‘Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.’
The bright and joyous tone of this Epistle is well expressed by the frequent repetition of the word ‘rejoice.’ It is the key-note, all its exhortations conclude with this one expression; but here especially the Apostle is very earnest. He is not satisfied with saying, ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway,’ but adds, ‘again I say, Rejoice.’ And observe the subject of this rejoicing is said to be the Lord, our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
I. It is then in a constant spirit of thankfulness that the Christian is to live.—His whole soul ought to be penetrated with a deep sense of what God is doing, what He has done for man, and especially of the supreme effort wherein He commended His love towards us. But it may be questioned, is not St. Paul insisting too strongly upon thankfulness when he commands every one to exercise this feeling? Are not some dispositions naturally despondent; are not lives so crushed with penury, want, and pain, that they are divorced from joy, and never hope to be reunited? Do we not daily see great sufferers, to whom it seems a mockery to say, Rejoice? It might be so if happiness or sorrow were dependent on external circumstances. True, they exercise a certain influence, but it is possible to be independent of them.
II. The peace which passes understanding is not born of wealth, or prosperity, or honour, or any of those thousand advantages for which men toil and clamour. It is buried in the unseen life; it is in the heart. So long as there is constant intercourse with God, it matters not what happens, joy is in the Lord; it rests upon a firm, immovable rock against which the waves of adversity may dash themselves in vain.
III. If, however, the spirit of true thankfulness is greatly independent of circumstances, it needs encouragement; it will not expand and grow without care.—All affections require to be trained. As with the body, so with the soil; the limb which is continually exercised acquires increased strength; faculties are sharpened by use; the arm becomes stronger, the eye more keen, the ear more acute, as demands are made upon their powers. So with the feelings and affections, if they be turned to self and one’s own peculiar interests, they will develop selfishness. If God, on the other hand, is in all the thoughts; if we go apart and think of what He has done for us, of the mercies He has showered upon the world, there will grow up an abiding sense of His goodness; we shall find our affections reaching out towards Him, and silently but forcibly influencing our whole being. To this point every faithful Christian must turn; we must encourage a thankful spirit, that it may burn within our hearts continually; and here it is that outward circumstances lend a certain legitimate aid. They are not the sources of happiness, but they are helpful; they may not be despised.
Rev. Prebendary Richards.
‘Some time ago I read a description of a French picture called “The Evening of Life.” There is a boat on a river, and a company dancing some way off. Others are gathering flowers, or splashing their hot hands in the water. But on the far bank there is an old man sadly surveying the pleasures of the young. He is near a withered tree. A lyre with slack strings is thrown down. The shadows are falling; the moon rises, and the swallows are just flitting across the evening sky. Not so, indeed, must we paint the evening of a Christian’s life. When the setting sun comes full on his face, and the evening bell calls him home, great peace has he who loves God’s law, like the stillness of an autumn day when the harvest is gathered. “At evening time it shall be light.” For to the believer in Christ the best joys come last.’
JOY IN THE LORD
St. Paul does not bid us rejoice in: (1) our wealth; (2) our strength; or (3) our pleasures. But ‘in the Lord’ as—
I. A real Brother.—All my temptations, my trials, my spiritual conflicts have been undergone by my Lord, and therefore I can cast myself upon His considerate love and compassion, for He knows exactly what I have to go through.
II. A Saviour.—What I believe God likes to see in us who believe in the full redemption wrought out for us on the Cross, is brightness, cheeriness, gladness, and joy. If I really believe that my sins are forgiven, if I am conscious of the witness of the Spirit bearing testimony within me that I am a child of God, if I can find in Christ all that I now need—pardon, comfort, peace, joy, guidance for my daily life; if, moreover, I can look forward into the future, and can believe that He Who has begun the good work in my soul will carry it on to a triumphant end, why should I give way to sadness? I ought to be as happy as the day is long.
III. The Giver of our future happiness.—Our faith in Christ brings us within sight of the shores of our dear fatherland—heaven. We are nearing it, God be thanked, day by day. Who is it that gives us such a happy ending to our perilous voyage? Who is it that will be the first to welcome us to shore? Who is it that has prepared such unspeakable joys for those that love Him—but Jesus?
At all times and in all places, under whatsoever circumstances you may be placed, you are to rejoice. It is easy enough to rejoice when the heart is light and the way pleasant, when all goes well with us; but when troubles, trials, and afflictions overtake us, then is the true testing-time of our faith. And yet, as you have seen the dark background of a picture throws out into bold relief those portions that were painted in lighter colours, so the dark, sombre background of human suffering and sorrow throws out into prominence the love and kindness of Jesus.