The Believer’s Heritage of Joy
“Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart.” — Psalm cxix. 111.
WHEN David wrote those words, he was not in a condition of ease and luxury. Tie was not even in a position of assured safety, for he says in the 109th verse, “My soul is continually in my hand.” You know what we mean when we say that a man carries his life in his hand; that is to say, he expects death, he is in imminent peril, and may at any moment be cut off from his fellows. It was when David was in such a condition as that, hunted, as he tells us in another place, like a partridge upon the mountains, that ho could say, “Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever.” He was rich in his poverty, he was enthroned in his exile, he was happy in his sorrow; and they who have enjoyed a like experience in their times of distress know how this can be.
I. With no further preface, I want to talk to you about our text under four heads, the first of which will be, LET US MAKE A MAP OF THIS ESTATE: “Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever.”
There was David’s heritage, that portion of goods that fell to him, that piece of goodly land that was his lot: “Thy testimonies.” Ah, brethren, I cannot draw a complete map of this estate, it is so large, so wonderful; but, thank God, you can go and see it for yourselves! Walk over its broad acres, lie down in its green pastures, rest beside its still waters. It is indeed a wealthy country that is described in those two words, “thy testimonies.”
But what does the psalmist mean by this declaration? He means, first, that he had a heritage of truth in the testimonies of God. A man’s mind is rich very much in proportion to the truth he knows. He who knows the Word of God is mentally rich, he has a large heritage. There are persons, I am told,— deists— who believe in God, but who do not believe in the Word of God. They believe, then, in a God who has never spoken, a silent God, a God who has, at any rate, never spoken to his noblest creatures most capable of understanding his mind. To them, God is one who remains locked up for ever in exclusiveness, except so far as his works may reveal him. I think there are many difficulties in the way of receiving such a theory as that. Whatever difficulties there may be about God having spoken to us, and given us testimonies,— and that is the meaning of the word in our text,— there are none so great to overcome as this one would be, that, through all these ages, so many men have sought after God, and so many craving hearts have yearned to find God, yet he should have suffered six thousand years at least to pass, and should never have spoken to men a single word that they can understand. Now, so far from accepting that theory, I believe this Word of God to be God’s testimony, God’s speech, God’s declaration about himself and about many other things that his creatures need to know, God’s witness-bearing to us, out of the depth of his divine knowledge, that we may know and understand and see things aright. And I say, and I am sure that many of you will say with me, these speeches of God, these revealings of God which I find in these two books of the Old and the New Testaments, are my heritage. I rejoice to accept them as the estate of my mind, the treasure of my thought, the mint of the heavenly realm, the mine from which I can explore fresh veins of thought as long as I live, claiming all as my heritage for ever. I have been preaching the Word of God these six-and-twenty years in this one place to very much the same congregation all the while; and if I had been obliged to preach from any other book, I should have worn it threadbare by this time; but the Bible is as fresh to me to-day as when first I began to speak from it as a boy, and preached to you from it as a youth. It is an inexhaustible heritage of mental wealth to the man who will accept it, and give his mind to the study of it. Look at the doctrines, the precepts, the promises, the prophecies, the histories, the experiences,— it is no use for me to try to map out this estate, it is so large. As a great heritage of mental wealth, it makes every man who receives it, however illiterate he may be upon other subjects, a wealthy man spiritually, while they who discard it become poverty-stricken in mind, whatever else of mental attainments they may possess.
That is the first meaning of our text, God’s testimonies are a heritage of truth to the man who receives them.
The next meaning is that God’s covenant is our heritage. The word “testimonies” may be understood to mean, and it does mean, God’s covenant. When the Lord Jehovah entered into covenant with men, he made a testimony to them that he would do this and that; his testimony made the covenant, and the covenant was his testimony to men. Now, I can say, and many of you can say with me, I have taken God’s covenant to be my heritage for ever. And what a heritage that covenant is, dear friends! This is one of its clauses, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.” This is another clause in the convenant, “I will cleanse them from all their iniquity, whereby they have sinned against me; and I will pardon all their iniquities, whereby they have sinned and whereby they have transgressed against me. And it shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and an honour before all the nations of the earth, which shall hear all the good that I do unto them: and they shall fear and tremble for all the goodness and for all the prosperity that I procure unto it.” Again we read, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” “I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.” “I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” “I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will oven betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord.” If I took the whole range of the covenant, one entire night would not be sufficient time in which to explain it; I should want seven weeks full of seven sermons a day, before I could even go round the fringe of the covenant. Therefore, well might David say that within the compass of that covenant ho found a heritage, which he had taken to himself to be his for ever, to be the rejoicing of his heart.
I have not, however, yet brought out all the meaning of our text, or shown you the full map of the estate that is here named, “thy testimonies.” The greatest testimony of God in all the world is Jesus Christ. He is God’s testimony embodied. God said to us, “If you want to know what I am, look, there is my Son.” And Jesus came and said, “He that hath seen the Son hath seen the Father.” Jesus Christ is God’s testimony against sin, for Christ died through our sin. He is God’s testimony concerning divine love, for God so loved us that he gave his Son to die for us. In Christ you will find that, the more you study him, the more you will see what the invisible God is, for he is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature.” Now, beloved, I can say, and many of you can say, “We have taken the Lord Jesus Christ to be our heritage for ever;” and we are complete in him, perfect in Christ Jesus, Christ is all and in all to us. When we once get Christ, we get everything. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”
Now, take the testimonies mentioned in our text to be God’s Word, God’s Covenant, God’s Son, and there you have a map of your great estate, your goodly heritage. Oh, may the Lord, in his infinite mercy, make us to be so enchanted with this estate, so enraptured with this divine property, that we shall never rest until we enter into full and final possession of it, and find it to be the rejoicing of our heart!
II. Secondly, I want you to proceed to TAKE POSSESSION OF THE ESTATE. What says David? “Thy testimonies have I taken.” He had taken possession of them; and our next enquiry must be, how can we take possession of them?
I need not this evening repeat what I did this morning; you remember how I went to our friend behind, and offered him my hand, and he took it. Now, this blessed estate of divine grace is as free to any soul who is willing to have it as a shake of my hand was to my friend when lie grasped it this morning; the gospel of grace is as free as the air you breathe.
“None are excluded hence but those
Who do themselves exclude.”
If the door is ever shut, you have shut it yourselves. This blessed estate is for every man who is willing to take it. How, then, am I to take it?
Well, first, by a deliberate choice. David said to the Lord, “Thy testimonies have I taken by my own deliberate choice, I have elected to make them my life’s chief treasure.” I too can say, “Because God has chosen me, I have chosen him; I have deliberately chosen his Book to be my guide, his covenant to be my trust, his Son to be my Saviour.” And I know that there are many of you here who can make that choice to-night, because you have made it for many years. Would you change your Bible for anything written by man? Would you change the covenant for any other compact? Would you change your Saviour for any other? God forbid! We have taken God’s testimonies to be our heritage for over, willingly by his grace choosing his grace, being first chosen by him, and therefore choosing him in return.
Next to our choice of God’s testimonies comes the act of faith, which is a personal grip of them. After I had preached in this place one morning, there was a sinner convinced of sin, and led to tremble before God. Ho saw his brother after the service, and he asked him, “What must I do to be saved?” “Believe,” said he. “Well, brother,” he said, “I always did believe, I always have believed the things that are preached, and the things that are in the Bible. What more am I to do?” His brother answered, “Why, take them! Grasp them as your own.” “I never saw that before,” said the man, and so he was brought into the light. Now, that is faith. Faith is the hand that grips the Saviour, and holds him fast. There is a book. I believe it to be a hymn-book. I want a hymn-book in order to give out a hymn, so I take it up, and use it for its own purpose. There is Christ. I believe him to be a Saviour; and I want a Saviour. I take him as a Saviour to save me; that is faith. Canst thou believe that Christ can save thee, and that he will? Then do believe it. “I believe that he has saved my mother.” Yes, but that is not saving faith. “I believe that he can save my sister.” True, but that is not saving faith. Dost thou believe for thyself that he can save thee? And wilt thou stake thy immortal existence upon his power to save thee? Wilt thou just rest on him, sink or swim? If thou wilt do that, thou shalt swim; he never sank who rested on the Lord Jesus Christ. Well, then, that is the way to take this inheritance, to take it by the grip of faith, and say, “It is mine.”
“But suppose I were to take it,” says one, “and it should not be mine.” That never happened yet, and never will, for Jesus himself said, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” No man ever yet took Jesus Christ by mistake. If thou wilt have him, thou hast him, and he will never say thee nay. Take him, and he takes thee at the same time. May God grant that you may understand that truth, and put it in practice at once! Thus let us proceed to take this estate by deliberate choice and by appropriating faith.
After we have done that, the next thing is to take the full possession of this estate by holy diligence. He that believes in Christ has the everlasting covenant, he has God’s testimonies; they are all his, but he does not yet fully enjoy them. I know a friend who has an estate over which I am pretty sure he has never fully walked, for it is so large. He has climbed the highest hill, but he cannot possibly have seen half the property that belongs to him. There are many such estates that the owners have not fully seen; and there is not a Christian here who has ever seen a tenth part of what belongs to him. In the exercise of this holy diligence, you and I have to take possession of the Word of God by studying it more earnestly, to take possession of the covenant by believing it more fully, and to take possession of Christ by communing with him more closely, and using him more constantly, so that you say with David, “Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever.” Keep on taking, keep on taking, keep on taking. You know the story that is told about the hymn, “More to follow,”— how Mr. Rowland Hill, having determined to give to some poor minister a hundred pounds, sent him £5, and wrote in the envelope, “More to follow.” To his surprise, at the end of a month, there camo another £5 with “More to follow,” and so it kept on time after time, till the amount was all given. There is the pity of it; it did get all given some time or other. “More to follow” came to an end. Hut it is never so with God; with him it is “always more to follow.” From strength to strength, from joy to joy, from grace to grace, we still go on till we come to heaven; and I suppose that, even there, we shall still go on and on in everlasting progress scaling successive heights of bliss. We shall continue to become fuller of glory, or, if always full, yet we shall be made more capacious that the fulness may be greater still. “Thy testimonies have I taken.” Go on taking them, brethren, take them to be your heritage for ever.
I wish that I could hope that everybody here had, by deliberate choice, by appropriating faith, and by holy diligence, taken all the covenant of God, and all the revelation of God, and all the Christ of God, to be his heritage for over.
III. Now, thirdly, LET US CONSIDER THE HOLDING: “Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for over.”
You see what kind of holding we have of this heritage. It is not leasehold, a shorter term every night we go to bed. It is not even a holding similar to that which is commonly used in Scotland, when the feu is for 999 years. No, it is a perpetual holding: “Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever.” Well, dear friend, that is long enough, is it not? What else will you over take on such a tenancy as that? That is a freehold. “Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever.”
“Well,” says one, “I have a freehold.” Yes, but you will not be free to hold it for ever. You may be a freeholder, my dear sir, but you will have to go, and your heir will step into your place. Somebody else will walk those acres, and call your home his own; you have only a life-lease of it at the very outside. It is delightful to think that this inheritance of the Word of God, the Covenant of God, the Christ of God, we have for ever, because we shall live for ever, and we shall hold it for ever. It is not dependent upon any one life; it is dependent upon three lives, and those three lives are the life of the Father, the life of the Son, and the life of the Holy Ghost; and they are all eternal, and so shall the joy and the wealth of every believer be. We have taken this inheritance for ever.
Sometimes we possess certain things which are ours, completely ours, but then they are not ours for ever, because they fade; but our inheritance will never fade or pass away. The crown that was won at the Greek games, though made of amaranth, would yet return to dust before long. There is nothing here on earth but is touched by the moon, and is ready to wane and to depart. There is nothing here that can be held for ever, even if we could live here for ever to hold it, for all things perish in the using; but this is a crown of life that fadeth not away, this is a heritage which, after a million years, shall be the same as it is now in fulness of joyful satisfaction. O you people, who only think about what you are going to do to-morrow, oi about what you will do during the next— well, say fifty years! You sometimes say, “It will be all the same a hundred years hence.” Yes, but suppose it is: what will it be a thousand years hence? Why, some I hope will have been in heaven 950 years by that time! Oh, what joy we shall have known during that period! What breakings of the sea of bliss over our enraptured spirits! But suppose any of us shall have been in hell all that time. Oh, ghastly thought! But what must it be to have been in heaven a million years, and then to feel that we are but at the beginning of our bliss? “I give unto my sheep eternal life.” “Because I live, ye shall live also.” The righteous shall go into life eternal. Oh, the splendour of eternity linked with bliss! I beseech you, dear friends, rejoice if you have taken this heritage that you have taken it for over, for it is that which makes the joy of it.
We have to reckon earthly things, and say, “That is the value of the property; take it at twenty years’ purchase, or twenty-five years’ purchase.” But what must be the value of a blessing that is to last for ever and ever? I have sometimes thought what it would be to have the toothache to all eternity. That would be bad enough, for it is the eternity that makes the sting of it. But what can we say of a joy that will last when yonder sun is turned into a coal, and the moon is black as sackcloth of hair, and this old world, wrinkled like a bottle in the smoke, shall be flung away as worn-out and useless? You and I, then, in the everlasting youth of a God-given life, shall possess this heritage for ever.
Once more, notice that there is no way of taking this heritage except taking it for ever. There is a way invented by some men of being temporary Christians. It is believed by some that you can take this heritage for three months, or that you can take it for a certain term of years, and then lay it down. They take it not at all who do not take it for ever, he that enlists in the army of Christ must enlist for ever; that is the shortest term on which Christ will take him. If thou becomest a Christian, thou must be always a Christian. I heard of a brother, the other day, a teetotaller, who had been an abstainer, he said, “ten years, off and on.” Yes, you may well smile at that remark; but there are some people who want to be Christians of that kind, “off and on.” My dear friends, the members of the Total Abstinence Society, are ready to get up and say that they will not own that man, and I say the same about a Christian man who is “off and on.” No, no; we go in for salvation for ever; as David says, “Thy testimonies have I taken as au heritage for ever.” You cannot take thorn any other way. That conversion which is not radical and thorough is of no use. If a man converts you, another man can unconvert you; but if God converts you, I know that what God does shall be for ever. He does not make temporary Christians, but real, lasting, everlasting Christians, as our Lord said to the woman of Samaria, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” Wilt thou have this heritage for this term?
Wilt thou have it for ever? Then, take it and welcome. May God his own self, by his Divine Spirit, make thee an heir of endless life through faith in Jesus Christ his Son!
IV. But not to weary you, I shall close by inviting you, in the last place, at once to ENJOY THE POSSESSION. “Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart.”
First, that was an evidence that David had taken God’s testimonies to be his possession, for they had made him glad; and, secondly, that was the reason why he took them to be his possession, because they made him glad.
Now, first, this was a proof that they were his, because they made his heart rejoice. If your religion does not make you rejoice, it is not worth much. If you do not find a joy in it, you have not really taken it, you have not taken it for ever; or, at least, though you may have taken such religion as you have, you have not taken the testimonies of God, the covenant of grace, the Christ of God, for if you had done so, you must rejoice. One said to me, the other day, speaking of the new style of ministers and the old style, “I used to notice, in the old preachers, that they seemed delighted with what they had to say; even if we did not enjoy it, they did. They seemed like men that set out a feast, and every now and then they had a taste themselves, they so enjoyed the truths they were preaching. But,” said he, “the modern gentlemen,— well, they know that it is a poverty-stricken country through which they are travelling, they are pretty well aware that there is no spiritual food for the people; and so they do not even appear to enjoy the service themselves, but they get through it in a sadly dignified way, a wonderful way, indeed, showing their own talent and wisdom, but there is no hearty enjoyment of it.” And it is so; but when a man has taken God’s testimonies to be his everlasting heritage, you will hear him talk about it, his eyes begin to flash, his soul is all on fire, he is full of gladness over it. The genuine convert, too, who has found the Saviour, did you ever know him come to see a Christian man, and say to him, “Dear friend, I think that I have believed in Jesus Christ. I think— I think that, perhaps, lie has pardoned my sin”? Why, you say, that man is not up to the mark! As soon as ever a genuine convert comes to open his mouth, lie says, “Oh, dear sir, I hope that I have found the Saviour! I do feel so happy, for I have laid my sins on Jesus, and he has appeared to me, and he has said, ‘I have blotted out all thy transgressions.’ I am so happy that, if I talk too fast, pray do excuse me; but I have passed from death to life, and I must tell somebody about the wondrous change. I can say with David, ‘Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever,’ I know I have done so, for they make my very heart glad, they warm my spirit, they are the rejoicing of my heart.”
You notice, David does not merely say, “they make my heart rejoice,” but he says, “they are the rejoicing of my heart.” He does not merely say, “they give me joy, but they are my joy, they are essentially and really the delight of my spirit.” Oh, what a difference it makes, when the man has truly taken Christ as his Saviour, in the way in which he looks at his religion! Until you have taken the covenant, the testimonies, and the Christ of God to be your inheritance, you may be, after a fashion, deeply pious, and yet sadly miserable over your piety Your religion may be as sweet to you as slavery was to a negro, and not a whit more so. But when you have taken Christ to be yours,—
“’Tis love that makes your willing feet
In swift obedience move.”
It is love that makes you joyful in God, and being joyful in God nothing is too hard or too heavy for you, and you say, with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Our feet are made like hinds’ feet to leap over difficulties, when we have really taken a firm grip of the eternal verities, and have taken them to be our heritage for ever. It is one of the evidences of grace when these things are the rejoicing of our heart.
Then, lastly, another way of looking at this truth is this, we take these things to he our heritage because they are the joy of our heart. Dear friends I should like to refresh the memories of some of you Christian people by recalling your past experience. When you have been very ill, what has your religion been to you then? I know that you can say, “I almost wish to be ill again to enjoy the rest, and the peace, and the delight that I had then. When my dear brother, William Olney, behind me, was undergoing most painful operations, I went to see him, and I never saw him more happy than he was then; I do not believe he was happier when he was going to be married than he was when he was awaiting the coming of the surgeon. He was so resting in God, so rejoicing in Christ, that he could not be more delighted than he was, his Master’s presence made him full of gladness.
Others of us know what it is to lie on the verge of death by the week together, and in the stillness of the night to contemplate very closely our approaching end, and to do so as deliberately as if we expected to rise the next morning to transact our business, regarding the eternal state with hope and desire rather than with fear, glad to find that, when heart and flesh failed, then there burnt within another light than man has ever kindled, another joy than corn and wine and oil can ever give to him who has the largest store of them. O dear friends, I bear my own personal testimony that there is no joy like that of believing the testimonies of God, accepting the covenant of grace, and living upon the Christ of God! I have often said from this pulpit, and I say it again, that, if I had to die like a dog, I would wish to be a Christian even for the blessings of this life; but thou, of course, it is the life to come that makes the joy of this present life, for if that were blotted out, we might be of all men most miserable, for we have more than enough of trial and of sadness if it were not for the thought of the world to come. But that life beyond, that hope that entereth within the veil, that vision of Christ’s face, that prospect of being for ever with the Lord, I would part with all the joys of sense to behold his face but for a moment. What must it be to be in his presence, in fulness of joy, for ever and ever? The expectation of that which is soon to be revealed makes us exceeding glad.
“Why!” says one, “I thought that Christian people wore all miserable people.” It is because you do not know thorn; and there is another thing you do not know, some of you, that is, how Christians can rejoice. You see, that older brother, who was such a very proper sort of gentleman, was angry at the rejoicing over the prodigal’s return, and “he would not go in.” I do not know whether he did go in after all; but if he did not, he could not tell how merry his father was, he could not tell how merry the servants were, he could not toll how happy was his younger brother, who had been lost, and now was found. He was angry, and would not go in, so he could not know what joy there was in the home; but if he could have gone in with his cruel, coldblooded temperament, and could have looked on, and if he could have caught a sight of his brother, who had been so lately with the hogs, but who was now washed and cleansed, feasting on that fatted calf, I think his heart would have begun to melt, as Joseph’s did when he saw Benjamin. Then, if he had seen the joy of the servants, and heard the music, and watched the dancing, I think he would have been ready to take a turn with thorn; but if he had fixed his eye on his father, and had seen the greatness of his father’s love, and the joy beaming in his father’s face, I think that he would have rushed up to him, and fallen on his father’s neck, and kissed him, and said, “Now I know what a blessed thing it must be to dwell in thy love.” Oh, if you know the joy of saved sinners, and the joys of those who have prayed and laboured for their salvation, if you know anything of the joy of the happy God, you would understand that a truly Christian life cannot be an unhappy one! God bring you every one to trust in Jesus, his dear Son! Amen.