Perpetual, Profound Joy
John Bunyan was born near Bedford, England in 1628, just a few years before the Puritan revolution began. He grew up very poor and had no formal education. He taught himself to read and write, however, and enjoyed immensely medieval novels of the day. He was so foul-mouthed that even wicked men were embarrassed by his speech. After marrying at the age of twenty, John Bunyan experiencing deep conviction of sin, and began reading the Bible. His outward morality improved greatly but he was still vile and profane on the inside. One day it seemed as though God spoke to him saying, ‘Will you repent of your sins and go to heaven, or will you remain unrepentant and go to hell?’ After reading the introduction to Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians, Bunyan found peace with God through his justifying and reconciling grace.
Bunyan soon began preaching the glorious gospel in the open air. After all, he was too poor, uneducated, and unordained to preach normally in churches. Bunyan was a powerful open air preacher and crowds gathered at daybreak to hear him preach at noon. England forbade street preaching at the time and Bunyan was commanded to desist from preaching. He refused and kept on preaching. He was arrested and after three months was told he could go home to his young children (one was blind and desperately in need of his attention) as long as he agreed to never preach again. He refused and remained in prison for another twelve years. Several times he was offered a pardon but refused it because he believed he had not violated the law.
Bunyan made great use of his prison time, seeing God’s hand in it, by writing over sixty books. His most popular books were Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (his autobiography)1 and The Pilgrim’s Progress.2 Throughout his imprisonment and the rest of his life, John Bunyan was marked by perpetual, profound joy. How was he able to maintain his consistent joy at such a high level, especially in light of his hardships?
What Bunyan had, you also can have. You can live, in every circumstance, with perpetual, profound joy. It is true that we are to mourn over our sin (Matt. 5:4), to grieve our ambivalence at God’s gracious overtures. We are to weep over the sufferings so many people experience due to the injustice of wicked rulers (2 Chron. 36:11-21). We are also to grieve at the death of recalcitrant, smug sinners (Jesus wept over Jerusalem). In fact the Apostle James commands us to be miserable and mourn and weep, to let our laughter be turned into sorrow and our joy into gloom (James 4:9). However, joy inexpressible and full of glory marks the believer who understands who he is and what he has in the Lord Jesus Christ. So, which is it? Are we to rejoice or to mourn? The answer is, ‘Yes.’ We are to do both at the same time. Rejoicing and grieving are flip sides of the same coin.
So how do you gain and maintain a sense of perpetual and profound joy? Peter makes clear that due to God’s great mercy we are born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Christ’s death makes possible an imperishable, undefiled inheritance which will not fade away, one that is reserved in heaven for us. The ‘us’ refers to redeemed, blood-bought sinners who are protected by the power of God through faith for a glorious salvation reserved in heaven for them. Even though Bunyan, and no doubt you, have suffered, you are able to rejoice, just like Bunyan. Why? Because your various trials promote a rich faith, like gold refined in a furnace.
God is sovereign in all the affairs of your life (Isa. 25:1), and this means he always works all things for your good because you love him, because you are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28). It is also true that God most often uses people to knock off the rough edges of your life, like a machinist grinding off a spur on a fitting just coming out of the foundry. A spouse, a child, a boss or fellow-worker, or a member of your church are placed in your life by the sovereign king of all creation to better prepare you for heaven, to sanctify you, to make you more like Jesus. Do you see that? Have you ever stopped to see God’s hand in the hardships of your life, even down to the minutest detail of specific people?
And what is God’s telos, his objective in your suffering? Peter tells us that it is meant to result in praise and honour and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. The revelation or apocalypse occurs when the Lord Jesus comes on the clouds in great glory, when he brings the fulness of our eternal salvation by restoring the world to its pre-fallen condition with the new heaven and the new earth, where there will be no more sickness or death, no more mourning, or crying, or pain (Rev. 21:1-4). As Peter commends the suffering believers in Cappadocia, Galatia, and Asia Minor, so he too commends you. He says, ‘Though you have not seen Him, you still love Him; and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.’ In other words, our lives are to be dominated, controlled, defined by profound joy (an inner peace and tranquility that looks to the fulness of God’s promises in Christ) that finds full contentment in simply being united to Christ. As the glory of God blinded the people of God as Moses came from Yahweh’s presence, so the glory of the Lord is to shine on our faces. The glory of Jesus’ person and work can literally be seen in our eyes, in our voices, on our faces.
The end result of such great faith is to obtain the very salvation of your soul. It is certainly true that God is the author of our salvation in his electing, reconciling, propitiating, and expiating work. The Lord Jesus took our sins upon his body on the cross that he might reconcile us to the Father (Col. 1:20). He died for our sins, once for all, the just for the unjust, so that he might bring us to God, having been put to the death in the flesh and made alive in the spirit (1 Pet. 3:18). He is also the perfecter of that salvation. It is God who is at work in us, to do and to will for his good pleasure, that he who began a good work in us will perfect it until the day of Jesus (Phil. 1:6, 2:13).
Our problems, therefore, with bitterness, anger, slander, or malice stem from the indwelling sin that works through the trials and temptations of life. God does not tempt people (James 1:13). That is your flesh and the devil’s business (James 1:14-15, 1 Pet. 5:8), but he certainly ordains trials (James 1:2-4). God has brought certain people, certain circumstances into your life to perfect your holiness, your growth in grace, to promote perseverance, proven character, hope, and love. Who are those people whom God is using to grind off the rough edges of your character? See what he is doing, submit to him, and rejoice that he is working in you to prepare you for the fulness and glory of your eternal salvation, ready to be revealed in the last day.
- Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners can be found in Volume 1 of the Trust’s 3-volume edition of The Works of John Bunyan.
John Bunyan was born near Bedford, England in 1628, just a few years before the Puritan revolution began. He grew up very poor and had no formal education. He taught himself to read and write, however, and enjoyed immensely medieval novels of the day. He was so foul-mouthed that even wicked men were embarrassed by […]
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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