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Free Books » Bonar, Horatius » Light & Truth: Acts and the Larger Epistles

Chapter 22 - Acts 8:39 - The Joyful Traveler on his way Home Light & Truth: Acts and the Larger Epistles by Bonar, Horatius


He was a heathen; he had lived among heathen; he was returning to his heathen brethren and a heathen land, yet "he went on his way rejoicing." He had not become richer in earth's goods; he had not been loaded with the world's honours; he had not secured an alliance with the Roman emperor, yet he went upon his way rejoicing. So should it be with us. This is the description of a Christian's life and walk on earth.

I. Where did his joy come from? He had not brought it with him. He had come up on the mere report that went abroad through heathendom of the temple, and altar, and sacrifices at Jerusalem; he was but groping his way to the true mercy seat; he seems to have left Jerusalem much as he came, with but a glimmer of light. Where, then, did his joy come from? Not from within, but from without. It came from what he heard from Philip, or rather from what he read in Isaiah. But how did that statement bring him joy? It told him of a sin-bearer—long predicted, come at length. It was the knowledge of this sin-bearer that sent him on his way rejoicing. There had previously been a burden and a sorrow upon him. Sin oppressed him. Unpardoned sin made him a sorrowful man. He had come from Ethiopia to Jerusalem with this burden; he was going away with it, much as he came, when the Holy Spirit turned his eye to the Sin-bearer, the Lamb of God. He saw that the sin-bearing work was done; he accepted the divine testimony to that finished work; and in the acceptance of that testimony he found immediate joy. That testimony was to him a joyful sound. He went upon his way rejoicing. What he read was as blessed as it was true.

II. Where should our joy come from? From the same testimony to the same finished work. The passage of Scripture may be different; that matters not. There are a thousand passages, and a thousand testimonies, all bearing on the one cross, the one propitiation, the one Lamb of God, the one blood, the one sacrifice. Any one of these testimonies in the hand of the Holy Spirit can pour in gladness into the soul. The sinner is not happy. His sin comes between him and joy. The more he knows of sin, the more his sorrow increases; the heavier his burden grows. That burden must be removed ere he can taste of joy; and it can only be removed by approaching the cross. The hand of the crucified One is the only hand which can lift it off. The sorrowful soul looks to the cross and is lightened. That which he sees there speaks peace to him, and bids him go upon his way rejoicing. Time source of peace is one, for former ages and for this. There is but one well of living water, out of which all the flock from the beginning has been watered by the good Shepherd: one treasure house of joy, out of which the family of faith has been made rich.

We are called to make use of this storehouse of joy. If we do not, we sin. We despise the provision which God has made for the sinner's joy. It is a free and open fullness, and great is our guilt if we remain unfilled. It is our sin as well as our calamity if we go not on our way rejoicing. God means us to be joyful men. He has made provision for our being so. He calls on us to be so. He makes the refusal to be joyful one item of our condemnation. "Thou meetest him that rejoiceth" (Isaiah 64:5); we are to "hold fast the rejoicing of the hope" (Hebrew 3:6); to "rejoice in the Lord" ; to "rejoice in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:1-3).

How then does it happen that so few are like this Ethiopian ruler? The question is much more momentous than is commonly supposed. For it is generally assumed that a Christian man may be all right, and yet have no joy. Why is there so little joy among Christians?

(1.) Not because God does not wish them to have it. It is not forbidden fruit. He has again and again bidden them rejoice and be glad. He has not left them doubt as to what is His will upon this subject.

(2.) Not because joy dishonours Him. Popery may say so, because her object is to keep men in bondage; but the gospel does not say so. Gloom dishonours God; joy honours Him. It speaks well of Him, and shews men what a God of goodness and grace He is.

(3.) Not because joy is not safe for us to have. True joy is the safest of all things. It makes a man steadfast and earnest. It enables him to keep his balance in this world. It gives him genuine strength of will. It makes him strict and circumspect. It is one of God's ways for keeping us in the narrow way. It is the Christian's true ballast.

(4.) Not because God's sovereignty interposes. God's sovereignty no more comes between a Christian man and joy than it comes between him and holiness. It no more keeps a man sorrowing than it keeps him sinning. It is a libel on God's sovereignty to say that it keeps a man from rejoicing in the Lord.

(5.) Not because joy was not meant for these days. Some say it was only meant as a cordial for days of persecution, not for the church's more prosperous times. How untrue. Joy was for all times, circumstances, ages, the last as well the first.

(6.) Not because it unnerves us for work. "The joy of the Lord is our strength." There is nothing so unnerving as gloom and depression; nothing so invigorating and strengthening as joy. We work with far greater success and earnestness when full of joy.

Nay, it is one of the fruits of the Spirit; it is repeatedly recommended by the apostles; it was practiced by the early churches; it is one of the special marks of a believing man: "whose house are we if we hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end." The possession of it makes us shine as lights in the world, and attracts men to Christ. Oh how it cheers, sustains, strengthens, revives us from day to day! There is little joy among us, chiefly because there is so little simple believing of the good news.

It is joy from God; joy in God; it is the joy of God. To all this we are called. That which we believe is full of joy; "glad tidings of great joy"; the news of the propitiation finished on the cross. Should we not, then, go upon our way rejoicing?

That which we possess is full of joy. The present favor and love of God. That which we hope for is full of joy. We hope for a coming Lord; for resurrection-glory; for an everlasting city and kingdom. Should we not go on our way rejoicing?

Ah, surely we do injustice to Christ, to His grace, to His word, to His gospel, if we are not joyful. We misrepresent Him. We bring up a false report of Him, and of His love; of His cross, and of His blood; of His peace, and His pleasant land.