Taken and adapted from, “The Christian Treasury”
Written by, John Milne, of Perth
Published, January 1, 1867
‘Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound.’
What is the joyful sound?
It is just, I think, the gospel. It has been in the world ever since the fall. When sin had reigned unto death, grace began to reign, through the coming righteousness, unto eternal life. It was the grain of mustard seed sown in Eden; and it went on, age after age, opening up and expanding. Paul tells us that it was preached to Israel, even as to us. It was wrapped up in all their types and ceremonies. It was the subject and substance of all their sacrifices and solemn feasts.
There was one of their feasts, however, which more clearly and fully expressed or pictured it than any of the others. It was the jubilee, which occurred every fiftieth year, and was indeed, in a temporal sense, a joyful sound. It came immediately after the Day of Atonement; and in the kindness and remission which it enjoined towards their fellow-men, was a most fitting exercise for those who had themselves just been receiving forgiveness and clemency from God. We are told how eagerly it was waited for, and how gladly it was welcomed. Persons were stationed on the hill-tops, all over the country, to watch for the first appearance of the new moon, which was the commencement of the year of grace. Whoever first observed it, signaled to the others; and so the good news was circulated all over the land, with a kind of telegraphic swiftness. Then the trumpets were blown, and that moment all were free. The prison doors were opened, the chains were broken, the debtor discharged, the captive released, the slave enfranchised, the mortgaged houses and lands restored to their original proprietors; and thus may a scattered family met once more in the old home and inheritance, to thank the Lord for his goodness, and his wonderful works to the children of men. It was a real Christmas season.
Don’t you think that Christ must have looked with deep interest upon this? He loved and honored all the ordinances of his Father’s house. Every Sabbath saw Him in the synagogue. He regularly attended the Passover from his youth up. We find Him walking in the temple at the Feast of the Dedication, and taking occasion, from the many lamps which it was the custom then to light, to draw attention to himself as the world’s great Light, and to urge them to walk in his light of life, till travelling days were done. At the end of the Feast of Tabernacles, when the people were pouring out, as they were accustomed to do, with the pitchers of water which they had just drawn from the pool of Siloam, He again drew attention to himself as the Well of life, the world’s great drinking-fountain. He stood and cried, ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.’ May we not, therefore, conclude that the jubilee would be peculiarly dear to Him?
When acknowledged by the Father, anointed by the Spirit, a victor in the wilderness, He returned full of power to Nazareth, and read in the synagogue the words of Isaiah, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised; to preach the acceptable year of the Lord,’—don’t you think that, while thus engaged, his mind may have been full of the jubilee, and that very possibly He would say to the wondering assembly, ‘I am the true Jubilee; I am the world‘s great Jubilee. Come unto me, and be free; come unto me, and be forgiven; come unto me, and receive more than your fallen father Adam lost?’ Would not the same thought be in his mind, when He said to his disciples, ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature?’ Yes, the gospel is a joyful sound. It proclaims salvation to the lost, forgiveness to the sinner, health to the sick soul, comfort to the troubled, and deliverance to the oppressed. It bids the prodigal come back to his father‘s love, his father’s house, his father’s boundless wealth; and all this free, absolutely free, without money and without price. It is simply, Come—come now—come just as you are—come, for all things are now ready. Work is not required, strength is not needed, fruit is not demanded, and questions are not asked; it is simply, “Come, and receive.”
Such is the joyful sound. But it must be known before it can bless. This is very important; it explains what would otherwise be a mystery. The jubilee trumpet has long been sounding in the world, the gospel has been largely preached, and yet the greater part of men are still aliens from God, slaves of the devil, without peace, and without hope. How is this? Here is the explanation: the joyful sound must be known before it can benefit. “By his knowledge shall my righteous Servant justify many.” Says the Apostle Paul: ‘The excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.’ What is this knowledge? It is believing, understanding, welcoming the gospel. Multitudes who read and hear the gospel, never really believe it. They give a lazy, indolent, uninquiring assent to it; but if they were asked, they could give no intelligible reason for their doing so. The subject has, perhaps, never fairly crossed their minds; or, if it has, they have given it the go-by. They say it is too simple, too humbling too easy; it will lead to licentiousness,—as if they knew better than God what will preserve and conduce to his glory. Many, again, never really understand the gospel. They have not felt their need of it, and so they take little interest in it—never give their minds to it. They are busy with many things, which they think more urgent and important; and thus they have not attained a correct, intelligent knowledge of God’s way of peace. They never see its fullness, freeness, suitableness, nearness, and the obligation under which all are under to receive it.
They hear the Gospel preached and explained from Sabbath to Sabbath for a whole lifetime and yet, at the end, they are as ignorant of God’s way of justifying sinners as they were at the beginning.
If we were more in the habit of speaking freely and directly with one another about our most important concerns, we should oftener see how very general this ignorance is. They confuse the way of grace with the way of works, and think that it is by their own righteousness, not by faith in the righteousness of another, that they are to be saved. They cling to their own works, and say they are doing what they can. This, I suppose, is the hell-filling sin of our day. But, once more, there are many who do not welcome the gospel. I suppose there were some who did not welcome the jubilee. The selfish slaveholder’s evil heart rose against it. He would say, Here have I been training and educating this servant; and now, must I set him free? The avaricious landholder, adding field to field and house to house, did not welcome it. He said, Must I now part with my accumulated possessions? The slave, enamored of his bondage, said, I do not wish to be free; I love my master, am pleased with his service, and enjoy the connections which I have here formed. And so there are many who do not welcome the joyful sound. They give it the same reception which He, who is the sum and substance of it, got when He came into the world,—they do not receive it.
But, thank God, there are many who do receive the Gospel. The poor, awakened, heavy-laden sinner, welcomes it; those who are broken in heart and wounded in spirit, welcome it; those who are weary of sin and its bondage, welcome it; those who feel their need of something better and more enduring than this world can give, welcome it; those who are afraid of judgment and the wrath to come, welcome it. The gospel just suits them; it is like bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, and life to the dying. Put these three things together,—believing, understanding, welcoming,—and then you will know the joyful sound, and experience in yourself the blessedness which it brings.
Let us look at this blessedness. There are three ingredients in it which are here mentioned,
1. The favor of God,
2. The joy of God, and
3. The exaltation of God.
1. The favor of God:
‘They shall walk, 0 Lord, in the light of thy countenance.’ The light of God’s countenance is another way of describing his favor. When He is displeased, He hides his face, or covers it with a cloud; whereas, when He is pleased, He lifts up the light of his countenance, or makes his face to shine. ‘Walking’ is just the whole conduct. A man‘s walk is his whole life; and therefore, when it is said, ‘They shall walk, 0 Lord, in the light of thy countenance,’ it is as much as saying, they shall enjoy God’s favor in all they do. What a comfort is this,—the Father’s smile always resting upon his child,-—the master’s smile always resting upon his servant! This is a kind of summer life, a continual sunshine. Christ had it. The Father looked down, and said, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased;’ and the Son looked up, and said, ‘The Father hears me always, for I do always the things that please Him.’
God’s favor is life. How little the world’s frown can trouble a man in whose heart God is whispering, ‘I am well pleased!’
2. The joy of God:
‘In thy name shall they rejoice all the day.’ God’s name is himself; what He is,—his attributes, his perfections, his being. They rejoice in this, and their joy is perennial—all the day. God’s gifts change, but He never changes. ‘He is the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.’ We very commonly err here; we rest in the streams, when we should rise to the fountain. We should turn away from our comforts, works, and fruits, and say, God is mine; ‘the Lord is the portion of my soul, therefore will I hope in Him.’
3. God’s exultation:
‘In thy righteousness shall they be exalted.’ What righteousness is this? Not God’s attribute of righteousness, for that could only condemn us; not our own righteousness, for we have none. It can only mean the righteousness which Christ has wrought out, and in virtue of which He has been exalted, and is now with God upon the throne. When we know the joyful sound, Christ’s righteousness is put upon us, and we become partakers of his exaltation; we are justified, accepted, made near and dear to God.
‘So near, so very near to God,
Nearer I cannot be;
For, in the person of his Son,
I am as near as He.
So dear, so very dear to God,
Dearer I cannot be;
The love wherewith He loves the Son,
Is the love He bears to me.’
Put these things together, favor, joy, exaltation,—and think what a blessedness this is. Yet it is open to us all, free to us all. Take in the joyful sound; hold it fast; rest simply, unwaveringly upon it. Give no heed to the suggestions of the devil, the questionings of your own heart, and then you will abide in perfect love, and walk in perpetual sunshine. A good man, who was much blessed and honored in his day, was once asked, ‘How is it that you are always so peaceful and unencumbered amid cares and labors which would crush other men? He answered, ‘It is not that I am not tempted. I have many thoughts, and fears, and cares crowding upon me, and seeking to get possession of my heart. But then, hundreds of times a day, I think with myself, Is not God my Father, Christ my Brother, the Holy Ghost my Comforter, Providence my helper, and heaven my home? And thus I am upheld, and carried on from day to day, as upon eagles’ wings.’
Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: John Milne, became minister of St. Leonard’s, Perth, in 1839, and was almost immediately associated with an awakening in which an outstanding circle of preachers shared. Among them were his close friends, William Burns, Robert M’Cheyne, and Horatius Bonar.
Milne was one of those evangelicals who, in the words of Alexander Whyte, ‘had an immense influence on the religious life of Scotland’.
But all these men shared the conviction of M’Cheyne, ‘It is not great gifts God uses so much as great likeness to Christ’. This is why, at a later date, C.H. Waller, could speak of the 1840s in Scotland as ‘the nearest approach he knew to apostolic conditions of faith and living’.
Apart from a short period of missionary service in India, Milne spent his whole ministry in Perth as a pastor and evangelist. Bonar’s account of John Milne, as one who lived close to Christ remains a guide to what the churches need in every age.