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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
From The Baptist Magazine, Volume 67, 1875
"I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance."—Luke 15:7
I. JOY over a repentant sinner —
1. Because a human soul is invested with immortality. It has been disputed, we know, and the very reverse has been affirmed — namely, that natural death is the extinction of being; hence, it would follow that materialism concludes the history of a mortal life. But the vain reasoning of men on what is called natural principles is rendered absurd to the last degree by the discoveries of revelation. The everlasting happiness of mankind, or their misery, enters into the teaching of Christ and his apostles as a leading article in their testimony, and lies at the foundation of the whole Christian system.
If, therefore, man is a sinner, and, dying as such, falls immediately under the malediction of the law under which he lived and died, it follows that his immortal nature enters on a state of suffering during the whole extent of his being.
Hence, the salvation of a man from the wrath to come becomes a matter of so much value and unutterable importance in the view of angels, who best know what such a soul has escaped from, that the holy and benevolent beings are filled with ecstatic joy at the sight, and experience an augmentation of their boundless felicity so soon as the fact reaches them. And if it is so when one is converted and saved, who can imagine what it must be when hundreds and thousands pass from death unto life?
Think what excites their rapturous hallelujahs — nothing less than a spiritual and immortal nature (tending downward as surely as a stone thrown up into the air descends, by a law of specific gravity, to earth again) is arrested in. its pathway to the nether regions, and for ever escapes a fate which must have been its woe to all eternity. All that soul's sins of deepest dye expunged as if they never had been, and, in the hour of its conversion, new principles implanted, creating the evolution of delights ever new, and that forever.
2. Angels rejoice in the conversion of a soul because it wins a never-ending career of blessedness to which it had no title. When we hear of a fellow-being in early life all of a sudden lifted up by some sudden change of fortune into a position of great affluence, we naturally associate with his good fortune the likelihood of a long, long life of earthly felicity. But it may be cut short many ways. When, however, a soul is saved, the angelic eyes, we believe, can run along the line of that soul's greatness in goodness through unnumbered ages till it loses itself in the infinite. And if the joy is in proportion to the magnitude of its object, say, what must their joy be in the salvation of only one? And oh, what must it be when in a revival hundreds are delivered?
3. There must be joy in heaven over one sinner’s conversion because it is a fresh trophy of the power and grace of God. Of His power, for who can estimate the power of the enemy from whose grasp he has been plucked? Who can calculate the malignant hate and strength of the Prince of the Power of the Air, backed as he is by legions of fallen spirits resembling himself, when we are told that "the whole world lieth in the Wicked One," and when we know that the Fiend in his presumption did for forty days grapple with Emmanuel, God with us? Why, the conversion of every sinner is a display of omnipotent power, for nothing below omnipotence can break or dissolve the fetters by which every sinner is led captive at the will of Satan.
And of grace that soul is a trophy; for what but pure, unmerited favour on God's part could move the Lord God to pitch upon that one soul, without one single claim on His mercy, and determine, in the face of ten thousand obstacles, to rescue him from the power of the enemy. Nothing loveable in the creature, no reason for his emancipation but one—the God of love chooses that it shall be so. "God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)." (Eph. 2:4, 5)
4. They have joy in the conversion of a sinner because of the delight which the event gives the Divine mind. We naturally rejoice in the-happiness and good success of those we love. The honour of the Divine King must be sacred in the eyes of his loyal subjects. Every saved soul is another gem in His crown. The salvation of the lost has been on the mind and heart of the Eternal Son from eternity. When below, He rejoiced in spirit when His Father revealed divine truths to babes. What must be His gladness of heart, then, when souls are saved? Why, was not this the pleasure of His soul when on earth? Was not this the joy set before Him? And must not angels rejoice in His joy?
5. The conversion of a sinner must give delight to angels, and that of the purest kind. Ours is of a mixed character, so little do we know of the heart; so many deceive themselves, and many who begin to run well are afterwards hindered that we rejoice with trembling when a conversion is announced; but the true convert must be known to angels. Their eyes can trace his future history, either by intuition or revelation. They already see him triumphant over all his enemies, and landed among themselves, a companion in their worship and service, an addition to the fellowship of the happy family; and still, as the number of such are seen called out of the world, their multiplication must be a source of exquisite satisfaction.
6. The lessening of the number of their Lord's enemies must also give the great pleasure. There is a malignant joy experienced by soldiers in the field when they see the ranks of the enemy thinning in the fight; but how high, how holy, must be the joy of angels as they look down upon the reduced force of the enemies of their God, not by the death, but by the coming to life of them who were dead in trespasses and sins; their throwing down their arms, and their reconciliation effected through the clemency of the Prince of Peace, and the great sacrifice He has offered for their redemption.
7. As the loyal subjects of the King of Glory, they must be supremely happy in His service. Whatever service they are appointed to, will exalt their joy in the performance. Now, these ministering spirits are sent forth to take charge of the new-found heirs of salvation, to put to shame their enemies, to sustain believers throughout their conflict with the powers of evil, to carry out the Lord's providential purposes toward them, and finally to bring them home. Angels and we are brethren, and their loves toward their younger brethren must be gladsome indeed. And what is happiness, what is joy, but love? Spiritual, divine love, in angel or human hearts, is bliss truly. Therefore it is that when a repenting sinner is brought in, every such wakes up fresh joy in heaven among the angels of Cod.
8. There is a peculiar delight that we feel in getting others to experience the pleasure we have in a worthy object. It is not enough that we enjoy, we must have others to do so with us. Witness the woman of Samaria, running to the city crying, "Come, see a man which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" (John 4:29) The joy of angels becomes more elevated, as they find themselves joined in their adoring love of God. They would have all intelligent beings unite with them in admiration, wonder, and praise. Therefore, every fresh convert sends a fresh wave of delight over the admiring hosts that surround His throne. Who can imagine the transport as the volume of song rolls along the temple of the skies: "Blessing, and honour, and glory and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever”? (Rev. 5:13)
II. Bring home this matter to ourselves.
Do we have fellowship with rejoicing angels in their joy over a repenting sinner? Probably not — because we are far from being satisfied that it is a case of genuine repentance. But is it our business, ere we can lift up our hearts, to see what angels see? No. The heart we cannot certainly read, but should that deter us from recognising the symptoms which ordinarily evince true repentance?
Why, the Apostle—did he refuse to accept Simon's apparent repentance? Not at all. The event was left to demonstrate itself, which it speedily did. It were to put an end to reported conversions if men and women are not to be believed when they say they repent, when they say they believe and rejoice, and when they enter on a new course of life. The confession of the mouth is to be accepted as true, nor are we to shut out conviction till time shall develop the character.
No such example do I find in all the Scriptures of this half-hearted dealing toward souls in distress. We are not responsible for consequences; with time, enough practical evidence will arise as to whether we ought to change our views and act accordingly. Brethren, rejoice in the open confession of Christ by people who, till now, never had any profession of piety — and by hypocritical professors throwing off the mask — but who now declare themselves disciples of Jesus.
Do you reply, "Did we know as angels do, we too would rejoice"? But we are not to wait for that; we are to encourage beginners in a new life. Observed holding back on our part, hesitation and doubt on our part, would stumble and drive away sincere souls; and better be mistaken than guilty of "making those sad whom God hath not made sad," or making to stumble one of His. But, O lift up all our souls to praise, celebrate, and glorify the God of all grace, who in our day and country is opening His treasury, and enriching hundreds with riches of mercy and grace that must be earnests of an inheritance uncorrupted, undefiled, and unfading, in the heavens!
Now, then, if the worth of souls be such as we have seen in these remarks, what are we doing to save from death, and to create joy in heaven? We labour in word and doctrine, as you well know, to effect this, in season and out of season; but public teaching is not the only means of accomplishing this. To all disciples of His, Jesus says, "Ye are the salt of the world; ye are the light of the world," which cannot mean that every Christian man and woman is to forsake the duty of life in the rearing of families and doing the world's business to become public teachers.
Certainly not; but many, very many ways there are of dealing with hearts and consciences besides this. Brothers and sisters with each other, masters and mistresses with servants, parents with children, and excellent opportunities in daily intercourse occur — if we are wise enough and zealous enough to take advantage of them — whereby most of us may really fulfill our Lord's parables of the salt and the light in the diffusion of the Gospel of the grace of God in the world.
O, my brethren, do recall in private what you have this day heard in public, and do right earnestly set yourselves on work for souls in one way or another. Think where these thousands around you are going. Think on the eternity which is about to receive us all, and where we shall be then—not for months, nor years, but great cycles of millions of millions of years without end. Say to yourselves thus:
"What am I doing for Christ and souls? What have I been doing all the years I have been a member of the Church of God? What can I do now? If I have been indolent or worldly, or indifferent about others if safe myself, short—oh, how short—the time which now remains.
“Let me, in good earnest, set myself to a more active course of Christian duty than I have yet been able to overtake. Prompted by the infinite worth of souls, and the urgency of my Master's persuasives, the love of His person, the glory of His kingdom and reign, the thought of His return, the account I have to render of my stewardship, and what I owe for personal salvation and the blessed hope of eternal life, let me from this very day determine upon a far more vigorous exercise of all the talents committed to me than I have ever yet put forth."
Do I bear from one and another this response? —
"I shall no more roll all the business of Christ's house upon His official servants; I will at least co-operate with them. I am His servant as they are although in another walk of life. Too, too much have I been living to myself. God helping me, I shall henceforth redeem the time, and make it tell more directly than ever it has done on the business and interests of an opening eternity!"
And you who, up to this hour have taken no decided step toward your own safety, one word to you. Suppose that we Christian men and women, who are so earnest for your salvation — suppose it should turn up that we have been duped and deceived about the soul's immortality, and exposure to eternal banishment from God and the light of day in darkness and sorrow — suppose, I say, that it shall turn up that there are no such things as we have been telling you; or suppose it should turn out that we are mere clods of earth and the grave the end of us.
What have we believers to lose? Just nothing! But, on the other hand, if all that the Bible has predicted, and we have taught, not only comes to pass, but beyond all measure more terrible, what do YOU, the unbeliever, lose then?—Lost! Lost! Lost!
This is a very short, but a very rational and solid argument, which all the wisdom of the literary world cannot master. Take it with you, ponder it, look at it on every side. It is as true and solid and convincing as any question in arithmetic, solved and demonstrated by infallible proofs. "Repent, then, and believe the Gospel."