A Joy that is above Circumstances and Accident by Martyn Lloyd-Jones
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “The Assurance of our Salvation.” The sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from 1952 to 1953. It was originally published in four volumes: Seed in Eternity, Safe in the World, Sanctified through the Truth, and Growing in the Spirit. It was published in one volume in 2000
And now I come to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves(John 17:13).
We have been considering together the ways in which, as Christians, we manifest our Lord’s glory, and we have reminded ourselves of our tremendous responsibility as we realize that we, and we alone, are the people through whom the Lord Jesus Christ is glorified in this world of time.
Now that was the second reason for our Lord’s prayer—the first reason, you remember, was because of who and what we are—and here we come to the third reason, which he puts quite plainly in verse 13. He says, in effect, `I am praying all these things audibly in their presence because I am anxious that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.’ He is anxious that this joy that he himself had experienced should also be fully experienced by these his followers. There is, therefore, a very definite logical sequence in the arrangement of these matters. In dealing earlier with the ways in which the Lord Jesus Christ is glorified in us, we spoke of the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, and so on. At that point, in dealing briefly with joy, I said that I would not go into it in detail, because we would be returning to it, and this is where we must do that. And what we see here is that one of the ways in which we, as Christians, can glorify Christ in this life and world, is by being filled with this spirit of joy and of rejoicing. This is a fruit of the Spirit which our Lord singles out in particular in this prayer to the Father on behalf of his followers. And so we glorify him in a very special way by being partakers of this his own joy.
Obviously, therefore, this is an important subject. Our Lord would not have singled it out like this and given it a special place and emphasis unless it was something of vital concern. So clearly we must start our consideration of it by reminding ourselves again of what a wonderful display this is of our Lord’s care and solicitude for his own people. How anxious he is that their welfare should be catered for! He is going to leave them, he is going back to the Father, but he does not lose interest in them for that reason. In a sense he is still more interested in them, and though he is going to face the shame and the agony of the cross, what is uppermost in his mind is the condition and future of these disciples of his, whom he is leaving behind.
But there is more than that—indeed it is something which is of even more vital concern. All that we have been saying is something to rejoice in, but there is a bigger, deeper lesson here. This whole subject of joy is one which is prominent in the New Testament, and, therefore, it must be of primary importance to Christian people. We can see in John 16 how our Lord constantly referred to it, and if you go through the four gospels and look for it, you will find that he was always emphasizing it. And if you read the epistles you will find the subject of joy there, in perhaps a still more striking manner, for some of them are almost exclusively devoted to it. It is a great theme, for instance, of the epistle to the Philippians. Paul’s concern there is that Christian people should experience this joy—`Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice’ (4:4). It was his burning desire for all Christian people. And then, what, after all, is the purpose of the book of Revelation except that God’s people should be taught how truly to be filled with joy and to rejoice? John himself in his first epistle very specifically says, `These things write I unto you that your joy might be full’ (1:14). He was an old man realizing that he was at the end of his journey and thinking of the Christian people he was leaving behind in this difficult world. So he wrote his letter to them in order that their joy might be full. It is, I say, one of the outstanding themes of the entire New Testament, and so it behoves us to be very clear in our minds about it.
There are certain principles that seem to me to stand out very clearly. The first is that we are not only saved for eternity. The gospel of Jesus Christ, of course, is primarily something that does safeguard our eternal destiny. Its fundamental purpose is to reconcile us to God and to see that we are saved in that final and eternal sense. It puts us right once and for all and into a right standing in the presence of God. It reconciles us to God, and establishes definitely in our experience that we are his children. It takes from us the fear of death, of the grave, and of judgement, and it assures us that our eternity and our eternal destiny is safe and secure. But—and this is what is emphasized in this particular verse —we are not only saved for eternity. It is a very false and incomplete view of Christian salvation that postpones its blessings to the realm that lies beyond this present life and beyond the grave.
This sounds so obvious that it is almost foolish to emphasize it, and yet if you go into the history of the church you will find that very often, and sometimes for a very long period, Christian people, by the subtlety of Satan, have been entirely robbed of this particular aspect. This has very often been a result of our reaction —a healthy and right reaction—against worldliness. Christian people have realized that because they are not of the world they should separate themselves from everything that belongs to it. They interpret that as meaning that while they are in this life they are—to use that line of Milton’s—`To scorn delights, and live laborious days’. So they have thought of the Christian as someone who is melancholic, someone who is never going to experience any happiness or joy in a sinful world like this, but who really does look forward to a great joy of unmixed bliss in the land that lies beyond the present and the seen. Thus they seem to rob themselves entirely of any benefits or blessings from salvation in this present life. Now that is tragically and pathetically wrong. The blessings of Christianity are to be enjoyed in this world as well as in the world to come. There are different aspects, of course, of salvation, but we must never so emphasize the future as to derogate from the present, neither must we in turn emphasize the present and detract from the future. There are blessings to be enjoyed here and now and our Lord emphasized that very clearly in this verse.
But then I draw a second deduction, which is that one of the particular blessings which the Christian is meant to enjoy in the present life is this experience of joy. Our Lord says that he prays in order that his joy might be `fulfilled in themselves’. We see that in John 16 when he exhorts us to pray: `Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full’ (v. 24). The Christian is meant to be a joyful person, one who is meant to experience the joy of salvation. There is no question about that; it is something which is taught everywhere in the New Testament, and so it is our duty as Christians to have this joy, and to be filled with it. And we must give ourselves neither rest nor peace until we have it.
But there are many obstacles to that, and many things which hinder the Christian from having it. There are certain people, I know, who so react against the false and carnal sort of joy, that they rob themselves of the true joy. But the opposite of carnal and fleshly joy is not to be miserable. It is to have the true joy, the joy of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. And in the light of all these exhortations from him and from the apostles we must start by realizing that it is our duty to possess and to experience this joy of which our Lord speaks. We have no right not to have it. Indeed, I put it as my third principle that it is clearly dishonouring to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to the work he has done, not to have this joy. The teaching seems to be that he came into this world in order that we might have it. Take, for instance, the words at the end of chapter 16: `These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace’ (v.33). That verse couples peace and joy together: `In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.’ And because he has overcome the world, we are meant to have this joy and to experience it; we are meant to be Christian people who rejoice.
This links very naturally with the previous subject of glorifying him—a miserable Christian does not and obviously cannot glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. Everybody else is miserable, the world makes people so. But if the Lord Jesus Christ has done what he claims to have done, and has come to suffer all that he suffered in this world, to the end that his people might be made different, they are obviously to be a joyful people. He has done all that in order to make it possible for us, and so our failure to be joyful in our lives is to detract from his glory and to cast queries upon his wonderful work. It thus behoves us as Christian people to realize that it is our duty to be joyful. This is often put to us in the New Testament as an injunction. We are commanded to rejoice and if you are commanded to do something, it means that you must do it. Now that, obviously, is going to raise a question in our minds as to the nature of this joy. People say that it is no use going to a miserable man and telling him to cheer up. But there is a sense in which you can do that—not directly, but indirectly—and it will result in joy. This is what we must consider together. `Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice’—that is what we are meant to do, and we are meant to be joyful, not only for our own sakes, but still more for his.
So that leads us to the vital question—what is this joy, and what do we know about it? We will content ourselves, for the moment, with just looking at what our Lord himself tells us in this particular verse. The first thing is that it is hisjoy. `These things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.’ Now this is most important because it means that it is not the kind of joy that some people sometimes seem to think it is. It is the kind of joy that he himself possessed and therefore we can say of necessity that it was not carnal or fleshly, it was never boisterous.
I emphasize those negatives because it is always essential to point out that in a matter like this there are two extremes that must always be avoided. I have already mentioned one of them, that of being so anxious to avoid the carnal as to become almost melancholic, but we must also avoid this other extreme. There are certain people—and they have been very much in evidence I should think for the last fifty years or so—who, having realized quite rightly that a Christian is meant to have joy, have been so anxious to manifest the fact that though they are Christian they are still joyful, that they assume a liveliness which is certainly not the joy of the Lord Jesus Christ. They are a kind of boisterous Christian, but our Lord was never boisterous. Our Lord’s joy was a holy joy. Yes—let us not hesitate to say it—it was a serious joy. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief and yet joyful.
The same thing is obviously true of the apostle Paul. He says of himself that he knows this joy and rejoices, and yet he also says that `in this tabernacle do we groan, being burdened’ (2 Corinthians 5:4). You just cannot think of Paul as a kind of `hail fellow well met’ man, it is inconceivable. Yet no man had a greater joy. He talked in the terms of our Lord himself, and that is the joy that you and I should have. It is not a kind of joy that you put on as a cloak, nor is it a kind of mask that you put on to impress people with how happy and joyful you are. To start with, that does not mislead anybody except the truly superficial, but in any case it is false. True joy is not something that is assumed, it is, rather, an experience down in the depths of one’s being. It is not, therefore, something you try to produce, but something that you are, which manifests itself in your life because you are what you are. There is nothing, it seems to me, that is so irritating as the kind of person who is obviously trying to give the impression that he is happy and joyful because he is a Christian, there is nothing that tends to make some of us more miserable; but that is a wrong sort of joy. The first principle, then, is that it is a particular type of joy. It is his joy, and it is the very antithesis of the carnal and fleshly, which is assumed and affected and acted.
Secondly, it is exactly the joy that our Lord himself knew. You cannot go through the gospels and look at the portrayal of our Lord which is contained therein, without seeing this remarkable theme running right through. In spite of all he had to endure and suffer, he spoke constantly of this joy. There is no more striking illustration of this than that which we find at the end of chapter 16. The disciples, at long last, thought that they had seen and understood, but he turned to them and said—and if I could paint I should like to paint the expression of his face when he said it—`Do ye now believe? Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone’—then—`and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me’ (John 16:31-32). That is joy, that is the joy which he possessed, it was always a part of his life and experience. And that is the joy which we are meant to have, a joy that can face the cross, yes, and the weakness and the apparent desertion, of those whom we trusted, and on whom we relied—`Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame…’ (Hebrew 12:2).
Or, again, you can look at it as the joy that comes entirely and exclusively from him. He is its source, so it is a joy that is impossible apart from him, because it derives and emanates from him. It is a joy that he gives to his own people. Put in another way, it is a part of this wonderful fruit that the Holy Spirit produces in us, so in no sense is it self-generated. We do not produce it, it is his joy which is thus realized by us and manifested through us—that is our firstprinciple.
The second thing he tells us about it is that it is a joy that is entirely above and independent of the world and of circumstances and it is in no way produced by them. That, as we have just seen, is the thing that stands out so marvellously in the life of the Lord himself and that is what strikes you as you read through the gospels. He was in the world yet he was not of it, he was independent of it. He walked through the middle of the storm quite unaffected by it, for he had peace within. It is said that in the middle of a hurricane, or a tornado, there is always a central spot which is quite peaceful, and our Lord was always there. Whatever might be happening around and about him, he had this central point of peace and joy. Again, we see this clearly in the great verse in Hebrews 12: `Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.’ He went through it all, for there was that about him which made him quite impervious to these things and they could not get at him. It was a kind of garrison, or, as Paul puts it in connection with peace, `The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep [garrison] your hearts and minds’ (Phil 4:7), shall surround them, or shall so protect them that nothing can penetrate.
Our Lord was like that; he was kept by this marvellous joy so that nothing could touch or affect him. After all, there is very little value in a joy which does not make us capable of that. If our joy is dependent upon what is happening to us and the world around us, or on what is happening to us physically, then we are not different from the world. The world knows what it is to have a kind of joy when everything goes well, but the tragedy about worldly joy is that it is entirely dependent upon circumstances. We all know that perfectly well in our own experience, and we see it so constantly in others. I know of nothing which is quite so sad in this world as to see a life that has seemed so happy suddenly shattered because of something that happens, such as the death of a loved one, or some disappointment or accident. The joy which is thus dependent upon circumstances outside ourselves or our own condition is not his joy. The glory of this Joy of which he speaks is that it is absolutely independent of circumstances. He could face the cross and rejoice, and his prayer to the Father is that this joy might be fulfilled in us.
We must remember, too, the context of this verse. He goes on to say in verses 14-16, `I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.’ That is the promise. He was going to leave them all. They had been dependent on him—for three years they had been hanging on his every word, and the result was that when he began to tell them he was going away, sorrow filled their hearts. And so he started off—we read at the beginning of the fourteenth chapter—by saying, `Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me …’ He tried to comfort them. He said, in effect, `You are depending too much on my physical presence. I am going to leave you.’ But not only that, he was going to leave them in a world full of hate, in a world that hated them, in a world that would be antagonistic to them, in a world that would try to kill them and exterminate them, as a body. He was going to leave them in such a world, and yet his prayer was, `That they might have my joy fulfilled in them.’ In other words, his prayer was that though the world, the flesh, the devil and all hell would be let loose against them and would be violently opposed to them, yet they—like himself, for the joy that was set before them, the joy that they had already experienced—might be more than conquerors. That is the great New Testament theme. Read Romans 8, verses 35-37, where Paul, after he had given his tremendous list of all the things that were happening to them, could write, `Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.’ That is the true joy. It is a joy, therefore, that is entirely above circumstances and accident and chance; it is independent of them all even as his was.
And the next principle is the discovery of what it is that makes this joy possible. I can imagine someone saying, `I would give the whole world if I could have this joy. I recognize that you are right when you say it is the New Testament teaching, and that it is my duty to be like that, but how does one get it?‘
Fortunately our Lord answers the question here. He says, `These things I speak in the world; [in order] that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves’, and that leads us to see exactly how we can obtain this joy. One part of this joy is our certain knowledge that he is praying for us. He not only prayed for the disciples, he prayed audibly, in order that they might hear and know, and what he did there he will do for us now. Therefore the great thing is to know that the Lord Jesus Christ is interceding on our behalf, he is still praying.
And that, in turn, leads us to realize his love towards us. I suppose there is nothing that so tends to rob us of our joy as our realization that we do not love him as we ought, because when we realize this, we become unhappy and miserable. I will tell you the best antidote to that: when you realize your love is weak and faint and poor and unworthy, stop thinking about your love, and realize that in spite of its poverty, he loves you. He has said, `As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you’ (John 15:9). If I did not believe that, then I would be of all men most wretched and miserable, for the whole essence of the Christian salvation is to know that in spite of what I have been and what I am, he loves me. Start with that, and I think he will begin to make you love him, but if you are always looking at your own love and trying to increase that, you will be miserable. Think of his love to you; he has given evidence of it, so accept the evidence and act upon it.
But it also makes us know the Father’s love. Our Lord has said it here, in verse 6: ‘thine they were’—he reminds us that we belong to God, that we are God’s people, the special object of his concern. Or let me put it still more specifically in this way. What are `these things’ to which our Lord refers? They are this great doctrine that he has been enunciating, which is that God has his people, that before the foundation of the world God had his people, his marked people, and that he gave them to Christ—we have already dealt with this in detail: `I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me’ (v.6). To know the Lord’s joy is to realize that, and to realize, furthermore, that the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world for us, that he came in order to prepare us for God, and to deliver us from the guilt of our sin. He has done it all. He has borne the guilt and the punishment and the law is satisfied. It has nothing against us any more, for, `There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8.1). As the hymn puts it, `The terrors of law and of God, With me can have nothing to do’ (Augustus Montague Toplady). I know that, and he has reminded me of it, so how can I fail to be joyful if I believe what he says?
Then what more can we say about these things? Well, he has given me his own nature. He has made me a child of God. He gives me the blessed assurance that, `If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life’ (Romans 5:10). He has shown us so plainly and clearly that our salvation depends entirely upon him, and not upon ourselves at all. He has told us that no man shall be able to pluck us out of his hands, that we are indeed safe and secure, and that nothing and no one shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. It is people who believe things like that, who know what this joy is. Go back and read the history of the church, read the lives of the saints, and you will find that the people who have been the most joyful have always been the people who have been most assured and certain of their salvation.
And then another source of joy is that we can realize, as he did, the joy that is set before us. Whatever this world may be doing to us, if we know of this inheritance that is prepared for us we cannot but be happy. `Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also’ (John 14:1-3). If you believe that, your heart cannot but rejoice. So he speaks `these things’ in the world that we may hear them, and this is the source of joy.
And all that leads in turn to fellowship with the Father, to a life lived with God. John has put that perfectly, once and for ever, in 1 John 1:3-4, `That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.’ That is the ultimate source of joy, that, realizing the truth as it is in Christ, we are brought into fellowship with the Father. And so, as we walk with him in fellowship we must be joyful. Anything less is impossible, and as our Lord experienced it, so shall we experience it.
So let me end this study with a few practical suggestions.
How, then, in practice do we have this joy? The first thing is to avoid concentrating on our own feelings. There are many Christian people who spend the whole of their lives looking at their own feelings and always taking their own spiritual pulse, their own spiritual temperature. Of course, they never find it satisfactory, and because of that they are miserable and unhappy, moaning and groaning. Now that is wrong. First and foremost we must avoid concentrating on our own feelings. We must learn to concentrate positively on `these things’. In other words, the secret of joy is the practice of meditation—that is the way to have this joy of the Lord. We must meditate upon him, upon what he is, what he has done, his love to us and upon God’s care for us who are his people.
This is what I meant earlier when I said we could only produce this joy indirectly. It is not something I assume in order to give the impression that I am a wonderfully happy man, and then go back to being bored and miserable in my own home. No, it is not that, it is something that results from meditation and contemplation upon `these things’, these precious, wonderful things. And I have no hesitation in saying that there is such a marked absence of true Christian joy in the church today because there is so little meditation. Do not misunderstand me. We all constantly exhort one another to have our `quiet time’, which generally means reading Scripture and prayer. It is perfectly right, but if you stop at that, you will probably not have this joy—having read and having prayed, then meditate. Think on these things, set your affection on them, hold yourself before them and bring them to your mind many times during the day. The sum of joy is simple meditation, contemplation, on these things, making time to dwell upon them, putting other things out of the way and spending your time with them. For the more we know `these things’ and dwell with them and live with them, and seek the face of God, the greater will be our joy.
And obviously—this almost goes without saying—we must avoid everything that tends to break our fellowship with God. The moment that is broken we become miserable. We cannot help it; whether we want to or not, our conscience will see to that.It will accuse us, and condemn anything that breaks our fellowship with God and his Son. The joy of the world always drives out the other joy, as does any dependence on the world, so we must avoid sin in every shape and form. Let us stop looking to the world, even at its best, for true joy, and for true happiness. But above all, we must look at `these things’ that he speaks of, these truths that he unfolded. Let us meditate upon them, contemplate them, dwell upon them, revel in them and I will guarantee that as we do so, either in our own personal meditation or in reading books about them, we will find ourselves experiencing a joy such as we have never known before. It is inevitable, it follows as the night the day.
`These things speak I in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.’ What a wonderful thing that it is possible for us to live in this world, in a measure, even as the blessed Son of God lived, and that as we do so he is glorified in us. (295-307)