Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans

ROMANS, xiv, 17. "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."

'Joy in the Holy Ghost.' In the high and hidden walk of a Christian's experience, there is much that looks very inaccessible to the eye of the general world. And it is evident, that just in proportion to their sense of its mystery and exceeding remoteness, will be their own hopelessness of ever realising it. They regard it as something of too recondite, too lofty a nature, for them to think of aspiring after. They have no fellowship with the joys or exercises of a believer, no common feeling, and even no common understanding with Christ's peculiar people, in ought that distinguishes this class of men from the rest of the species; and so they keep at a distance from these saintly and select few, just as they would from any outlandish society with whose tastes and gratifications they had no possible sympathy - either taking refuge in the thought, that it is all a fanatical imagination - or if it be indeed a reality, that it is a reality which lies at so wide a separation from themselves, as to mock their every, effort to lay hold of it.

It must be quite obvious, that in these circumstances it is most unwise needlessly to aggravate this impression which men have of the gospel, as of a hopeless and impracticable mystery - for this will only widen their separation from it the more. It is not for the friends of Christianity to give it more of a transcendental air and character than what natively belongs to it - for this would be to check the approaches of the yet uninitiated, who might thus be deterred from the enterprise of ever scaling those heights which seem so awful, or of penetrating those obscurities which seem to cloud the summits, or to gather and to settle among the deep recesses of experimental religion. Whatever can be made plain and palpable to the world at large, should be made to stand out in full exhibition before them; and nothing that is unnecessary or uncalled for should be said, which can augment their conception, either of the gospel as a thing that lies beyond the range of all ordinary apprehension, or of its disciples as of those who are kept together by some secret tact that is incommunicable to all other men - the spell of a magic or a masonry, that can only be known or guessed at by themselves.

We are sensible, however, that with every effort at the explanation of Christian truth, there will remain on the minds of all who are not Christians an impression of its mystery. The distinction will still be kept up between the children of light and the children of this world; and the former will appear to the latter as if they spoke in an unknown language. There will be little, community of thought or of feeling betwixt them; and however desirable to make the most of any right approximation that is at all possible, yet we are not to expect but that, in the whole cast and habitude of their understandings, the two societies of the church and the world will ever be widely apart from each other.

These are the first reflections which our text has given rise to - for we are not aware of any that is more removed beyond the limits of all common and earthly experience. We even fear that among those who profess a stricter and more serious Christianity, this joy in the Holy Ghost is seldom realised; and that however much it may be in harmony with their doctrinal speulations, they have little or no experimental feeling of it. This is a topic on which, if they have any doctrine at all, it is at least a doctrine that has outstript their experience. They cannot peak of this joy as a thing that is personally and practically their own. They cannot specify an occasion of their history that has been at all brightened by it. They have no distinct imagination ofwhat it is; and altogether it is even to them that matter of strangeness and of secrecy which they do not recollect ever to have indulged in. They would like to know about it - for as yet, we doubt not, the conceptions of many even of these are vague and unsatisfactory; and, therefore, to help the understandings even of the zealous and declared orthodox upon this topic, as well as to reconcile to the uttermost those who look upon our faith as little better than that of mystics and visionaries, we should like that as much of elucidation as possible should be shed upon a theme that is either now-a-day very little thought of, or regarded in the light of a wild and fanciful illusion.

It may perhaps tend in a certain degree to dissipate the mystery, if you advert to a distinction which I shall now propose to you. Joy in the Holy Ghost may be either a joy in His directly felt presence within you; or it may be a joy in the work which He has done within you. Now the first of these conceptions is far more mysterious than the second of them. We shall not now enquire, whether His presence, as a visitor or indweller, is ever felt directly - whether He is ever recognised to be in our hearts by any immediate feeling or immediate perception - whether, in short, the first conception is ever realised in the experience of any Christian below. Instead of knowing Him to be present in the way of contact or of His immediately felt and perceived residence within us, His presence in the soul of the believer may only be inferred, not from His contact with the human spirit, but from His work upon the human spirit. And so this joy in the Holy Ghost might mainly resolve itself into joy because of the truths which He has revealed to the eye of the understanding, and joy because of the virtues which He has impressed upon the character.

Let us take these two in order - dwelling very briefly on the first; and reserving our chief attention for the second of these particulars.
I. First then, there is a joy felt in the belief and contemplation of the truths impressed on our conviction by God's Holy Spirit. Thus far the joy is not some mistaken afflatus which you can give no account of. You can distinctly tell what it is. There is a palpable thing which the Spirit has enabled you to lay' hold of. He has taken of the things of Christ and showed them unto you. More particularly, He has shed a clearness on the efficacy of the atoning blood; and though He has let you know that you are a very great sinner, He has also let you know that Jesus Christ is a very great Saviour. That truth to which you were aforetime blind, He, by opening your eye, has made you to see; and it is such a truth as you cannot but rejoice in. He has caused you both to see a truth, and to hear a tenderness, in that gospel voice which issues from the mercy-seat; and as surely as when the hostility of, the best and powerfullest of your earthly acquaintances is turned into friendship, you cannot but be glad - so surely will you feel a gladness, so soon as made to behold, that the God who challenges iuiquity and cannot bear it in His presence, has become God in Christ, reconciling the world to himseli, and not imputing unto them their trespasses.

The man who is lost and distracted because of the dangers and the fears which encompass him, when freed from these and so translated into peace, vividly feels a joy along with it. Now this peace is of the Spirit's working, just because the truth from which the peace did emanate is of the Spirit's teaching. He teaches it through the word, by opening our eyes to the reality of Scripture. And so the joy which is felt because of the first ingredient of Heaven's kingdom that is specified in our texts even because of the peace into which the sinner has been translated - this joy may be regarded as entering into the third ingredient of that kingdom, even joy in the Holy Ghost.

II. But secondly. There is a joy in the Holy Ghost because of the virtues which He has impressed upon the character. Here too there is something tangible,. that furnishes, as it were, a material for our joy. The Holy Ghost works virtue in the character of him upon whom He operates; and joy in this virtue is joy in the Holy Ghost. Here is another abatement then, on the supposed mystery of this affection; and though we cannot go along with those who term themselves rational Christians, and would expunge all mystery from the doctrines of the gospel - yet we hold it most undesirable that any of. its truths should be enveloped in greater mystery than properly belongs to them; and, on the other hand, most desirable, that all should be made as plain to the understanding, as the actual state of revelation, and the possibilities of human knowledge and comprehension will allow. We are aware of one expedient which we cannot go along with, and by which it has been attempted to make the whole of that theology which relates to the visitation and indwelling of the Holy Ghost more palatable to the intellect of the natural man. The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of God; and whether that Spirit take up its residence within our hearts or not - whether or not it abides substantively there - whether it be in us as an essence, or only as a quality - still it is thought by many enough to warrant the gospel affirmation, that Christians have the Spirit of God if they have barely the characteristics of that Spirit fixed and delineated upon their own moral nature. And so in the estimation of many, to haye the Spirit of God, is just to have a character kindred to that of God, just as in common language we may say of one man that he has in him the soul of Newton, if he have the like taste and talent for philosophy - or that he has the spirit of some great statesman, if animated by the same patriotism - or of some great warrior, if actuated by the same thirst for the hazards and excitements of the contest - And so to have the Spirit of God, is regarded as tantamount, not to having that very Spirit within the receptacles of your bosom, but to your having, a spirit there which is like unto His - and thus to have the Holy Spirit only designs you to be a holy creature, or that you have within you the spirit of holiness.

Now certain it is, in the first instance, that this view of the matter tends to alleviate the mystery, and reduces the doctrine of God's Spirit being in man to a something, which those of merely secular or literary habits of conception can easily understand. If by having the Spirit of God within us, there is nothing more meant, than that our spirit is kindred to that of God - there is in this affirmation nought of that miraculous which provokes the incredulity of nature. It is simply assigning to our mind the character which it happens to possess; and it must moreover be admitted, that whether a similarity between our spirits and that of God be the whole doctrine or not - this similarity is allowed by all to be the undoubted effect of that inhabitation by the Holy Ghost of man as His dwelling-place, and man as His temple, which many, and we think soundly and scripturally, do contend for. The great object in fact of the Spirit's descent hpon earth, and of His assuming as the place of His occupancy this one man and that other, is to impress upon them the very image and character of God. He bloweth where He listeth, but the design of it is to inspire every one whom He so listeth with the very virtues of the Godhead - and so there is one view, according to which this joy in the Holy Ghost is really not at all unintelligible, nor ought it to stir up that incredulity which a feeling of the marvellous and the incomprehensible so often brings along with it. It is simply that direct joy which we have in the possession and the exercise of virtue. Joy in the Holy Ghost is the joy that naturally and constitutionally as it were, attaches to the spirit of holiness. If it be not pleasure in the immediate fellowship of God's Spirit - it is at least pleasure in its fruits, all of which are sweet unto the taste, and have in them what may be called a moral fragrance that ministers delight to the higher senses and faculties of our nature. There is an instant gratification to the heart in its own aspirations of love and purity and heven-born sacredness; and if these indeed come from the Spirit, then it is a gratification in what He hath done and wrought upon us, and this is joy in the Holy Ghost. We may not be able to recognise His direct presence in our bosoms; but if we rejoice in the virtues which He hath implanted there, then it may truly be said that in Him we rejoice. And thus there may be many who have realised this affection, and yet perhaps have hitherto conceived that they were strangers to it; and just because they were looking for something else. They have perhaps been thinking all along, that joy in the Holy Ghost was a felt and conscious delight, from fellowship with a visitor within, of whose personal agency and indwelling they had some mysterious access to know - otherwise than by the fruits of His operation, otherwise than by the graces and virtues which He imprest upon the character.

Now should it so happen, that He is only known by His fruits - should the presence of God's Spirit in the soul, instead of being a matter of direct consciousness, be only a matter of inference from the graces and the virtues that be engraven upon the soul, then when rejoicing in them we may in fact be rejoicing in the Holy Ghost. There are some, we are persuaded, who have experienced this affection without knowing it. They have breathed a holy and a heavenly delight in prayer. They have felt a lofty and ethereal transport in the contemplations of sacredness. They have experienced how good a thing it is to draw near unto God, and in the beatitudes of intercourse with Him as their Friend and reconciled Father, they have often tasted upon earth of those very beauties which shall be perfected in heaven. They have had the dawn upon their spirits even here of that ecstacy which lies in an affection for the Godhead; and in the outflowings of a kindred love towards their brethren of the species, they have also felt that there is a native and most exhilarating joy. Now during the whole of this experience, they may not have adverted to the Spirit as at the time dwelling and operation within them; and in the very moment when hey were rejoicing in His work, they may not hae been at all sensible that they were rejoicing in Himself. Nevertheless it is even so.

There is a joy in the Holy Ghost which is not more inexplicable than the joy that every Christian feels in the play and exercise of his good affections - in the good-will that moves him kindly towards one - in the gratitude that draws him in loving regards and services to another - in the virtuous triumphs of temperance or purity, when the eye has closed itself against some ensnaring temptation, or when a victorious resistance has been made to it - in the fervour of those more saintly and celestial exercises, when the soul enters into communion with its God; and just as the eye delights itself with all that is graceful or engaging in the scenery of nature, so is the spiritual eye regaled when it expatiates over the graces of that moral imagery which stands revealed on the character of the Godhead. It is thus that there may be a joy in the Holy Ghost, even when He is not thought of in His personality, or in the power of His influences upon the human spirit. It is a very possible thing to be under an influence, and at the very time when the influence itself is not at all the object of contemplation. The mind may in truth be busied with other objects. It may be thinking only of God or of man or of duty; or of those precious truths on which hang the salvation of the sinner, and his obligation to a life of sacredness - and the only delight whereof it may be conscious, is the delight that it has in entertaining these, and in feeling virtuously of these. Yet still, it may be true that it is both the Holy Ghost who hath introduced him to a luminous view of the objects, and who hath awakened in him all the good and corresponding emotions; and so, while to all sense he is occupied with virtue alone, and the joy that is felt by him is therefore a joy in virtue - yet nevertheless it is the Spirit that has originated and sustains the whole; and his joy in virtue is joy in the Holy Ghost.

According to this view of it then, joy in the Holy Ghost is joy in holiness; and it appears by our text to be one ingredient of the kingdom of heaven. By partaking of the Spirit of God, we are made to partake in the virtues of the Godhead; and the joy in question is a joy in these virtues. it is just such delight as the Eternal Himself has in the view and in the conscious possession of his own excellence - that primeval delight which cometh out of the inseparable union that obtained from everlasting between goodness and happiness - realised by the Mind of the Divinity, and reproduced in the minds on which He has stamped the likeness of His own character. There may be no way of recognising the power of an agent within your heart, but by the effects of his agency. There may be no way of ascertaining that the hand of a worker has been there, but by his handiwork; and all the pleasure which many a Christian feels in the Holy Ghost may be nothing more than the pleasure that is felt in those moralities of the heart, into which he has been renewed, and which are the traces of the Spint's operation. If you want to ascertain whether ever you had the joy of our text, it is. surely indispensable that you fix and determine what sort of thing it is. You may otherwise be led upon a wrong track of enquiry; and droop into despondency because you have not met with an evidence that is nowhere to be found. In regard to the Spirit of God, you neither hear His voice, nor do you see His shape; and you cannot tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth. But you may know Him by His fruits; and if these fruits do indeed regale your moral appetite for goodness and righteousness and truth - if obedience be the fruit; and you feel that in this obedience, as in the keeping of the commandments, there is a great reward - if gladness have sprung up in your heart along with the graces of the new creature - if you have ever tasted that to be in a holy is to be in a happy frame; and that to breathe in a religious atmosphere is of itself to breathe in an atmosphere of purest delight - This perhaps is all the evidence that you have a warrant to look for; and instead of expecting a joy in the Holy Ghost analogous to that which one has in personal intercourse with a friend - instead of beholding any direct manifestation of His presence within you, you may never on this side of death be admitted to see moe than the marks of His performance upon you - And we repeat, that if you have ever felt a joy in the meekness and the godliness and the love and the temperance and the purity which it is His office to impress upon the soul, this may be joy in the Holy Ghost - this may be the very joy that you are in quest of.

And by urging this upon you, I have another object in view than to guide you aright in the pursuit of evidence. I should like to take an opportunity now of expounding to you the real essence of heaven's blessedness. This joy in the Holy Ghost is an ingredient of the kingdom of heaven; and you cannot be too pointedly or repeatedly told - that what constitutes your happiness there, is that which has constituted the happiness of the Godhead from all eternity. I want you to separate in thought the main and characteristic enjoyments of paradise from all those secondary or subordinate enjoyments wherewith we fancy it to be peopled ; and again to assure you that the ecstacy of these ethereal abodes lies not in heaven's music, or heaven's splendour, or any adaptation between the materialism of heaven and the glorified senses of those who are admitted to its transports and its triumphs. The joy in the Holy Ghost which will be enhanced and perfected there, and of which we have a foretaste here, is the joy which God Himself has in holiness. He delights in His own Spirit, in its graces, in its attributes, in all the beauteous and venerable characteristics which belong to it; and by imparting to us of this Spirit, He gives us the very materials of that delight which constitutes His own essential and unchangeable happiness. In other words, the joy of heaven is mainly and substantially speaking, a moral, a spiritual joy; and if the greatest happiness lie in the enjoyment of what we most love, then the best definition that can be given of the happiness of immortality, is that it consists in the enjoyment of righteousness by those whose nature it is supremely to love righteousness. To them the most delicious harmony by far is that moral harmony which they feel to be withi4i their own heart, where righteousness hath taken up its secure and everlasting possession; and to them the most glorious of all splendour is that splendid righteousness wherewith, among the angels and saints and hosts both of the redeemed and the unfallen, they are everywhere encompassed. But chiefly will they have joy in the city of the living God, because God Himself is there; and the light of His manifested countenance will be the light thereof. It is because of the worth and the goodness and the moral grace and grandeur that radiate directly upon their view from the aspect of the Divinity - it is because of the high and the holy perfections of virtue which sit enthroned in the place where His honour dwelleth - it is because of the sympathy which through the Spirit given to us is felt in our own bosom with the virtues of the Godhead, and the love wherewith He rejoices over those creatures on whom He hath imprest the lineaments of His own holy nature, reflected back again by them on that primary excellence from which all their holiness is derived - It is because of these moral elements that the joy of paradise is full. All there have a godlike virtue, and therefore it is that their happiness is godlike.

And it would at once purify your thoughts of heaven, and deliver the work of your preparation for it from all taint of legalism, could you but clearly understand that the great object of the economy under which you sit is to make you like both in character and in enjoyment to God. Just think what it is that forms His motive to righteousness. Just make out a distinct reply to the one question - whether is God righteous hecause of a law of righteousness that is over Him, or because of the love to righteousness that is in Him? He it is obvious, is under no law, and is responsible to no jurisdiction. Any act of virtue in Him is not an act of deference to any authority - nor is it in submission to the control or the cognisance of any superior. When He does what is right, it is not because He is so bidden, but because to His taste there is a beauty and a beatitude in rightness. The virtue that is observed as a thing of commandment, is of a character wholly dissimilar and distinct from the virtue that is indulged in as a thing of native and spontaneous delight. Now God is not the subject of a commandment. All that He does is not of constraint from without, but of choice from within; nd when righteousness, from a matter of constraint becomes a matter of choice, it instantly changes its whole nature, and rises to a higher moral rank than before. It is impossible that God can be at all moved by the authority of a law, or that the fear of its reckoning or its vengeance can have any weight upon Him. And so we, in proportion as we are like unto Him, are dead unto the law - that is, dead to a sense of its threatenings - dead to all feeling of compulsion - delivered from every impression of a superior standing over us, and overbearing our own pleasure by His resistless prerogative and power. But the same God whom it is impossible to move by law's authority, moves of His own proper and original inclination in the very path of the law's righteousness. And so again, we, in proportion as we are like unto God, are alive to the virtues of that same law, to the terror of whose seventies we are altogether dead. We are no longer under a schoolmaster. Our obedience is changed from a thing of force into a thing of freeness. It is moulded to a higher state and character than before. We are not driven to it by the rod of authority. We are drawn to it by the regards of a now willing heart to all moral and all spiritual excellence. It is upon a well of living water being struck out in the heart of renovated man - it is upon the entrance there by the Holy Ghost given unto all who receive the Saviour - it is upon His operation by which we are made to delight in the very moralities, and so to taste the very joys of the Godhead - it is upon that transformation by which the spirit of bondage is cast out, and succeeded by the spirit of adoption and of glorious liberty - It is thus that the joy of my text arises in the disciple's bosom; and while even here it forms an ingredient of heaven's kingdom, it is also the best presage of that eternal heaven which is awaiting him.

Such views, if more cherished and more proceeded on, would do away evrey imagination of an antinomianism in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The end of that gospel is not to set aside human virtue, but altogether to purify and to raise it. It is to set aside an old economy, by which virtue was prescribed; but under which it became an ignoble thing, and gathered upon its whole aspect a taint of mercenary sordidness. And it is to substitute a new economy in its place, under which virtue, so far from being expunged, is animated by the very spirit and brightened into those very hues of loveliness wherewith it is irradiated in the sanctuary of the Eternal. It is to exalt the selfish and low-born morality of earth into the sacredness of heaven; and not to extort the offerings of reluctance and fear, but to inspire at the very time that it bids the services of an affectionate and willing obedience. I do not ask, if you ever rejoiced in the Spirit of God felt as if personally alive and present in your bosom. This is a test of your discipleship, to which I fear that few if any of this, and very few of any congregation whatever, could respond.

But I ask,if you ever rejoiced in the law of God, felt to be that pure and righteous and elevated thing which the Psalmist professed to be his delight and meditation all the day. This is a test that I do insist upon; and if not a joy in the direct feeling of the Spirit's presence, it is at least a joy in the fruit of the Spirit's power. It is all the length to which I feel warranted to carry my explanation; and a length to which, if there be any here present who has practically come, we can at least promise to him the blessedness of the man who delighteth greatly in the commandments. In our first head, we spake of the joy that is felt on our believing the truths of the gospel, and more especially the truth of God's reconciliation to us in Christ Jesus. We are glad because of peace betwixt us and God; and peace is one ingredient of heaven's kingdom mentioned in our text. In our second head of discourse, we spoke of the joy that is felt on our acquiring the virtues of the gospel. There is an immediate delight in righteousness or virtue, that accrues by a law of moral nature to the possessor of it; and righteousness is another ingredient of heaven's kingdom mentioned in our text. Joy in the Holy Ghost, which is the third ingredient, may be regarded by some as joy in the two former; and called joy in the Holy Ghost, simply because peace and righteousness are the work of the Holy Ghost. But, additionally to the joy which the mind has in these effects of the Spirit's operation, there must, after experience of these effects, be a distinct joy, when tile mind takes cognisance of them in connection with their cause - when the Christian can trace the virtues which he has been enabled to exercise, to the source from whence they emanate - when he finds, that in proportion to the fervency and faith of his prayers for the Spirit of all grace, he is actually made rich in the graces and accomplishments of the new creature. There is a joy in the very investiture of these moralities; but a further and a distinct joy in the consideration of who it is that has put them on. When the Christian reflects on himself as a temple of the Holy Ghost - when he thinks of being so signalised - when enabled thus to judge, that God walks in him and dwells in him; and upon this evidence that He has put a law into his heart making him to love it, and written it in his mind making him to understand it - There is elevation in the very thought; and though it may not be joy in the directly felt presence, yet it may be joy in the inferred presence of the Holy Ghost. To arrive at this, my brethren, you have to entertain the truths of the gospel, even until you come clearly to see and firmly to have faith in them. You have to cultivate the virtues of the gospel, even until they become the main delight and exercise of your lives. You have to pray that the, eye might be made clearly to apprehend the one; and the heart to be more and more smitten with a love for the other, and a sense of their supreme obligation. You are to persevere in asking even till you receive, and in seeking even till you find, and in knocking even till it be opened to you; and, however remote and recondite the acquirement may appear to you now - yet, if you will just set out in good earnest from the humble elements of Christian scholarship and go on unto perfection, you will, from a joy in the truth and a joy in the virtus, of the gospel, arrive at a distinct joy in the fellowship of Him who hath manifested these truths, and moulded you to these virtues. You will pass on to the higher stages of the Christian experience, and be at length emboldened to say that the Spirit of God witnesseth with our spirits, that we are indeed His children; and hereby know we that we are in Him, even 'by the Spirit which He hath given to us.
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