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Chapter 6

1 John 1:4

And these things write we unto you that your joy [and “ours”] may be full.”

A common desire animated and regulated the apostles: to promote the glory of their Master and the good of His people—the two things being inseparably connected. They had them­selves experienced the unspeakable blessing and blessedness of intimate fellowship with Christ, and the bliss which ever accom­panies it, and therefore they longed that their fellow saints should, according to their measure, freely and fully participate in the same. They desired that their converts should be bright and buoyant Christians, whose hearts would rise above the trials and troubles of this life, rejoicing in the Lord, finding their satisfying and everlasting portion in Him. Accordingly, they one and all, in both their oral and written ministry, employed themselves in set­ting forth the person and perfections, the offices and work, the Lordship and example, of the Christ of God, knowing full well that it was only by means of a spiritual knowledge of His excel­lency, an interest in His salvation, the maintaining of a close walk and daily communion with Him, that fullness of joy would be experienced in the souls of those whose welfare they had so much at heart.

Those words “that your joy may be full” were not penned by an inexperienced visionary or youthful dreamer, aglow with an enthusiasm which would shortly be dampened by bitter disillu­sionment. Instead, they were written by a very aged person who was thoroughly acquainted with the dark side of life, with the sins and sorrows which beset a Christian, and who knew that it was through “much tribulation” that any entered into the king­dom of God (Act 14:22). But it was to no mere natural emotion he had reference—an exuberance of spirit suited only to high festivals, an enthusiasm raised to the point of excitement. Radi­cally different is the spiritual joy which he had in view. This is a Divine grace communicated to and situate in the depths of the soul, which the storms of this world cannot reach. It is something which is suited to everyday life and work, for it is a calm and serene frame of mind as well as a happy state of heart. Far more was implied than actually expressed in John’s language, for where fullness of joy exists there is a separation from the world, a close fellowship with God in Christ, a treading of wisdom’s ways, and thus the Lord is honored and His people helped.

Fellowship with the Lord is the grand marvel of redemption, and a fullness of joy in the redeemed is its crowning blessing. In Christ there is matter for perpetual delight. “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound [of the Gospel]: they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance. In Thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in Thy righteousness shall they be exalted,” (Ps. 89:15-16). Such is the believer’s right and privilege, and if it be not actually realized in his experience the fault is all his own. The ministers of the Word are “helpers of your joy,” (2 Cor. 1:24). The one who feeds thereon will exclaim, “Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart,” (Jer. 15:16). How the heart is gladdened by answered prayers (Ps. 116:1)! We have great reason to “call the sabbath a delight,” (Isa. 58:13), to “rejoice and be glad in it,” (Ps. 118:24). Contemplations of God’s perfections: “My meditation of Him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord,” (Ps. 104:34). The one who is baptized should “go on his way rejoicing,” (Acts 8:39). The Lord’s supper is a spiritual feast for the elevating of the Christian’s heart.

Piety, peace and joy are what ought most to characterize the saints. To “worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh,” (Phil. 3:3) are the marks of the true circumcision. There are three things in connection with that rejoicing. First, an apprehension of our saving interest in Christ and of the glorious benefits we have by Him, for other­wise how can we glory in Him (1 Cor. 1:30-31)? Second, corre­sponding affections which result therefrom: love to Him, exultation of soul, feasting upon Him, joy in Him. Third, an open expression of the same: evidencing that our satisfying portion in Him has made us lose all relish for the things of the world. What we prize most best demonstrates what we are, for where a man’s treasure is there will his heart be also (Matt. 6:21). Each of us is discovered by his complacency or displacency: “They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit,” (Rom 8:5). Thus to be comparatively miserable manifests a Christian to be in a back­slidden state, and places a question mark on the genuineness of his profession. A miserable believer is no credit to Christ, and has a depressing effect upon his brethren.

The advantages and benefits of spiritual joy are real, many, and great. It diffuses sunshine over the whole life, supplying vigor for service, lightening our cares, animating for conflict, and making obedience a delight. Joy enlarges the heart and quickens us in the way of God: “the joy of the Lord is your strength,” (Neh. 8:10). It overcomes that natural deadness and dullness in holy duties which arises partly from indwelling cor­ruptions and partly from the remissness of our wills toward heav­enly things. But when there is rejoicing in Christ, irksome and difficult tasks become pleasant and easy. The joy of the Lord is His cordial to fortify us against the infelicities and calamities of this world, whether they be the common afflictions incident to men or persecutions for righteousness’ sake—making bitter things sweet to us (see Hab. 3:17-18). It enables us to bear opposition and reproaches with courage and constancy: “They departed ... rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name,” (Act 5:41). It greatly encourages and cheers our fellows: “My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof and be glad,” (Ps. 34:2).

We cannot prosper in our souls nor flourish in the house of the Lord unless we be assured of that peace which He has made by the blood of His cross and are daily delighting ourselves in Him. Yet, though the Saviour has not only made His redeemed secure for eternity, but would have them happy in time, the fact remains that many of them are frequently oppressed with dull­ness and despondency. God does not appear to be the light of their countenance, and their spirits seem to have caught little of heaven’s luster. If they be children of light and of the day, why is it that they are so often gloomy and cast down, and manifest so little of that brightness which should mark those who have been given “everlasting consolation and good hope through grace,” (2 Thess. 2:16)? No doubt cases differ considerably, and a variety of causes account for the failure of so many to enjoy their birthright. Space will permit us to name only two or three of the principal hindrances.

Prominent among them is a defective ministry. In view of our text we place this first. How few ministers could warrantably say, “These things preach we unto you that your joy may be full!” What numbers of them are almost forever talking about the increased wickedness which is in the world, the likelihood of another war, the menace of the atom bomb, or the waning spiritu­ality of the churches—things that tend to horrify rather than edify, to depress rather than delight their hearers. Many others confine themselves very largely to a dwelling upon the shortcomings and failures of God’s people as though it were most desirable for them to cherish doubts and fears. Others are all for the performance of duty and discharge of obligations which, if stressed disproportion­ately, can but promote a proud and legal spirit. There is so very little of that preaching of Christ, which draws out the renewed heart unto Him, which leads to a closer walking and more inti­mate communing with Him, and which not only fills the saints with joy but at the same time instills a deep abhorrence of sin and inspires a stronger desire to honor and please Him.

Second, the lack in many Christians of a definite assurance of their acceptance. How can one experience the peace of being reconciled to God, or the joy of knowing his sins are forgiven, while he be constantly debating whether or not he be His child? Not a few of His people dishonor the Father’s gift to them of His Son, in whom they have redemption and eternal life, by not estimating that gift at its true value. They do not take God at His word and believe that the death of Christ has cancelled all the guilt of His people, that He will by no means cast out any sinner who comes to Him for salvation and that through Him they have full access and welcome to the Father’s house and heart. They have not really learnt the first lesson of the Gospel—the sufficiency of the Divine love. “Not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” (1 John 4:9,10); and consequently they withhold from Him that full confidence which the manifestation of such love calls for, and which He delights to receive from those upon whom He has bestowed such favors.

Third, even when a Christian is well assured of his salvation he may dim and dampen the joy of it by failing to walk as a child of light (Eph. 5:8). To do so he must cast off the “unfruitful works of darkness,” so far and so soon as he discovers them to be such. God hates sin, and sent His Son to save us from our sins. If then we turn again to folly, yield to the lusts of the flesh, and “allow” evil in our hearts and lives, then the Holy One will withdraw from us the light of His countenance. Yet even in this case He has made most gracious provision for our immediate and complete restora­tion to the knowledge of His favor and the joy of His smile: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” (1Jo 1:9). The moment any emotion, thought or deed is revealed to us as sin, we should penitently confess the same and then rejoice in the Divine declaration that the blood of Christ has washed away all the stain of it. Thus if we live up to our holy privilege, not even our sins should cloud the sunshine of God’s love or destroy the happy consciousness that He dwells in us and we in Him.

When John penned the words, “These things write we unto you, that your joy may be full,” it is highly probable that he had in mind those statements which he had heard from his Master: “These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy may be full,” (John 15:11); “These things speak I in the world, that they might have My joy fulfilled in themselves,” (John 17:13). It is to be carefully observed that both these utterances fell from the lips of the Saviour upon the night of His betrayal. Very remarkable and blessed is it to hear Him—with the terrible crucifixion staring Him in the face—speaking of His joy. What a proof that spiritual joy is in no wise created or regulated by circumstances or external conditions! And how those striking declarations ought to correct a one-sided view which only too many have taken of Christ’s earthly life! Here too there is a balance to be preserved. He was indeed “a man of sor­rows and acquainted with grief,” in a measure and degree which none else ever has been or can be, for His human sensibilities were more refined than ours. His were undulled by sin, and therefore He felt the effects of sin far more keenly and had a greater capacity for pain than we have.

The sorrows and sufferings of Christ were many, poignant, inconceivable. It could not be otherwise with One of infinite purity surrounded by those who were hostile to God and endur­ing the contradiction of sinners against Himself. And while we must always keep sight of that fact and be deeply affected with the same in our souls, it is not to exclude from our view and thoughts the other side of His experience. Because He was a man of sorrows we are not to conclude that He was a miserable and melancholy person, that during the years He trod this earth He was a stranger unto joy. Admittedly we enter here the realm of mystery, and need to tread very cautiously and reverently, with unshodden feet; yet we must not close our eyes to what is clearly revealed in the Scriptures. Not only must we bear in mind that the One who then tabernacled in this scene of wickedness was God as well as man, not only need we to distinguish sharply between what He endured officially and what He experienced personally, but we are also required to take into careful consider­ation what is said of Him in the Psalms as well as in the Gospels if we are to obtain the complete picture.

That the Lord Jesus possessed a real, deep, and abiding joy is clear not only from His own utterances in John 15 and 17, but is equally evident from other considerations. He could aver, (to declare to be true). “The Lord is the portion of Mine inheritance and of My cup,” and add, “therefore My heart is glad,” (Ps. 16:5 & 9)—Jehovah was unto Him a fount of ceaseless consolation. As the connection between 1 John 1:3 & 4, imports, joy is inseparable from fellowship, and since the Son enjoyed unbroken fellowship with the Father until the three hours of darkness, fullness of joy must have been experienced by Him Again, Christ found infinite satisfaction in dis­charging the commission assigned Him—“My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work,” (John 4:34). God’s commandments were never irksome or grievous to Him in the slightest degree, but rather were most blessed, as His “I delight to do Thy will, O My God,” (Ps. 40:8) attests. Wisdom’s ways are “ways of pleasantness,” (Prov. 3:17), and Christ ever walked therein. He found His joy in concurring with the Father’s appoint­ments: since God had ordered His lot, though He had not where to lay His head, He declared, “The lines are fallen unto Me in pleas­ant places,” (Ps. 16:6). Contemplating the Father as “Lord of heaven and earth,” sovereignly hiding truth from one and reveal­ing it to another, Christ “rejoiced in spirit” and said, “even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight,” (Luke 10:21).

Think not, then, of Christ during His earthly life as but “a man of sorrows:” contemplate Him too as One who was filled with joy. That the two things are in nowise incompatible is clear from the apostle’s experience: “as sorrowful, yet alway rejoic­ing,” (2 Cor. 6:10). Christ’s joy consisted not only in the things which we have mentioned above, but also in the assurance of the Father’s full approbation that was ever His: that He did “always those things that pleased Him,” (John 8:29). He found, too, unspeakable comfort in His consciousness of the Father’s abid­ing presence: “He that sent Me is with Me: the Father hath not left Me alone,” (John 8:29). Since holiness and happiness are inseparably conjoined, deep joy must have been the portion of the Holy One, for He ever walked in the light of God’s counte­nance. What joy was His in the saving of sinners appears from His “layeth it [the recovered sheep] on His shoulders, rejoicing,” (Luke 15:5). Finally, He endured the cross “for the joy that was set before Him,” (Heb. 12:2)—in faith’s apprehension and hope’s anticipation of the reward for His perfect work, He rejoiced.

We come now to the question, Is fullness of joy attainable by the Christian in this life? Assuredly it must be, or John had never written our present text. Assuredly it must be, for why did the Lord Jesus say unto His disciples, “These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full,” (John 15:11)? Therein Christ told out the fullness of His heart, intimating His desire concerning His own. If it were not attainable, then why has the Saviour also bidden us, “Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full,” (John 16:24)? Ah, is not the littleness and feebleness of our joy due to the paucity of our faith and the smallness of our hope? Has not the eternal Lover of our souls freely invited us, “Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly,” (Song 5:1)? If fullness of joy be not experienced by us, then certainly we are living far below our privi­leges. The straitness is in ourselves, and not in Him or His revealed will. The Lord knows all about our temperaments, circumstances, trials and corruptions, yet, notwithstanding, bids us “rejoice evermore,” (1 Thess. 5:16), having made full provision for us to do so.

Did not this same John say to those whom he addressed in his second epistle, “I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full,” (v. 12)? Nor can we legiti­mately set aside the force of all these passages by saying they express the ideal rather than the actual, that they set before us the standard at which we are to aim, and not what is realized by any soul in this time state. Such an evasion is at once ruled out of court by Acts 13:52, “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit”—and they were men subject to like tempta­tions and passions as we are! As pardoned sinners, accepted in Christ, made sons and heirs of God, we should “rejoice in the Lord always.” We must not be content with a fitful and occa­sional joy, but rather see to it that we keep this holy fire ever aflame upon the altar of our hearts. It is both our privilege and our right to feed and feast upon the Lamb and satisfy our soul unto a holy satiety.

Throughout our exposition of 1 John 1:4, we have followed the Authorized Version, but a word requires to be said upon the Revised rendering: “that our [“the apostles”] joy may be full.” Really, it comes to the same thing, for the joy of the minister is largely bound up in the spiritual prosperity of those to whom he ministers—their happiness being mutual. Paul called the Philip­pians his “joy and crown,” (4:1), and said of the Thessalonians, “Ye are our glory and joy,” (1 Thess. 2:20): while John said to those addressed in his second epistle, “I rejoice greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth,” (v. 4), and in his third epistle, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth,” (v. 4). As the saints are partakers of the joy of God’s servants, so they, in turn, of theirs, for they rejoice in the same Saviour.

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