'The fruit of the Spirit is joy' (Gal. 5:22).
The third fruit of justification, adoption, and sanctification, is joy in the Holy Ghost. Joy is setting the soul upon the top of a pinnacle--it is the cream of the sincere milk of the word. Spiritual joy is a sweet and delightful passion, arising from the apprehension and feeling of some good, whereby the soul is supported under present troubles, and fenced against future fear.
I. It is a delightful passion. It is contrary to sorrow, which is a perturbation of mind, whereby the heart is perplexed and cast down. Joy is a sweet and pleasant affection which eases the mind, exhilarates and comforts the spirits.
II. It arises from the feeling of some good. Joy is not a fancy, or conceit; but is rational, and arises from the feeling of some good, as the sense of God's love and favour. Joy is so real a thing that it makes a sudden change in a person; and turns mourning into melody. As in the spring-time, when the sun comes to our horizon, it makes a sudden alteration in the face of the universe: the birds sing, the flowers appear, the fig-tree puts forth her green figs; every thing seems to rejoice and put off its mourning, as being revived with the sweet influence of the sun; so when the Sun of Righteousness arises on the soul, it makes a sudden alteration, and the soul is infinitely rejoiced with the golden beams of God's love.
III. By it the soul is supported under present troubles. Joy stupefies and swallows up troubles; it carries the heart above them, as the oil swims above the water.
IV. The heart is fenced against future fear. Joy is both a cordial and an antidote: it is a cordial which gives present relief to the spirits when they are sad; and an antidote, which fences off the fear of approaching danger. 'I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me' (Ps. 23:4).
How is this joy wrought?
(1) It arises partly from the promise. As the bee lies at the breast of the flower, and sucks out its sweetness, so faith lies at the breast of a promise, and sucks out the quintessence of joy. 'Thy comforts delight my soul;' that is, the comforts which distil from the promises (Ps. 94:19).
(2) The Spirit of God who is called the 'Comforter' (John 14:26), sometimes drops this golden oil of joy into the soul; the Spirit whispers to a believer the remission of his sin, and sheds God's love abroad in the heart, whence flows infinite joy and delight (Rom. 5:5).
What are the Seasons in which God usually gives his people divine joys?
There are five Seasons. (1) Sometimes at the blessed Supper. The soul comes weeping after Christ in the Sacrament, and God sends it away weeping for joy. The Jews had a custom at their feasts of pouring ointment on their guests and kissing them; in the Eucharist, God often pours the oil of gladness on the saints, and kisses them with the kisses of his lips. There are two grand ends of the Sacrament, the strengthening of faith, and the flourishing of joy. Here, in this ordinance, God displays the banner of his love; here believers taste not only sacramental bread, but hidden manna. Not that God always meets the soul with joy. He may give increase of grace, when not increase of joy; but oftentimes he pours in the oil of gladness, and gives the soul a privy seal of his love; as Christ made himself known in the breaking of bread.
(2) Before God calls his people to suffering. 'Be of good cheer, Paul' (Acts 13:11). When God was about to give Paul a cup of blood to drink, he spiced it with joy. 'As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth' (2 Cor. 1:5). This made the martyrs' flames beds of roses. When Stephen was being stoned he saw heaven open, and the Sun of Righteousness shone upon his face. God candies our wormwood with sugar.
(3) After sore conflicts with Satan. He is the red dragon who troubles the waters; he puts the soul into frights, makes it believe that it has no grace, and that God does not love it. Though he cannot blot out a Christian's evidence, yet he may cast such a mist before his eyes, that he cannot read it. When the soul has been bruised with temptations, God will comfort the bruised reed by giving joy, ad corroborandum titulum, to confirm a Christian's title to heaven. After Satan's fiery darts comes the white stone. No better balm to heal a tempted soul than the oil of gladness! After Christ was tempted, an angel came to comfort him.
(4) After desertion. Desertion is a poisoned arrow which shoots to the heart (Job 6:4). God is called a fire and a light: the deserted soul feels the fire, but does not see the light; it cries out, as Asaph, 'Is his mercy clean gone' (Ps. 77:8)? When the soul is in this case, and ready to faint away in despair, God shines upon it, and gives it some apprehension of his favour, and turns the shadow of death into the light of the morning. God keeps his cordials for a time of fainting. Joy after desertion is like a resurrection from the dead.
(5) At the hour of death. Of those even who have had no joy in their lifetime. God puts this sugar in the bottom of the cup, to make their death sweet. At the last hour, when all other comforts are gone, God sends the Comforter; and when their appetite to meat fails, he feeds them with hidden manna. As the wicked before they die, have some apprehensions of hell and wrath in their conscience, so the godly have some foretastes of God's everlasting favour, though sometimes their diseases may be such, and their animal spirits so oppressed, that they cannot express what they feel. Jacob laid himself to sleep on a stone and saw a vision of a ladder, and the angels ascending and descending upon it; so, when saints lay themselves down to sleep the sleep of death, they have often a vision: they see the light of God's face, and have the evidences of his love sealed up to them for ever.
What are the differences between worldly joys and spiritual?
The gleanings of the one are better than the vintage of the other.
(1) Spiritual joys help to make us better, worldly joys often make us worse. 'I spake unto thee in thy prosperity, but thou saidst, I will not hear' (Jer. 22:21). Pride and luxury are the two worms that are bred of worldly pleasures. 'Wine takes away the heart;' it is fomentum libidinis, Augustine, the inflamer of lust' (Hos. 4:11). As Satan entered in the sop, so often in the cup; but spiritual joy makes one better; it's like cordial water, which, as physicians say, not only cheers the heart, but purges out the noxious burnouts; so divine joy is cordial water, which not only comforts but cleanses; it makes a Christian more holy; it causes an antipathy against sin; it infuses strength to do and suffer. 'The joy of the Lord is your strength' (Neh. 8:10). As some colours not only delight the eye, but strengthen the sight; so the joys of God not only refresh the soul, but strengthen it.
(2) Spiritual joys are inward, they are heart joys. 'Your heart shall rejoice' (John 16:22). Seneca says true joy latet in profundo, it is hidden within, worldly joy is in superficie, it lies on the outside, like the dew that wets the leaf. We read of those who 'rejoice in appearance,' in the Greek, in the face (2 Cor. 5:12). It goes no farther than the face, it is not within; 'in laughter the heart is sad.' Like a house which has a gilded frontispiece, but all the rooms within are hung in mourning. But spiritual joy lies most within. 'Your heart shall rejoice.' Divine joy is like a spring of water which runs underground. Others can see the sufferings of a Christian, but they see not his joy. 'A stranger intermeddleth not with his joy' (Prov. 14:10). His joy is hidden manna, hid from the eye of the world; he has still music which others hear not; the marrow lies within, the best joy is within the heart.
(3) Spiritual joys are sweeter than others, they are better than wine (Song of Solomon 1:2). They are a Christian's festival; they are the golden pot and the manna; they are so sweet, that they make everything else sweet: sweeten health and estate, as sweet water poured on flowers makes them more fragrant and aromatic. Divine joys are so delicious and ravishing, that they put our mouth out of taste for earthly delights; as he who has been drinking cordials tastes little sweetness in water. Paul had so tasted these divine joys, that his mouth was out of taste for worldly things; the world was crucified to him, it was like a dead thing, he could find no sweetness in it (Gal. 6:14).
(4) Spiritual joys are more pure, they are not tempered with any bitter ingredients. A sinner's joy is mixed with dregs, it is embittered with fear and guilt: the wolf feeds in the breasts of his joy; he drinks wormwood wine; but spiritual joy is not muddled with guilt, but like a crystal stream, runs pure; it is all spirits and quintessence; it is joy and nothing but joy; it is a rose without prickles; it is honey without wax.
(5) They are satisfying joys: 'Ask, that your joy may be full' (John 16:24). Worldly joys can no more fill the heart than a drop can fill a cistern; they may please the palate or fancy, as Plato calls them pictures of joy, but cannot satisfy the soul. 'The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing' (Eccl. 1:8); but the joys of God satisfy. 'Thy comforts delight my soul' (Ps. 94:19). There is as much difference between spiritual joys and earthly, as between a banquet that is eaten and one that is painted on the wall.
(6) They are stronger joys than worldly. 'Strong consolation' (Heb. 6:18). They are strong indeed that can bear up a Christian's heart in trials and afflictions. 'Having received the word in much affliction, with joy' (1 Thess. 1:6). These are roses that grow in winter, these joys can sweeten the waters of Marah; he that hath these can gather grapes of thorns, and fetch honey out of the carcase of a lion. 'As sorrowing, yet always rejoicing' (2 Cor. 6:10). At the end of the rod a Christian tastes honey.
(7) They are unwearied joys. Other joys, when in excess, often cause loathing, we are apt to surfeit on them; too much honey nauseates; one may be tired with pleasure as well as labour. Xerxes offered a reward to him that could find out a new pleasure; but the joys of God, though they satisfy, yet they never surfeit. A drop of joy is sweet, but the more of this wine the better. Such as drink of the joys of heaven are never cloyed; the satiety is without loathing, because they still desire the joy wherewith they are satiated.
(8) They are abiding joys. Worldly joys are soon gone. Such as crown themselves with rosebuds, and bathe in the perfumed waters of pleasure, may have joys which seem to be sweet but they are swift: they are like meteors, which give a bright and sudden flash, and then disappear. The joys which believers have are abiding; they are a blossom of eternity, a pledge and earnest of those rivers of pleasure which run at God's right hand for evermore.
Why is this joy to be laboured for?
(1) Because it is self-existent, it can subsist in the absence of all other carnal joy. This joy depends not upon outward things. As the philosophers said, when the musicians came to them, 'Philosophers can be merry without music;' so he that has this joy can be cheerful in the deficiency of carnal joys; he can rejoice in God, in sure hope of glory, 'although the fig-tree shall not blossom' (Hab. 3:17). Spiritual joy can go without silver crutches to support it. Spiritual joy is higher built than upon creatures, for it is built on the love of God, on the promises, and on the blood of Christ.
(2) Because spiritual joy carries the soul through duty cheerfully; the Sabbath becomes a delight, and religion is a recreation. Fear and sorrow hinder us in the discharge of duty; but a Christian serves God with activity, when he serves him with joy. The oil of joy makes the wheels of obedience move faster. How fervently did they pray, whom God made joyful in the house of prayer (Is. 56:7)!
(3) It is called the kingdom of God in Romans 14:7 because it is a taste of that which the saints have in the kingdom of God. What is the heaven of the angels, but the smiles of God's face, the sensible perception and feeling of those joys which are infinitely ravishing and full of glory! To encourage and quicken us in seeking after them, consider, that Christ died to purchase this joy for his saints. He was a man of sorrows, that we might be full of joy; he prayed that the saints might have this divine joy. 'And now I come to thee, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves' (John 17:13). This prayer he now prays in heaven; he knows we never love him so much as when we feel his love; which may encourage us to seek after this joy. We pray for that which Christ himself is praying for, when we pray that his joy may be fulfilled in us.
What shall we do to obtain this spiritual joy?
Walk consistently and spiritually. God gives joy after long and close walking with him. (1) Observe your hours. Set time every day apart for God. (2) Mourn for sin. Mourning is the seed, as Basil says, out of which the flower of spiritual joy grows. 'I will restore comforts to his mourners' (Is. 57:18). (3) Keep the book of conscience fair written. Do not by presumptuous sins blur your evidences. A good conscience is the ark in which God puts the hidden manna. (4) Be often upon your knees, pray with life and fervency. The same Spirit that fills the heart with sighs fills it with joys. The same Spirit that indites the prayer, seals it. When Hannah had prayed, her countenance was no more sad (1 Sam. 1:18). Praying Christians have much intercourse with God; and none are so like to have the secrets of his love imparted, as those who hold correspondence with him. By close walking with God we get bunches of grapes by the way, which are an earnest of future happiness.
How shall we comfort those that want joy?
Such as walk in close communion with God have more than others. (1) Initial joy, joy in semine, in the seed. 'Light (a metaphor for joy) is sown for the righteous' (Ps. 97:11). Grace in the heart is a seed of joy. Though a Christian wants the sun, he has a day-star in his heart.
(2) A believer has real, though not royal comforts; he has, as Aquinas says, gaudium in Deo, though not a Deo; joy in God, though not from God. Joy in God is the delight and complacency the soul takes in God. 'My soul shall be glad in the Lord' (Ps. 104:34). He that is truly gracious, is so far joyful as to take comfort in God: though he cannot say, God rejoices in him, he can say, he rejoices in God.
(3) He has supporting, though not transporting comforts. He has as much as keeps him from sinking. 'Thou strengthenedst me with strength in my soul' (Ps. 138:3). If a Christian has not God's arm to embrace him, yet he has it to uphold him. Thus a Christian who walks with God, has something that bears up his heart from sinking; and it is but waiting awhile, and he is sure of those joys which are unspeakable and full of glory.
Use one: Then see that religion is no melancholy thing; it brings joy; the fruit of the Spirit is joy. Mutatur non tollitur [It varies, but it is not destroyed]. A poor Christian that feeds on bread and water, may have purer joy than the greatest monarch; though he fares hard, he feeds high; he has a table spread from heaven; angels' food, hidden manna; he has sometimes sweet raptures of joy, that cause jubilation of spirit; he has that which is better felt than can be expressed (2 Cor. 12:4).
Use two: If God gives his people such joy in this life, Oh! then, what glorious joy will he give them in heaven! 'Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord' (Matt. 25:21). Here joy begins to enter into us, there we shall enter into joy. God keeps his best wine till last. Heliogabalus bathed himself in sweet perfumed waters. What joy when the soul shall for ever bathe itself in the pure and pleasant fountain of God's love! What joy to see the orient brightness of Christ's face, and have the kisses of those lips which drop sweet-smelling myrrh! Laetabitur sponsa in amplexibus Domini [The Bride will rejoice in the embrace of her Lord]. Augustine. Oh! if a cluster of grapes here be so sweet, what will the full vintage be! How may this set us all longing for that place where sorrow cannot live, and where joy cannot die!