1. A holy joy in God, our privilege as well as our duty. -- 2. The Christian invited to the exercise of it. -- 3. By the consideration of temporal mercies. -- 4. And of spiritual favors. -- 5. By the views of eternal happiness. -- 6. And of the mercies of God to others, the living and the dead. -- 7. The chapter closes with an exhortation to this heavenly exercise. And with an example of the genuine workings of this grateful joy in God.
1. I WOULD now suppose my reader to find, on an examination of his spiritual state, that he is growing in grace. And if you desire that this growth may at once be acknowledged and promoted, let me call your soul |to that more affectionate exercise of love to God and joy in him,| which suits, and strengthens, and exalts the character of the advanced Christian; and which I beseech you to regard, not only as your privilege, but as your duty too. Love is the most sublime, generous principle, of all true and acceptable obedience; and with love, when so wisely and happily fixed, when so certainly returned, JOY, proportionable JOY, must naturally be connected. It may justly grieve a man that enters into the spirit of Christianity, to see how low a life even the generality of sincere Christians commonly live in this respect. |Rejoice then in the Lord, ye righteous, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness,| (Psa.97:12) and of all those other perfections and glories which are included in that majestic, that wonderful, that delightful name, THE LORD THY GOD. Spend not your sacred moments merely in confession or in petition, though each must have their daily share; but give a part, a considerable part, to the Celestial and angelic work of praise. Yea, labor to carry about with you continually, a heart overflowing with such sentiments, warmed and inflamed with such affections.
2. Are there not continually rays enough diffused from the great Father of light and love to enkindle it in our bosom? Come, my Christian friend and brother, come and survey with me the goodness of our heavenly Fattier. And oh! that he would give me such a sense of it, that I might represent it in a suitable manner, that |while I am musing, the fire may burn| in my own heart, (Psa.39:3) and be communicated to yours! And oh! that it might pass, with the lines I write, from soul to soul, awakening in the breast of every Christian that reads them, sentiments more worthy the children of God and the heirs of glory, who are to spend end an eternity in those sacred exercises to which I am now endeavoring to excite you.
3. Have you not reason to adopt the words of David, and say, How many are thy gracious thoughts unto me, O Lord!' how great is the sum of them! When I would count them, they are more in number than the sand.| (Psa.139:17,18) You indeed know where to begin the survey, for the favors of God to you began with your being. Commemorate it therefore with a grateful heart, that the eyes which |saw your substance, being yet imperfect,| beheld you with a friendly care |when you were made in secret,| and have watched over you ever since -- and that the hand which |drew the plan of your members, when as yet there was none of them,| (Psa.139:15,16) not only fashioned them at first, but from that time has been concerned in |keeping all your bones, so that none of them is broken,| (Psa.34:20) and that, indeed, it is to this you owe it that you live. Look back upon the path you have trod, from the day that God brought you out of the womb, and say whether you do not, as it were, see all the road thick set with the marks and memorials of the divine goodness. Recollect the places where you have lived, and the persons with whom you have most intimately conversed, and call to mind the mercies you have received in those places, and from those persons, as the instruments of the divine care and goodness. Recollect the difficulties and dangers with which you have been surrounded, and reflect attentively on what God hath done to defend you from them, or to carry you through them. Think how often there has been but a step between you and death, and how suddenly God has sometimes interposed to set you in safety, even before you apprehended your danger. Think of those chambers of illness in which you have been confined; and from whence, perhaps, you once thought you should go forth no more; but said, with Hezekiah, in the cutting off of your days, |I shall go to the gates of the grave: I am deprived of the residue of my years.| (Isa.38:10) God has, it may be, since that time, added many years to your life; and you know not how many are in reserve, or how much usefulness and happiness may attend each. Survey your circumstances in relative life; how ninny kind friends are surrounding you daily, and studying how they may contribute to your comfort. Reflect on those remarkable circumstances in Providence, which occasioned the knitting of some bonds of this kind, which, next to those which join your soul to God, you number among the happiest. And forget not in how many instances, when these dear lives have been threatened, lives perhaps more sensibly dear than your own God has given them back from the borders of the grave, and so added new endearments, arising from that tender circumstance, to all your after converse with them. Nor forget, in how gracious a manner he hath supported some others in their last moments, and enabled them to leave behind a sweet odor of piety, which hath embalmed their memories, revived you when ready to faint under the sorrows of the last separation, and, on the whole, made even the recollection of their death delightful.
4. But it is more than time that I lead on your thoughts to the many spiritual mercies which God has bestowed upon you. Look back, as it were, to |the rock from whence you were hewn, and to the hole of the pit from whence you were digged.| (Isa.1:1) Reflect seriously on the state wherein divine grace found you: under how much guilt, under how much pollution! in what danger, in what ruin! Think what was, and O think with yet deeper reflection. what would have been the case! The eye of God, which penetrates into eternity, saw what your mind, amused with the trifles of the present time and sensual gratification, was utterly ignorant and regardless of: it saw you on the borders of eternity, and pitied you; saw that you would in a little time have been such a helpless, wretched creature as the sinner that is just now dead, and has, to his infinite surprise and everlasting terror, met his unexpected doom; and would, like him, stand thunderstruck in astonishment and despair. This God saw, and he pitied you; and being merciful to you, he provided, in the counsel of his eternal love and grace, a Redeemer for you, and purchased you to himself, through the blood of his Son: a price which, if you will pause upon it, and think seriously what it was, must surely affect you to such a degree as to make you to fall down before God in wonder and shame, to think it should ever have been given for you. To accomplish these blessed purposes, he sent his grace into your heart; so that, though |you were once darkness, you are now light in the Lord.| (Eph.5:8) He made that happy change which you now feel in your soul, and |by his Holy Spirit, which is given to you,| he shed abroad that principle of love (Rom.5:5) which is enkindled by this review, and now flames with greater ardor than before. Thus far he hath supported you in your Christian course, and |having obtained help from him,| it is that you continue even to this day. (Acts 26:22) He hath not only blessed you, but |made you a blessing;| (Gen.12:2) and though you have not been so useful as that holy generosity of heart which he has excited would have engaged you to desire, yet some good you have done in the station in which he has fixed you. Some of your brethren of mankind have been relieved; perhaps, too, some thoughtless creature reclaimed to virtue and happiness by his blessing on your endeavors. Some in the way to heaven are praising God for you; and some, perhaps, already there, are longing for your arrival, that they may thank you, in nobler and more expressive forms, for benefits, the importance of which they now sufficiently understand, though while here, they could never conceive it.
5. Christian, look around on the numberless blessings, of one kind and of another, with which you are already encompassed; and advance your prospect still farther, to what faith yet discovers within the veil. Think of those now unknown transports with which thou shalt drop every burden in the grave; and thine immortal spirit shall mount, light and joyful, holy and happy to God, its original, its support, and its hope; to God, the source of being, of holiness, and of pleasure; to Jesus, through whom all these blessings are derived to thee, and who will appoint thee a throne near to his own, to be for ever a spectator and partaker of his glory. Think of the rapture with which thou shalt attend his triumph in the resurrection-day, and receive this poor, moldering, corruptible body, transformed into his glorious image; and then think, |These hopes are not mine alone, but the hopes of thousands and millions. Multitudes, whom I number among the dearest of my friends upon the earth, are rejoicing with me in these apprehensions and views; and God gives me sometimes to see the smiles on their cheeks, the sweet, humble hope that sparkles in their eyes and shines through the tears of tender gratitude, and to hear that little of their inward complacency and joy which language can express. Yea, and multitudes more, who were once equally dear to me with these, though I have laid them in the grave, and wept over the dust, are living to God, living in the possession of inconceivable delights, and drinking large draughts of the water of life, which flows in perpetual streams at his right hand.|
6. O Christian! thou art still intimately united and allied to them. Death cannot break a friendship thus cemented, and it ought not to render thee insensible of the happiness of those friends for whose memory thou retainest so just an honor. They live to God as his servants; they |serve him and see his face,| (Rev.22:3,4) and they make but a small part of that glorious assembly. Millions, equally worthy of thine esteem and affection with themselves, inhabit those blissful regions; and wilt thou not rejoice in their joy? And wilt thou not adore that everlasting spring of holiness and happiness from whence each of their streams is derived? Yea, I will add, while the blessed angels are so kindly regarding us, while they are ministering to thee, O Christian! and bearing thee in their arms, |as an heir of salvation,| (Heb.1:14) wilt thou not rejoice in their felicity too? And wilt thou not adore that God who gives them all the superior glory of their more exalted nature, and gives them a heaven, which fills them with blessedness even while they seem to withdraw from it, that they may attend on thee?
7. This, and infinitely more than this the blessed God is, and was, and shall ever be. The felicities of the blessed spirits that surround his throne, and thy felicities, O Christian! are immortal. These heavenly luminaries shall glow with an undecaying flame, and thou shalt shine and burn among them when the sun and the stars are gone out. Still shall the unchanging Father of lights pour forth his beams upon them; and the lustre they reflect from him, and their happiness in him, shall be everlasting, shall be ever growing. Bow down, O thou child of God, thou heir of glory; bow down, and let all that is within thee unite in one act of grateful love; and let all that is around thee, all that is before thee in the prospects of an unbounded eternity, concur to elevate and transport thy soul, that thou mayest, as far as possible, begin the work and blessedness of heaven, in falling down before the God of it, in opening thine heart to his gracious influences, and in breathing out before him that incense of praise which these warm beams of his presence and love have so great a tendency to produce, and to ennoble with a fragrancy resembling that of his paradise above.
The grateful Soul rejoicing in the Blessings of Providence and Grace, and pouring out itself before God in vigorous and affectionate Exercises of Love and Praise.
|O my God, it is enough! I have mused, and the fire burneth!' (Psa.39:3) But oh! in what language shall the flame break forth? What can a say but this, that my heart admires thee, and adores thee, and loves thee? My little vessel is as full as it can hold; and I would pour out all that fullness before thee, that it may grow capable of receiving more and more. Thou art my hope and my help; my glory, and the lifter up of my head.' (Psa.3:3) My heart rejoiceth in thy salvation' (Psa.13:5) and when I set myself under the influences of thy good Spirit to converse with thee, a thousand delightful thoughts spring up at once; a thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed, and flow in upon my soul with such refreshment and joy, that they seem to crowd into every moment the happiness of days, and weeks, and months.
|I bless thee, O God, for this soul of mine which thou hast created; which thou hast taught to say, and I hope to the happiest purpose, Where is God my Maker!' (Job 35:10) I bless thee for the knowledge with which thou hast adorned it. I bless thee for that grace with which I trust I may (not without humble wonder) say, thou hast sanctified it; though, alas! the celestial plant is fixed in too barren a soil, and does not flourish to the degree I could wish.
|I bless thee also for that body which thou hast given me, and which thou preservest as yet in its strength and vigor, not only capable of relishing the entertainments which thou providest for its various senses, but (which I esteem far more valuable than any of them for its own sake) capable of acting with some vivacity in thy service. I bless thee for that case and freedom with which these limbs of mine move themselves, and obey the dictates of my spirit, I hope as guided by thine. I bless thee that the keepers of my house do not tremble, nor the strong men bow themselves;' that they that look out of the windows are not yet darkened, nor the daughters of music brought low.' I bless thee, O God of my life! that the silver cord is not yet loosed, nor the golden bowl broken;' (Eccl.12:3,4,6) for it is thine hand that braces all my nerves, and thine infinite skill that prepares those spirits that flow in so freely; and when exhausted, recruit so soon and so plentifully. I praise thee for that royal bounty with which thou providest for the daily support of mankind in general, and for mine in particular; for the various tables which thou spreadest before me, and for the overflowing cup which thou puttest into my hands.' (Psa.23:5) I bless thee that these bounties of thy providence do not serve, as it were, to upbraid a disabled appetite, and are not like messes of meat set before the dead.' I bless thee too, that I eat not my morsel of meat alone,' (Job 31:17) but share it with so many agreeable friends, who add the relish of a social life to that of the animal, at our seasons of common repast. I thank thee for so many dear relatives at home, for so many kind friends abroad, who are capable of serving me in various instances, and disposed to make an obliging use of that capacity.
|Nor would I forget to acknowledge thy favor in rendering me capable of serving others, and giving me in any instance to know how much more blessed it is to give than to receive.' (Acts 20:35) I thank thee for a heart which feels the sorrows of the necessitous, and a mind which can make it my early care and refreshment to contrive, according to my little ability, for their relief; for this also cometh forth from thee, O Lord!' (Isa.28:29) the great Author of every benevolent inclination, of every prudent scheme, of every successful attempt to spread happiness around us, or in any instance to lessen distress.
|And surely, O Lord, if I thus acknowledge the pleasures of sympathy with the afflicted, much more must I bless thee for those of sympathy with the happy, with those that are completely blessed. I adore thee for the streams that water Paradise, and maintain it in ever-flourishing, ever-growing delight. I praise thee for the rest, the joy, the transport, thou art giving to many that were once dear to me on earth, whose sorrows it was my labor to soothe, and whose joys, especially in thee, it was the delight of my heart to promote. I praise thee for the blessedness of every saint, and of every angel that surrounds thy throne above; and I praise thee, with accents of distinguished pleasure for that reviving hope which thou hast implanted in my bosom, that I shall, ere long, know, by clear sight, and by everlasting experience, what that felicity of theirs is which I now only discover at a distance, through the comparatively obscure glass of faith. Even now, through thy grace, do I feel myself borne forward by thy supporting arm to those regions of blessedness. Even now am I waiting for thy salvation,' (Gen.49:18) with that ardent desire, on the one hand, which its sublime greatness cannot but inspire into the believing soul, and that calm resignation on the other, which the immutability of thy promise establishes.
|And now, O my God, what shall I say unto thee? what, but that I love thee above all the powers of language to express! That I love thee for what thou art to thy creatures, who are, in their various forms, every moment deriving being, knowledge and happiness from thee, in numbers and degrees far beyond what my narrow imagination can conceive. But, oh! I adore and love thee yet far more for what thou art in thyself; for those stores of perfection which creation has not diminished, and which can never be exhausted by all the effects of it which thou impartest to thy creatures; that infinite perfection which makes thee thine own happiness, thine own end; amiable, infinitely amiable and venerable, were all derived excellence and happiness forgot.
|O thou first, thou greatest, thou fairest of all objects! thou only great, thou only fair, possess all my soul! And surely thou dost possess it. While I thus feel thy sacred Spirit breathing on my heart, and exciting these fervors of love to thee, I cannot doubt it any more than I can doubt the reality of this animal life, while I exert the actings of it, and feel its sensations. Surely, if ever I knew the appetite of hunger, my soul hungers after righteousness, (Matt.5:6) and longs for a greater conformity to thy blessed nature and holy will. If ever my palate felt thirst, my soul thirsteth for God, even for the living God,' (Psa.42:2) and panteth for the more abundant communication of his favor. If ever this body, when wearied with labor or journies, knew what it was to wish for the refreshment of my bed, and rejoice to rest there, my soul, with sweet acquiescence, rests upon thy gracious bosom, O my heavenly Father, and returns to its repose in the embraces of its God, who hath dealt so bountifully with it.' (Psa.116:7) And if ever I saw the face of a beloved friend with complacency and joy, I rejoice in beholding thy face, O Lord, and in calling thee my Father in Christ. Such thou art, and such thou wilt be, for time and for eternity. What have I more to do, but to commit myself to thee for both? Leaving it to thee to choose my inheritance' and to order my affairs for me, (Psa.47:4) while all my business is to serve thee, and all my delight to praise thee. My soul follows hard after God,' because his right hand upholds me.' (Psa.63:8) Let it still bear me up, and I shall press on toward thee, till all my desires be accomplished in the eternal enjoyment of thee! Amen'