Your sorrow shall be turned into joy. (John 16:20)
Our Lord was very honest with his followers when any enlisted beneath his banner. He did not profess that they would find an easy service if they took him to be their leader. Over and over again he stopped some young enthusiastic spirits by bidding them count the cost; and, when some said they would follow him wherever he might go, he reminded them that though the foxes had holes and the birds of the air had nests, yet he had no where to lay his head. He never duped any man. He told all the truth to them, and he could honestly say to them, If it were not so, I would have told you. He kept back nothing which it was needful for them to know in enlisting under his name.
In this verse he reminds his people that they will have sorrow. Let no Christian forget that. Be he old or young, sorrow is an appointed portion for all mankind. And there is a sorrow which is the especial benediction of the saints. They shall have that sorrow if none others do.
Oh, young spirit, you have just found a Savior, and your heart is very glad. Be glad while you may, but expect not that the sun will always shine. Reckon for days of rain and days of frost and days of tempest, for come they will, and I tell you of them now lest when they come they should be strange to you and overwhelm you with confusion.
And oh, child of God, you have for many years been prospering; you have walked in the light of God’s countenance, and the Lord has made a hedge about you and all that you have, until you have prospered in the land like the Patriarch of Uz. Remember that evil days will come even to you as they did to Job, and expect them, for “in the world you shall have tribulation.” This part of the inheritance of children, namely, the rod, will be quite sure to fall to your portion if you be one of the sacred family.
Our Savior, in the verse before us, not only tells his disciples that they will have sorrow, but he warns them that sometimes they would have a peculiar sorrow. When the world was rejoicing they would be sorrowing.
The world shall rejoice, says he, but you shall weep and lament. Now this is sometimes hard for flesh and blood. We cannot understand this riddle — God’s people sighing and God’s enemies laughing — a saint on the dunghill with dogs licking his sores and a sinner clothed in scarlet and faring sumptuously every day — a child of God sighing and groaning, chastened every morning, and an heir of hell making the world ring with his merriment! Can these things be so? Yes, they are so, and we must expect them so to be; and if we read this riddle by the eye of faith, we shall understand it. Yet we shall see God working even in these mysterious circumstances, and dealing out the best to the best after all, and giving still the worst to the worst in the long run.
Now, our Lord, in order to sustain his servants under the ill news of sorrow and of special sorrow, gave them two thoughts. The first he put into three words — “a little while.” And there is a whole mint of golden consolation here — “a little while.” When things are only temporary, we put up with them. If we are traveling, and we come to an uncomfortable inn, we are off tomorrow, and therefore we make no great noise about it.
A painful operation has to be performed, but, when the surgeon tells us it will only occupy a second or two, we submit to it. “A little while ” — it takes off the edge of sorrow. If it be but a minute, and then afterwards there shall be never-ending blessing coming out of it, oh, then we glory in the tribulation, and count it not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. Afflicted child of God, I commend to you those three words, “a little while.” I beseech you to roll them under your tongue as a sweet morsel when your mouth is filled with the wormwood of sorrow. “A little while,” and after that little while is over then it shall be “forever with the Lord.” The other reflection which he gave them for their comfort is that which is furnished by our text, Your sorrow shall be turned into joy. May God the Spirit give us comfort while we think over these words.
And first, brethren, this language was strictly true with regard to the remarkable sorrow which was then coming upon them when our Lord spoke. You know the chapter. The Lord had been telling them of his death. They had been sitting around the table, and he had revealed to them the fact that he was about to be delivered into the hands of wicked men and be crucified, and that this would make them weep and lament; but concerning this he says, Your sorrow shall be turned into joy. We have also another sorrow coming out of that, namely, the sorrow that our risen Lord has gone away from us, has risen from Mount Olive and left his church a widow; yet that sorrow, too, is turned into joy. Let us speak, then, about those two things.
You will soon see before you, brethren, a sacred feast. We are preparing tonight to come around the table on which we have the bread and wine which celebrate our Savior’s death. Now, it is a very pleasing thought that to celebrate the death of Christ we have not an ordinance that is full of sorrow. There is no rubric which tells us that we are to come clothed in mourning, that we are to come together as to a funeral, that dirges are to be sung, that violet colors, or such as represent sorrow are to be used. On the contrary, the ordinance which commemorates and shows the death of Christ is one of joy, if properly used. We come around a table, and sit there at our ease and eat and drink, for the death which was so sorrowful is turned into joy, and the memorial of it is meant to set it forth not as it was on the sorrowful side, but as it is to us on the joyful side. Our sorrow is in the symbol turned into joy.
Now, let us think of the sorrow of Christ’s death a moment. It was great sorrow to see him suffer, sorrow unspeakable to see him die. You mothers who love your sons, what a sword would have gone through your hearts if it had been your son who was nailed to the tree! You brothers who love your brothers, what pangs would have rent your spirit if he had been your brother who was hanging there. We would, if it had been possible, have spared him the thirst, have spared him the shame and spittle; we would have spared him the nails and spared him the crown of thorns. We can never think of his sufferings without smiting upon our breast with grief and saying — Alas! my sins, my cruel sins, His chief tormentors were! And as we look on his sufferings we ask: Oh, why should man offend, And make the Lord his Savior die?
Bitter ought to be our regret that ever we should have wandered from the path of right and made it necessary that our wanderings should be laid upon the Shepherd’s head. Woe, woe, woe unspeakable, that the elect of God should thus have multiplied their transgressions and have compelled their Savior to be smitten even to death for their sakes!
We sorrow, too, from another thought that in the death of Christ, sin for a time appeared to get the mastery over goodness. There he was, the perfect man, content until they had washed their hands in his blood. When I see him upon the cross, I seem to feel as if Satan, the old serpent, had bitten the heel of truth and poisoned it. I begin to tremble for truth and righteousness when I see thus the pure and perfect One laid low in the dust, but all these three sorrows put together, for his sufferings, for our sins and for the temporary triumph of evil, are at once turned into joy when we know that now the Savior has finished the atoning work, that he is accepted of his Father, that he has crushed the old dragon’s head, that he has given to sin and death and hell a total defeat.
Brethren, there is nothing to sorrow for when we look at the cross now, for Jesus is again alive; he has glory about him that he had not, and could not have had, if he had not stooped to conquer and bowed his head to death. The man Christ Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father exalted far above principalities and powers, and every name that is named. He sees of the travail of his soul, and he is satisfied, and instead of mournful dirges we say, Bring forth Miriam’s timbrel yet again, and let us sing unto the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and his rider has He cast into the sea. All the host of His enemies has He drowned in the Red Sea of His atoning blood.
Moreover, brethren, we are gainers now. It is true our sin crucified him, but our sin is gone. The last act of sin was sin’s own destruction. It pulled down the house upon itself like Samson, and there it died. Our sin is put away by the death of Christ. He has “finished transgression, and made an end of sin.” And as for truth and righteousness, they are gainers, too. Now, on the cross the crisis of the great battle comes. Now is the prince of this world cast out. Now do righteousness and holiness and truth win the day, and that forever. Glory be unto God, we come to the memorial of the death of Christ as to a festival. Our sorrow is turned into joy.
And as to our Lord’s going away from us into Heaven, it does at first sight wear a very sorrowful aspect. We should be glad if He should occupy that chair tonight and say, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Oh, what a happy crowd would you all be who love Him, if He stood in this pulpit tonight and showed you His hands and His feet. We would stand at the posts of the doors by the week together to get a sight of Him. If He had His throne in Jerusalem this day, what pilgrimages would we make if we might but come anywhere near His blessed person, and might kiss the very dust He trod upon! For what a precious Lord was He! Oh, in our times of sorrowing, if we could but once see His face, those dear lustrous eyes that seem to say, “I know your sorrows, for I have felt the same,” that blessed countenance that would speak consolation, though it said not a word, and would say to every mourner, “I will help you. I have borne your burden of old ” — would not it be a joy to see Him? Surely I should be glad enough to cease my ministry, and you might be glad enough, however useful you might be, to give up your work as the stars hide their diminished heads when the sun rises.
II. But, brethren, there is no cause for sorrow. I am talking idly for the moment now, for our sorrow is turned into joy. It is a great gain to us not to have the Savior here. And see you how it is? He said, If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you. Now, it is a nobler thing to have the Spirit of God dwelling in us than it would be to have Jesus Christ dwelling upon earth. For, as I have hinted, if he were on Earth we could not all get at him; he could only be in one place at a time, and how would the poor be able to get where he is? And if he wandered all the world yet in the natural order of things, it is only now and then he could come to one place, and so some of us would have to be pining all our lives to see him. But now the Holy Spirit is here. The Holy Spirit is wherever believers are. Know you not that He dwells in us forever? And whereas we see nothing, this is all the better for us. A life of sight is for babes; a living by feeling is for poor puny infants, but the life of faith is for men in Christ Jesus, and ennobles us by taking away anything that is to be seen and giving us to walk after the unseen. Though we have known Christ after the flesh, says the apostle, yet now after the flesh know we him no more. We have not Christ among us after the flesh, and we are glad of it, for now our faith is exercised and God loves faith, and faith makes men into true men in the sight of God, and ennobles them and makes them friends of God. For who was “the friend of God” like Abraham, who believed God? Faith, then, being so much more for our good than the most delightful sight, we have reason to thank God that Jesus is gone and that the Spirit is given.
Besides, beloved, Christ can serve our turn better where he is than he could here, What is he doing for us yonder in the unseen land? Why, know you not he has gone to take possession for us — gone ahead that he may say, This Heaven belongs to my people; I am come here as their legal representative. The moment that he put that pierced foot of his upon the golden streets he said, These streets belong to all whom I have redeemed with my blood, to all whom my Father gave me, and they shall possess this, for lo ! I take possession of it. And inasmuch as there was something to do to make Heaven fit for us — I do not know what it was — what a joy it is to hear him say, I go to prepare a place for you. Why, brethren, Heaven was not fit for us any more than we were fit for Heaven until he went there, and he is getting it ready, so that when we come home we shall find our house furnished and all prepared.
When God made Adam, he did not make Adam first and suspend him in the air until he made Eden for him to live in, but he made the garden, fitted it for him, and then he made the man and put him in it. And so our great Lord is gone to make Heaven fit for us, and he will come again and take us unto himself that where he is we may be also. Now for this cause we are glad that he is not here. We comfort one another with these words, and we see how true was this promise of his, Your sorrow shall be turned into joy. Sorrow at his death, sorrow at his departing out of the world — these two sorrows are now turned into joy.”
We pause awhile and change the subject. I see before me still the preparation for the feast — for the supper, and therefore let me remind you that in coming to that table we experience a transmutation of spiritual emotions with regard to him. I will show you what I mean. Some time ago, the Lord made us hungry and thirsty after righteousness. We could not any longer be satisfied with the world. We came to feel ourselves miserable. Our heart was pining for something. We had once been quite content with present joys, but, on a sudden, we were dissatisfied and felt a craving we had never felt before. Are you not glad of it, because when you come to the table here you see that there is bread to eat and wine to drink, emblems of the body and the blood of Christ? Do you know, when I sit down at a good table, what I feel thankful for? Two things, if I have got them.
First, for what is on the table; but, secondly, for an appetite. For a feast is a poor thing without an appetite. So, see you, the hunger and thirst which God has given us after Christ are turned into joy when we come to see Christ, for now we say, How glad I am, how thankful I am that I could no longer remain content ! How happy am I that God gave me a distaste for all the joys of the world, for now I am the man that can enjoy a crucified Savior. Now I can eat his flesh, which is meat indeed, and drink his blood, which is drink indeed!
Well, at the same time when we felt our hunger we had another sorrow, namely, that hungry as we were, we had not a crust in the house: we could not satisfy our own hunger, do what we would. We went about the world to try and find something to satisfy our need, but we could find nothing whatever. The husks that contended the swine would not content us. We wanted something more. I know at that time I had not a pennyworth of merits, though I had a mass of sins. I tried to pray, but my prayers could no more fill my soul than wind could. I tried to be diligent in hearing the word and doing good, but there is nothing to stay a hungry soul in all that we can do. But now today, today in the sight of that table and remembering this bread and wine, to picture Christ crucified the food of the soul, I am glad that I had not got anything to eat, because now I was driven to feed on Christ. Oh, what a blessed thing is an empty cupboard when it brings a soul to the Savior ! Our sorrow is turned into joy, and we call it a blessed famishing, a blessed emptiness, when we can have the emptiness and famishing removed by feeding upon an all-sufficient Savior.
So, you see again, our sorrow is turned into joy. And on the table of fellowship tonight we see the wine-cup, and while it represents to us our Savior as our refreshment, it also reminds us that we were once foul and needed to be washed in his blood. Now, it was a great sorrow to feel ourselves foul; it was a horror to discover that we were soiled from head to foot with scarlet sins. But, for my part, now that I have washed in the fountain filled with blood, I have forgotten my sorrow about sin. It is turned into joy. Oh, the blessedness of being made clean in Christ Jesus!
Why, I think if I had been Adam, and had never sinned, I should always have had some little fear that perhaps I had come short somewhere if I had to depend on my own merits, even if I hoped I was perfect. Now, sinner that I am, I entertain no fears, for I know Christ’s righteousness is perfect; I know his death cleanses from all sin; and so the sorrow about sin is turned into joy in the sense of perfect pardon and complete righteousness which belong to us through the precious blood of our dear Lord and Savior. Oh, when you come to the table, my dear brethren and sisters, lay aside all your griefs, whatever they may have been. Feel that if you must bring them with you they are transformed and transmuted on the road; for your sorrow since you have believed on Jesus is turned into joy.
III. Now, for a moment or two, let me remind you that this truth will hold good of all believers’ sorrows. Your sorrow shall be turned into joy. It shall be good of some of them today. God will make your present sorrows to be turned into joys. Do I address one person tonight who has been persecuted for Christ’s sake? Do I speak with one young person whose parents treat her ill because she follows Jesus? Brother, sister, your sorrow is turned into joy, even now, for, if you be persecuted for righteousness’ sake, happy are you. Not, happy shall you be, but happy are you. Even now you have a great honor put upon you: you are counted worthy not only to believe on the Lord Jesus but to suffer for his sake, At the thought of him, then, that sorrow is turned into joy.
Perhaps I address some who are under very severe afflictions. Beloved brother, if the Lord shall reveal himself in your afflictions, you will be very sorry to be rid of them; you will feel that they are even now turned into joy. Constantly, in reading Rutherford’s letters you meet with the expression of his wonder that his enemies should be so kind to him as they were. He speaks in a sort of holy sarcasm. They banished him, sent him away from where he was accustomed to preach the Gospel, but he said, I find my Lord lives here and they have sent me into His arms. They would not let me preach, he says, and now my Lord does make up for my dumb Sabbaths, for, whereas I may not speak, he speaks to me and cheers my soul, and it seems from his letters that, the more his enemies persecuted him, the more deep, the more high his joy became.
I, too, know such a thing as that, that pain can come upon you and grace can come with the pain, so that you feel thankful for it. I have heard saints of God say that they have had great losses, but that the love of God has flowed into their soul so that their losses they have reckoned to be their gains. We have heard of one that said, Let me go back to my bed again; let me go to my pain again, for I had so much of Christ there that I would sincerely rather be always sick than lose the sickness and lose the love of my Lord.
Yes, beloved, he can, at this moment, turn your sorrows into joys. If you have a great lump of sorrow, you will have a great lump of joy, for he turns it all into joy. One touch of his finger can turn the granite stones into gold; bring them to his feet; ask him to do it, and you shall be rich in joy tonight. Well, if it is not done at once, it will be done before long. It sometimes takes a little time for a sorrow to turn into a joy. It is rather an odd figure of Cowper’s, but it is a true one: The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.
It takes a little time for our bitters to bloom out into sweetness, but they will. If you are praying for your dear child, praying for his conversion but do not see it, yet pray on, for your sorrow will be turned into joy. If you are in great trouble about your husband, or your brother, or your friend, whose conversion you are seeking, strive on still, for it will come. One day you shall have the joy of your heart, and your sorrow shall be turned into joy. And that trial you are laboring under just now — don’t faint under it; wait a little. It is a rough wind, but it is blowing you towards the port. It is a rough wave, but it is washing you on to the rock. It is not today that you will see it, nor tomorrow; but afterwards, and by-and-bye it will bring forth the comfortable fruits of righteousness, and you will rejoice.
And, mark you, if never in this world, yet in the blessed country “on the hither side of Jordan” your sorrow shall be turned into joy. It will be among the delights of Heaven, I do not doubt, to look back on the sorrows of life and to see how they ministered to our fitness for the better land.
There we shall make songs out of our sighs and music out of our mournings; only let us wait and be patient. The people of the world have the laughter today and we have the sighing; they shall have the sighing by-and-by and we shall have the laughter.
God is like a certain great man who had in his house two sets of cups. Those cups were for his friends, and these were for his enemies; but they might take which they would. He knew his friends were wise; his enemies were fools. Now, these cups which were for his foes were very sweet; they sparkled on the brim; they flashed. The wine was red, and it moved itself aright. But they were warned that whoever drank these cups would find that the dregs were full of death. And his foes came in and drank and drank and laughed, and said the good man of the house loved them best, for he had given them the sweetest wines. But on the other table stood the cups that were ready for his friends, and his friends were wise, and they went to them, and the cups were very bitter — very bitter! Ah, how they set their teeth on edge and filled their mouths with wormwood ! But they knew that these were health-cups that would purge them of all disease and fill their frames with a vitality and force which magic could not give; and therefore these friends of his drank the cups with joy and thankfulness, for they knew that he had prepared them in love; and while they heard his enemies laughing at them they bore the laughter with composure, for they knew what the end would be.
Today the saints and the sinners in the world are like two armies on the eve of battle; you go through yonder tents. On the left side you will hear the sound of revelry; you shall see them enjoying the dance. Full bowls they quaff, merrily. Say they, We go forth to battle and to victory tomorrow!
That is the camp of sin and of the enemy. Here you see the other camp; and the soldiers there make not merry. They are men of sober stuff. They have a solid joy within them, for they expect to win tomorrow; but they boast not. Each man is looking well to his buckler, seeing that his harness is complete and his sword well-sharpened; and you will hear at intervals the prayer, the cry to God, Make strong our arms, and send us like thunderbolts upon our foes. Now, by tomorrow’s eve, you shall know what has become of them, for you mirthful and haughty cavaliers, with all their mirth, shall strew the field, and their carcasses shall be given to the dogs and to the fowls of Heaven. But you suppliant hosts there, though they be reviled as Puritans, shall dash through the hosts of their foes and shall lead their captivity captive.
In which camp would you wish to be? I have taken my choice, and I pray my brethren to take theirs, and may the Spirit of God rule their choice that they may take the bitter cups that are full of health and that they may go with the sober prayerful camp whose song of victory shall turn their sorrows into joys.
Brethren, if the saints’ sorrows are turned into joys, what are their joys? If their bitters are sweet, how sweet are their sweets ! And if the finger of Christ touching the things of life can make them sweet, how sweet must Christ himself be! If He turns the water into wine, how rich must he be!
And if he turns on Earth our sorrows into joy, what can the joys be where there are no sorrows, but where the joys are unalloyed and undiluted and last on forever! Blessed sorrows, blessed joys! Who would not be a believer when even his sorrows shall be turned into joys ?
IV. But lastly, this little text is a Gospel. I think it is a Gospel for all my hearers tonight. Your sorrows shall be turned into joys. Whoever among you shall come tonight to those dear feet that were pierced by the nails, and will come and trust in Jesus Christ to save him, shall have his sorrow turned into joy. Are you sorrowing for sin? It shall be pardoned, and in a moment joy shall fill your spirit. Do you sorrow because you are afraid you are not one of the elect? Come and trust in Jesus, and you shall make your election sure, and the doctrine that was so horrible to you shall be full of consolation. Are you mourning because you are unfit to come?
Come with all your unfitness, and you shall thank God that you were saved from making a fitness and were enabled to come as a sinner to Christ. Do you mourn because you have a hard heart? Come and trust Jesus, and he will give you a heart of flesh and you shall bless his name that you were another instance of his almighty power to change the hearts of men.
I desire tonight that you would try my Lord and Master. I have known him now more than two and twenty years. Two and twenty years ago, last Friday, I avowed my faith in him in baptism, and I would not give him a good character if he did not deserve it. I would not lie even for him, I trust. But, oh, there was never such a Lord as he is! Sorrow he told us we should have, and we have had it, but He has always turned it into joy, and up to this moment I can say of him, if I had to die like a dog and there were no hereafter, I would prefer to be a Christian; and if there were no joy about religion but the present joy which it gives to a believing heart, let me have it beyond all the joys of wealth, or fame, or honor. There is none like Christ. I would that some of you would come and take him.
May his Spirit guide you and may you tonight become his disciples, and your sorrow shall be turned into joy. The Lord grant it for his name’s sake.