“These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” – John 15:11
The Lord came into the world to overcome evil and to teach men the way of life that leads to peace and happiness. During His life in the world the Lord underwent temptations, severe and desperate temptations; yet these were entered into from His love for the human race. Through all was the inward joy which comes from the love which prompted Him. For it is love, in its various forms of affection, desire, interest, zeal, that prompts all activity.
The outward life of the Lord as described in the Gospels is in the main one of quiet peacefulness and fruitfulness. This is because in Him were no selfish desires or personal aims. No desire for wealth or for position among men was ever permitted to influence His feeling. Offered by the devil all the kingdoms of the world, He put them aside and chose to be one of the lowly.
He underwent the severest conflict with the evils of mankind, as the closing scenes of His life bear witness and as other portions of the Scriptures testify. He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Yet in His own view His life was especially distinguished from the life of all others by its peace and joy. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you,” He said. “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” All happiness and peace are from within, and His joy was from doing the works of love.
The joy or misery of life consists not in its circumstances but in its feelings. A heart that is bitter, envious, covetous, lustful – does anyone need to be told that, whatever its outward circumstances and however high the aims it may profess, it is really miserable? And no matter what the outward conditions may be, a heart that is friendly and contented, pure, and trustful is also peaceful and happy. It is often said that children as children are having the happiest part of their lives. If this is so, it is because there are no ambitious rivalries and turmoil to bring bitterness and discontent into their hearts. So we are commanded to become as little children.
It was especially to make possible to men this return to innocence and to the joy of unselfish and unperverted love that the Lord came into the world. The childhood of the human race was innocent and open to the Lord and heaven; but the maturity of the race was full of violence and evil. “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” “An evil and adulterous generation” the Lord found when He came into the world. But it was His love from which He looked upon them. He was not angry with them. No anger ever embittered His heart. In His love and in His pity He came to them. It was because God loved the world that He came into it to be its Savior.
He came into the world into all the evil and perversity that men had wrought. He took it upon Himself and little by little subdued and removed it. In removing it from Himself He took upon Himself the power of subduing and removing it from all men who will to see and desire to be freed from it. And that men’s eyes might be opened and that they might desire this, He showed them the nature of His own love in His life of infinite usefulness, sent them upon His errands of mercy, and inspired their hearts with His own love of doing them. Those who would follow Him He trained in the heavenly life, and gave them something of the peace and joy of it. And then that He might forever be present with them in the fullness of His power to subdue evil and of His love for good, He did not put off humanity but glorified it, and in His Divine glorified Humanity He rose from the sepulchre.
There is no limit to the freedom from evil and the enjoyment of good which the Lord can now give to men except the limit of their willingness to prepare themselves to receive it. And that preparation to receive consists, as He says, in their keeping His commandments, in their shunning every evil as sin, in their bringing forth much fruit, in loving one another as He has loved them, and in laying down their own selfish life for those they love.
It is impossible but that the natural life should be developed before the spiritual. The body has to attain its development. Its natural appetites and desires are aroused before the rational mind can be developed and attain the power of comparing natural pleasures with spiritual, the desires of the body with the satisfactions of the soul, and of choosing between them, repressing the one and cherishing the other.
Our natural selfish inclinations and desires are at first restrained from carrying out their impulses to the injury of others by laws and penalties and public opinion. The natural man in us is compelled to do useful work of many kinds to obtain the means of satisfying its desires. These restraints serve to establish an orderly natural life and habits of natural usefulness. They diminish the conflicts and the unhappiness of natural desires and regulate and increase their enjoyments; but they bring nothing of the joy of heaven. So long as the habits of useful labor are only the means of gratifying self there is nothing of the Lord’s love in them and therefore nothing of the Divine joy. For the Lord’s love is the love for others and the love of usefulness to them for their own sake and not for self. And so long as self is really first in the mind, there is no room for the Divine love. That this may enter, the desire to serve others must be given first place and self must come to be regarded only as a means of serving.
The teaching of the Lord and the presence of the Lord make this change possible; for He commands us to put away evil as sin against Him and to do good as a duty to Him and the neighbor, hoping for no selfish reward, and when we obey, He subdues from within the desires for evil and gives in their place something of His unselfish enjoyment in doing good.
But even when some of this enjoyment has been experienced, the primary regard for self long retains a place in the mind. Even in the good works that are done it turns the thought to self and elation of mind over what we have done. Thus the conflict between heaven and the world continues, the conflict between the Lord and self. Only after interest in the welfare of others has become really first in the mind and the only question about self is whether it is truly able to serve, can the Lord’s love and its deep joy be felt.
This was the case with the Lord Himself while He was in the world. His task was to meet evil and overcome it. If He had not overcome, He could never have felt the joy in His human mind and could not have given this joy to men. All this He saw, and for the sake of fulfilling His mission of bringing heaven to men, He overcame completely the desire to make self first. “Not my will, but thine be done,” He said, which meant with Him to lay down absolutely the life of the human self and to devote Himself without reservation to the service of the Divine love. The result was that He was glorified by that love, that the Divine love could inflow into the assumed human, pure and strong as it had been before above the heavens, bringing to mankind forever absolute control over evil and infinite possibilities of joy and peace.
These possibilities are realized in so far as we keep the Lord’s words and follow His example. Something of the heavenly life is ours whenever we lay down this life of self and do a useful service because the Lord has commanded it. That we may receive our full measure of love and joy from the Lord it is necessary that the love of self be dethroned from our minds and that our hearts be given to the services which the Lord gives us to do. In giving up the seeking of happiness in the things that serve self, anxiety and conflict cease. In seeking our life solely in the desire to serve others, we open our hearts to the Lord’s love and joy.
It makes no difference what the service may be that is given us, if only we do it in the Lord’s spirit. The Lord in His life on earth did many simple deeds, even to the washing of His disciples’ feet. In these the Divine love was manifested in the same fullness in which it entered into His mightier works. Whatever we do – in little things or great – if self is put aside, it will be a work which the Lord will love, and His love with its joy and peace will enter in.