“Always respond to every impulse to pray. The impulse to pray may come when you are reading or when you are battling with a text. I would make an absolute law of this – always obey such an impulse. Where does it come from? It is the work of the Holy Spirit; it is a part of the meaning of ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure’ (Phil 2:12-13). This often leads to some of the most remarkable experiences in the life of the minister. So never resist, never postpone it, never push it aside because you are busy. Give yourself to it, yield to it; and you will find not only that you have not been wasting time with respect to the matter with which you are dealing but that actually it has helped you greatly in that respect. You will experience an ease and a facility in understanding what you were reading, in thinking, in ordering matter for a sermon, in writing, in everything which is quite astonishing. Such a call to prayer must never be regarded as a distraction; always respond to it immediately, and thank God if it happens to you frequently.”
(Preaching and Preachers (Zondervan, 1972), p. 170-171; from Chapter 9, “The Preparation of the Preacher.”
“Preaching must always be theological, always based on a theological foundation. . . . A type of preaching that is sometimes . . . regarded as non-theological is evangelistic preaching. . . . You ‘bring people to Christ’ as they put it; and then you teach them the truth. It is only subsequently that theology comes in. That, to me, is quite wrong, and indeed nonsense. I would be prepared to argue that in many ways evangelistic preaching should be more, rather than less theological, than any other, and for this good reason. Why is it that you call people to repent? Why do you call them to believe the gospel? You cannot deal properly with repentance without dealing with the doctrine of man, the doctrine of the Fall, the doctrine of sin and the wrath of God against sin. Then when you call me to come to Christ and to give themselves to Him, how can you do so without knowing who He is, and on what grounds you invite them to come to Him, and so on. In other words it is all highly theological. Evangelism which is not theological is not evangelism at all in any true sense. It may be a calling for decisions, it may be calling on people to come to religion, or to live a better kind of life, or the offering of some psychological benefits; but it cannot by any definition be regarded as Christian evangelism, because there is no true reason for what you are doing, apart from these great theological principles. I assert therefore that every type of preaching must be theological, including evangelistic preaching.”
(Preaching and Preachers (Zondervan: 1971), p. 64-65.
“Stories and illustrations are only meant to illustrate truth, not to call attention to themselves. This whole business of illustrations and story-telling has been a particular curse during the last hundred years. I believe it is one of the factors that accounts for the decline in preaching because it helped to give the impression that preaching was an art, an end in itself. There have undoubtedly been many who really prepared a sermon simply in order to be able to use a great illustration. . . . The illustration had become the first thing; you then find a text which is likely to cover this. In other words the heart of the matter had become the illustration. But that is the wrong order. The illustration is meant to illustrate truth, not to show itself, not to call attention to itself; it is a means of leading and helping people to see the truth that you are enunciating and proclaiming still more clearly. The rule therefore should always be that the truth must be pre-eminent and have great prominence, and illustrations must be used sparsely and carefully to that end alone. Our business is not to entertain people. . . .”
“A preacher should go into the pulpit to . . . proclaim the Truth itself. . . . Everything else is but to minister to this end. Illustrations are just servants. . . . I am prepared to go so far as to say that if you use too many illustrations in your sermon your preaching will be ineffective. To do so always means loss of tension. There is the type of preacher who after saying a few words says, ‘I remember’ – then out comes the story. Then after a few more remarks again, ‘I remember’. This means that the theme, the thrust of the Truth, is constantly being interrupted; it becomes staccato, and in the end you feel that you have been listening to a kind of after-dinner speaker or entertainer and not to a man proclaiming a grand and a glorious Truth. If such preachers become popular, and they frequently do, they are popular only in a bad sense, because they are really nothing but popular entertainers.”
(Preaching and Preachers (Zondervan: 1971), p. 232-234.)
“Some people seem to think that preaching consists of a running commentary on a passage of Scripture. A man may take a verse or a passage, and he may give you the meaning of the words, he may divide it and open it up; but still I say that is not preaching…(Harry Ironside’s) method was to take a paragraph of Scripture, perhaps a whole chapter, often a whole book, and he would analyse it for you and give you its component parts. In a technical sense what he did was give a running commentary on a section or on a book, in the course of which he would add illustrations here and there…His books were very popular. They had an influence in your country (America), and in ours (England), in the direction of making people imagine that that is preaching. Of course, the argument was that this method is more biblical, but I think that was a complete fallacy.”
(Knowing the Times, ibid., p. 268)
“What is a sermon? What is the difference between a sermon and a Bible lecture or an exposition of a passage? As I see it, it is that a sermon is always a whole, an entity, a message…A sermon is more than running comments. It must have form, it is a complete message, and it leads to a particular end…this is, to me, a very vital point of distinction between an exposition of a passage and a sermon.”
(Knowing the Times, ibid., p. 269)
“What is Preaching? Logic on fire! Eloquent reason! Are these contradictions? Of course they are not. Reason concerning this Truth ought to be mightily eloquent, as you see it in the case of the Apostle Paul and others. It is theology on fire. And a theology which does not take fire, I maintain, is a defective theology; or at least the man’s understanding of it is defective. Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire. A true understanding and experience of the Truth must lead to this. . . . A man who can speak about these things dispassionately has no right whatsoever to be in a pulpit; and should never be allowed to enter one.”
“What is the chief end of preaching? . . . To give men and women a sense of God and His presence. . . . I can forgive a man for a bad sermon, I can forgive the preacher almost anything if he gives me a sense of God, if he gives me something for my soul, if he gives me the sense that, though he is inadequate himself, he is handling something which is very great and very glorious, if he gives me some dim glimpse of the majesty and the glory of God, the love of Christ my Saviour, and the magnificence of the Gospel. If he does that I am his debtor, and I am profoundly grateful to him. Preaching is the most amazing, and the most thrilling activity that one can ever be engaged in, because of all that it holds out for all of us in the present, and because of the glorious endless possibilities in an eternal future.”
(Preaching and Preachers, Zondervan, 1971. p. 97-98. )
“I would say that a ‘dull preacher’ is a contradiction in terms; if he is dull he is not a preacher. He may stand in a pulpit and talk, but he is certainly not a preacher.”
“The man who is called by God is a man who realizes what he is called to do, and he so realizes the awfulness of the task that he shrinks from it. Nothing but this overwhelming sense of being called, and of compulsion, should ever lead anyone to preach.”
“Be natural; forget yourself; be so absorbed in what you are doing and in the realization of the presence of God, and in the glory and the greatness of the Truth that you are preaching, and the occasion that brings you together, . . . that you forget yourself completely. That is the right condition; that is the only place of safety; that is the only way in which you can honour God. Self is the greatest enemy of the preacher, more so than in the case of any other man in society. And the only way to deal with self is to be so taken up with, and so enraptured by, the glory of what you are doing, that you forget yourself altogether.”
(Preaching and Preachers, Zondervan 1971, p. 264.)
Duties in the Home
A complete chapter is dedicated to the subject of visiting the sick, invalids, or elderly (33), which have several special concerns. Dickson speaks of little gifts with kind words of the sick and shut in (34), and taking special care for those thought to be on their death beds (35). In these situations it is important to seek for the “one thing needful” in the words of the afflicted, and once found, to encourage them with the promises of the gospel. He speaks of practical things such as lowness of voice and quietness of spirit when talking to the infirmed. Elders are not to be afraid to share in the joys and sorrows of a sickbed, nor shy away from the deep spiritual things of God (37).
Family worship is something that Dickson believes should be a part of every home in an elders district. It is the job of the elder to see that the practice is set up in the home and an example given on how it should be conducted (for the ignorant) (38-39). The elder should take a special interest in the education of the children, by giving the parents books to read, catechetical material, and discuss the schools the children are attending (39). Special attention should also be given to the instruction of the young men and women in their district and encourage them in the Lord as they face the new trials and pitfalls of adulthood (41).
Duties in Society
The author also believed in doing good to those within his sphere of influence. This means hospitality (50), praying with his constituents (51), fellowship meetings which may be of families or singles, males or females. The New Year is a time or reminding the folk of God’s goodness and is a special occasion among the Scottish of renewed commitment and promise to God. Dickson suggests a small gift, perhaps a book of interest to those who would benefit from it (53).
Special care should be given to those who are leaving the constituency of the elder to another district or part of the country (55). Care should be given to see that the individuals have their membership papers with them, but more importantly that they have some proper place to worship in their new town or city (55). Keeping contact with them, even after they have left is an important part of an elders work. They are still souls, and just because they are now someone else’s concern does not mean the elder should lose interest in those he has personally cared for (56). Dickson also believes that the elder should be looking for ways in which to give and exercise the office he has been given. This is not only the job of the deacon, but the elder as well (58).
Within the Walls
Discipline is a vital (albeit painful) aspect of being an elder. If an elder succeeds in every aspect of his ministry, yet neglect this function of correction, he brings reproach upon the congregation and the name of the Lord. Discipline is a mark of the true Church (63). The great end and design of discipline are twofold. First to restore a wayward disciple, and second, if restoration is not possible, to protect and warn the flock of Christ from wolves (62-65).
Dickson also believe that it is the duty of the elder to encourage the people to participate in the work of the ministry. Not all members have the same gifts, but all can serve (67). It is the job of the elder to find the gifts in others and exploit them to the glory of God and the edification of the Church. This could be local or foreign mission work, Sabbath School teaching or help, distribution to the needy, etc.
According to Dickson, the elder is not only to be a fellow labourer with the minister, but he is to “hold up the minister’s hands” in support and encouragement (75). Elders are uniquely qualified to help in this way because they are in the ministry and in the world at the same time. Counsel, aid, and special acute prayer is to be given by the elder for the minister and help him in his office. Attendance to the meetings is one special way of encouraging the minister (76). How will a minister feel if his ministry is not attended by his fellow labourer? How will this look to the flock? An elder is supportive in action and word, not just word.
Warm-hearted sympathy is also a duty of the elder toward the minister (77). The pressures of the ministry are unique to this position and are greater than most are aware. The elder is to alleviate the practical issues of the ministry as much as possible so the pastor may engage in lone uninterrupted meditation (79). The minister and elders should meet regularly not only to conduct business but to fellowship with one another (80). It is also suggested that ruling elders meet together for mutual encouragement in an interdenominational fashion (81).
The last chapter centers around difficulties and discouragements faced by the ruling elder as he discharges the work of the ministry. Dickson taps into the well of his own experience and relates powerful truth through anecdotes (83). Dickson insists that the trials of life have valuable lessons to teach the elder if he is willing to listen. Elders would do well to see the Lord’s hand in every aspect of the ministry and learn the lessons that bring wisdom and strength.
Dickson concludes with an exhortation to honour the Holy Spirit (87) in every aspect of the ministry among God’s people. The Spirit work is indispensable in the work of the ministry and Dickson insists that we can not live on past successes of the Church, but must look for fresh avenues of success through the ministry of the Word. Elders must seek the Spirit afresh on every occasion. And the Holy Spirit will give freely to all who ask in earnest expectation. Dickson realizes that every elder, be he a teaching or ruling elder needs to know what it is to rely upon the Sovereign Spirit in all things.
When the Lord comes, may he find faithful workers like Mr. David Dickson in His vineyard.
Here we also see the language of lamentation.
Friends, God is not only a righteous judge but also a loving Saviour. He is not only an exacting executor of punishment, “but slow to anger and rich in mercy”. How long suffering is the Lord with sinners, that even though He is angry with the wicked every day, He is also, long suffering toward us. And so in this voice we not only see alarm for the condition that sin had brought upon Adam, but of disappointmet, “for the wages of sin is death”(Romans 6:23).
We are reminded in the walking of God in the cool of the day, and the earnst formulation of the question, Adam “where art thou”, that God is just and yet merciful. Remember God “delighteth not in the death of the wicked”. There is a sence in this of what we find Ezekiel saying to Israel after great and wicked sin (Eek 33:11), “how shall I give thee up oh Ephrim”? And while God is eternally just He is also eternally merciful.
And as James 2:13 declares, “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
“Adam, where art thou?”In this question we can see the love of God who after being sinned against does not destroy but seeks. It would have been very easy for God to exact his judgment from his throne in heaven. Destroying the wicked with the breath of his nostrils. Job 4:9 “By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostrils are they consumed.”
But he still comes down from heaven, like a torn lover(as he presents himself in Hosea) who has been betrayed, and asks this lamenting question “where art thou?”
The implication of the question.
What then is the implication of this question? “where art thou?” It is a pan-human question for us all. 1 Cor 15:22 says, “For as in Adam all die”. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says,
Question 7. Whence then proceeds this depravity of human nature?
Answer: From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise; hence our nature is become so corrupt, that we are all conceived and born in sin. Many today deny the imputation of Adam’s sin. They find it hard to believe that Adam’s actions were our actions. There is, as you know a universal application to this question., “Adam where art thou?” Sone of Adam….Daughter of Adam… Whewre art thou”? Your name and my name fit as well in Adam’s place as Adam himself, perhaps better. Why, because we are his sons and daughters, and He our federal head. Not only are we guilty of Adam’s disobedience but also we have added our own sins to his. So men are hardened through deceitfulness of sin.
So in a vey real way, when the Lord comes in the preaching of his Word to the ears of the sinner “where art thou” is the penitrating question. Are we still tying to sew fig leaves of your own righteousness together to cover our spiritual nakedness. Be honest.
The Lord comes to us in the power of His word and asks every listening soul “Where art thou?” William Jay once said” Nothing hinders our full relief as sinners by the gospel but our ignorant pride in refusing to submit to the righteousness which is of God.” There is no better place to cry unto the Lord and answer, “Here I am Lord, have mercy upon me.”
And yet as our Instructor says in Question 8. Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness?
Answer: Indeed we are; except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.
“Adam where art thou” is a universal question to every sinner. That has come to you this day. Where art thou?
1 Cor 15:22 “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”
Have you said “here I am Lord?”
“Where art thou?” Gen 3:9
This question speaks more of a condition than a place, does it not? The Lord knew very well where Adam was. There is nothing that escapes his eye, nor can anything be hid from the view of the Omniscient One. The Puritans had a term that encapsulated the idea God’s omniscience: Totus oculus – ‘all eye’.
No, this text has more to do with Adams condition than place. Further, we should also recognize that Adam’s place was the result of his condition. So it would fit the penetrating question of our Lord – Adam, “where art thou?”
We can assume that just a day before, Adam had been in the open air of the garden waiting for the arrival of his Creator and Friend, looking forward to that long walk in the garden in the “cool of the day”(v.8). What sweet fellowship this must have been, to fellowship with one’s Maker in uninterrupted friendship? To walk and talk with the pre-incarnate Son of God (For that is who we have here). It was a theophany, a ‘first vision’ of Christ, the eternal Son. We see these special instances elsewhere in the OT with Abraham and the three visitors, as well as the the Angel at Peniel, “for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” (Gen 32:30).
Yet since Adam’s fall, there has never been a soul who walked with God perfectly and uprightly. “What about Enoch”, someone will say, “or how about Elijah?” Ah, but these men were sinners just like us, tainted by sin.
No man has ever walked in perfect relationship with God since Adam. However there is a promise that we will one day. 1 John 3:2 says, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”
But what of this question in our text? “Adam, where art thou?”.
It is first speaking of a condition.
“Adam, where art thou?” As if to say, “Adam, is this the return I get for all my gifts to thee? The object of my love, the focal point of my earthly affections. The center of my earthly attention? Adam, what has become of you?! Adam where art thou?”
You see dear reader, for Adam to sin he had to utterly turn his back on his Friend. He had to conclude, for one moment that his thoughts were above God’s thoughts, and his ways above God’s ways, and delve into “momentary atheism”. You say, how so? Well atheism is not always denying the existence of God (as is commonly expressed). No, atheism can be a simple as denying one of his attributes. And Adam denied God’s Truth when the Serpent said, “Hath God said?”
Gen 3:1-5 Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
Momentary atheism! To deny the spoken word of God is to ever so briefly question God’s authority, His righteousnees, and truth. It is a raising of an autonomous fist in the face of God.
Lost! “Adam where art thou”? As if to say, “Adam, is this my reward for endowing thee with noble faculties of mind?” “Adam where art thou?” You have sinned against knowledge, against righteousness, against truth itself! “Where art thou?”
Adam once knew, in the excellency of his uncorrupted mind the command of the Lord, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Yet he question the authority of God. He believed the lie of Satan, “Yea, hath God said”? And we do this every time we sin. We think our thoughts are better than His, and our ways more pleasing. But friend, a sin against knowledge is an heinous thing. Sins of the wi
ll and presumption are more heinous than sins of ignorance.
“Adam where art thou?” As if to say, “Adam, what more could I have given thee to make thee happy?” “Adam, is this the action of a kind and loyal friend?”
It was the first experimental, heart-searching sermon ever preached-“Adam, where art thou?”
To be continued…
I was most enlightened and edified last week at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary as I took a course on the Dutch Second Reformation (Nader Reformatie) and the Secession of 1834. The lecturer, Rev. C. Pronk did a masterful job of outlining their histories, and bringing them forward in a modern context. By God’s grace we have a rare teacher among us. One with brevity and sincerity, as well as intellect and godliness. May the Lord grant Rev. Pronk many more years of teaching in his retirement.
Even though we were given an overload of information in the class by way of lectures, the second to last session will forever be etched in my mind, and the minds of every student in the room I’m sure.
While lecturing from behind a large podium on a rather tall adjustable chair, Rev. Pronk was explaining to the students the fantastical style of Lambertus G C Ledeboer (1808), who would attract great numbers by his antics in preaching. No sooner had he warned us against such antics, that his chair, for no certain reason, lost its hydraulic pressure! With surprise, and then a smile, Rev. Pronk laggardly disappeared (upright) behind the pulpit. Needless to say both the class and instructor erupted in spontaneous laughter. Having previously crossed his legs below the seat while speaking, the descending chair finally rested with our venerable professor wedged in the lotus position well below our line of sight. After a brief moment Rev. Pronk said with a grin, and in fine Ledeboerian fashion, “Help me, I cannot move”. Two of us responded by lifting the chair upwards so our professor could escape.
Thank you Pastor Pronk for reminding us all of antics in the pulpit, and for being such a good sport in an awkward position.
Finding pleasure in God is only one aspect of the Christian experience. The Christian must never compartmentalize joy, pleasure, or happiness, but find these attributes peppered throughout the total of our earthly sojourn. The only philosophy of life the believer should embrace is summed up in the word Christian (“follower of Christ”) and everything that it entails. Be imitators of Him. Find perfect contentment in His administrations of peace, prosperity, trials, persecutions, abundance, and wants. Learn in all things how to be content with life’s trails and look with happiness inwardly at Christ and upwardly to heaven. Or as Lachlan Mackenzie puts it,
Happy is he who has Gospel Submission in his will, due order in his afflictions, sound peace in his conscience, real Divinity in his breast, the Redeemer’s yoke on his neck, a vain world under his feet, and a crown of glory over his head. Happy is the life of that man who believes firmly, prays fervently, walks patiently, works abundantly, lives holy, dies daily, watches his heart, guides his senses, redeems his time, loves Christ, and longs for glory. He is necessitated to take the world on his way to heaven, but he walks through it as fast as he can, and all his business by the way is to make himself and others happy. Take him all in all, in two words, he is a Man and a Christian.
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Several Joys on Earth
Joy in Pardon. Paul speaks of justification by faith and of our having “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” and so being able “to rejoice in hope of the glory of God”. The Apostle then continues to say: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. When souls are convicted of their sin and aware of the awfulness of their going to a lost eternity, it is joyful to find that their sins have been wiped away. Peace of conscience (assurance) is followed by abundant joy. For this we must rejoice, not because we have power over the devil, but “because your names are written in heaven”.
Joy in the Saviour. “We love him, because he first loved us”. How the heart is warmed when it discovers that the Son of God “loved me, and gave himself for me”. “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory”. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit are gifts flowing from salvation. “And he brought forth his people with joy, and his chosen with gladness”.
O the happiness arising
From the life of grace within
When the soul is realizing
Conquest over hell and sin!
Heavenly joys on earth begin
On the Saviour’s fullness living,
All His saints obtain delight;
Which the strength which He is giving,
When King Jesus is in sight.
Nearer, nearer to Him clinging,
Let my helpless soul be found;
All my sorrows to Him bringing,
May His grace in me abound;
With new covenant blessing’s crown’d.
Joy in God’s Law. The Psalmist found God’s law sweeter to his taste than honey and more desirable than fine gold. David exclaimed: “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day”. Of God’s commandments he said “they are the rejoicing of my heart”. And it was Paul who acknowledged: “I delight in the law of God after the inward man”. The pathway of holiness is a happiness, but one sin brings sadness. We should take pleasure and delight in the Law that sanctifies us for glory.
Joy in Suffering. When times of trial, pain, and suffering come, Jesus says, “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you”. When Paul and Silas were beaten they, “departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name”. Even chastisement is a cause of joy when the soul is reminded that chastisement is a mark of sonship made to produce “the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them who are exercised thereby”. As Spurgeon said, “Your sorrow itself shall be turned into joy. Not the sorrow to be taken away, and joy to be put in it’s place, but the very sorrow which now grieves you shall be turned into joy. God not only takes away the bitterness and gives sweetness in it’s place, but turns the bitterness into sweetness itself”. “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”.
Joy in Heaven. There is a paradise of joy awaiting God’s people where, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away”. “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them”. In the all too brief moments of fellowship here on earth which fills the Christian’s heart with “joy unspeakable and full of glory”, there is a constant reminder that one day soon he will receive “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time: Wherein ye greatly rejoice”. For some, eternity will be in a joyless place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth”; but to the redeemed Christ will say: “Well done good and faithful servant…enter thou into the joy of thy Lord”.
Happiness Through Holiness
Bishop Ryle in his timeless work on holiness writes,
Suppose for a moment that you were allowed to enter heaven without holiness. What would you do? What possible enjoyment could you feel there? To which of all the saints would you join yourself, and by whose side would you sit down? Their pleasures are not your pleasures, their tastes not your tastes, their character not your character. How could you possibly be happy, if you had not been holy on earth?
Holiness occurs nine hundred times in the Bible. In fact the entire book of Leviticus is devoted to the subject of holiness. Our Lord said, “If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love. These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full”. Here our Lord reminds the believer that if he want His joy to remain in us, and if we want that joy to be full, we must keep His commandments. Any professed believer who thinks that joy in Christ comes through something other than obedience has not yet had their heart echo David’s cry, “Grant me thy law graciously”. This obedience is not the servile obedience of a slave to his master but the familial obedience of a child to his father. To the believer, the law of God becomes the fertile ground out of which grows the joy of Christ in fullness. This principle is all throughout Scriptures. For example, we find David delighting in the law of God, and Paul speaks of delighting in God after the inward man. Holiness is the key to happiness, “if we understand well that perfect holiness is a necessary part of that happiness, and that though we have a title to that happiness by free justification an adoption, yet we must go to the possession of it in a way of holiness”. For this reason the believer will hide the law of God in his heart, memorize it, meditate upon in, and most importantly, put it into action.
Pleasure Through Pain
If Christian Hedonism can be coined and accepted as a legitimate Christian paradigm, Christian Masochism certainly deserves an equal hearing. After all, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language masochism is, “A willingness or tendency to subject oneself to unpleasant or trying experiences”. In fact, Christian Masochism has a more legitimate claim on the Christian for the simple fact that it encompasses both sorrow and pleasure within its definition. Nevertheless, to do so would be to create another doctrine of imbalance. This does not mean that the idea of pleasure through pain should be ignored. The fact of the matter is, the Word of God is replete with this idea. We must understand it however, as it is intended.
There is no general consensus as to what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was in 2 Corinthians 12:10. The Greek indicates some sort of physical acute pain (thorn), that humiliated him (buffed him so not to be exalted above measure). Perhaps it has some connection to Galatians 4:13, 14 “Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the Gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus”. In any case, Paul’s experience should be the litmus test for every believer, who, if they are living according to the dictates of the Word, will experience (to varying degrees) pleasure through pain.
The natural mind would think the best way for the Lord to proceed would be to remove Paul’s thorn. This seems to have been entirely satisfactory to Paul who obviously felt that this infirmity was going to hinder his effectiveness in the ministry. Three times he prayed that this thorn would leave him. And three times his prayer was answered….no, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness”. Evidently while Paul was praying for deliverance, he was at the same time learning the rare jewel of Christian contentment. He learned by experience that it was far better for the thorn to remain than to have it removed. At first, Paul did not take pleasure in his thorn (Why else would he pray for its removal?), yet the lesson taught through adversity produced the most unique and fulfilling kind of joy. “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me”. This text is reminiscent of James’ when he writes, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations”.
While there is general agreement that the Bible teaches pleasure through pain, wee must immediately discriminate between self inflicted pain (as the consequence of sin), and the inevitable consequence of living in a Christ-hating world. It is sanctified, providentially directed afflictions that the Christian is to glory and take pleasure in. Paul took pleasure in trials and reprochches in necessities, in persecutions, and in distresses, for Christ’s sake”. To what end? “That the strength of Christ may rest upon me”, “for when I am weak, then am I strong”. In other words light always shines most gloriously in the midst of darkness, and Christ power is manifested most brilliantly in our weakness. “Therefore”, says Paul, “I will glory in my weaknesses rather than my revelations, that the strength of Christ may rest upon me”. Paul knew what James spoke of when he said, “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing”.
Several other places in the New Testament can be cited, teaching the doctrine of pleasure through pain ( 2 Corinthians 1:4, 2 Corinthians 4:8-10,2 Corinthians 4:17, 2 Corinthians 7:4; Acts 5:41; Romans 5:3, Romans 8:35-39; Philippians 1:29, Philippians 2:17, Philippians 2:18; Colossians 1:24; James 1:2; 1 Peter 1:6, 1 Peter 1:7, 1 Peter 4:13, 1 Peter 4:14. To name a few). The truth is, if believers are to follow in Christ’s footsteps, they will experience two parallel effects as a result, “the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings”. Very often the believer focuses on the former and forgets the latter. They wish to experience the power of the resurrection, (that is, His regenerating work, newness of life, empowerment to do good, victory over death, heaven, etc.) but forget that that they are also called to share in the fellowship of his sufferings. The word for fellowship means “joint participation and communion”. There is a sweet communion in suffering. A pleasure, joy, and happiness that we will never know aside from sorrow. As an unknown poet once wrote,
“I walked a mile with pleasure,
she chatted all the way.
It left me none the wiser,
for all she had to say.
I walked a mile with sorrow,
and ne’re a word said she,
but oh the things I learned from her,
when sorrow walked with me”.
Finding pleasure in God, ironically, involves at times, a great deal of pain as the Old Man is put to death and we being to walk in newness of life. “For unto you it is given in the b
ehalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake”.
Enjoy Him Forever
Every joy felt on earth is a deposited of the eternal joy to come, and should be enjoyed for what it is (as long as it does not violate the law of God). The Puritans, when they wrote about enjoying God forever believed that the joy experience on earth is but a down payment or foretaste of the eternal joy in heaven. To them, it was uninterrupted communion with their Heavenly Maker that made heaven, heaven. Here on earth, true pleasure in God is interrupted by sin, the world, and the devil. The believer does experience periods of special visitation where, the hand of God (as it were), that hold the believers hand, picks him up and ravish him with special delight before setting him down again. But for the most part, the believer experiences joy through a glass darkly, looking forward to that eternal happiness. Thomas Watson concludes,
There shall not be one minute in heaven, wherein a glorified soul may say, I do not enjoy happiness. The streams of glory are not like the water of a conduit, often stopped, so that we cannot have one drop of water; but those heavenly streams of joy are continually running. Oh how should we despise this valley of tears where we now are, for the mount of transfiguration! How should we long for the full enjoyment of God in Paradise! Had we a sight of that land of promise, we should need patience to be content to live here any longer.
This is the happiness the saint on earth looks toward. As the Psalmist wrote, “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore”. This is the great hope of the believer on earth; to look onward to the promised fulfillment of Christ, “that where I am, there ye may be also”.
To this Mathew Henry writes,
In this world sorrow is our lot, but in heaven there is joy. All our joys here are empty and defective, but in heaven there is a fullness of joy. Our pleasures here are transient and momentary, and such is the nature of them that it is not fit they should last long; but those at God’s right hand are pleasures for evermore; for they are the pleasures of immortal souls in the immediate vision and fruition of an eternal God.
John Gill also insists that whatever joys and sorrows are experience here on earth “the presence of God puts more joy and gladness into them than anything else can do; but as yet their joy is not full; but it will be when they shall enter into the joy of their Lord, into the presence of God in the other world then everlasting joy will be upon their heads”. As the Psalmist says, “They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures”.