FULLNESS OF JOY PART ONE
1 John 1:4
“These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.”
For the benefit of young preachers (and also those of God’s people who desire to form the habit of studying Scripture more closely) we may say that we began our own examination and meditation of this verse by framing the following questions, and then seeking answers thereto.
Exactly what is referred to by the “these things”?
Why the “we write” rather than the “I write” as in 2:1, 12 & 26?
What is the connection between the “these things” and the “fullness of joy”?
What is the nature of the joy here spoken of?
Is a “fullness” of it attainable in this life?
Are we to read it as “that your joy may be full” or “our joy” as in the R.V. and in Bagster’s Interlinear?
The results of our own searchings and ponderings will now be set before the reader, though we shall not adhere strictly to the order of those six queries. Personally, we have found that by means of such interrogations we are enabled to make a more definite approach to a verse, and thereby obtain something better than a general and vague idea of its contents.
“And these things write we unto you.” We believe there is a twofold reference. As the opening word indicates, the principal allusion is unto that which immediately precedes. Here again the link connecting one verse with another is quite evident, and the order of their contents corresponds exactly with Christian experience. First, a setting forth of God’s Son as incarnate, and our saving apprehension of Him as such by His revelation to the soul as “the Word of life;” for as it is rationality and the exercise of it which fits men to be companionable with one another, so it is our being made recipients of a spiritual life which capacitates us to have intercourse with God. Second, the actual enjoyment of intimate fellowship with the Triune God in and through the Mediator, and with all His children as the consequence. Third, fullness of joy as the outcome. Thus the former stands related to the latter as does cause to effect, the tree to the fruit, the means to the end. And here too the one is commensurate with the other: as the measure of our fellowship with the Father and the Son determines the measure of our communion with fellow saints, so in proportion to the constancy and depth of this fellowship in its three forms will be the degree of our joy.
More closely still verse 4 intimates one of the essential characteristics of the communion referred to in verse 3: that it is a fellowship of joy—the sharing together of a mutual delight. Thus we see once more the deep importance of paying close attention to the immediate context, that we may be better enabled to follow the order of thought and development of the subject under discussion. It is by observing the precise relation of one verse to another that much light is cast upon the whole, and the significance and perspective of each detail is more clearly perceived. But more largely the words “And these things write we unto you” must be regarded as including all that follows, for not only do verses 5-7 show that the subject of fellowship is there still under discussion, but John’s specific design in writing this epistle was to lead God’s children into a deeper and fuller experiential fellowship, with the resultant happiness inseparable there from. The whole contents of this epistle are to be regarded as a making known of the various means which promote both our fellowship with God and the increase of our joy in Him, and a setting forth of the different things which hinder the same.
John’s purpose in saying, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not,” (2:1) was to warn against what would—if allowed and unrepented of—break their fellowship and quench their joy. When he exhorts them, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world,” (2:15), he is telling us that any undue familiarity with those who are God’s enemies, or any inordinate affection for the creature, is inimical to our communion with and delighting ourselves in Him. Likewise, his “These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you,” (2:26) signifies that they must ever be on their guard against false prophets, lest their joy be blighted by erroneous teaching. Fellowship with God must not be looked for outside the way of His assignment or the order which He has appointed: therefore we must earnestly avoid all tampering with sin, deny our curiosity to hear or read the proponents of strange doctrine, and flirt not with the world. Finally, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life,” (5:13) was but a repetition in thought though varied in language of verse 4, for there can be no fullness of joy while the soul is in a state of uncertainty of its acceptance in the Beloved.
“And these things write we unto you.” It will be remembered that John had employed the plural number throughout verses 1-3, for he was not only relating the special privileges which had been enjoyed by the twelve, but was speaking there as their mouthpiece. He longed that all of God’s children should (so far as their case admitted) enter into the same free and familiar intercourse with God in Christ. “That ye also may have fellowship with us,” (v. 3) imported that ye may enter more fully into an experiential knowledge of the truth set forth in verses 1 and 2, and thereby participate in the ineffable joy which comes through a believing apprehension of it; for Christian ‘fellowship” consists of association of heart, attachment to the same objects, having together thoughts, affections, hopes and joys in common. Thus it was at the beginning, and has (in varying degrees of intelligence) continued throughout this age. “They that gladly received His word were baptized...and they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship,” (Acts 2:41, 42). Moreover, the saints are “built upon the foundation of the apostles [cf. Rev. 21:14] and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone,” (Eph. 2:20), which means that the doctrine which the apostles taught, and which is embodied for us in their writings, is the basis on which the Church rests.
Observe two things in the last-quoted Scripture. First, the plural number used again. The Church is not built upon Peter, as Rome erroneously insists, but, doctrinally considered, rests upon the teaching of the whole of the apostles—who were also “prophets,” i.e. endued with the gift of Divine utterance. But second, the Lord Jesus is “the chief corner stone,” for the entire validity and efficacy of the apostles’ testimony lay in the name of Him whose witnesses they were. In his second epistle Peter said, “I now write unto you ... that ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord,” (3:1-2). Though each of them wrote on different subjects, with a particular end and design, they were all inspired by the one Spirit. Characteristically speaking Paul was the apostle of faith, Peter of hope, John of love, James of good works, while Jude warned against apostasy or the abandonment of such. Being of one heart and soul, having the same desire and mission, it was fitting for anyone to speak in the name of them all, using the term “we.” They proclaimed the same Gospel and bore witness to the excellence of the same Christ. Their aim was ever the same: to make Him known and gain unto Him a glorious name. Whenever they wrote, it was in order to build up the saints. In their doctrine they differed not one iota.
The fountain from which all spiritual joy proceeds is that blessed One who is set before us in the foregoing verses. As He expressly declared, “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life,” (John 4:14). It is in intimate contact and converse with Christ that real communion with Him consists and satisfaction is found: in seeing, hearing, handling Him—we can only “handle” one who is near and dear to us. It is by having the mind engaged with His perfections and beauty, meditating thereon and reveling therein, that the heart is drawn out to Him. Nothing so warms and nourishes a Christian’s soul as a believing and adoring contemplation of the One who loved him and gave Himself for him. We should therefore see to it that, above all else, a realization of Christ’s surpassing love is kept fresh in our hearts; for this, in turn, will move us to seek yet closer and more constant fellowship with Him. That was the source and spring of Christ’s own joy—His absorption with the Father’s love unto Him: “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hands,” (John 3:35). Note how frequently He dwelt upon the Father’s love: (John 5:20; 15:9; 17:23 and 24.)
Fullness of joy is something which all men desire, but which very few attain unto. Nor is that difficult to explain: they seek it in the wrong place. Alas that many of God’s people are so often guilty of making the same mistake. In the pride of their hearts, they want to find something of self to rejoice in; yielding to a spirit of legality, they look for happiness in their own experiences or attainments. But that is to miss the substance and chase the shadows. As it is with our natural eyes, so with our spiritual: they are designed to look at external objects and not internal ones, “Rejoice in the Lord”, and that “always,” (Phil. 4:4 ) is the delightful task which faith is to engage in. All real happiness is bound up in Him. Every other joy but that which issues from fellowship with the Lord is but a counterfeit one. That is sensual, as the rich fool’s “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry,” (Luke 12:19); this is spiritual. The one is superficial and temporary; the other solid and lasting. The former comforts only in health and during a season of prosperity; whereas the latter sustains upon a bed of pain, cheers the soul in times of affliction, yea, enables its possessor to exult at the prospect of death.
Now this joy is not to be regarded as a luxury, but rather as a spiritual necessity. We are obligated to be glad in God. It is something more than a sacred privilege, namely a bounden duty unto which we are expressly commanded. “Let all those that put their trust in Thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because Thou defendest them: let them also that love Thy name be joyful in Thee,” (Ps. 5:11). “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart,” (Ps. 32:11). “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice,” (Phil. 4:4). “Rejoice evermore,” (1 Thess. 5:16). If we do not give unto Him, who is so excellent in Himself and so gracious and beneficial unto us, that esteem which rises to the degree of rejoicing in Him, then we sadly fail in rendering to Him that honor which is His due. Our thoughts and valuation of Him are utterly unworthy unless they bring us so to delight ourselves in Him as to fill us with joy. While we seek God’s favor in Christ, live in obedience to His will, and rest in His love, we are warranted to keep a holy feast continually.
It is certainly not the revealed will of Christ that His followers should walk through this world in a spirit of dejection: rather are they a reproach unto Him if they do so. One chief reason why the Lord Jesus uttered His high priestly prayer in the presence of His disciples was that they might be filled with comfort and good cheer: “These things speak I in the world [in order] that they might have My joy fulfilled in themselves,” (John 17:13). He was about to leave them and return to the Father, and He would dispel their sorrow and fill them with holy gladness by apprehensions of His joy. And of what did that consist? First, the realization that He had glorified the Father in the place where He had been so grievously slighted (v. 1). Second, that He had finished the work given Him to do (v. 4). Third, that He was about to return to that ineffable glory which He had with the Father before the world was (v. 5). Christ was rejoicing at the prospect before Him, and He would have His disciples make His joy theirs. We are to rejoice in a triumphant Saviour who completed the work of our redemption. We are to rejoice in the blessed fact that the head once crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now. The knowledge of this should banish all gloom and fill us with joy unspeakable.
But more, by giving us the wondrous privilege of hearing His prayer in John 17, Christ has made it known that His changed position has made no alteration in His attitude toward us, that His love for His people has not diminished in the least. By His generous act on that memorable occasion Christ assured His disciples (and us) that when He entered into His well-earned reward and took His seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, His thoughts would still be engaged with His redeemed. They were inexpressibly dear unto Him—as the Father’s gift to Him, and as the travail of His own soul. Their names were inscribed upon the palms of His hands, yea, upon His very heart. He could not forget them: rather would He occupy Himself on high by constantly pleading their cause. If our hearts are suitably affected with the amazing fact that our great High Priest “ever liveth to make intercession for us,” (Heb. 7:25), we cannot but be full of joy. A considerable part of our happiness is to contemplate Christ’s joy in us! He rejoiced in His people before the world was made (Prov. 8:31), He rejoices now in and over them to do them good (Jer. 32:41), and He will express it even more abundantly when He brings them home unto Himself.
Further. The joy of the Christian will be promoted and increased by observing the various things for which Christ here petitioned the Father in John 17, for in them we discover what are the desires of His heart unto “His own.” First, He prayed for their preservation: “Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom Thou hast given Me,” (v. 11). Second, He sought their jubilation: “That they might have My joy fulfilled in themselves,” (v. 13). Third, for their emancipation from sin: “that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil,” (v. 15), so that none of them should be overwhelmed by it. Fourth, for their consecration: “sanctify them through Thy truth,” (v. 17), that they may grow in grace and adorn their profession. Fifth, for their unification: “that they all may be one,” (v. 21), which will be fully realized when “we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” (Eph 4:13). Sixth, for their association with Himself: “that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am,” (v. 24). Seventh, for their eternal gratification: “that they may behold My glory,” (v. 24). Since all these requests will be granted (John 11:42), what cause have we constantly and fervently to rejoice!
Yet further, Christ has made most gracious provision for the joy of His people in the gift of the Comforter. When His disciples were dismayed and dejected at the prospect of His departure, we find that again and again He reassured and cheered them by the promise of the Holy Spirit. “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you,” (John 14:18), which He did in a most blessed manner on the day of Pentecost. Then it was that their sorrow was “turned into joy. The Comforter is here not only to convict of sin and bring souls unto repentance, but, following that operation, to fill them with gladness and to experience “joy in the Holy Spirit,” (Rom. 14:17). This He does by opening and blessing the Word, by taking of the things of Christ and showing the same unto them, by witnessing with their spirits that they are the sons of God, by producing in them the spirit of praise. The blessed Spirit uses the words of Christ, especially those of John 17, to work upon the renewed mind, giving it some blessed apprehensions of the joy of which Christ is both the object and the subject, of the joy which comes from Him and centers in Him, bringing us into communion with the same and making our souls realize the satisfying portion we have in Him.
A word now on the nature of this joy. That is the more necessary since not a few are apt to naturalize and carnalize the same, regarding it as a mere spirit of elation or happy feeling of exhilaration. Instead, it is a heavenly grace, a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), and therefore something spiritual, supernatural, and Divine. God is alike its Author, Object and Maintainer. As the peace which He gives “passeth all understanding,” (Phil. 4:7), so the joy He communicates is said to be “unspeakable,” (1 Pet. 1:8)—not only excelling sense, but beyond full comprehension. It is an elevation of soul after the Lord and of things above. It is a delighting ourselves in God, for since all happiness be the enjoyment of the chief good, then all felicity is bound up in Him. Joy is heaven begun in the saint, for his blessedness here and hereafter differs not in kind but only in degree. It is therefore a joy which is pure and unalloyed. As spiritual love is far more than a sentiment, as God’s peace is more excellent than mere placidity or tranquility of mind, so the joy which Christ imparts to the believer is vastly superior to any natural emotion. It is a state of exultation, a complacence of heart, a full satisfaction of soul as it feasts upon a perfect Object.
Spiritual joy results from the heart’s being engaged with the Lord: “My soul shall be joyful in the Lord: it shall rejoice in His salvation,” (Ps. 35:9). “Because Thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise Thee. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise Thee with joyful lips,” (Ps. 63:3 & 5). We rejoice that all our sins are forgiven, that we are accepted in the Beloved, that we are made the friends of God, that our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life, that we have a building of God eternal in the heavens. Such a joy is something to which the natural man is a total stranger: “Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased,” (Ps. 4:7)—the love of God and His goodness to us in Christ affords a pleasure and a satisfaction which no creature can. Spiritual joy is a very different thing from mere exuberance of spirits or ecstatic feelings, being entirely a holy and supernatural experience. No matter what may be his circumstances in this world, the Christian has ground and matter for rejoicing at all times, and is called upon to do so “evermore” being assured “your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you,” (John 16:22).
In view of what has been pointed out in the last two paragraphs, the Christian reader should more readily perceive the radical difference there is between natural hilarity and spiritual joy. The former is incapable of rising above the woes of earth. It wanes in the presence of life’s hardships. Its bloom departs when the sun of prosperity is beclouded. It cannot survive the loss of health or of loved ones. Vastly different is the joy of the Lord. It is restricted neither to surroundings nor temperaments, and fluctuates not with our varying moods or circumstances. Nature may indeed assert itself, as Christ wept by the grave of Lazarus, yet its possessor can say with Paul, “as sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” When the hurricane lashes the surface of the sea, the heart of it is undisturbed. Grace enables us to glory even in tribulations (Rom 5:3). While the bodies of the martyrs were burning at the stake, hallelujahs were on their lips. Joy is quite consistent with godly sorrow, for each fresh discovery of the worthlessness of self should lead us closer to God.