What is “fullness of joy”? In what sense is our joy full? What does fullness mean? How can we experience “fullness of joy”?
In the concluding verses of the great parable of the Vine and the branches Jesus said: “9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:9-11).
The main thoughts of the parable were these two, that participation in Christ’s life was the source of all good, and that abiding in Him was the means of participation in His life. The parable spoke about abiding in Christ; the above text defines that abiding, and makes it still more tender and gracious by substituting for it, ‘abiding in His love.’ The parable spoke of conduct as ‘fruit,’ the effortless result of communion with Jesus. The above text speaks of it with more emphasis laid on the human side, as ‘keeping the commandments.’ The parable told us that abiding in Christ was the condition of bearing fruit. The above text tells us the converse, which is also true, that bearing fruit, or keeping the commandments, is the condition of abiding in Christ. So our Lord takes His thought, as it were, and turns it round before us, letting us see both sides of it, and then tells us that He does all this for one purpose, which in itself is a token of His love, namely, that our hearts may be filled with perfect and perennial joy, a drop from the fountain of His own.
These three verses have three words which may be taken as their key-notes-love, obedience, and joy. We shall look at them in that order.
I. First, then, we have here the love in which it is our sweet duty to abide.
Christ here claims to be, in a unique and solitary fashion, the Object of the Father’s love, and He claims to be able to love like God. ‘As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you’; as deeply, as purely, as fully, as eternally, and with all the unnameable perfectnesses which must belong to the divine affection, does Christ declare His love for us.
In this affection He exhorts us to abide. The command to abide in Him suggests much that is blessed, but to have all that mysterious abiding in Him resolved into abiding in His love is infinitely tenderer, and draws us still closer to Himself. What is meant is not our continuance in the attitude of love to Him, but rather our continuance in the atmosphere of His love to us. But then, whosoever thus abides in Christ’s love to Him will echo it back again in an equally continuous love to Him. So that the two things flow together, and to abide in the conscious possession of Christ’s love to me is the certain and inseparable cause of its effect, my abiding in the continual exercise and outgoing of my love to Him.
This continuance in Christ’s love is a thing in our power, since it is commanded. What a quiet, blessed home that is for us! The image, I suppose, that underlies all this sweet speech in these last hours, about dwelling in Christ, in His joy, in His words, in His peace, and the like, is that of some safe house, into which going, we may be secure.
II. Secondly, the obedience by which we continue in Christ’s love.
Christ here claims for Himself absolute and unbroken conformity with the Father’s will, and consequent uninterrupted and complete communion with the Father’s love. It is the utterance of a nature conscious of no sin, of a humanity that never knew one instant’s film of separation between Him and the Father. No more tremendous words were ever spoken than these.
Christ here, with His consciousness of perfect obedience and communion, intercepts our obedience and diverts it to Himself. He does not say, “Obey God as I have done and He will love you;” but He says, “Obey Me as I obey God and I will love you.” Who is this that thus comes between the child’s heart and the Father’s? Does He come between? or does He rather lead us up to the Father, and to a share in His own filial obedience?
He further assures us that, by keeping His commandments, we shall continue in that sweet home and safe stronghold of His love. Of course the keeping of the commandments is something more than mere outward conformity by action. It is the inward harmony of will, and the bowing of the whole nature. It is, in fact, the same thing (though considered under a different aspect, and from a somewhat different point of view), as He has already been speaking about as the ‘fruit’ of the vine, by the bearing of which the Father is glorified. And this obedience, the obedience of the hands because the heart obeys, and does so because it loves, the bowing of the will in glad submission to the loved and holy will of the heavens-this obedience is the condition of our continuing in Christ’s love.
He will love us better the more we obey His commandments, for although His tender heart is charged with the love of pity and of desire to help towards all, He cannot but feel a growing thrill of satisfied affection towards us, in the measure in which we become like Himself.
The obedience which we render for love’s sake will make us more capable of receiving, and more blessedly conscious of possessing, the love of Jesus Christ. The lightest cloud before the sun will prevent it from focussing its rays to a burning point on the convex glass. And the small, thin, fleeting, scarcely visible acts of self-will that sometimes pass across our skies will prevent our feeling the warmth of that love upon our shrouded hearts. We cannot rejoice in Jesus Christ unless we do His will. We will have no real comfort and blessedness in our religion unless it works itself out in our daily lives.
We shall continue in His love by obedience, inasmuch as every emotion which finds expression in our daily life is strengthened by the fact that it is expressed. The love which works is love which grows, and the tree that bears fruit is the tree that is healthy and increases. So note how all these deepest things of Christian teaching come at last to a plain piece of practical duty. We talk about the mysticism of John’s Gospel, about the depth of these last sayings of Jesus Christ. Yes! they are mystical, they are deep-unfathomably deep, thank God!-but connected by the shortest possible road with the plainest possible duties. It is of no use to talk about communion with Jesus Christ, and abiding in Him, in possession of His love, and all those other properly mystical sides of Christian experience, unless we verify them for ourselves by the plain way of practice. Doing as Christ bids us, and doing that habitually, and doing it gladly, then, and only then, are we in no danger of losing ourselves on the heights, or of forgetting that Christ’s mission has for its last result the influencing of character and of conduct.
III. Lastly, the joy which follows on this practical obedience.
A strange time to talk of His “joy.” In half an hour he would be in Gethsemane. Was Christ a joyful Man? He was a man of sorrows (cf. Isa 53:3). But it is said of Him, “You have loved righteousness,…therefore God has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your fellows” (Psal 45:7; Heb 1:9). Absolute surrender and submission in love to the beloved commands of a loving Father made Him, in spite of the baptism with which He was baptized, in spite of all the burden and the weight of our sins-the most joyful of men.
This joy He offers to us, a joy coming from perfect obedience, a joy coming from a surrender of self at the bidding of love, to a love that to us seems absolutely good and sweet. There is no joy that humanity is capable of to compare for a moment with that bright, warm, continuous sunshine which floods the soul, that is freed from all the clouds and mists of self and the darkness of sin. Self-sacrifice at the bidding of Jesus Christ is the recipe for the highest, the most exquisite, the most godlike gladnesses of which the human heart is capable. Our joy will remain if His joy is ours. Then our joy will be, up to the measure of its capacity, ennobled, and filled, and progressive, advancing ever towards a fuller possession of His joy, and a deeper calm of that pure and perennial rapture, which makes the settled and celestial bliss of those who have ‘entered into the joy of their Lord.’
Brother! there is only one gladness that is worth calling so-and that is, that which comes to us, when we give ourselves utterly away to Jesus Christ, and let Him do with us as He will. Let us choose for ourselves, and let us choose aright, the gladness which coils round the heart, and endures forever, and is found in submission to Jesus Christ, rather than the superficial, fleeting joys which are rooted on earth and perish with time.
Let us praise God with the song “Only A Shadow”: