By John Brown,
My Dear Theron,
The desire of happiness is an original principle of our nature, universal in its extent, powerful in its influence, and lasting in its duration. Confined to no country, it operates with equal force in the Greenlander who shivers under the pole, and the African who glows under the ardour of a tropical sun. Peculiar to no rank, it equally animates the heart, and regulates the conduct of the peasant and the prince. Limited to no age, it gives birth to the cries of the infant, the amusements of the boy, and the business of the man of more advanced years. When the glow of youth has passed away, the ardour of this principle continues unabated; and even when all the bodily organs and mental faculties have felt the paralyzing touch of old age, its vigour remains unimpaired. Over the powers of the intellect, the affections of the heart, and the actions of the life, it exerts a constant and powerful influence. The various changes which our sentiments, our characters, and our situations may undergo, may change its direction, but they cannot effect its destruction. While we continue to exist, we must continue to wish for happiness. It may be laid down as a principle, that a religion which comes from God will be suited to the constitution of the human mind; and, in particular, be calculated to meet and gratify this inextinguishable thirst for enjoyment, which is one of the most general characteristics of our species. This is pre eminently the case with the religion of Christ.–It is fitted to make man happy, up to his largest capacity of enjoyment. What all are earnestly wishing and eagerly seeking, is to be found here, and here alone. This is the rest, and this is the refreshing, whereby God causes the weary to rest.
In order to our forming; just notions of the pleasures of evangelical religion, it is absolutely necessary that we should constantly recollect, that all these pleasures originate in, and are intimately connected with, the Lord Jesus Christ. The true circumcision – the genuine people of God, when they rejoice, rejoice in Christ Jesus.
Religious pleasure may be considered either as habitual or as actual. By habitual pleasure, I understand that disposition of heart, produced by the regenerating influence of the Divine Spirit, towards Jesus Christ, which induces the individual to regard him as the supreme object of his affection, and the inexhaustible source of his joy; and as it was the disposition of Adam’s will to compliance with the Divine will which denominated him righteous even previously to his actual performance of holy actions, so all in whose hearts this tendency to draw their pleasure from Christ is formed, even though but very imperfectly acquainted with the exercise of Christian joy, may be termed rejoicers in Christ. This habitual joy in Christ is possessed by every Christian, even in his most gloomy hours; and as, in the most flourishing state of the sinner’s pleasure, there is a worm at the root which will soon make them wither, so, when the Christian soul exhibits nothing but a scene of barrenness, There is a seed of pleasure which, though now under the clod, will soon spring up, and turn the desert waste into a garden of the Lord. Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart. Wherever this habitual pleasure in Christ exists, it prevents the person from taking supreme delight in any thing else. He has lost his former relish for earthly pleasure, and the language of his heart is, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus.”
Actual pleasure in Christ is this disposition in exercise– the soul’s solacing itself in Christ, and improving him in all his various characters for promoting its consolation and joy. It is obvious that the enjoyment of this kind of pleasure must depend on the exercise of faith, and the degree of this pleasure will be greater or less, according to the strength or weakness of that grace. This actual pleasure may be viewed in two different aspects, as sensible or rational. Sensible pleasure is enjoyed by the saint, when the contemplation of the Saviour’s personal and mediatorial excellencies, in their relation to his own state and prospects, diffuses a rapturous sensation of joy and triumph throughout his soul–a joy unspeakable and full of glory, inducing him to say, “ My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.” Luke i. 46. “ I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels;” Isa. lxi. 10. In the present state, are so closely connected with sensible things, that we will scarcely admit that any thing deserves the name of pleasure, which does not produce these rapturous emotions; yet there is question less also what may be termed a rational pleasure in Christ, unaccompanied with this tumultuous delight. By rational pleasure in Christ I mean that satisfaction which the saint possesses, from a fixed conviction of the value and excellence of the object of his affection and esteem. The difference between these two kinds of religious pleasure, may be illustrated from the experience of the man Christ Jesus.–Being a man of sorrows and acquainted with griefs, he was in a great measure a stranger to sensible pleasure, though we read that in a certain hour he rejoiced in spirit, i.e. was filled with sensible transport, Luke x. 21.; yet it is plain that he enjoyed a rational satisfaction throughout the whole tenor of his life, John xv. 11. I need not tell you, who are so familiarly acquainted with the inspired original of the New Testament, that the words which are respectively employed by the sacred writers in the passages above quoted, are descriptive of different species of joy. The former, which is the same which the Holy Virgin employs to express her transport, denotes what we would call rapture; the other denotes what we should term calm satisfaction, rational delight. Sensible pleasure in Christ is not the ordinary experience of any Christian, and it may indeed admit of question, whether there may not have been real Christians, who have never tasted of it till they drank the new wine of unmingled delight in their Father’s kingdom. This we know from an infallible authority, that there are some who are all their lifetime in bondage, through fear of death, Heb. ii. 5. But every believer, in a degree corresponding to the strength and activity of his other graces, habitually enjoys this rational satisfaction; for, if the Kingdom of God be righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, wherever it comes, these must be there also. It is this pleasure that I intend to make my theme in the remaining part of this letter.
This pleasure, which is entirely different from the joy of the hypocrite arising from his confidence in the flesh, may be described as the resting of the soul in Christ. The conscience full of guilt, and tortured with fear, finds rest in his blessed atonement, and the heart replete with desires, centres in, and is satisfied with, the fullness of his grace. It may be viewed as the enlargement of the soul, formerly straitened or fettered by sorrow,–the elevation of the heart to heaven, formerly bound down by worldly affections,–the triumph of the whole man in Jehovah as his Saviour. It is thus described by those who have felt it:-”Thou hast turned my mourning into dancing; thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness-They who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength they shall mount up on wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Descending from heaven, it raises the soul to heaven: “ My soul shall make its boast in the Lord.” Boasting in ourselves, is entirely excluded by the law of faith, yet every sharer of this celestial joy may, and ought to say, “ God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus.”
This pleasure has a variety of peculiar advantages. It is a pleasure of which the saint cannot be deprived, by all the malice, power, and art of his spiritual enemies. It is a hidden treasure out of the sight and out of the reach of the world; it is a joy with which a stranger cannot intermeddle. The liberty, the worldly substance, the life of the saints may be taken from them; but who can deprive them of their joy? Paul and Silas, when in the inner prison, with their feet fast in the stocks, were still so full of this celestial pleasure, that it found vent in songs of praise. It is a pleasure suited to man’s spiritual, rational, and immortal nature, as its objects are spiritual,–God and Christ, and things divine and heavenly. It is the pleasure, not of the fancy, but of the heart. “Thou hast put gladness into my heart,” says David, “more than when their corn and oil are increased.” It is a pleasure ever ready and near at hand. The pleasures of the wicked are from without, and they are dependent on others for their attainment and their continuance. For example, the pleasures of the vain man depend on the esteem of his fellow men. But the pleasures of religion are from within. A good man is satisfied from himself. His pleasures arise from his God and his grace, which are never far from him. It is, in one word, an unspeakable pleasure, so pure, so sublime, so satisfying, that none can make language of it; and it is full of glory-glorious in itself, and a lively foretaste of the glory to be revealed.
Should you inquire into the sources of this pleasure, I would reply, they are at once numerous and abundant. The divine perfections — infinite wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth, as harmoniously glorified in our salvation through Christ Jesus, — the Divine Persons Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, all engaged in the work of our redemption; — the Father forming the amazing scheme — the Son carrying it into execution and the Holy Spirit rendering all effectual for our everlasting welfare; — the new covenant characters of a redeeming God — the God of peace, of grace, of consolation–the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — the Hearer of prayer — and our own God; — the characters and relations of Christ, as the great Shepherd of the sheep, the Captain of salvation, the Lord our Healer, our Friend, our Husband; — the promises of grace, containing a full exhibition and a free offer of God and Christ, and salvation to men, — promises of pardon, such as “I, even I, am He who blotteth out your iniquities for mine own sake. and I will not remember thy sins:–” Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red as crimson, they shall be as wool:” — promises of God’s presence and grace, such as “ My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest;”–” My grace is sufficient for thee, and my strength is perfected in weakness;”– promises of comfort, as, “I will satiate every weary soul, I will replenish every sorrowful soul:”–” I, even I, am he who comforteth you:”–”I will see you again, and your hearts shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you;”‑‑promises of heaven and glory,–”It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,”–” The days of thy mourning shall be ended,”–”Thy God shall be thy glory;”–these, these are the ever full and ever overflowing, the unexhausted and inexhaustible sources of the believer’s pleasure. These are the saints’ wells of salvation, from which they draw large draughts of consolation and joy. Well may they adopt the song of the Israelites, “ Spring up, O well! sing ye unto it.”
It is a question of considerable interest, How are those pleasurable emotions, which may be produced by mere natural causes under religious ordinances, to be distinguished from that divine pleasure of which we are speaking? It cannot be doubted, that men may be highly pleased through means of the dispensation of divine truth, who are yet entire strangers to true religious pleasure. The modulation of the preacher’s voice may be pleasant to the ear, his graceful attitudes and gestures may be gratifying to the eye, the force of his reasonings may satisfy the judgment, the richness of his imagery may amuse the fancy, and the pathos of his descriptions may melt the affections,– so that, on the whole, the man may not only be pleased but delighted. Such seems to have been the case with the hearers of Ezekiel: “He was unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well upon an instrument, Ezek. 33:32. With respect to this species of pleasure, it is necessary to remark, that it is not in itself culpable–these various qualities being naturally calculated to produce pleasure, and that it is frequently the concomitant and means of spiritual delight. Yet still they are two different things, and though often, they are not inseparably connected.
To satisfy ourselves as to the important point, whether our joy and pleasure be of a spiritual nature, let us inquire, whether it be principally what is spiritual and evangelical such as the great truths of the Gospel in reference to the plan of salvation through Christ, and his suitableness, excellence, and amiableness as a Saviour, that principally produces the pleasurable movement of our affections; whether our hearts and consciences are touched, as well as our affections moved; whether we see and feel our own interest in the truths of the Gospel; and whether it be this perception that makes them peculiarly delightful to our souls. For example, when we hear of the doctrine of atonement for sin, through the righteousness of Christ, are we pleased merely because we are satisfied with the masterly manner in which it is proved to be taught in Scripture, and suited in general to the wants and wishes of guilty yet immortal men? or does our pleasure arise from our clearly perceiving, and deeply feeling, that we, as individuals guilty and condemned, need such an atonement, and that it is at once our right and our duty to trust in this expiatory sacrifice for the pardon of our sins, and the salvation of our souls? It will also serve to enable us to resolve this question, to inquire whether this pleasure is found to be a stimulant to the graces of faith, and love, and to have a sanctifying influence on our hearts and lives.
These plain remarks may be of some use in enabling you to distinguish between mere natural pleasure, and the peculiar and supernatural joys of religion. There is another question not less interesting, that naturally suggests itself here,–How may the pleasure of which we are speaking be distinguished from the joy of the hypocrite?–In order to enable you to answer this question to your satisfaction, I offer the following hints. Genuine religious pleasure is founded on Christ’s person and work,–the Rock of ages, the foundation laid in Zion; but the pleasure of the hypocrite is founded on external privileges, and transitory frames and emotions. True spiritual joy is usually most powerfully felt, after the soul has been most deeply humbled on account of sin. It is they who sow in tears, who reap in joy. It is they who mourn, that are comforted. On the contrary, delusive, hypocritical joy, is not preceded by this evangelical sorrow. Like the grain sown on the rocky soil, it springs up rapidly, and as rapidly withers and disappears. A good crop of grain is not to be expected without toil on the part of the husbandman; but weeds grow spontaneously. True spiritual pleasure is produced through the instrumentality of the word properly understood; delusive pleasure is produced without the intervention of the word, or through its misapplication. The joy of the Christian is full, through the word which Christ has spoken. If the joy of the hypocrite is full, it is through his own impressions. True spiritual pleasure is durable, but “the joy of the hypocrite is but for a moment.” It is the pleasure of the Jews under the Baptist’s ministry, but for a season. But the joy of Christ abides in his people. It is indeed true, that even a true saint occasionally may lose his pleasure for a season; but here lies the difference between him and the hypocrite: When they lose the sense of their interest in Christ and his fullness, that is when they lose sight of the ground of their joy,–their pleasure, of course, is interrupted; but though the ground of the hypocrite’s joy continue full in his view, though he still fancy himself interested in the Divine favour,–his happiness vanishes. What formerly mightily affected him when it was new, now grown familiar, ceases to communicate pleasure. I shall only farther remark, that true religious pleasure uniformly deepens humility; whereas, by means of his carelessness and short-lived joy, the hypocrite is vainly puffed up in his fleshly mind.
I am persuaded, my dear friend, that you have the witness in yourself, that Wisdom’s ways are pleasantness, and that all her paths are pease. Indeed, how can it be otherwise, from the very nature of genuine religion! What is true religion, but the knowledge of the one‑true God, and of Jesus Christ whom he hath sent? And is it not pleasant to know truth, divine truth, certain truth, truth full of grace, all‑important saving truth,– truth respecting God’s perfections, the covenant of grace, the person, atonement, grace, benefits, and laws of Jesus: The happiness of angels is increased with the increase of their knowledge of these divine mysteries. Into these things they desire to look.–Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun; but a thousand times more sweet, a thousand times more pleasant, is the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus, to the enlightened mind. As the honeycomb is sweet to the taste, so is the knowledge of wisdom to the soul. The transports of the ancient mathematician, on discovering the solution of a problem which had long puzzled him, were perhaps excessive; but what joy can be too great in obtaining that knowledge of God and his Son, which is eternal life! What is more agreeable than rest, and especially rest in God! and this is the scriptural account of religion. We who believe, do enter into rest. “Return unto thy rest, O my soul.”–While in a state of guilt and depravity, we are and must be restless; but in the covenant, blood, fullness, promise, and grace of Christ, we find rest in all the delightful extent of that word,–rest from the perplexities of doubt, from the agonies of remorse, from the turbulence of passion, from the anxieties of desire, and from the forebodings of fear, –rest for the understanding, conscience, and heart. This is the rest, and this is the refreshing! Delighting ourselves in God, we get the desire of our heart! Is it agreeable for a son to enjoy the company of an affectionate father? Religion is a drawing near to our Father who is in heaven. To come as a petitioner to a prince, is a privilege; but to come to God as a Father is a peculiar pleasure, and this pleasure have all the saints. They come boldly to the throne of grace,–they have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, Abba, Father. They are enabled to view God as a Father who dearly loves them; and even when they wander from his way, they hear his voice bemoaning their departure, and it melts their heart into penitence, and sweetly constrains them to turn their feet into the ways of his testimonies. “‑ Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he a pleasant child? for since I spoke against him, I do earnestly remember him still.”
Is it pleasant to be free of care? Religion is a casting all our care on God, knowing, that he careth for us. Cares of various kinds are apt to prey upon our spirits, and make us unhappy; but when they are rolled over on Him who is infinitely wise, faithful, powerful, and kind, the heart is kept in perfect peace. Is it agreeable to engage in thanksgiving and praise? Then religion must be pleasant, for to be religious is to make a business of praise. It is little or no pleasure to praise him whom none of the wise or good praise; but in praising God we concur with the angels, and spirits of just men made perfect, around the thrown:-surely then it is sweet to join our feeble voices with those of the redeemed, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and never be forgetful of his benefits. To him that loved us, and that washed us from our sins in his own blood, to him be glory for ever.” There is little pleasure in praising one who does not regard our praises; but with delight may we offer praise continually, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased, and dwelleth in the praises of Israel. Never let us forget that religion is just a praising God. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house; they will be still praising thee. We are made Christians for this very purpose, that we may praise him: “This people have I formed for myself, they shall shew forth my praise.” Can it be but delightful to have communion with God in love, grace, and consolation?–and this is of the very essence of religion: “Truly our fellowship is with the father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” We have full liberty to lay open our wants, that he may supply them: “ Out of his fullness we receive, and grace for grace.” While our appetites and passions continue unruly, there can be no true happiness; but religion eradicates these roots of bitterness. By the faith of Jesus’ person and grace, these Canaanites, which were as thorns in our sides, and briars in our eyes, are slain, and we enjoy the promised inheritance in peace.
To be religious, is to dwell in love with God and men; and surely it must be pleasant to love the Lord our God, with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. To be religious, is to maintain a prospect of glory. The Christian sets his affections on things above,–looks for the blessed hope, and hopes for the grace which is to be brought to him at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Heaven is the Christian’s home. It is the source of his comforts, and the centre of his affections. He knows, that with Christ, heaven and all its glories are freely offered to him in the Gospel; he claims the promise, and hopes for its accomplishment. How delightful to look forward to the period when they, as the ransomed of the Lord, shall return and come to Zion, with songs and everlasting joy on their heads,–when they shall receive joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. O may this happiness be ours.
It is a very instructive view that is given us of the happiness of the saint, when we are told that wisdom’s ways are pleasantness, and that all her paths are peace. It may not be without its advantages both to you and me, my friend, shortly to attend to the various aspects in which this figurative expression leads us to contemplate the pleasures of religion. The path of religion is a pleasant path, for the saint is furnished with all necessary strength to walk in it. To the weak and debilitated, no path is pleasant; but the saint is strengthened with all strength inwardly. The promise is fulfilled, “I will strengthen them in myself, and they shall walk up and down in my name: My grace shall be sufficient for thee, and my strength shall be perfected in weakness.” When he cries God answers him, and strengthens him with strength in his soul.
Every traveler knows, that much of the pleasure or of the pain of a journey depends on the character of his companions. There are men so rude, so quarrelsome, and so profane, that no enjoyment which the finest scenery can communicate can compensate for the pain occasioned by their conversation; and, on the other hand, some men are so remarkable for the suavity of their manners, that their society makes us forget many inconveniences, and converts a toil into an enjoyment. He who walks in the way of religion, may assure himself of the best companions. This path is by no means so much frequented as that which leads to destruction; but if the society be small, it is select. They are the excellent ones of the earth–they are the favourites of Heaven. The greater part of them are poor in this world, but they are rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom. Many of them have little worldly science or wisdom, but they are all learned in the Bible–they are all wise for eternity. Many of them are despised by their fellow mortals, but they are all kings and priests unto God, even their Father, and they shall reign with him for ever and ever. They are kind even to those who will not accompany them;–but they love one another with a pure heart fervently. In conversing with them, the toils and labours of the way (for it has its toils and labours) are soothed, and sometimes almost forgotten. But the Christian traveler has other and better companions than the eye of man can discern. A powerful though unseen guard of angels continually surrounds him. “The angel of the Lord encamps around them that fear him, and delivers them. Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation?” These, like the cloud which accompanied the Israelites, move with all their motions, and rest with all their restings. But the Christian has a far nobler and far better companion than either saints or angels: Jehovah–God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (I speak it with reverence), is the Christian’s companion. All good men, as well as Enoch, “walk with God.” His unseen presence accompanies them through life, nor does it leave them at death; yea, when they walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God is with them; his rod and his staff support their steps. Listen to his gracious declarations; my friend, realize them by faith, and let gratitude and joy take possession of your heart–”Fear not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee, yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.–Be strong and of good courage, for it is the Lord that doth go before thee, and he shall be with thee, he will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” Jesus is the Christian’s companion. His bodily presence we cannot now have, but he who cannot lie, whose name is the Faithful and the True Witness, hath said, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” Our Lord himself when on earth walked in the way of religion. As Caesar was accustomed to say to his soldiers, “not Go, but Come,” so may our Lord says to his own people, “ Come with me from Lebanon,” &c. The Holy Spirit also is the saint’s companion; he is in him, he dwells in him, and he will be with him for ever.
The goodness of the way of religion is farther apparent, from the excellence of the accommodations which the spiritual traveler is furnished with. Their path lies through a dark world, but the Sun of righteousness shines on them, the light of God’s countenance is lifted up on them, and they prosecute their journey in security and in peace. God has appointed a variety of holy institutions, through the medium of which he communicates, to them every blessing of which they stand in need–strength in the hour of weakness, defence in the hour of danger, and consolation in the hour of sorrow. He brings them often to his banqueting‑house, and his banner over them is love. They have meat to eat of which the world does not know, they are clothed with the garment of salvation, and they drink of a stream of consolation always abundant and always refreshing, whose sources are in the better country–flowing from beneath the throne of God and the Lamb. “Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee, in whose heart are the ways of them, who, passing through the valley of Baca, make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools: they go from strength to strength; every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.”
The path in which the Christian walks is a well-tracked, clearly-defined path, and this contributes to its pleasantness. Patriarchs and prophets have in this way found peace to their souls, and in their appointed season arrived safely at their eternal rest. The way of the saint lies through an enemy’s country, by lions’ dens and mountains of leopards; yet still it is pleasant, for God is their refuge and their strength, a very present help in time of trouble. Jehovah their God is a Man of war–Jehovah is his name. He is a wall of fire around them, defending them from every danger.
Farther, the way of religion is a pleasant path, for he who walks in it has all necessary directions. He has the Book of God, which contains in it a plain chart of the country through which he is passing, and the country to which he is traveling, and the path which he must pursue in journeying from the one to the other. He has the sure word of prophecy, to which he does well in taking heed, till the day dawn, and the daystar arise in his heart. He has Christian ministers to assist him in inquiring into the true meaning of the word of God, and applying it to his peculiar circumstances. But his greatest and his best guide is his God himself. This is his gracious and encouraging language, “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask it of God, who giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.” “The meek will I guide in judgment, and the meek will I teach my way.” Faithful is He who thus promises, and he also performs. He gives them his Spirit as a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, who, by shining on the divine Word, directs them in all perplexities, and guides them into all the truth.
The pleasantness of the way of religion also appears, from the delightful recollections which our progress suggests. There are no other pursuits which can afford genuine pleasure on retrospect. Some men are so stupidly infatuated, so miserably depraved, that they have a species of enjoyment in retracing in imagination the course of folly or of crime which they have run. But where the conscience is in any degree awakened, such surveys are studiously shunned, and when they are reluctantly made, they occasion the most pungent sorrow. Worldly pursuits afford a miserable review. One looks back and finds his life a blank, full of unmeaning and useless employment. Another casts a glance over the past part of life, and it is one blot,–all inconsideration, crime, and folly. How different are the recollections of the Christian traveler! He is conscious of many imperfections and faults. He knows that in him, that is, in his flesh, dwelleth no good thing; and if there is anything in him that is good, it is the result of the atonement and grace of his Lord and Saviour. Yet, on looking back on the part of his journey which is past, he can say, “O God, thou hast taught me from my youth, and hitherto have I declared thy wonderful works.” As the retrospect in this way is pleasing, still more delightful is the prospect; their eye beholds the King in his beauty,–they see the land which is yet afar off. The heavenly Jerusalem stands on an eminence, and if the eye of the Christian traveler is not distempered, may be discerned from any part of the path that leads to it: “Bright as the sun the sacred city shines!”
What a delightful view does the following passage give us of the pleasure, both of the retrospect and the prospect, which the way of religion affords! “I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the righteous Judge will give unto me at that day.: He who used these words, though in a prison, was surely incomparably happier than his imperial persecutor.
In fine, the way of religion must be good and pleasant, for it has a happy termination. It is a trite but a just remark, “all is well that ends well.” May a journey that seems highly agreeable in the commencement, and even in the progress, ends in disappointment and sorrow. Behold that crowd who tread the flowery path of guilty pleasure. Joy sparkle in the eyes, and from their lips bursts the song of joy and rapture. All is gaiety and mirth; yet if there is truth in Scripture, their path leads down to the gates of hell–”the end of these things is death.” But the path of the Christian ends gloriously: “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace.” The path in which he walks is indeed narrow, but it terminates in the boundless paradise of God. It lies through a waste and a howling wilderness, but it leads to the ever verdant fields of the heavenly Canaan. The palm of victory will soon take the place of the pilgrim’s staff, and the garland of triumph of the helmet of warfare. The feet which now tread on the good way, shall ere long stand on Mount Zion, and tread the streets of the New Jerusalem. Need we wonder, then, that the heavenly travelers should often, amid all their labours, burst forth into song! Yea, they do sing in the ways of the Lord. God’s precepts are their songs in the house of their pilgrimage—
“They sing along the heavenly road
That leads to Zion’s blessed abode:”
and, when their pilgrimage is finished, they are brought to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads. They here practise frequently the first notes of that song, which will in due time swell out into the full anthem of Moses and the Lamb.
The pleasures of religion are highly friendly to the growth of holiness. They remove many obstacles, and they suggest strong motives to activity in all the duties of the new life. “God meeteth him that rejoiceth, and worketh righteousness.” “I will run,” says the Psalmist, “when thou shalt enlarge my heart.” The enjoyment of these divine pleasures stirs up to self-dedication. “O Lord, truly I am thy servant, I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds.” It not only excites gratitude, but deepens humility: “What am I, that thou shouldest have brought me hitherto?: He who rejoices in Christ Jesus has no confidence in the flesh. It stirs up to Christian penitence. Nothing can give a higher degree of this kind of pleasure, than the assurance that God is pacified to us; yet we find this represented as connected with the most profound self-abasement–”And I will establish my covenant with thee, and thou shalt know that I am the Lord; that thou mayst remember and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified towards thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God.” These pleasures, too, have a tendency to render the pleasure of sin tasteless and disagreeable to us. No one have tasted this wine, desires any other, for he says, The old is better.
Should any doubt arise in your mind, as if I had exaggerated the pleasures of religion, allow me to endeavour to dispel it by asking a few questions. Must not that be pleasant indeed, which is pleasant to God? Now “the Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him,” and saints are “a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” Must not that be pleasant which removes all the causes of doubt and fear, guilt and depravity, restlessness and sorrow? and an interest in Jesus the Lord, our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, does all this. Must not that be pleasant, which is, if I may use the expression, a mutual inbeing in God, who is the sum and substance of excellence and felicity? “God is love, and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.” Must not that be pleasant, in order to obtain which, the wisest of men have cheerfully relinquished all worldly enjoyments? Thus Moses “chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin, which are but for a season.” Must not that be pleasant, which nothing can induce those who once obtain it to part with? “What have I to do any more with idols? Let thy hand be on the Man of thy right hand, upon the Son of man, whom thou madest strong for thyself. So shall we not go back from thee: quicken us, and we will call upon thy name. Turn us again, O Lord God of Hosts; cause thy face to shine, and we shall be saved.” Must not that be sweet, in a word, that sweetens every bitter thing, and makes the most disagreeable things delightful? All this religion does: it enables men to glory in tribulation–to triumph in death–and to look forward with confidence to judgment. It is this, and this alone, that can make a person in the agonies of death say, “O death! where is thy sting” O grave! where is thy victory?”–and in the immediate prospect of appearing before the Divine tribunal, “Amen: even so come Lord Jesus.”
But it may be said, Are not self-denial, repentance, and mortification, essential parts of religion? Are not these disagreeable exercises? and how is this consistent with the above representation of the pleasantness of religion? Allowing that these exercises are in some degree painful, it must be admitted that they are by no means so disagreeable as many sinful passions and habits, such as malice, anxiety, fretfulness, murmuring, etc. They ways of transgressors are hard. Besides, there is a pleasure, if I may use the expression, in the root of these religious exercises, however disagreeable to flesh and blood, which ere long shall spring up in solid joy: “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Nay, there is a pleasure in them, when we are enabled to perform these duties, in some measure, in a proper manner. It is surely pleasant to a gracious soul to find the heart loosed from the bands of wickedness, to obtain a victory over corruption, and to be enabled to resist the attack of the most formidable temptation. Godly sorrow and joy are by not means inconsistent; on the contrary, they are closely connected: True sorrow for sin leads us to look to Jesus as the Saviour from sin, and viewing him in all the perfection of his righteousness and fullness of his grace, “we joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we receive the atonement.” While we behold God in Christ pacified to us, we cannot but rejoice, but we also cannot but be ashamed and confounded for all that we have done.
But it may be farther urged in opposition to the above statement, that the people of God are often in heaviness through manifold affliction. In reply to this objection, I would remark, that, choose what way we will in the world, the storm of trouble blows so hard that it is impossible altogether to escape its violence. Let it be always recollected, however, that it is not religion, but sin that this the cause of these sorrows. On the contrary, religion gives us peace in the midst of external trouble, and removes the pains of a guilty conscience, those severest ills to which man is heir. It induces the mind to acquiesce entirely in the disposal of Divine Providence, and makes its votary inwardly happy amid the severest outward distresses: according to the declaration of the Lord, in the world they have tribulation, but in him they have peace. A season of affliction has often been distinguished as a season of comfort. God brings them into the wildness, and speaks to their hearts. Trials are as it were a thorn hedge surrounding a paradise.
Still farther it may be objected, that genuine Christians are often to be found complaining of doubts and fears, and their temper is the very reverse of cheerfulness. Here, however, it is necessary to remember, that men are possessed of very different constitutional temperaments, and that religion effects no physical change on its subjects. We find in society bad men naturally cheerful, and good men naturally melancholy. It were certainly very unjust to charge religion with what is the effect of an unhappy peculiarity of bodily frame. It also deserves remark, that the sorrows of the religious often flow from their criminal deviations from the fight way. Religion will not make even the religious happy, except when they act a consistent and dutiful part. I believe the mental distresses of good men, where they are not the result of bodily constitution, arise either from their limited of confused notions of divine truth, the instability of their reliance on the atonement and grace of Christ, or their unfaithfulness to their own consciences in acting in opposition or not up to their convictions of duty. The greater part of the apparent difficulty from this quarter will vanish, were a few plain and easy distinctions to be attended to. There must be a difference, as to comfort, between the saint who has fallen into gross sins after his conversion, and his brother who has been enabled to keep cleans his garments, between the assured and the doubting believer; and there is also a distinction to be made between sensible joy and pleasure, and rooted satisfaction. Solid delight, religious pleasure, like every other thing connected with God and eternity, has a serious aspect; but it not more on this account deserves the name of melancholy, than the noisy mirth of fools is entitled to the appellation of pleasure.
Your complaints, that you do not yet feel all the pleasure in religion and its exercises which you could wish, do not surprise me. I hope the period is at no great distance, when these complaints shall cease, and when you will join your testimony to that of the cloud of witnesses, to the pleasantness of religion: “Thou hast put more gladness into my heart, than when their corn and their oil abound.” Perhaps, my friend, in seeking after pleasure, you seek it too much, as it were, by the works of the law. When the heavy yoke of the law is mistaken for the easy yoke of Christ, no wonder that men complain. Beside, you know, you are but a young convert, and the ascent of Mount Zion may be felt laborious by you, who are accustomed to a downward course.
But you as, What plan shall I fall on, in order to attain these spiritual delights? With a few remarks in answer to this question, I shall close this long, and I fear, tedious epistle. I lay it down as a first principle, that the soul must be spiritually alive, before it can participate of spiritual pleasure–there must be a new nature formed capable of relishing the delights of the ways of God. The natural man is destitute of this capacity. He can no more taste these pleasures, than the blind can relish a beautiful prospect, or the deaf the most harmonious concert of sweet sounds. “They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit,” Rom 8:5 . By union to Christ Jesus, and the transforming influence of his Spirit, we must be created anew, and rendered morally capable of divine pleasure. We must not only be indebted to a redeeming God for the capacity, but also for grace to enable us to make a proper use of this capacity. All religious people have this spiritual taste, this capacity of relishing religious pleasures; but this taste is sometimes as it were benumbed, this capacity is not always improved. Would we wish to be happy, let us, as sinful creatures, receive and rest on the Saviour freely offered to us in the word of grace and promise. It is in this way that we become new creatures, and are enabled to act as new creatures.
I earnestly beseech you, guard against every tendency to melancholy. Melancholy is not only the saint’s enemy, as it deprives him of his pleasures; it is the enemy of the Saviour, as it tends to deprive him of his honour. For a Christian to indulge in this habit, is to say by implication, that Christ is not a Saviour, and the Holy Spirit is not a Comforter. It is, though unintentionally, to calumniate the one, and grieve the other. It is to act in direct opposition to the express command of God: “Rejoice ever more. Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous; shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.” It unfits us for duty, and it greatly discourages those who are asking the way to Zion with their faces thitherward.
Beware of attempting to draw you chief pleasure form any other source–from wealth, honour, kind relatives, or any similar quarter. The pleasures which these can yield, are not fitted to answer the boundless desires of the immortal mind. Solomon enjoyed them in number, variety, and abundance, in a degree altogether unparalleled; and yet let us hear his estimate of them: “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” They are low in their nature, and soon pall upon the taste. Besides, they are exceedingly uncertain. They who enjoy them, and who have no better pleasure, are but like Damocles, before whom was spread a table covered with the most delicious viands, but above whom was suspended by a single hair a drawn sword. Beware of expecting your chief pleasure from your own acts of obedience to the divine law, as its source. Into this mistake the saint not unfrequently falls, to the great diminution of his comfort. Never rest on your resolutions, your prayers, and your performances, but on the blood of sprinkling, and on the riches of grace. Would you habitually enjoy this Christian pleasure? appropriate a redeeming God, in his persons, perfections, and relations, freely offered to you in the word of the truth of the Gospel. Say, “this God shall be my God for ever.” As a guilty creature, come to the blood of sprinkling, and trust in the propitiation which God hath set forth. Endeavour to mortify those corrupt propensities which are the hinderances of your comfort, and the causes of your uneasiness. You are Christ’s; mortify the flesh with its affections and lusts. having so exceeding great and precious promises, cleanse yourself from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit, and perfect holiness in the fear of God. Cultivate the acquaintance of the saints of God, especially the better informed and more cheerful part of them. You will find, “as iron sharpeneth iron, so does the countenance of a man his friend.” Endeavour to comfort those who are cast down; in watering others you are like to be watered yourself. I now bid you farewell, my dear friend, with an earnest prayer that the joy of the Lord may be your strength.
Yours most truly,