Thursday, October 18, 2007

Rejoicing in the Lord in all Cases and Conditions

So much of the most beneficial counsel for people today was written hundreds of years ago. So much of what is valuable reading material today is simply a rehash of material written hundreds of years ago. I love to read books from every age. It guards against temporal arrogance - thinking our generation has it all figured out. It also guards against seeing everything through a temporal lens - being stuck in the presuppositions and worldview of our current generation. Moral of the story, read old books. There has never been an easier time to peruse the wisdom of ages past than today, when writings from 500 years ago can be translated, edited, printed, and shipped all over the world for the price of a fast food dinner. One such book I'm fond of is Rejoicing in the Lord Jesus in all Cases and Conditions by Robert Asty. Asty pastored in England in the 1600's. He's not very well known and didn't write as profusely as some others in his generation. But this little book is an overflow of Christian Hedonist wisdom.

Rejoicing in the Lord Jesus in all Cases and Conditions
is an exposition of Habakkuk 3:18: "Yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will take joy in the God of my salvation." This verse comes as Habakkuk ponders the famine and hardship that will come upon Israel as a result of a Chaldean invasion. "Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation (Hab. 3:17-18).

The central doctrine that Asty addresses in this book is "There is enough in Christ Jesus alone for the soul's full rejoicing and triumphing in all cases and conditions." In other words, Christ is enough to make all people happy at all times. Christ satisfies in a way that nothing else can, breaking the bonds of circumstantial tyranny. He writes, "Let things go how they will in the world, as to my outward concerns, yet the ground of my joy is never taken from me. . . . It is not in the creature, it is not upon earth, but it is in heaven; it is not in man, it is in the Lord; it is not in the confluence of these things that are coming and going, and in an uncertain enjoyment, but it is in the Lord who never fails."

How great would Christ look if Christians thought like this? Wouldn't Christ look more valuable than anything else? And wouldn't that be putting Christ in his rightful place - more valuable than anything else? But, needless to say, it isn't always true of Christians that Christ Jesus alone is the soul's full rejoicing. We find the same things to rejoice in that everyone else does - health, spouses, children, jobs, television, sporting events, melodies and beats, movies, toys, cars, houses, trips, and any number of creature comforts. When those things come in an abundance we are satisfied with, we are quite happy, and will let folks know that God is the reason for our happiness. Oftentimes, the only difference between Christians and non-Christians is who gets the credit. Whereas, most people in the world will credit themselves for the abundance of their "good fortune," Christians credit God.

However, few Christians exude a demeanor that rises above current circumstances. Let adversity (and even potential adversity that hasn't even happened yet) hit the modern non-Christian, and his response will likely be too similar to that of the pagan next door. Maybe even worse. I've seen it with my own eyes. So how can a Christian show that Christ alone is enough for him? Asty helps us here.

"If you would come to live upon Christ Jesus alone in the saddest providences of your state, then entertain and keep up low thoughts of the great things of this world. Truly, Christians, you may think what you will, but while you have hearts that are magnifying and adoring the things of the world and the enjoyments of the world, and counting these as great things, you will never come scripturally to live upon the Lord Jesus. Your thoughts must be altered in and about the comforts of this life, and you must possess your hearts with the thought that these are the smallest comforts of your state, and that the blessings of this life are the least blessings that the Lord has given you. You must have very low thoughts of the world, and of the comforts of it, if you would come to live by faith in Christ Jesus alone. While you have vast thoughts of your earthly enjoyments, earthly comforts, and earthly conditions, and suppose your comforts to lie here, there, or anywhere short of Christ, you will be driven out of all the exercise of faith by an unfavorable providence."

The last sentence of the above quote is telling. How many Christians claim to be overflowing with joy in Christ, only to be exposed in a time of "unfavorable providence"? The content of someone's hope is revealed in times of crisis and great decision. If a Christian is truly satisfied with Christ alone, then the circumstances that seem to jab the side will not lead to despair, fear, anxiety and aggression. Christians who hope and rejoice in Christ alone float across the adversities of life, knowing that comforts cannot lie "here, there, or anywhere short of Christ."

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