oh, tidings of comfort and joy..."
One hears the tune wafting through the air at this time of year, and in our reading of Flavel yesterday, stern exhortation was given for those who desire comfort and joy in their walk with Christ. To the ear of flesh, the word Flavel gives is folly - for how can one obtain comfort if one understands himself to be a sinner laid low by his entanglements and sorrow over his sin? Aren't sorrow, self-abasement contrary to the very spirit of comfort and joy? Indeed not - for they lie at the heart of it all! From Flavel, then, we read:
...unless the people of God spend more time and pains about their hearts, than generally and ordinarily they do, they are never like to do God much service, or be owners of much comfort in this world.Joy and comfort in the Lord must come IN THE LORD. That is, I cannot understand how one truly comes to a full sense of joy without the understanding of the plenary nature of God's salvific work, our utter unworthiness to be granted an audience with Him, let alone eternal communion with Him, and our utter and complete dependence upon Him for any good whatsoever that comes our way. With that understanding, there is a fulness of joy that is impossible to obtain otherwise. With that perspective in mind, comfort, true comfort and freedom is ours.
I may say of that Christian that is remiss and careless in keeping his heart, as Jacob said of Reuben, 'Thou shalt not excel.' It grieves me to see how many Christians there are that go up and down dejected, and complaining, that live at a poor low rate, both of service and comfort; and how can they expect it should be otherwise, as long as they live at such a careless rate? O how little of their time is spent in the closet in searching, humbling, and quickening their hearts?
You say your hearts are dead, and do you wonder they are so, as long as you keep them not with the fountain of life? If your bodies had been dieted as your souls have been, they would have been dead too; never expect better hearts till you take more pains with them; Qui fugit molam, fugit farinam; He that will not have the sweat, must not expect the sweet of religion. (Volume 5, page 495, Complete Works of John Flavel, Banner of Truth)
This is, to the flesh, paradoxical. How can we open our hearts before our eyes, and see and acknowledge with honest clarity the blackness therein, and the stain of sin in our lives, and feel anything but despair? Again - joy and comfort must come through faith in the promises and assurance in the completeness of Christ's satisfaction on our behalf. As I noted yesterday, progress in sanctification may very well be slow - and seemingly crawl along at times, as we fight the continual battle with our sinful flesh... but that battle is one that is to be filled with joy as we rest in the comfort of the Lord! Our dutiful examination of heart and soul is coupled with the grief of finding sin, and the joy of our Spirit-enabled relinquishing of it, bit by bit. Ultimately all joy must be grounded on the complete atonement of Christ and can never be founded on our progress... that is to put the cart before the horse, and miss the true ground of Christian freedom. What we are becoming in our sanctification is what we already are in our justification.
"...oh Tidings of Comfort and Joy!"