures of being forever in the actual presence of his beloved Heavenly Father.

Shortly before the Master finished his earthly course he bequeathed a blessed portion of his joy to his followers that their “joy might be full.” (John 15:11) Thus it is possible for every faithful Christian to experience, in part at least, the joy which was the Master’s strength—the joy of the Lord. Because of the fact that we are invited to be partners with Jesus, in his death and in his resurrection, we can claim the same blessed promises of God which were the source of his comfort and joy. To the extent that our faith is able to lay hold upon these promises we can be rejoicing Christians despite the opposition of the world, the flesh and the devil.

We can “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2), keeping faith’s vision focused upon the hallowed position in the actual presence of the Heavenly Father where there is fullness of joy, and where there are pleasures forevermore. The stronger our faith in the promised glory and joy of our future inheritance, the greater will be our measure of joy now. In this respect, as in others, our experiences should be similar to those of the Master. This means that the closer we keep to him by adherence to his Word and spirit, the greater will be our joy; and our daily testimony will be, not how much we suffer, but how great is our rejoicing!

Living the Christian life, however, does not release us from trouble—it increases our troubles. Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He was persecuted and finally crucified, and we should not expect our experiences to be very different from his—the servant cannot expect to be above his Lord. (John 15:20) Paul rejoiced in his privilege of suffering with Christ, and from his own testimony we can see that while he suffered much, yet he was happy. (Rom. 8:17; II Tim. 2:12) Of his own experiences, St. Paul wrote: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.”—II Cor. 4:8-11

The sufferings of Christ are not the self-inflicted austerities which are practiced in some quarters of ‘Babylon’, in the belief that God does not want his people to be happy. The sufferings of the Christian are self-imposed, however, in the sense that it is through faithfulness to the Lord and to the truth that the opposition of Satan and his allies is aroused against us. It was Jesus’ faithful ministry of the truth that brought upon him the animosity of those who sat in darkness; and it is only as our sufferings are for the same cause of righteousness and truth that they are truly the “sufferings of Christ.”—II Cor. 1:5

We have in the thought to suffer joyfully, what to human wisdom would surely be a paradox, yet to the Christian it is the true explanation of his life of rejoicing. The Christian is happy, not because all causes for unhappiness have been removed, but because he understands the purpose of his trials, having learned that it is his privilege to share in the sufferings of Christ, and he joyfully enters into that privilege. Our Christian rejoicing is not in the suffering itself, but in the fact that we are counted worthy to share in Christ’s suffering. When we do good and suffer for it, we accept the experience as an evidence of God’s favor upon us as his children, and the smile of his countenance is the source of our joy.—I Pet. 4:14; 2:20

The Christian’s joy is thus seen to be the joy of faith. It is a joy which is not dependent upon material comforts, nor can physical suffering rob us of it. This does not mean, however, that a Christian needs to deprive himself of ordinary physical comforts in order to experience the joy of the Lord. Here again we need to distinguish between true Christian suffering and its causes, and the false ideas that some entertain concerning it. The Lord does not expect us to leave the seasoning out of our food so we will not enjoy eating it. He does not expect us to purposely make our beds hard so we cannot properly rest at night. He does not want us to close our eyes to the beautiful things of nature with which we are surrounded, nor to turn away from enjoying the sweet perfume of flowers.

But if Christian faithfulness in the ministry of the truth leads to the loss of physical comforts, of whatever sort they may be, such loss does not deprive us of our joy in the Lord, the joys of faith. If we chart our Christian course in such a way as to purposely avoid the loss of earthly comforts, perhaps the Lord may allow us to enjoy the good things of this life, but it will be at the expense of the spiritual joys. But if we are faithful to our vows of consecration, irrespective of what the cost may be, then to whatever extent “sweet prospects, sweet birds, and sweet flowers” are permitted by the Lord to cross our pathway, they will all “gain new sweetness” because of the higher vantage point from which we enjoy them.—No. 94, Hymns of Dawn

Let none get the erroneous thought that we make God happy by making ourselves unhappy. Such would be an entirely wrong viewpoint of Christian suffering and the purpose back of it. God’s will for all of his creatures is that they be happy. Even inanimate things of creation, such as the trees, are spoken of in the Bible as clapping their hands with joy at the presence of the God of the whole earth. God invites us to share in the sufferings of Christ, not because he wants us to suffer, but because it helps to prepare us to share with Jesus in the future work of making an end of all suffering.

Some adherents of nominal churchianity, failing to understand the true meaning of the sufferings of Christ, have advanced the erroneous theory that the more melancholy one can be, the nearer he is living to the Lord. Out of this false theory has come the monastic life, austerities, doing of penances, etc. Probably there are times when God would be pleased for us to discipline the flesh in order that we may keep it more completely lined up for his service; but this is not because he does not want us to be happy.

Purposes of Suffering

One purpose of Christian suffering is that our faith might thereby be tested. Peter speaks of this, saying, “That the trial of your faith, being more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” (I Pet. 1:7) Suffering is a trial of our faith because it puts to the test our belief in the promises of God, and in the wisdom of God. God cannot, in the very nature of things, exalt anyone to the divine nature who does not have full confidence in him and in his plan. What if the fallen Lucifer had been immortal, indestructible! It would have meant that God’s universe would have been marred forever.

God tests our faith in him and our devotion to him by permitting us to experience some very severe and exacting trials, and by making our service for him a sacrifice. For a time he may permit us to enjoy the sweets of his favor, causing the sun of his loving kindness to shine warmly upon us; and how we do rejoice in such happy experiences. During such times we should feed upon his Word and grow spiritually strong in him. Thus we are prepared for the fiery trials which are necessary for our testing and the crystallization of our characters. But these trials should not rob us of our joy in the Lord. Through faith we should lay hold upon the precious promises, and realize that while God is trying us, he will help us to bear it, and that finally, if we keep ourselves in his love, we shall come forth as gold. “In quietness and in confidence” shall be our strength, so we “rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him.”—Isa. 30:15; Ps. 37:7

The divine purpose for us is that we may reign with Christ and share with him in dispensing kingdom blessings of life and joy to the willing and obedient of humanity. To be prepared for such a glorious future work, we need not only to be tested and tried for the proof of our faith, but that these very trials may enable us to be touched with a feeling of the world’s infirmities and thus to be properly qualified to deal with them in the next age. Our knowledge of this purpose, and our faith in the divine wisdom and power back of it, should enable us to rejoice despite our trials. If this be so, then we are experiencing the joy of the Lord which is our strength.

This was the source of the Master’s joy. He was not shielded from suffering, but he had full confidence in the divine purpose back of his suffering, and he was in full heart-harmony with that purpose. He knew that when the divine plan for the world was complete there would be no more suffering or sorrow of any kind; that there would be gladness and rejoicing everywhere; and his joy sprang from a consciousness of the fact that the Father had honored him to have a part in accomplishing such a blessed program.

We can have the same joy in a degree commensurate with our faith and confidence in God and in his promises. The disciples on the storm-tossed Sea of Galilee lacked faith; they doubted, and their hearts were filled with fear. In their anxiety they cried to the Master to save them lest they perish. Jesus stilled the storm and the waves, and said to his disciples, “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” (Matt. 8:26) If, when we are surrounded by the storms of life, we lose our joy in the Lord, we should pray, “Lord, increase our faith.”—Luke 17:5

In Romans 12:12, the apostle associates the thoughts of joy, trials, and prayer, indicating that they are closely related in the Christian life. He says, “Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer.” Our rejoicing, our joy, is in the blessed hope set before us in the promises of God, and in the divine assurance of God’s care for us. But we need to be tested, so while we rejoice in hope, we need also to be patient in tribulation. The Greek word here translated patient means to ‘bear under’, or ‘submit to’. It is the thought expressed by the statement, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.”—I Pet. 5:6

If we are truly humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God it means we will be rejoicing in our hope, and we will not be complaining against God’s providences. Job, of old, said of the Lord, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” (Job 13:15) Surely a consecrated, spirit-begotten Christian should not be less submissive under the divine hand which molds and fits him for a position in the glorious kingdom of Christ. Our continued trust in the Lord should be such a deep, full trust, that from it will spring our rejoicing in him.

If our rejoicing is to continue despite the trials of the way, we will need to keep very close to the Lord in prayer; so the apostle adds, “continuing instant in prayer.” To be instant in prayer means that we will go to the throne of grace promptly in every time of need. It means that we properly recognize the Lord as the true source of our strength and the true fountain of our joy. Recognizing this, we go to him for our supplies, and gladly do we “continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.”—Col. 4:2

Our prayers should not always be in the nature of requests. We should cultivate the habit of watching for the answers to our prayers, and watching with thanksgiving. Every experience in our Christian life should be an occasion for thanksgiving to the Lord. We should thank him even for our trials, because of their great value to us. If we fully realize our need for divine help and forgiveness, and properly appreciate what the Lord is daily doing for us, it will be hard to keep us away from the throne of grace; we will want to talk with the Lord often—very often!

Peaceable Fruits of Righteousness

In Hebrews 12:5-11, the apostle sets forth another purpose of Christian suffering. It is part of God’s training program for the house of sons, who will constitute his ruling house during the Millennial Age. Even Jesus learned obedience through the things which he suffered. This does not mean that Jesus was ever disobedient. The thought is, rather, that he learned to be obedient even though the Heavenly Father permitted him to suffer. How necessary it was that this crucial test of obedience should be placed upon the one who was to be entrusted with the gigantic task of restoring obedience to the divine will throughout all the earth.

How necessary, too, that those who are following the Captain of their salvation (Heb. 2:9,10), should be subjected to the same kind of discipline. The thought of chastening is not necessarily that of punishment for wrongdoing from a moral standpoint. It is a form of the word chaste, which means ‘pure’. To be chastened, then, means to be made pure, or to be set apart wholly to the doing of the divine will. A man being trained as a soldier needs to be disciplined in order to know how to be a good soldier. To begin with, he will do many things the wrong way, so he needs to be trained. His training may not affect his moral standing as a man, but it does perfect him as a soldier.

It is thus that we are disciplined, trained, to be good soldiers of Jesus Christ. Our training does affect our whole being, morally, physically, and intellectually. It weans us away from all former viewpoints, hopes, and habits, and sets us apart wholly to the one great purpose to which we have dedicated our lives. Some of the training processes call for rebuking by the Lord, and chastening by his loving hand. If we do not have these experiences it means that we have not been accepted as sons. If we do have them, then this disciplinary training thus received is an evidence of God’s love for us.

The chastenings of the Lord are not joyous, but grievous, the apostle explains in verse eleven; but afterwards, if we are properly exercised thereby, they yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness, and in this fruitage we can rejoice. We are not joyful in the suffering, as such, but because the suffering is an evidence that God is dealing with us as sons, and that is real cause for rejoicing! It is another way in which we experience the joy of the Lord, the joy of faith. It is a joy that is ours by faith despite the influences which, from the standpoint of the natural man, would rob us of all joy.

Suffering as Christians

In I Peter 4:12-16, the apostle associates Christian joy with Christian suffering, and shows clearly the proper relationship between the two. We are not to think it “strange concerning the fiery trial” by which the Heavenly Father tests us. On the contrary, we are to “rejoice inasmuch as we are partakers of Christ’s sufferings.” We are to thus rejoice in Christ’s sufferings now, “that, when his glory shall be revealed, we may be glad also with exceeding joy.” What a prospect!

Yes, O blessed thought, we can rejoice because we are counted worthy of a share in Christ’s sufferings, and have this evidence of God’s favor. And, if we continue faithful to the end of the way, we will be glad with “exceeding joy.” This exceeding joy is evidently the fullness of joy, mentioned in our text—Psalm 15:11. We can have great joy and rejoicing now, even while we are still suffering with Christ, and being trained for future glory with him. And we can be in his presence now, in the sense of enjoying the smile of his favor, and having the opportunity of coming to the throne of grace in prayer.

But part of our present joy—yes, a large part of it—is based upon our hope of finally entering into the actual presence of our beloved Heavenly Father. What a hope! There we will find the fullness of joy of which now we have but a foretaste. If we have caught the true vision of God, we will long to know him better and to be able to serve him perfectly. Our souls will pant for him as the “hart panteth after the water brooks.” (Ps. 42:1) And when we hear that “Well done, … enter thou into the joy of thy Lord,” what rapture will it be! (Matt. 25:21) With such a prospect, how can any earthly thing be permitted to hinder our progress toward the heavenly goal?

Our present joys, deep and delightful as they should be, are but a foretaste of that fullness of joy yet to be realized. When that fullness of joy shall have been attained, it will be unmingled with trials and sufferings of any kind. The Hebrew word translated joy in our text, signifies, according to Professor Strong, ‘blithesomeness’, meaning ‘gay’ or ‘merry’. There will be nothing then to mar the joy of the faithful. The trials will have been ended, the battles will have been fought, and the victory won. There will be no more dark valleys—only the overflowing joy of continuous partnership with the Majesty on high, in the happy work of scattering blessings far and wide throughout his universe.

And it is in God’s presence that this blithesomeness will be experienced. As already noted, there is the actual presence of God, and there is a symbolic presence—the latter being a state or condition of harmony with him. Christ and the church will, throughout all the ages of eternity, have the privilege of entering into the actual presence of the Heavenly Father, and tongue nor pen can describe the continuous and incomparable joy which will be theirs, fullness of joy indeed, and pleasures forevermore!

The “Great Multitude” (Rev. 7:9), and the “Princes in all the earth” (Ps. 45:16), and the restored world of mankind, will rejoice together in the blessings of Jehovah’s symbolic presence. That is, they will have his full favor and blessing, and in that favor they, too, will rejoice with joy unspeakable. All tears will be wiped away. Tears are a symbol of sorrow, and it is God’s purpose to make an end of sorrow. When this purpose is fully accomplished, there will be fullness of joy in every part of God’s great universe, and all of his creatures will forever rejoice in the sunshine of his presence.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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