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"Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation!"--Psalm 51:12
In speaking from these words, I shall,
I. Show what the Psalmist prayed for.
II. Why he prayed for it.
III. The essential elements of such a prayer.
IV. What is implied in offering such a prayer acceptably.
I. Our first enquiry respects the elements which enter into the Christian's joy, or in other words, the joy of God's salvation.
It is pertinent to observe here that there are elements in this joy which belong not to the holy joy of beings who have never sinned. The saved sinner has some forms of joy that the unfallen angel has not and can not have. From this I do not infer that the sinful, when saved, are more happy than the sinless who have never needed salvation. I only say that the joy of each has elements in it which are unlike those of the other, and this every one must see who enters at all into the peculiar circumstances and state of mind of each class.
The words of our text are found in what is called David's penitential psalm. This psalm, as the caption states and as the scope sufficiently shows, was written with reference to David's great sin in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah. It may have been written at the very time of his being rebuked by Nathan, and of his becoming penitent, as the caption of the psalm would seem to indicate; or if written sometime, more or less, afterwards, it was evidently in recollection of those scenes; so that we must regard these circumstances as being the occasion of the prayer in our text.
Our question now is--What are the principal ingredients or elements of this state of mind?
1. A sense of pardon. A man might repent, and yet not have in full measure the joys of God's salvation; for one element of this joy is a sense of pardon. The sinner needs to have the revelation made in some way to him that God forgives him.
2. A sense of divine reconciliation. We can conceive that a man may be truly penitent and yet have no manifestations made to his soul of God's forgiving grace; he might not see that God is reconciled to him; might not think of or believe any such thing. But it is plain that some degree of divine manifestations on this point is essential to constitute the joy of God's salvation, in the case of a sinner convicted of sin. It might not be essential to a sinless being; but must be to one who like David has sinned, and feels himself to have fallen under the divine displeasure.
3. The love of complacency. The Scriptures speak of "the love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost." The experience of Christians show that this shedding abroad of divine love in the heart by the Holy Ghost usually follows the deep exercises of penitence and of faith in redeeming blood.
This love of complacency is a state of the sensibility as opposed to any action of the will. It consists substantially in emotions of pleasure and delight in God and in his ways and works, and differs essentially from the love of benevolence. It is one of the elements of a forgiven sinner's joy.
4. A sense of inward purity. I do not suppose an individual could have the joy of God's salvation unless he had a sense of inward purity. He could not have real and rich joy unless he felt as Brainard expressed himself--"I am clean from both past and present sin." With out this element one may have excitement, but can not have the real joy of God's salvation. For he still lacks the real salvation itself; still lacks that in which the real blessedness of a saved soul chiefly consists;--namely, inward purity; positive deliverance from present sin. When God applies the energy of his Spirit to renew the soul, and in place of selfish lusts, to shed abroad his own love in the heart, there is begotten a sweet sense of present purity, and the soul has the witness in itself that sin is put away, and that divine love has taken its place.
5. A sense of inward harmony. By this I refer to a state of mind which is in harmony with God and with all other holy beings in the universe, and also in harmony with itself. Its own powers are brought into such fitting correlation with each other, and all together are in such relations to God, that the very working of their perfect machinery produces harmony. Perhaps there is no word which so well expresses this delightful result as harmony. It is indeed like the harmony of sweet music. Each separate vibration fits every other; and together they produce the results of most exquisite harmony. None will understand this unless they have a keen apprehension of what the word harmony means. I have often been struck to see how differently men will understand the meaning of words, or language. It is so with regard to this word, harmony. Some minds have no just conception of what harmony is. But one who has a keen relish for harmony in sounds, who has a cultivated taste, and an ear well attuned, can understand what is intended by harmony of soul when all its powers are in tune. He can understand it too by the law of contrast. Let him listen to the grating discord of a piano, or worse still of an organ when utterly out of tune: O, how it rakes his sensibilities! So the mind in its unconverted state; and so too as it passes along slowly in its progress towards becoming attuned to the sweet harmony of love. But when God Himself sits down to it to put it in tune--when He really takes it in hand and puts every pipe and every string in order, so that He can run his divine fingers over it, and make it breathe forth the very harmony of heaven--then, O what music! No words can describe it! But if you will commit your own soul into God's hands that He may put it in spiritual tune, you may learn by experience what it is. You will find it a most blessed experience. When every power, every affection, every element of your soul's activities is in such tune that not a note, not even a semitone can be found in it which is not perfectly in tune, then what rich harmony will it discourse! Peace will be an all-pervading element in the atmosphere of your soul. Every opinion, every emotion, every affection is in harmony with God.
6. Of course there will be implied in this, a delight in the whole revealed will of God; in all his character; in all he does and in all he omits to do. It involves acquiescence in all his providential arrangements, including all He accomplishes and all He neglect to accomplish. When this state of mind exists in its purity, there is a universal satisfaction of mind in God. Every want and demand both of our nature and of our circumstances is seen to be perfectly met in God. A deep apprehension of this forms a prominent part of the joy of God's salvation.
II. Why should this blessing be sought in prayer?
1. The thing is desirable in itself. It is in itself a good, and therefore it is lawful to pray for it.
2. It is honorable to God that his people should possess this joy. Such happiness ought to characterize the children of so great and so bountiful a Father.
3. Its absence is greatly dishonorable to God. Is it not dishonorable to a king that his "children should go mourning all their days?" How strange that those who profess to be children of God should have no joy! What! Is it not dishonorable to God to have his people lean and ill-favored, going about the streets like walking skeletons? As if He could endure this Himself; and not only so, but even like them the better for their rags and filthiness! Who can believe this? What prince on earth ever kept his court and above all, his children, looking in such style?
4. It is not only dishonorable to God, but highly disgraceful to themselves for Christians to live without spiritual joy and peace. Consider what is implied in a Christian's complaining of the absence of spiritual joy. It must imply either that God is very careful about giving his children occasions of joy, or that they are loath to embrace and improve those occasions.
5. The joy of the Christian is exceedingly useful to others. Who can estimate the value of a living fountain of water in a barren desert? Like Siloam's well in a land of drought, or like an oasis in a wilderness is a Christian who has always some thing to say of the joy of God's salvation. His words and his spirit are all the more reviving because so many are always complaining. How often are we grieved and distressed with these complaints!
On the other hand, a single joyous-hearted Christian is a priceless blessing in a family. To have one such Christian in each household who should be so full of the joys of God's salvation that he could not help speaking it out on all fit occasions--this would be like planting a well-spring of water in every acre of earth's desert sands. How soon would the wilderness rejoice and blossom as the rose! How often has one such Christian set a whole community on fire with desire to get rid of their darkness and come forth into God's glorious light!
6. The spiritual joy of Christians is exceedingly useful to sinners. Sinners know that Christians ought to rejoice in God, and of course they are not surprised at all that they should. How impressive to the sinner to see that the Christian is at rest in God! Oh, he knows nothing of that peace himself; and the view of it as enjoyed by the Christian reveals his own desolation. What sinner was ever in the habit of mingling in the society of Christians whose heart and lips are full of joy, without himself feeling unutterable yearnings of heart for such joys as these? I can well recollect that some of my earliest impressions of a serious nature, were occasioned by hearing a young man speak of his joy in God. I went home from that meeting weeping. I said to myself--that joy is rations; it is a joy worthy of a human soul. I walked along with many tears, and when alone, I sought a retired and dry place to kneel down and pray that God would give me what that young man had. All that I had ever heard of sermons and lectures had not made half so much impression as that young man's religious joy.
Sinners know that their own joy is a mean affair. Hence, when they see the Christian's joy, they can not help contrasting it with their own, and the result can scarcely fail of revealing to them their own wretched state.
These struggles of the sinner for joy are indeed altogether selfish. My prayers at the time alluded to were so; but yet they were useful, for they served to enforce conviction of the value of religion and of the worthlessness of everything short of it. The Psalmist understood the value of Christian joy. "Restore unto me," said he, "the joy of they salvation; then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee." He knew this would make a powerful impression on their minds, for good.
7. The absence of this spiritual joy is a great stumbling block to all classes. What a stumbling block to a church to have a minister who is perpetually in spiritual darkness and trouble! How can he lead on the sacramental host whose own heart is quailing with spiritual fears, or suffering under spiritual agonies for himself! And the more important the position a man holds, the more desirable it becomes that he should be full of the joy and peace which the Holy Ghost inspires. Deacons in a church; parents in a family; professors in a College:--how can men who hold such stations of responsibility ever think of acquitting themselves of their responsibilities without possessing grace enough to give them the joy of God's salvation?
In saying this I would not be understood to imply that Christians never have trials and sorrows; they will have them doubtless; but even in these very trials and sorrows, how precious will be the joys of God's salvation to their souls!
Especially is this joy of God's salvation indispensable to one who preaches the gospel! A man might preach something without it; but not the gospel. He might deliver moral essays, or might contend valiantly for his polemic creed; but as for preaching the vital matters of salvation, how can he if he knows nothing about them by experience? He needs such faith as brings peace; such communion of soul with God as necessarily brings joy of heart. And this is something more than being penitent; of course something more than being merely pious. The Psalmist knew that he was penitent, and yet he knew also that he needed something more. God had not yet revealed the light of his own face. Hence, when he had confessed and humbled himself before God, it still remained that he should pray--"Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation." David had known well what it was to be full of joy before God. He had danced for joy with all his might before the ark of the Lord, and often we find him preparing songs of joy and praise; but now, alas, his harp is silent and all unstrung! He has sinned grievously against God; a thick cloud has come over his soul; and though he has confessed, yet still he has occasion to pray--"Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation." Why does he want these joys? Because without them he can not reach transgressors to any good purpose. What Christian does not know how to sympathize with David in this state of mind? Who has not known experimentally the state of those who have sinned, confessed, but still have the greatest occasion to ask God to restore to them the lost joys of His salvation? The soul cries out--"Lord, how can I live, shut out in darkness from thee? O, if thou canst, wilt thou not reveal thy reconciled face and restore again those lost joys of thy salvation?"
III. The conditions upon which this prayer can be answered.
1. We must have a sense of our won sins, and their deep and damning guilt. I said that some of the elements in the Christian's joy do not exist in the joy of sinless beings in the universe of God. In the Christian's case it is indispensable that his joy should be preceded by a sense of sin and guilt. Else he cannot appreciate the grace of pardon--cannot really appreciate any thing about the gospel. He needs such a sense of sin as to understand how great a thing it is to be delivered from sin--rescued from its farther commission, and pardoned of its horrible guilt.
2. Confession of sin, and real repentance. God would be but poorly employed in restoring the joys of salvation to one who has not repented.
3. Making restitution also, must be a condition, for this is essential to real repentance.
4. An apprehension of the atonement and way of acceptance. I have said that one might repent and yet not have this sense of restored joy. I know this to be the case; and I believe every Christian in this house knows it. In order to have this joy, we need a sense of pardon; but this is not all. We need such a sense of it and such a view of its mode as shall justify God--such a view as will show you that God is just in pardoning the sinner. The sinner in the state of mind supposed is not selfish; hence he desires God to be justified, and could not be happy to receive pardon in any way which he did not see would fully acquit and greatly glorify God. Hence, he needs to see that the gospel mode of pardon is such as most fully justifies and honors God. He needs to see that the atonement through Jesus Christ most perfectly answers all these great and most desirable ends. I do not believe it possible for a man to enter into the joys of God's salvation without some just notions of the atonement as the way in which God can be glorious in forgiving sin.
5. Another essential condition is the acceptance of Christ in the fullness of his relations. Unless we see what relations Christ sustains to us, and what He consequently can do for us, it is impossible that we can experience this joy. Unless we apprehend Christ's fullness, we cannot receive fully the joys of his salvation.
Another condition is universal confidence in God. If there be any one thing in which we have not confidence in God, there will be chafing and trouble. The soul is not right towards God.
Again, an entire renunciation of self is a condition. Whoever does not renounce himself, cannot have this joy.
You must renounce all idols. What would you think of God if He were to give this joy to those who are sipping at every fountain of earthly pleasure, trying to find some little joy besides that from God?
There must also be a sympathy of will with God. Our will must be so thoroughly with his that we can go with Him in all He does, without the least reluctance or misgiving.
Again, subdued appetites and passions are essential; for while these are clamoring for indulgence, it is utterly impossible for the soul to experience the joys of God's salvation.
Another condition is the indwelling Spirit of God; for who will have his appetites subdued, or indeed, who will fulfill any of these conditions without the Spirit?
It is essential that there should be a clear medium of communication between our souls and God. A man who has not communion with God cannot have the joys of gospel salvation. When from any reason the soul is shut out from God and the communion is not free, but God hides his face, then the soul cannot rejoice in the joy of his great salvation.
IV. What is implied in offering such a prayer acceptably?
1. A sense of our necessities; for until we feel our wants we never shall pray with any fervency. So long as we are sipping at every accessible fountain of earthly pleasure and getting up for ourselves poor broken cisterns besides, we are never likely to come to the gospel fountain. The soul needs to have a sense of its great necessities--a consciousness of being altogether empty, and hence a conviction of its need of access to the divine fountain, or there is not hope it will ever come to this fountain for the waters of life.
2. Another requisite is a sense of dependence on God for this state of mind. Persons may feel their need of the blessing, and yet may not realize their dependence on God. But this feeling of dependence must exist in the mind before one can deeply and earnestly rest upon God for the blessing. Men need to know and to realize that although they have power to repent, yet they can not get access to this fountain of divine pleasures without God's help. His angel must come down and trouble the waters of this "house of mercy;" and lend us a kind hand to help us down therein' then our soul is made whole of "whatsoever disease it had."
3. Acceptable prayer implies fulfilling the conditions. Else we only tempt God. He who knows the revealed conditions, and yet prays God to bestow the blessing without fulfilling the conditions, insults God to His face. It amounts to demanding that God should recede from his expressed conditions; a thing which of course He never can do, and which no man can even impliedly ask Him to do without abusing his God exceedingly.
Especially is it important that this prayer be not selfish. The soul must be consecrated to God, fully purposed to use the blessing if obtained, and if not obtained, yet to use everything it has, for the glory of God and the highest good of man. So David felt. "Then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee." There is the greatest danger in asking for spiritual joy, that our hearts will be merely selfish in it, instead of disinterestedly seeking to glorify God in all things, and even with the religious joy and peace which He may graciously impart to us.
4. A sense of its great value is another requisite. This should be coupled with a deep sense of ill-desert. Combining together these two sentiments in their great strength, you then have a state of mind in which you are in small danger of seeking in vain.
5. In connection with these, there must be great confidence in God's willingness to bestow the blessings sought. David seems to have had this.
6. Also a willingness to have God use all the necessary means to open the way for this result. There may be a great many springs of earthly joy to be dried up; many idols to be removed; many a cup of earthly pleasure to be dashed, before we shall be prepared to receive in our souls the joy of God's salvation. Consequently there must be on our part a willingness to have God do anything He pleases with us to prepare the way in our souls. Unless we are thus willing that God should take his own course, we are making conditions for God which show that we are real hypocrites. We are trying to get the joy of holiness without the holiness itself.
7. There must also be a willingness to leave the time, the way, and the conditions of conferring the blessing wholly in the disposal of Infinite Wisdom. All must be left in his hands with most unqualified submission, ourselves ready to do or suffer anything that is necessary, that we may most glorify God.
8. There must also be a fixed purpose to make a wise and holy use of the blessings which we receive. It must be in our heart to use this blessing wholly for God. Unless we pray for it with the sincere intention of asking it thus for God, we have no reason whatever to expect it. A man would be but poorly employed in praying for this blessing to put it under a bushel. The great Giver would fain make His goodness known; and why should not you lend your aid in so noble an enterprise, for an end so glorious?
If God fills your cup you must be willing to pass it round and let all others be refreshed from the same fountain. Show them where the fountain is, and how good its waters are. They do not know much about these things, and they need such hints as you can easily give them, if your own heart is full of that divine joy.
1. Many professors of religion know nothing of the joys of God's salvation. I recollect to have been impressed with this long before my conversion. At that time I was in the habit of conversing with Christians about their own experience. Having much curiosity on this subject I felt free to inquire about it and took frequent opportunities to do so. It was with me then, a matter of speculation, being then, as now, much struck with the apparent fact that so few Christians had much real joy in God. The impression was often made on my mind that most Christians were wretched, unhappy, muttering, grumbling, and full of trouble. Hence the conviction ripened more and more on my mind that they had little or no real joy in God. They might have repented of sin, and lost their burden at the cross; but yet they seemed not to know much if anything about the joys of God's salvation. On this subject they were generally dumb, having little or nothing to say of the salvation of God, and the light of His countenance.
2. A great many professors of religion seem not to care for this blessing. Scrambling after dress or money; as anxious after worldly good as if there were no other good for them to seek; as anxious for this world as if God had told them to seek first the kingdom of this world and its good things; so they press on, running to this concert, to that show or party of pleasure, always lusting after something sensual and worldly;--such are their pursuits, and such of course is their character. They had much rather go to a circus than into their closet, or to a prayer meeting. They cannot imagine how any man can wish to go like Francis Xavier into his closet, and spend seven hours at once in such deep and holy communion with God that his countenance glowed like an angel's; they can form no just conception of the attractiveness of such a scene and of such employments.
3. When a Christian has really tasted this joy in God, and then subsequently has been deprived of it, he will go with his head bowed down like a bulrush. He looks as if he had lost all the friends he ever had. Having once drank of the sweet waters of life, O how insipid are the draughts of earthly joy! I do not mean to imply by this that Christians cannot enjoy earthly things. They can. None can enjoy earthly good with half so solid a relish as they when they can have God in all their earthly good, and take all as His gift, and from His hand. But let a man who has experienced these joys, once get away from God, away into sin as David did, and his peace and joy are spoiled; he looks ashamed before God and before men; he cannot hold up his head. If you meet him in a Christian spirit, he cannot look you in the face, especially if you show him that your heart is full of the joys of God's salvation. How often have I seen this; and so probably have many of you. Look around you. There is a professed Christian, fallen into sin. Let one arise before him, full of the joys of God's salvation, and Oh, how self-condemned he is; how full of agony and trouble! Poor man; he is far from God and can find no rest there.
4. Some persons care just enough for these joys to pray for them selfishly, but in no other way. Most of you who are present today will recollect that I stated a fact here some weeks since which may apply well here. A man with whom I was boarding in a season of revival, being greatly troubled about his own spiritual state, said to me--"What would you think of a man who prays for the Spirit of God week after week, but never gets it?" My reply was, "I should think the man prayed selfishly. I presume that is all the trouble. The devil might pray for spiritual joy in the very same way--his only end being his own spiritual enjoyment. The Psalmist, said I, did not pray so. He did indeed pray that God would restore to him the lost joys of his salvation; but his motives in it were not selfish; no, for he adds--'Then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee.'" This seemed to the man a hard saying, and he went away, as he afterwards told me, in great anger, and prayed that God would kill him. A little more thought however, together with the melting power of the Spirit, subdued him, and he became as docile and humble as a lamb.
So it often happens that men want God to meet their selfishness; and when they find He does not, they have often a long struggle before they really humble themselves, so as to meet God on his own ground.
5. Many think that all caring for the joy of God's salvation is necessarily selfish. They do not realize the value of this joy to the church, to God, and to the world, and hence they cannot realize that any other than selfish motives can induce Christians to pray for it. Consequently, with these views of the selfish character, they pray for it very little, if at all.
Again, few realize the importance of having this joy of the Lord in their souls. They seem not to appreciate its important bearings upon the interests of vital godliness.
Many Christians have special seasons and states of mind in which they are very desirous to have this blessing; but on the whole they are unwilling to yield up the sources of their carnal joys. They would gladly have both if they could; but since they cannot be, they cleave to the carnal, and forgo the spiritual. A most unwise, most wretched, and most guilty choice!
Again, spiritual joy often abounds when all other sources of joy are dried up. By this I do not mean that joy in God precludes all enjoyment of the world and its pleasures; for this is very far from being true. My meaning is that when worldly sources of pleasure are cut off from us or are dried up. then God comes in to fill the void with richer spiritual joys. Poverty and losses may have withdrawn from you many of the comforts of life; God can make his grace to abound so much the more, that your soul shall rejoice exceedingly in the exchange. Sickness may have robbed you of the joy which health affords; but God can make your soul prosper and be in health to such a degree that your physical loss shall be more than counterbalanced by your spiritual gain. God knows how to fill up the chasms of earthly happiness which his providence makes. Often He makes them for the very purpose apparently of filling them with the more precious material of his own spiritual blessings. He sometimes finds himself under the necessity of cutting off every source of earthly joy in order that He may shut us up utterly to Himself. When He finds us unwilling to let go of earthly idols, God leaves them to their own choice, saying--"They have loved idols and after them they will go." "They are joined to their idols; let them alone." But if we are willing to serve God, then we may find sources of spiritual joy springing up in the most barren of earth's deserts. Nothing earthly is so desolate that God cannot gladden it with the intermingled joys of his salvation.
On the other hand if you will selfishly cleave to earth, and thrust away the proffered joys of God's love, then if He would save you there remains no alternative but to scatter desolation broadcast over all your earthly joys. God will blight them if He can; and surely He who has the resources of the universe at his command can never lack the means of filling your cup with dregs of wormwood and gall. It would be the worst form of folly if you should compel your loving Father to do this as a last resort in order to save and bless your soul.
Again, very few realize how much the absence of spiritual joy and of its manifestations, will dishonor God. Few realize how great a stumbling block it is to men to see professed Christians go about with a heart all sorrowful, bowed down and hatefully selfish; no trust, or almost none, in God; no joy in the light of his countenance, and no preparation of heart for doing anything efficiently in God's service. It is a living reproach to the name of Jesus, that his people should appear thus before either their brethren or the world.
Legalists are greatly stumbled at those who possess the joy of God's salvation. Legalists are never happy in themselves; always in a strait-jacket, every muscle drawn up with a tightness never to be relaxed; they don't know about such a joyous state of mind. They see a great many things that look suspicious. When they see souls rejoicing greatly in the Lord--O they don't know about that. If a Christian's soul triumphs in his God--alas, they say to themselves, what can that mean? There is nothing like that in my religion!
There is quite too much cheerfulness often in other people's religion to suit their taste, or to tally with their own experience. Never having had any experience in such joys as those, they are greatly scandalized.
So it seems to have been with one of David's wives, when she saw him running and dancing before the ark of the Lord in the overflowings of his joy. Indeed, thought she, this looks very unbecoming for a king--for the king of Israel. Christians of a somber, heavy countenance, who have never known anything of the gladsome joy of holy love--who cannot explain to themselves even the peaceful look of the saint who is communing with God; and above all who know not the first element of his state of mind whose soul pours forth the gushing tides of its affection before God as if it could never express the half it feels--those who look on amazed at such manifestations because they know nothing of them in their own experience will doubtless be greatly stumbled. But notwithstanding all their stumbling, if this spiritual joy is sustained by a holy consistent life, it cannot fail to exert its power upon their hearts. They maybe at first offended; but soon they must see that there is both reason and reality in the peaceful joy of those who walk humbly with God. O Lord, they will be compelled to say, I don't know that experience. There is something to which I am a stranger. I must know what that is. I doubt whether my religion is worth a straw. Sure I am that it gives me no joy in the Lord like what I see in those other Christians.
Few things are a greater curse than a legal state of mind. It is often as bad as open wickedness, if not worse. Often it is such a misrepresentation of religion as makes the little children more afraid of such a religious man than of a fiend. Does he recommend religion? He could not possibly disparage and misrepresent it more than he does. Better far if he were never thought to be a Christian at all; for then his somber, morose and harsh spirit would be ascribed to its true cause--the unselfishness of his heart, and the utter absence of the gentle spirit of gospel love.
Many fail of this joy because they do not ask for it. Will you, my hearers, lose it through lack of prayer and of faith? It is too choice a blessing to be missed for such a reason.