As Sorrowful, Yet Always Rejoicing
These words, written by the apostle Paul in Second Corinthians 6: 10, must be an enigma to the men of this world, for in natural things when sorrow enters the human heart its joy departs. Though the Christian knows the joys and sorrows that are natural to men, he also has a divine joy of which the men of this world know nothing, and he also has sorrows that cannot be known to those who have not the divine nature that God has given to His children. The apostle was speaking for himself and his fellow servants when he uttered these words, but in measure they also belong to all the saints of God, and perfectly express what belonged to the Son of God in Manhood.
The Son of God
Long before the Lord Jesus came into the world it had been written of Him by the prophet, "He is despised and rejected of men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53: 3). As we retrace the steps of the Lord Jesus on earth, we see how these words were fulfilled. Although God's Son, He was a perfect Man, knowing experimentally all the sorrows that belonged to men — the sorrows of bereavement, poverty, hunger, misunderstanding, and all that a perfect, sinless Man could feel in natural things. Besides, He had sorrows that lay outside of that which was natural because of Who He was, and on account of the work He had come to do.
What sorrow must have filled the heart of the Son of God in seeing the conditions of man in sin, and of being the Object of the reproaches of those who were hardened in sin against the God Who had surrounded them with His mercies. When the Lord Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus, there was much more than human sorrow in His tears. The heart of the blessed Lord felt the ravages of sin, evinced in the death of Lazarus, as no other could ever feel them. His tears expressed a character and depth of sorrow that were His own, for He was both God and Man. The rejection of His words and works from God His Father, and His own rejection by His people Israel, brought deepest sorrow to Him, causing Him to weep over Jerusalem.
In Luke 10: 21, as in Matthew 11: 21, 26, the Lord pronounced woes upon the cities in which His mighty works had been done. These favoured cities had closed their doors upon the One Who had brought down to them the grace of heaven, and with deepest sorrow in His heart the Lord is compelled to speak of the judgment that awaited them because of their unbelief. Yet in the moment of deepest sorrow it is recorded by the Spirit of God, "In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in Thy sight."
Here we learn the secret of the Son's joy. If there was sorrow because of what His people Israel had done in rejecting Him and His works, He could rejoice in the Father and in the Father's will. If Israel closed its door against Him, the Son saw another door opened by the Father into which others would enter, and in this there would be greater glory for the Father and greater joy for His heart. The wise and prudent of Israel, the leaders of the people, knew nothing of the secret counsels of the Father for the blessing of men, but those who were despised by the great of earth, the humble disciples of the Lord, had from the Son the wondrous knowledge of the Father and of His counsels of eternal love.
With the deep, deep sorrows of Gethsemane and the cross before Him, the Lord said to His disciples, "These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full" (John 15: 11). This is indeed wonderful. So soon there was to be the fulfilment of the words of Jeremiah's Lamentations (Lam. 1: 12), "Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow," yet the Lord speaks to His disciples of His joy. His sorrows were because of His devotedness to His Father, and on account of His great love for His own; but His joy was found in the Father and in the finishing of the work He had given Him to do.
The Apostle Paul
No servant of the Lord entered into the sorrows of his Master more than Paul. We must never forget that the Lord had sorrows that were peculiarly His own, but there were sorrows into which His own can enter, and which they can share, though the depth and intensity of them can never be known by us. As a special vessel in the service of the Lord, the apostle Paul had peculiar sufferings, even as he writes in Colossians 1: 24, "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body's sake, which is the church."
What Paul suffered is found in measure in 2 Corinthians 11, though much of what he passed through for Christ and His church was endured after this was written. At the close of the long list of sufferings mentioned, Paul adds, "Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches" (2 Corinthians 11: 28). If there was sorrow in the apostle's heart because of the rejection of his testimony to Christ by many, and especially by his fellow-countrymen who unweariedly assailed him, how much deeper was his sorrow on account of that which passed in the churches for which he cared.
How great was Paul's sorrow at the state of the Corinthian assembly, with the entry of unjudged moral evil, with its divisions, with the dishonour to the Lord's Name when they gathered together, and with the evil teaching that denied the truth of the resurrection. He wrote in his Second Epistle, "I wrote this same unto you . . . out of much affliction and anguish of heart . . . with many tears" (2 Cor. 2: 3, 4), and had no rest in his spirit till Titus returned with the news that his first epistle had been received in repentance. The danger in which the saints of Galatia were found must also have brought much suffering to the apostle, when it wrung from his heart the solemn words, "From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus" (Galatians 6: 17).
Yet this same servant of the Lord, who knew so much of sorrow, wrote so much of joy in his epistle to the saints at Philippi. When he prayed for these saints, he made his request "with joy" (Phil. 1: 4); and even regarding his dying for Christ, he could write, "Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all" (Phil. 2: 17). Paul found His joy in the Lord, even as he exhorted the saints, "Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord" (Phil.3: 1); but he also found joy in the saints when they were going on well in the things of the Lord (Phil.2: 2; Phil.4: l).
The Saints of God
The saints of God have very much in which to find their joy. We have seen how the apostle Paul exhorts the saints to rejoice in the Lord, and as we contemplate Him in His Person, in His love and grace, in His glory, there is so much in which to rejoice. The apostle Peter also refers to joy when he writes of the "salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice" (1 Peter 1: 5, 6). Whatever the circumstances and conditions of life through which we are called to pass, the end is sure: we shall be saved out of this world to share the glory of Christ, and be His companions for ever in the Father's house.
Peter then adds, "Though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1: 6, 7). For the saints there may be the need of manifold trials, trials of persecution for Christ's sake, trials for righteousness' sake, and the trials that are common to men. In earlier days, as in some parts of the world now, the saints of God know what it is to suffer for Christ's sake, but all is carefully watched over by Him Who loves His own with an infinite love.
In Hebrews 12 we learn that the sorrows we experience in trial come from a loving Father. He may allow the testing to come through evil men, or from the enemy as in the case of Job; but whatever the agent, we can take all from the loving hand of our Father. It is His desire to make us like Himself, to produce the features of Christ in us, and to this end He chastens. There may be the need of chastisement, but even then God uses it for purifying, so that we may be partakers of His holiness, and that there might be produced the peaceable fruits of righteousness in those He loves. The dross is separated from the precious gold in the furnace, and in the trials of faith the things of the flesh that hinder the work of faith are taken away.
Whatever the sorrows through which the saints pass, God has before Him His glory and their greatest good, and also the place that we are to share with Christ in the day of His glory. Peter can therefore speak of the trial of faith being in view of "praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ." When Christ appears in glory, the saints will be with Him, and what God has wrought in us will be displayed in that day.
Christ Himself should ever be before us while we pass through the sorrows that trial brings; so Peter continues, "Whom having not seen, ye love; in Whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory" (verse 8). This is indeed wonderful, something beyond the knowledge of man after the flesh. Though having deepest trials on earth, the saint, like his Master, can be in the enjoyment of that which belongs to heaven. This is the joy of which the Lord spoke to His disciples in John 15: 11, His own joy shared with His own.
The apostle John joins with Paul and Peter in speaking of the joy that God has given us. In his First Epistle, we read of the eternal life that has been manifested in the Son of God, and of the fellowship into which God in His great love has brought us, that which we share with all the saints, all in God's family, communion with each other in that which the Son has made known, and fellowship with the Father and the Son. The object of all this is that "your joy may be full" (1 John 1: 1-4).
Soon all our sorrows will be over, and we shall enter into a scene where all is unbroken joy; and for this we wait. How blessed it is to know that the sorrow is not sent to deprive us of divine joy, but rather to wean us from that which would hinder our enjoyment of it, and to deepen our appreciation of the things that the Son of God has come to reveal to us. R.