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            The Joy of His Salvation

 

All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Out of the Depths---Restoring Fellowship with God.” The sermon was preached at Westminister Chapel, London, in October 1949 and subsequently published in 1950 and re-published in 1995.

 

`Create in me a clean heart, 0 God;

and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me

      not away from thy presence;

  and take not thy holy spirit from me.

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation;

  and uphold me with thy free spirit.

Then will I teach transgressors thy ways;

  and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, 0 God, thou

      God of my salvation: and my tongue

    shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.

0 Lord, open thou my lips

  and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.’

Psalm 51:10-15

 

In our three previous studies we have seen that this psalm is not only a classic statement of the biblical and Christian doctrine of repentance, and that it shows us therefore in a very clear and dramatic manner the various steps and stages in the process of repentance, but that also, at one and the same time, it reminds us in an equally striking manner of some of the main characteristics of the true and genuine Christian experience. Here in this Old Testament psalm we have the cry of the human heart that realizes its sinfulness in the presence of God, the cry for the very things that are supplied so gloriously and wondrously in the New Testament gospel in and through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Now I have been trying to trace with you the various steps and stages; and I have been careful to point out that we do not insist that all should experience these things in precisely the same order, or that there must be a kind of mechanical repetition of those essential elements in the Christian experience. Nevertheless we have been concerned to point out that there are certain things which are invariably present in a true Christian experience; and these are the steps we have detailed hitherto. First of all we saw that a man who is a Christian is a man who at some time or another has been awakened. He has come to himself and seen the horrible character of the things he has done. The next step, we saw, was that such a man always comes to realize his desperate need of forgiveness, and he turns back to the very God against whom he has sinned and casts himself entirely upon His mercy. And then we have considered how the third thing which has happened to the Christian is that he has seen his absolute need of rebirth and of a new nature. So that the doctrine of regeneration is to the true Christian one of the most glorious doctrines in the entire Bible. He praises God for that miracle of redemption.

Now we come to another characteristic of the true Christian, which is that he displays certain consequences that follow from everything that I have just been saying. There are certain inevitable consequences to those things---to a consciousness of sin as the result of the awakening, the need of forgiveness, and the prayer for the new nature. I want now to deal with those consequences, and as we do so, I would remind you once more of the principle I have been emphasizing each time, namely that what I am going to say is something that is found everywhere in the Bible. You notice the experience of the saints as given to us in the New Testament, and you will find they all conform to a fundamental pattern. Take any instance you like, they are all exactly the same. That is what is so wonderful in Scripture, that you find these same experiences repeated everywhere. Not only that, if you take up your hymn-book you will find that the hymn-writers who have had a genuine experience of the grace of God in Christ are saying the same thing again. It does not matter to what denomination they belong. The evangelical experience of the rebirth is the same in all countries and in all centuries, and that is why these great illustrations which we have in our hymns bear witness and testimony to the same things. Again, as you read the biographies of the saints throughout the running centuries you will find a repetition of the same experiences. Martin Luther, after he had painfully worked out for himself the essential doctrine of justification by faith only and the evangelical doctrine of redemption, then discovered that St Augustine had been saying the whole thing some eleven centuries before, and how surprised and amazed he was that he had been rediscovering what Augustine had already written! Many another saint has had the same experience. These things are absolutes, and therefore we must look at them very carefully.

Here, in other words, we have our only standard: it is not what you and I think that matters, it is what the Bible teaches. People have their own ideas as to what constitutes a Christian. You find, when you discuss these things with people, they say, `What I say is this.' And because they say it, they think it must be true. But surely there is no ultimate final standard of what makes a man a Christian except this Book. What do we know of Christianity apart from this Book? What right have we to say, `This is what I think makes a man a Christian?' Surely this Book is our only sanction and authority. We know nothing of Jesus Christ apart from what we find here, and we have no right to postulate what is the Christian experience apart from the teaching of God's Word. Here, I say, is the only test and the only standard. I would say again with Luther, `I know no God save Jesus Christ.' I know nothing apart from what I find here, and what I find here is that I am passing through this world of time, and that I have got to meet God face to face, and that there is only one way in which I can do so without fear and horror and trembling and alarm and final destruction, and that is to give a ready obedience to what God tells me in His own Word, to believe on His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, and to surrender myself and my life to Him. If I do that, if I acknowledge my sin, if I realize my need of forgiveness and believe that I have it through Christ and His perfect work, if I plead and pray for this new birth and receive it, then I say there are certain things that are going to happen to me.

In other words, I mean that what I am about to say is a test. I can imagine nothing more terrible than for a man to go through a long life in this world assuming and imagining that he is a Christian, and then to find at the dread day of judgment that he has never been a Christian at all. These are the solemn words of Jesus Christ Himself: `Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity' (Matthew 7:22-23). To me (and that is why I am a preacher of this gospel) the most important thing for a man in this life and in this world is to know for certain that he is a Christian. It is the only place of safety, it is the only place of security, and in studying this Psalm we have been showing certain tests which we can apply to ourselves. Here is the final test.

What are the consequences of repentance, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the rebirth? The first is the possession of joy and of gladness. You will notice how David puts it: `Make me', he says in verse 8, `to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.' But listen to him again as he puts it in the twelfth verse: `Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation.' He had known it, but he had lost it, and he wants to have it back. I say that any man who has gone through this experience of conversion, who is born again, is a man who knows this joy and gladness. Now let us be careful about this. There is a great deal of misunderstanding about this question of Christian joy. It is very important to note that the joy of which David speaks here, in exactly the same way as the Bible speaks of it everywhere else, is a particular joy. He is not talking about natural cheerfulness and joyfulness; he is not talking about something temperamental. The joy of which he speaks is what is called `the joy of thy salvation'. It is a special joy. I am at pains to emphasize that for this reason. I am very willing to agree that temperamentally we differ  tremendously one from another. There are some people who seem to be born with a kind of morbid, introspective, miserable and unhappy temperament, and there are other people who are born naturally cheerful, optimistic, bright. As you make an analysis of mankind from this psychological standpoint you will find there are all conceivable variations, from that thoroughly miserable, introspective type to this other kind of person who is always, as it were, jubilant and happy and rejoicing, whatever may be happening. Now the Bible is well aware of all that, of course, but its great message to us---and thank God for it!---is that the joy of which it speaks is entirely independent of all such natural conditions. It is the joy of God's salvation that is offered, and not some natural joy. Now that is important in this way: the biblical teaching is that every Christian ought to possess this joy, and that though you may be born naturally morbid you can still enjoy this particular joy.

One case, perhaps, will help to establish this point. I think that any psychologist will have to agree with me when I say that the apostle Paul was by birth and by nature a man who was given to morbidity and introspection; there was nothing of this naturally cheerful type of person about him. Yet there is no man who ever knew the joy of God's salvation more than the apostle Paul. Or take another case, a more modern one. Take a man like John Wesley. By no stretch of imagination can you think of John Wesley as a cheerful, happy type of individual. He was the very antithesis of that: scholarly, somewhat remote, with a kind of coldness in his very nature and make-up---temperamentally a naturally morbid man again. And yet he became a man who knew this great joy of salvation and gloried in it and rejoiced in it. I could take many other examples to establish the same point. What I say, therefore, is that if we are lacking in the joy of God's salvation, we cannot excuse ourselves on temperamental grounds and say, `We are not all the same.' We are not discussing temperaments; we are discussing the joy of God's salvation which is offered to all, and which, according to the Bible, is meant for all. Take Peter, for instance, in his First Epistle (chapter 1, verse 8). He is writing to Christians and he wants them to rejoice, and he says to them, `Though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory'---all of them. He does not say, `Some of you, the bright and the cheerful, are rejoicing in joy.' Not at all; all of us, everybody, every Christian.

So then, the question I ask is this. Do we know anything about this joy and gladness and rejoicing? I think I have established that it is something that is an inevitable consequence of the true, evangelical experience of the rebirth. But in case there is someone who is unhappy about this, and in my desire to be essentially practical, let me put it in this way. There are certain causes which tend to stand between people and the experience of this joy and gladness. Let me note some of them. The first, of course, is sin. That was the essence of David's trouble. `Restore unto me', says David, `the joy of thy salvation.' Why had he lost it? He had lost it because he was guilty of adultery and murder and the other things I have mentioned. My dear friend, there is no need to argue about this. Alas, we all of us know it painfully by experience. If we sin we break the communion and contact with God, and that always leads to misery and unhappiness. There are always conditions to God's blessings. We must love God; God calls us to love Him. I know many people who are living miserable Christian lives because they will not submit themselves to God. You cannot have it both ways. Read about the apostle Paul again and the amazing joy that he knew. Read the biographies of the saints and of their thrilling experiences. Why do we not all have that? It was not that they were special people. No, Paul says he is `the chief of sinners'. How then did he know such joy? The essence of the secret is that he avoided sin, he lived the life to which God in Christ called him. Sin always robs of joy. Let us be careful about that.

But there is another reason also, and that is lack of understanding as to the way of salvation. There are many people who want to be Christian, there are many who would give the whole world if only they could have the joy that they read about in the Bible and in the lives of the saints. And yet they say, `You know, I never seem to be able to get it. I have prayed and longed for it. The one thing I want is this great joy, and yet I never get it, it is always eluding me.' Well, sometimes, the cause for this is nothing but sheer ignorance or faulty teaching with respect to the way and the means of salvation. Without quite realizing it, these people are still trusting to themselves and to their own efforts. They have not realized that the gospel is as simple as this, that we have to come to God empty-handed, that we realize we can do nothing, that it is a gift from God which we receive. They are still trying to make themselves Christian, and as long as they do so they will never know the joy of salvation. Let me state it once more. It is just this---and how simple it is! We have all sinned against God. We can never get rid of our guilt, we can never remove the stain. My past remains and I cannot deal with it, and I fail in the present and shall fail in the future. How then can I meet God and be forgiven? Ah, the whole answer is that I can receive it as an immediate gift, that everything has been done in Christ, that Christ has died for my sin, and that because God has dealt with sin there, He offers me this free gift. Now there is the essence of this matter. You need not wait for anything; it is a gift that has to be received, just as you are and where you are at this moment.

Now there are many people who do not realize this. They say, `I must become a better man before I can say I am a Christian.' That is to deny the whole doctrine of forgiveness. The doctrine is that in sheer stark simplicity it is all given by God, in a moment, at once. He does not ask anything of us except to submit to Him. I hope there is no one going without the joy of salvation through a failure to realize that it is the free gift of God that can be taken at any moment. God does not ask you to do anything. He asks you to receive it now, to believe His word. Oh the tragedy that people should rob themselves of the joy for that reason!

Let me give you an example of this. That was the whole trouble with Luther. Luther was trying to make himself a Christian, and he was unhappy, as any man must be who tries to make himself a Christian, because it cannot be done. And then this blessed truth dawned upon him that these riches of God in Christ were a free gift and all he had to do was to receive them by faith. God had made him just in Christ. And in a moment all was well, and he began to rejoice. That also is the case with every other saint that the church has ever known.

A third reason which explains why many lack this joy of salvation is the simple reason that they spend too much time in looking at themselves instead of looking at the Lord. They set up for themselves a standard of perfection. I remember the sad case of a very godly man whom I knew who had two daughters who were most excellent women. They had reached middle life when I met them. They lived, in a sense, for the things of God, and yet neither of them had ever become a member of a Christian church, or ever taken communion at the Lord's table. As regards their life and conduct, you could not think of better people, and yet they had never become members of the church and they had never partaken of the bread and the wine. Why? They said they did not feel they were good enough. What was the matter with them? They were looking at themselves instead of at the finished, perfect work of Christ. You look at yourself and of course you will be miserable, for within there is blackness and darkness. The best saint when he looks at himself becomes unhappy; he sees things that should not be there, and if you and I spend our whole time looking at ourselves we shall remain in misery, and we shall lose the joy. Self-examination is all right, but introspection is bad. Let us draw the distinction between these two things. We can examine ourselves in the light of Scripture, and if we do that we shall be driven to Christ. But with introspection a man looks at himself and continues to do so, and refuses to be happy until he gets rid of the imperfections that are still there. Oh, the tragedy that we should spend our lives looking at ourselves instead of looking at Him who can set us free!

Is it not a wonderful thing that joy is at all possible to such creatures as we are? Is there not something almost daring about this prayer of David's? `Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation,' says the adulterer and the murderer, the liar, the man who is responsible for so much trouble---'restore unto me the joy of thy salvation.' How can a man like that ever be happy? Is it possible? I thank God it is possible, and that is why I preach this gospel to you. That is the glory of this wonderful salvation. It can give this joy to a man who has sunk as low as that, and raise him to the heights of joy and gladness. And it does it like this. It can make even the worst sinner joyful and happy because it gives him an assurance of pardon and forgiveness. The only one who can pardon is God, and, thank God, He does so! And God not only pardons, He can make me know He has pardoned. To know that is to lose that miserable sense of guilt and frustration. Nobody else can do it, but God can do it. So, though I may have sunk to the lowest depths of sin and degradation, He can make me rejoice in His great salvation.

Then, of course, He does it by giving me a new nature and a sense of a new start and a new beginning. No man can ever be really joyful and happy if he feels he has to spend the rest of his life exactly as he was before, because he argues like this. He says, `I am sorry I did that, and yet I go on doing the same thing again. Oh, wretched man that I am, what a miserable existence I find myself in!' But here is an offer of a new nature, a new start and beginning. That is the gospel of Jesus Christ. He offers to create us anew, to make us new men with the divine nature within us, and we have a new start in life. Not only that, but that in turn makes a man feel deliverance is really possible. `I need Thee every hour,' says the Christian; `stay Thou near by'. Why? `Temptations lose their power, when Thou art nigh.' I begin to feel He is with me; and He is stronger than the devil. He has conquered the devil and can enable me to conquer.

Another way in which He enables me to joy and rejoice is that He enables me to forget my miserable, wretched self. That is one of the most wonderful things of all. You see, here is a man like David, and he has done these things. Now, if a man like that begins to look at himself he will be down in the depths of despair; but when God makes us look at Christ, He makes us look at His love and compassion and mercy. As you do so you get rid of self, you forget yourself---it is the only way I have known of forgetting self. The way to be happy, according to the gospel, is to look at the Lord Jesus Christ. You see that the Son of God came out of heaven to this world to die for your sins. You see Him there, by faith, in glory, looking upon you and waiting to shower His great light and power and strength upon you. And as you think of His love and compassion you forget yourself and the sin, and you begin to rejoice and praise Him. You have the joy of His great salvation. That is how it is done. Do you know the joy of God's salvation? Do you know what it is to rejoice in the Lord, to be joyful in Christ?

The second characteristic of the Christian is always this: a profound distrust of self and a realization of the power of God. Listen to David. He has already said, `Create in me a clean heart ... and renew a right spirit within me.' In the Revised Version margin it is put in this way---'Renew a stedfast spirit within me.' You see, what he was conscious of was his own unsteadiness. Well might David have felt that. He was a man who had experienced God's blessing, and he had known the joy of the Lord; and yet he had fallen into these terrible sins. So he cries out for this renewal and for this reliable spirit within himself. I make bold to say that every Christian knows what this means. A Christian is not a man who relies upon himself. It is only the Christian who knows his own weakness. It takes a Christian to see the blackness of his own heart and the frailty of his own nature. There is a type of Christian, I regret to say, who behaves as if he can do everything. He has had an experience of conversion, and now he is ready to face hell and the devil and everything. Poor fellow, he will not go very far before he loses that sense of confidence. `Let him that thinketh he standeth', said the apostle Paul to such people, `take heed lest he fall' (1 Corinthians 10:12). No, the Christian is a man who knows his own weakness, and he is afraid of it. So he prays for a steady spirit, a reliable spirit. He wants to be a sound man.

What else? Here is the next thing---'Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me.' `Uphold me---I cannot hold myself,' he says. `Hold me up, I am frail and weak, and the world is dark and sinful. I am surrounded by temptation and the insinuations and suggestions of sin. I am afraid I will fall; hold Thou me up.' That is the Christian---a man who realizes that unless God holds him up he will certainly fall. And the last thing he expresses here is this---`Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me', says the Authorized Version, `with thy free spirit.' It is agreed that that is a wrong translation; it is better like this---'uphold me with a willing spirit'. In other words, what he is praying for is this: `I ask that Thou wilt fill me with a willing spirit, so that I shall always be willing for every request that Thou dost make of me. I want to be willing to run in the way of Thy commandments, so restore unto me this joy of Thy salvation and hold me up with a willing and right spirit.' And of course the Christian knows that all that is only possible in one way---the way that David has already expressed in the words, `Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.' That was his greatest fear of all, that God because of his sin might turn His back upon him. `Don't do so,' cries David; `don't cast me out of thy presence, take not thy holy spirit from me.' In other words, the Christian realizes this, that as he needs a steadiness in his life, as he needs to be upheld, and as he needs this willing spirit, there is only one answer, and it is the answer of the gift of the Holy Spirit. And, thank God, that is the answer of the New Testament gospel. God puts His Spirit into us; and the Spirit of God can make us steady, He can uphold us, He can give us this willingness, this readiness to run in the way of God's commandments. The Christian's confidence is never in himself; it is in the power of the Holy Ghost that God in Christ, and through Christ, has given to him.

The last thing I would mention is this. The last characteristic of the Christian is that he now desires to live for the glory of God, and he is anxious that all others should do the same. Listen to David in verses 13-15: `Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, 0 God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness. 0 Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.' I need not stay with this. Any man who realizes that God in His grace has forgiven him his sin, and has blotted out his transgressions, and cleansed and washed him; any man who realizes how vile he has been, and how wonderful this grace and life from God are---any man who has realized that and really experienced it must of necessity feel that there is only one thing to do in this life and this world, and that is to live to the glory of God. If a man does not feel that, he is despicable. If I stand here and say that I believe that God sent His only begotten Son to that cruel cross on Calvary to die for my sins, that God has loved me so much that He has done that for me---if I say that and I do not want to live to the honour and glory of God, I say I am the most ungrateful wretch that the world has ever seen. There is no need to argue about these things. If a man does you a kind action you feel a sense of gratitude towards him, and you say, `Look here, is there anything I can do for you? If ever you find yourself in any trouble let me know. I feel that I owe so much to you, let me do what I can for you.' And here is the holy God who has forgiven us our foul sins even at the cost of the shed blood of His own Son! There should be no need to appeal to men to be holy: it should be enough just to tell them what God has done and then leave it to their sense of honour.

`O God,'says David, `restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then', inevitably, `will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.' I will spend my time, he says, in telling forth Thy praise, in ministering to Thy glory. I will persuade others to come to Thee; I will look at them with a different eye. I will see them as I have been myself, missing the greatest and the most wonderful thing in life, and I will say to them, `Come to God, face your sin, believe on Him, and you will get this amazing joy and the upholding and the strength and all you need.’ "Then'---and it is this `then', I say, which is inevitable in every true Christian. A Christian, in other words, is a man who realizes the truth about himself, and who has received so much from God that he wants everybody else to have the same thing. It is like a man who may have been suffering for years from some painful disease or illness, who has tried all the physicians of his own country and of other countries and found no cure, and at last stumbles upon a cure and finds relief and release. What does that man desire? He wants all other sufferers from the same disease to know about his cure. He feels he owes it to them. He sees a similar case and he says, `Have you tried this? It has worked wonders in me. Oh that you might try it and become as I am!' And it is exactly the same with every true Christian. The man who is a Christian is sorry for those who are dwelling in sin. He is sorry for this unhappy world trying to find joy and never getting it, trying to draw water from a broken cistern and never finding satisfaction. He sees men getting nearer to death and the end, to judgment and ultimate perdition, and he is unhappy about them. He sees them blinded by Satan, missing the most glorious thing of all, and he wants them to know it. So, having had it himself, he does his utmost that others may have it also.

Thus we have looked together at some of the characteristics of the Christian. My friend, I have said already, and I say it again, the most important question in the world is just that. Are you a Christian? Do you know anything of this joy? Do you know anything of this supreme confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit? Do you feel you have something that you would like others to have? Those are some of the simple tests. If you have it, may God continue to bless you. If you do not have it, if you feel that these simple tests have condemned you, and you feel you are not a Christian at all, then all I say is this: Go and confess it to God. Do not lose a moment. Tell Him that you have been misleading yourself, that you realize you are not a Christian. Tell Him you want to be a Christian, ask Him by His Holy Spirit to enlighten you. It is as simple as that---confess your sin, acknowledge your transgression and ask Him for this pardon in Christ; and you will receive it. Then thank Him, and go and tell others, who are in like darkness and in the same misery, about Him. Amen. (89-111)

 

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