Summary: Christ promised joy for those who follow Him. One sure mark of the redeemed is joy.

“Now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”

Suppose you are on holiday. Now imagine it is a Sunday morning, and you want to find a church where you can join fellow Christians in worship of the Risen Saviour. (You do attend worship when you are away from home, don’t you?) However, you are in a strange city, and you don’t know anything about the church services that may be offered in the city in which you find yourself this morning.

Being a good Baptist, you opt to attend the services of a Baptist church that you discovered while searching online. As you enter the building, you are unconsciously assessing whether the service you will shortly attend is a biblical service or whether you have stumbled into another of the multiplied religious organisation masquerading as an assembly of the Risen Saviour in this day. You note whether the grounds are well tended and free of clutter, an indication of the members’ care for Christ’s image. Were you greeted warmly as you entered the building? Is the auditorium clean and neat? Are the people present eager to worship? Do they appear to be glad they are there? Is the congregation engaged and animated in their conversations with one another? Or do they give off an air that they would rather be somewhere else? You are taking in multiple pieces of information without giving a great deal of thought to the matter.

Among other things you are looking for is whether there is evidence of joy in the worshippers. Are those present at that service joyful or are they merely raucous. Many religious organisations have trained those participating in their presentations to mimic the joy that marks God’s holy people. To be certain, some religious organisations have trained themselves to attempt to be actors pretending to enjoy the genuine smile of Heaven by dancing, by lifting their hands and shouting, by gesticulation, or any of several other actions meant to emulate joyous people. Nevertheless, because you know the joy of Christ’s Spirit, you are unconsciously looking for that undeniable joy given only by the presence of the Spirit of Christ that is present in every church that is true.

Based on your observations before the service ever begins, you will have begun assessing the spiritual character of the congregation. And you will shortly draw a more reasoned conclusion about the congregation based on the music, the prayers, and especially as you hear the message. You will know that either you will have been seated with Christians who are eagerly walking in the presence of the Risen Saviour, or you will have witnessed one of the multiplied lacklustre religious organisations dotting the land.

What is a church? When you visit a church, how will you know if it is a true church? You know very well that there is a distinction between a religious organisation and a church. Both entities may be called a church, but one will enjoy the smile of Heaven, and the other will have at best a reputation. Those churches enjoying the smile of Heaven are marked by infectious joy—joy that cannot be contained, joy that is obvious, and joy that affects all who venture into the services of that congregation.

God’s people are joyous people. The child of God doesn’t have to work up his joy, the joy that marks his life cannot be hidden even during the dark hours that come into each life eventually. As Horatio G. Spafford has testified, and as we Christians have sung ever since he penned the words,

When peace like a river attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

“It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blest assurance control,

That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed His own blood for my soul. [2]

Spafford knew the reality of the words he wrote. Here is the reason I make such a positive statement about this man. This beloved gospel song was written by a Chicago Presbyterian layman named Horatio G. Spafford. Spafford was born in North Troy, New York, on October 20, 1828. As a young man Spafford had established a most successful legal practice in Chicago. Despite his financial success, he always maintained a keen interest in Christian activities. He enjoyed a close and active relationship with D. L. Moody and the other evangelical leaders of that era. He was described by George Stebbins, a noted gospel musician, as a “man of unusual intelligence and refinement, deeply spiritual, and a devoted student of the Scriptures.”

Some months prior to the Chicago Fire of 1871, Spafford had invested heavily in real estate on the shore of Lake Michigan, and his holdings were wiped out by that devastating disaster. Just before this financial calamity, his only son had died. Seeking a rest for his wife and four daughters as well as wishing to join and assist Moody and Sankey in one of their campaigns in Great Britain, Spafford planned a European trip for his family in 1873. In November of that year, due to unexpected last minute business developments, he had to remain in Chicago. However, he sent his wife and four daughters on ahead as scheduled on the S. S. Ville du Havre. He expected to follow in a few days. On November 22, the ship was struck by the Lochearn, an English vessel. The Ville du Havre sank in about twelve minutes. Several days later the survivors were finally landed at Cardiff, Wales, and Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband, “Saved alone.”

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