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Someone will say that is asking an impossibility, that we cannot conjure up joy by any effort of will; only the Lord can produce rapture in a heart. But joy is not a thing apart, unrelated to the faculties of the soul, unconnected with the state of the mind. I cannot command the sun to appear, but when it is shining, I can retire into the shade and there sulk in my chilliness. So too the heart may turn away from the Sun of righteousness and, instead of dwelling upon His love and loveliness, occupy the mind with gloomy objects and subjects. The Christian is just as responsible to be joyous in adversity as in prosperity, when the devil rages against him as when he leaves him in peace for a season; and he will do so if his mind is properly employed and his heart delights itself in the Lord.
None of the empty pleasures of this world afford any solid happiness. As the natural man passes from childhood to old age, he changes his toys, only to discover that no gratification of his senses yields any real satisfaction.
Neither sorrow nor joy is caused by environment or circumstance; nor is joy to be found in any creature. “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines,... the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls” — what then? Will I deplore the situation and make myself wretched by contemplating a death of starvation? No indeed! “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation” ( Habakkuk 3:17-18).
Note well that “I will” of personal resolution. As the king may be miserable in his palace ( 1 Kings 21:5-6; Ecclesiastes 2:1-11), so the manacled and bleeding occupants of the dungeon may sing praises ( Acts 16:25).
While sorrowing over things around us, we may continually rejoice ( Corinthians 6:10). James 1:2 does not exhort us to rejoice in the trials as such, but by an act of spiritual judgment to regard them as joyous. James here gives three reasons why Christians should do so. “Knowing this [being fully persuaded of it] that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” Some facts there included should mightily further our joy.
First , all our sufferings and afflictions are for the trial of faith, and that is a great privilege. If we were possessed of more spiritual discernment, we should readily perceive that as the communication of saving grace to a soul is the greatest blessing which can be bestowed in this world, so the testing of that grace, exercised and drawn forth to the glory of God, is the next greatest mercy. For that grace to approve itself to God in a manner well pleasing to Him, is a matter of vast moment. So the genuineness of my faith being made manifest by overcoming the world in esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the “treasures of Egypt”; by valuing the smile of God more than fearing the frowns of men; by firmly enduring persecution when others fall away ( Matthew 13:21), should bring much comfort to my soul.
TRIALS NEEDED FOR PROVING OF FAITH Second , this trying of faith “worketh patience.” Trials are not only designed for the approving of faith but for faith’s fruitage, i.e., that it may yield its peaceable fruits. The more faith enables us to truly rest in the Lord and stand our ground in afflictions, the more we become inured to and patient under them. As faith draws out the heart to God and stays the mind upon Him, the soul is brought into a more sober attitude and more cordially acquiesces to the divine will. Faith brings home to the heart the dominion which God has over a man’s person and life, and this quiets evil uprisings against Him. Faith assures the heart of the love of God and its investment in Him, and that strengthens the believer in the greatest distresses. When Ziklag was burned, David’s goods plundered, and his wives carried away by the Philistines, he “encouraged himself in the LORD his God” ( 1 Samuel 30:6). The more a Christian bears meekly but perseveringly, the more he is enabled to bear. The muscles of his graces become stronger by use. If trials produce such fruits, ought we not to rejoice in them!
That is the reward given to the victor in the day to come. In that happy expectation the soul may count it all joy that he is now being afflicted and persecuted. The object of his rejoicing is not his sufferings, for they, considered in themselves, are grievous, but rather the result of them. Paul reminded the Hebrews, “Ye... took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance” ( Hebrews 10:34).
And thus He assured His followers, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake: rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven” ( Matthew 5:11-12).
PETITION AND PRAISE TO BE UNITED “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” ( Colossians 1:12).
This is the closing section of our prayer. Notice that in it the apostle exemplifies his exhortation: “Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” ( Philippians 4:6).
When we come to the throne of grace, petition and praise should always accompany each other. There should be the thanksgiving of grateful love for mercies already received: of confident faith in God’s promises, that He will certainly bestow the things for which we now ask, so far as to do so will be for His glory and our highest good; of joyous expectation of the things which He has prepared for us on high. The general relation of this verse to those preceding is apparent. The being “filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” ( Colossians 1:9) is to find expression in a worthy walk ( Colossians 1:10), in the exercise of patient endurance ( Colossians 1:11), and in grateful thanksgiving ( Colossians 1:12).
The order of those things is not only according to the Analogy of Faith but it is verified in the experience of the saints in the several stages of their growth in grace. A knowledge of God’s will (as made known in the Word) most engages the attention of the babe in Christ who is conscious of his ignorance. As the Spirit graciously opens the Scriptures to his understanding and applies them to his heart, he becomes more concerned with honoring the Lord in his daily walk and being fruitful in every good work. As he grows still older and meets with more trials and tribulations, he has an increasing realization of his need for being divinely strengthened so that he may not faint beneath the burdens of life and the difficulties of the way; that he may not become weary in well doing but run the race set before him, and meekly submit to all the dispensations of God’s providence. Finally, as he approaches the end of his journey he is more and more occupied with the glorious inheritance awaiting him wherein he will be done forever with sin and suffering. The more joyful he is ( Colossians 1:11) the more he will be filled with the spirit of thanksgiving.
The order of these things here also inculcates, in a most searching manner, an important practical lesson. This giving of thanks to the Father does not occur at the beginning of the prayer but at its close. Thereby it is intimated that none of us is warranted in concluding that he is among the number whom He has made “meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints” unless the things previously mentioned are in some measure really found in him. It would be highly presumptuous for me to complacently assume that I am fit for heaven unless I am sincerely endeavoring to walk worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in all things, being fruitful in every good work, and unless I possess my soul with patience and long-suffering, and rejoice when I am persecuted for Christ’s sake. Not that these things are qualifications for heaven, but rather the evidences that divine grace has suitably fashioned my soul for it. Not that these things are the procuring cause for which I shall enter the glory. They are but the marks that God has already wrought in me for the glory.
GOD HAS “MADE US MEET” It is equally necessary that we note carefully the tense of the verb here. It is not a promise that God will make us meet for the inheritance, nor is the reference to a present process that He is now making us meet. Some pastors in their presentation of what is termed “progressive sanctification” have handled it in a very legal manner and brought many of God’s people into cruel bondage thereby. This confusion appears in such expressions as being “meetened for glory,” “ripened for heaven.” Few indeed make use of this prayer in giving thanks to the Father because He has already made them “meet” for the inheritance.
BELIEVERS ARE “COMPLETE IN HIM” Our present verse brings before us a subject of vital moment and practical importance, although one of which most of God’s children today are sadly ignorant. Many of them who ought to be rejoicing in the liberty of the gospel are enthralled in some form of legal bondage. Comparatively few of them are exulting in the self-abasing and soul-satisfying consciousness that they are “complete in him” who is their Head ( Colossians 2:10). If the only consequences of this were the disturbing of their peace and the overcasting of their joy, such evils would call for an earnest effort to correct them. In addition, the absence of such assurance (which is their legitimate portion) dishonors the Lord, cramps their energies, obscures their graces, and renders their spiritual state uncertain both to themselves and to others.
One form of this evil is found even in many who have a clear knowledge of the ground on which God justifies the ungodly. They claim that after a person has tasted of the blessedness of “the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” ( Psalm 32:1), there remains much to be done before the soul is ready to enter his eternal rest. They hold that after his justification the believer must undergo a process of sanctification, and for this reason he is left for a time amid the trials and conflicts of a hostile world. The prevalence of this notion appears in much preaching, many hymns, and especially in prayers; for while many Christians may be frequently heard pleading to be made fit, rarely indeed do we hear one giving thanks to the Father because He has made us fit for the inheritance of the saints. Those laboring under such an impression can never know when the process is completed, nor can they say with any confidence to a dying man, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” ( Acts 16:31) here and now, for it would flatly contradict their own ideas.
One would suppose that those toiling under this view must be staggered by their own experience and observation. They see those whom they confidently regard as Christians cut off in apparently very different stages of this process, and if the contemplation of it is what is styled “perfect sanctification,” then in how few cases, so far as we can perceive, is any such preparation for glory actually attained! On their deathbeds the most eminent saints confess themselves thoroughly dissatisfied with their attainments! Yet many who deem themselves the most orthodox insist that while justification is an act completed at once, “sanctification is a progressive work.” If by that expression they mean growth in grace and the manifestation of it in this life, there can be no objection; but if it means a preparation for heaven, and that such preparation is to be the grand object of the believer’s life, the expression should be rejected as a Goddishonoring and soul-enslaving error — a flat contradiction of the text before us.
THREE INDISPENSABLE QUALIFICATIONS FOR HEAVEN These three things (none others or any more) are indispensable to qualify any sinner for heaven.
First , he must be predestinated by the Father, which was effected “on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore [by His eternal decree] prepared unto glory” ( Romans 9:23).
Second , he must have a valid legal right and title to the inheritance. The believing sinner has this in the merits of Christ, who by His one offering “hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” ( Hebrews 10:14).
Third , he must be experimentally fitted for the kingdom of God by the regenerating act of the Holy Spirit. As the natural babe is born complete in parts ( though not in development), so that no new member or faculty can be added — though the members are capable of expansion, with a fuller expression and clearer manifestation — so it is with the spiritual babe in Christ. “He that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing [i.e., the glory to come (see context)] is God who hath also given us the earnest [or ‘proof’] of the Spirit” ( 2 Corinthians 5:5).
The work of God the Spirit in regeneration is eternally complete. It needs no increase or decrease. It is the same in all believers. There will not be the least addition to it in heaven: not one grace, holy affection, or disposition which is not in it now. The whole of the Spirit’s work, from the moment of regeneration to our glorification, is to draw out those graces into actual exercise which He has worked in us. And though one believer may abound in the fruits of righteousness more than another, not one of them is more regenerate than another. This work of the Spirit, in which our worthiness for the eternal fruition of God consists, is alike in everyone that is born of the Spirit. The dying babe in Christ is as capable of high communion with God as Paul in the state of glory.
Our worthiness for heaven is evidenced by the very terms here used.
First , it is called an “inheritance,” and that is not something we purchase by good works, nor procure by self-denial and mortification. Rather it is that to which we lawfully succeed by our relationship to another. Primarily, it is that to which a child succeeds because of his relation to his father, as the crown which the son of an earthly king inherits. In this case the inheritance is ours by virtue of our being the sons of God, which we become actually at the new birth. “If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” ( Romans 8:16-17). The next verse ( Colossians 1:13) tells us what this “inheritance” is: “the kingdom of his [God’s] dear Son” into which we are already translated. Joint heirs with Christ must share His kingdom. He has now “made us kings and priests unto God” ( Revelation 1:6).
Second , it is the “inheritance of the saints.” Christians are saints from the first moment they savingly believe in Christ, for they are then sanctified or sainted by the very blood which procured their forgiveness ( Hebrews 13:12). Every Christian was sanctified essentially when he was anointed by the Spirit, whether we regard it as separation from those dead in sin, consecration to God, or sanctification by renewal in His image. Third, it is “the inheritance of the saints in light. ” We were “made meet” for it when by the new birth we became “the children of light” ( 1 Thessalonians 5:5). At that time we were “delivered from the power of darkness” and called “into his [God’s] marvellous light” ( 1 Peter 2:9). By nature we were totally unfit for the inheritance, but by the gracious operation of the Spirit we are now fit for it, for He has made us sons, heirs.
THE TRUE BELIEVER FIT FOR HEAVEN It is indeed a monstrous absurdity to deny their fitness for the heavenly inheritance of whom God declares, “But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” ( 1 Corinthians 6:11); whom “now hath he reconciled” ( Colossians 1:21), “made nigh by the blood of Christ” ( Ephesians 2:13), indwelt by His Spirit, delighted in as His sons; and to whom He says, “All things are your’s” ( 1 Corinthians 3:21). Spurgeon rightly affirmed, “The true believer is fit for heaven now, at this very moment. That does not mean he is sinless, but that he has been accepted in the Beloved, adopted into the Family, and fitted by Divine approbation to dwell with the saints in light.” No refining process of discipline, no preparation on our part, no progressive sanctification or growth in grace is necessary in order to fit a babe in Christ for Paradise.
This truth is conclusively shown by the case of the dying thief, who in the first day of his saving faith was immediately translated from the convict’s gibbet to the inheritance of the saints in light.
Why does God leave the Christian in this world for a season if he is already fit for heaven? For His own glory. As a monument of His mercy, an example of His distinguishing love, a witness of His sufficient grace, a proof of His faithfulness in bearing with his infirmities and supplying all his need. To give him an opportunity to honor Him in the place where he had so dishonored Him. To serve as salt in a corrupt community.
Let every Christian reader fervently thank the Father for having fitted him for eternal glory. The sloughing off of “the flesh” at death is not a qualification for heaven but the removal of a disqualification.