"And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete." 1 John 1:4 (ESV)
The Advent season is the time we sing, “Joy to the World”, which happens to be one of my most favored Christmas carols. Yet this joy of which we sing, offered to the whole world, is sadly not possessed by all. Even believers struggle to have such joy. One person who has pondered this problem is Thomas Watson. Watson (c. 1620-1686) was likely born in Yorkshire, although the exact place and date of his birth seems to be unknown. He served for ten years as lecturer at St. Stephens Church (Walbrook, London), then as rector for another six years. He was ejected in 1662 under the Act of Uniformity (which established conformity to the Church of England). Then under Charles II, the Declaration of Indulgence of 1672 extended religious liberties enabling Watson to obtain a license to preach for Crosby Hall in Bishopgate. There he preached for three years before Stephen Charnock joined him. They ministered together until Charnock’s death in 1680.
Watson believed that one of the greatest difficulties he faced in pastoral ministry was making the believer joyful in response to God’s grace. He believed the answer to this difficulty could be found in the study of the twenty-eighth verse of the eighth chapter of the apostle Paul’s epistle to the Romans: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 ESV) In the course of his study, Watson wrote the book, All Things for Good, and this is the subject of (as Pastor Sean is wont to say), “one of our excellent, excellent Sunday school classes.” Of course I am grateful for his enthusiasm, but I want to remind us all that such excellence comes from the study of a subject over the course of the quarter in the covenant community. If you are not presently attending a class, I encourage you to consider one of these classes for yourself (and your family).
Spiritual depression is a very real concern for the Christian. Watson observed: “Dejection in the godly arises from a double spring: either because their inward comforts are darkened, or their outward comforts are disturbed.” The outward comforts of life are obvious, particularly in our culture. When providence hinders your morning commute or shutters your favorite restaurant, or you lose a family member or friend, or a treasured possession or your home, the loss of these “outward comforts” can lead to dejection and depression. But what are the “inward comforts” and how may they be “darkened”?
First let’s review the definition of comfort. Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary explains that comfort is “Relief from pain…distress or uneasiness of [the] body” as well as “relief from distress of [the] mind; the ease and quiet which is experienced when pain, trouble, agitation or affliction ceases.” Positively, comfort is “support [and] consolation under calamity, distress or danger.” Jesus reminded his listeners that trouble is present in this world (John 16:33). How do you deal with this trouble: “calamity, distress, or danger”? Some use outward comforts to manage the symptoms, but the inward comforts are of the greatest necessity. Consider the inward comforts of joy, peace or humility. Another Puritan, Jeremiah Burroughs, had this to say about the inward comfort of peace (in his book, Moses’ Choice): "Be careful to preserve your inward peace, your peace with God, and your own conscience. ... so where there is peace within, all troubles and oppositions cannot shake the heart; but if there is not peace within, every little thing troubles the spirit. ... if I have peace with Thee it is enough, whatever evil befall me. Oh, therefore, maintain and keep this peace above all; it is no matter whether you have peace with the world, so long as you have the peace of the gospel in your hearts. It is one special part of that spiritual armour we read of in Ephesians 6 to be shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. That is the blessed peace of the gospel that is a strong preparation to endure any troubles or afflictions that Christians meet with."
Before Jesus’ invited all to “Come to me…” (Matthew 11:28), he used Sodom as a warning to Capernaum: “And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you." (Matthew 11:23-24 ESV) To come to Jesus requires humility, a recognition of my spiritual poverty and a mourning over sin. Yet those in Capernaum found no comfort in humility. They fancied themselves as “exalted to heaven” and wore their pride like a necklace (Psalms 73:6). Yet Jesus warned them of judgment to come. The Heidelberg Catechism (Lord’s Day 1) asks the question (emphasis added): What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. Find the joy and comfort for which you yearn in an intimate and vital relationship “the only wise God” (Romans 16:27). Indeed: “Let every heart prepare Him room!”