A High Day In Heaven
“Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10.
EARTH has engrossed our thoughts too long. It is time that we should lift our eyes and look upward to Heaven. Do you say that you cannot see as far as that? Look again and ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes, for the Lord Jesus has set the gate wide open that you may at least get a glimpse of what is going on in the Glory Land. He has plainly declared to you many of the things which He has seen and heard of the Father–and if you will only give good heed to His words, you shall be enabled, by the eye of faith, to see what to mortal eyes is invisible!
Gaze thus upon the scene depicted in our text. They have an eternal Sabbath in Heaven, but the Sabbath of which our text speaks is, evidently, a specially high day. They have all holy days there, but now it is a holiday as well as a holy day, for there is some special cause for unusual joy! What is it all about? Our Lord tells us that “there is joy”–very special “joy in the presence of the angels of God”–and He tells us what is the cause of it. Let us draw near and see for ourselves this great sight and seek to learn its lessons. The heavenly harpers are evoking from their golden harps even sweeter music than usual! They are lifting up their voices as high as even their exalted notes can possibly rise. We will listen to them, but we will also remember the reason for their jubilation. We are told, by our Lord, the special “joy in the presence of the angels of God” is “over one sinner who repents.”
Now, you workers for the Master, you sweepers in the dust looking for the lost pieces of money! You candle-holders who have been shedding your feeble rays as far as you can–and who have become somewhat weary–now come and refresh yourselves by looking upon some of the results of your service! And you, who in imitation of the great, good, Chief Shepherd, have gone after the lost sheep and are scratched by many a briar and tired after your many desperate leaps over hill and dale–forget your weariness for a while–and begin to share in the joy of Christ’s servants as you see how, before the Throne of God on high, they are making merry over the souls that are being saved! I do not think that anything can be more comforting to you who are serving the Lord than to see what comes of your service. You, who have been going forth weeping, bearing precious seed–wipe your eyes and look above–and begin to anticipate the time when you shall come again with rejoicing, bringing your sheaves with you, for, up yonder they are shouting, “Harvest home!” with great delight!
And while I thus invite the working saint, I would equally invite the seeking sinner to note the cause of this special joy of Heaven. It is about persons like yourselves! O you wandering sheep, the joy is over wandering sheep that have been found by the Divine Shepherd! O prodigal sons, the merriment is over sons who were dead, but who are alive again–wanderers who were lost, but now are found! It should, surely, encourage you to hasten home while yet the joy-bells are ringing and the dance is going on! Get home as quickly as you can, for, as they are rejoicing over one Brother or Sister like yourself, everything will be in readiness for welcoming you and the Father will only need to say, “Let us keep up the feast, for here is another of My children that I had lost, but who now is found.” It is evidently a propitious season–a time in which bright hopes ought to be kindled within you and the birds within your soul should begin to sing in sweet anticipation of the bliss awaiting you! Arise, then, and go to your Father–He is rejoicing over those who have come back to Him–and He will equally rejoice over you!
- In considering this passage, I shall ask you, first, to NOTE THE TERMS IN WHICH OUR LORD JESUS DESCRIBES THIS HEAVENLY JOY–“There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
And notice, first, in these terms, that this joy is over one sinner. What the joy is over hundreds, thousands and millions of sinners, you can scarcely imagine, but Jesus tells us that “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner.” That one may be a poor servant girl, or a working man whose name will never be known to fame–and there is only one–but the angels are not so sparing of the praises of God that they will wait till there is a score of penitents! They see them gathering Home one by one and they are glad of every opportunity of expressing their special delight at the increasing number of the redeemed. So, as they come to Jesus, one by one, the blessed spirits before the Throne of God begin to sing with special thanksgiving for every sinner saved. Have you taught for a long time in your Sunday school class and have you had only one girl saved? Do not be satisfied with that one, but, at the same time, do not forget to thank the Lord for that one. If you are not grateful to God for letting you win one soul for Him, you are not likely to be allowed to win another. Remember that the conversion of one sinner is, in Heaven, reckoned to be such a marvel that it makes special joy there in the presence of the angels of God!
Surely, then, the salvation of even one soul ought to make your spirit exult and rejoice with exceeding joy! If you have lived to bring one sinner to Christ, you have not lived in vain. Has not God already given to you in that one, my dear Brother, my dear Sister, much more than such an unworthy creature as you might ever have expected to gain? I say again, cry for more blessing, be greedy to win hundreds of souls for the Savior, but, still, do not neglect to praise God for the one whom He has already saved.
I like to dwell upon the thought that the person who caused this melody in Heaven was “one sinner.” I do not know what sort of a sinner that one was, but I should not wonder if the conversion of special sinners makes special joy up there. Was that “one sinner” a publican, a hard-hearted Jewish tax-gatherer? Was that one sinner a harlot, lost even to society as well as to her God? We do not know, but we do know that as they would rejoice in Heaven over one king, or one prince, or one senator, or one philosopher who repented–so they would over one publican or one harlot! The angels and the redeemed in Glory know that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” They know that the precious blood of Christ was shed to cleanse sinners from every stain of sin. They know that the sweetest singers throughout eternity will be those who once were sinners, so they rejoice over any and every sinner who is saved! Out of a certain company of a hundred, there were 99 people who had not gone astray–according to their notions–and the spirits in Heaven did not rejoice over them. No, you mere moralists, you people who are so excellent in your own esteem who reckon that you will gain admission to Heaven by your own good deeds, you will never make the angels sing until you repent! But the poor lost sinner, however deeply he has plunged into crime, when he becomes a monument of the saving and renewing Grace of God, sets all the golden harps ringing with the melodious music of praise and thanksgiving unto the Most High!
Notice, next, that the rejoicing is “over one sinner who repents.” To repent is to be sorry for sin–to undergo acomplete change of mind, heart and life–to turn away from self to Christ. In a word, to be converted, that is, turned completely around. Yet many people, nowadays, think very little of repentance. Some ministers whom I know scarcely even mention it in their preaching, so that their hearers may well imagine that it is out of date. They seem to believe in a kind of faith that ignores repentance. Well, they differ very much in their estimate from that of the angels and the spirits of just men made perfect, for they rejoice “over one sinner who repents.” The poor sinner has not yet the faith that moves mountains, or the heroism that takes lions by their beards and slays them. The poor sinner has not yet preached a sermon, or even sung a hymn to the praise of God–he has simply sat down in some obscure corner and wept over his sin! He has returned to his God and said, “Father, I have sinned.” But that was sufficient to make the angels sing!
I want you to remember this, you who are just beginning to come to Christ–you who have only a little Grace–the very faintest evidence of the work of God’s Spirit in your soul. You are Believers, or else you would not be penitents, for there is no true repentance but that which is accompanied by faith! But the most prominent thing is not so much your faith as your holy mourning and moaning over sin, your sincere desire after holiness–this is the proof of that change of mind which is the essence of true repentance–and this is such a work of Grace that there is joy over you in the presence of the angels of God!
I want you also to notice, with regard to the terms used by our Lord, that He says, “There is joy in the presence ofthe angels of God.” Is there not always joy there? Certainly! Is there ever any sorrow up yonder in the courts of the Most High? Do cherubim and seraphim ever pine and cry, and sigh in agony? Never! Then, what can this joy be which makes Heaven even more joyous than it usually is? I do not know whether you or I can conceive what it must be–what I may call the ordinary, everyday joy of Heaven is perfect, yet there is something over and above that in this rejoicing over penitents. It is a bliss above bliss! A joy that rises out of joy like some huge Atlantic billow that towers above all the rest of the waves. They have a special, extra, doubly distilled joy in Heaven, sometimes, and that comes to them whenever one sinner repents! I think I can explain it a little by an expression of Rutherford’s, in which he says, “God is my witness that my own Heaven would be seven heavens if I could but see you saved. If I could but see souls brought to Christ, my own bliss would be sevenfold bliss.” Yes, and so it is with the spirits before the Throne of God! They are always happy, but, sometimes the joy that is always full begins to overflow and down from the celestial hills there rushes a sacred torrent that carries all before it! And this unusual delight of those who are in the presence of God is caused by one sinner repenting and returning to the Lord!
I have only one more remark to make under this first head, and it is this–our Lord does not say that the angels rejoice over one sinner who repents, but that “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Who, then, has the joy? The angels, of course, first. They must be included because the previous parable says that when the Shepherd comes home, “He calls together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.” The redeemed from among men and the holy angels are the friends and neighbors of Christ–and they all rejoice over every sinner who repents. But, first of all, this joy is the joy of God, Himself. The angels and the redeemed stand in His Presence–they are His courtiers–but He Himself is the center, and Glory, and Lord of All–it is God Himself who rejoices “over one sinner who repents.” God the Father rejoices, for has He not found His child whom He had lost, the child whom He loved, before the foundation of the world, with all the love of His infinite heart?
God the Son rejoices, for has He not found the sheep which the Father gave Him–the sheep which He was pledged to bring safely home–the sheep for which He paid the purchase price in His own heart’s blood–the sheep which, though it had wandered far away from Him, He had brought home? God the Spirit also rejoices, for did He not see, in the soul’s repentance, the fruit of His working, the result of His enlightenment, the consequence of His convicting and the commencement of the whole work of sanctification? Yes, dear Brothers and Sisters–Father, Son and Spirit–the one God of the spiritual Israel–rejoices greatly “over one sinner who repents.” I can hardly convey to you the delight that I have in this thought! God is always full of joy. He is rightly called “the happy God,” yet even He describes Himself as being, in some mysterious manner, more happy at one season than at another! I am, of course, speaking after the manner of men, but, then, we are only men and we can only speak after our own manner as the prophet Zephaniah does when he says, “ He will rejoice over you with joy. He will rest in His love, He will joy over you with singing.” So that repentance of one sinner gives joy to the Eternal, Himself! Who would not, then, repent of sin and so give joy to God and, at the same time, find the highest joy for himself?
Thus I have noticed the terms in which our Lord Jesus describes this heavenly joy.
II. Now, secondly, I want you, very briefly, to CONSIDER THE REASONS WHY THERE IS THIS JOY IN HEAVEN.
First, God rejoices over every sinner who repents, because He then sees one of His creatures delivered from the horrible power of sin. God is full of benevolence toward men. He wills not the death of the sinner and He is delighted when the creature, whom He has made, becomes happy because he has become holy. He is glad when those, whom He has fashioned, enjoy the delights which He intended for them.
God rejoices, too, when a sinner repents, because He then sees, not only one of His creatures, but a new creature inChrist Jesus. He sees His own handiwork in that heart. We all like to see our own work when it is well done. Nobody wants to see bad work, but every worker rejoices in good work. And God rejoices in the good work of regeneration, the good work of the renewal of the heart, restoration from death and rescue from Hell.
Especially does God delight in every sinner who repents, because He then sees His own child restored to Him. Hewho has the heart of a true father knows what joy he has when he sees his boy, who has gone astray, coming back again–when he returns from the distant land to which he went in an ill humor, and comes home weeping and mourning, but loving and gentle and anxious to be better. Thus God rejoices over His returning children. There is no earthly father who can love as God loves–and if all the love of all the fathers in the world were made into one, it would not equal the love which God has for even one of His children! So He rejoices with peculiar joy when He sees any of His children repenting and returning to Him.
Moreover, God always rejoices in everything that is holy and good and, therefore, He rejoices in a sinner’s repentance. It is a right and holy thing that a sinner should repent of doing wrong. It is the beginning of something higher, nobler and better when a soul comes to the turning point, confesses its lost condition and seeks to be set right. And, therefore, because the Lord is good and righteous, He will teach transgressors His ways and when He sees them walking in that way, He will rejoice and be glad concerning them!
III. I will not remind you of all the reasons for the great Father’s joy over returning sinners because you can all think them out for yourselves. But I will, instead, say a little about THE JOY OF THE ANGELS OVER REPENTING SINNERS. Why is it that they, who are the friends, neighbors and servants of Christ, are so glad when sinners repent? They are not themselves sinners–they are not even men! They have no part in the great redemption of Christ. “For verily He took not up angels, but He took up the seed of Abraham.” Why, then, do the angels rejoice over repenting sinners?
Well it is, first, because they are so fully in sympathy with God. Whatever pleases God, pleases them. The growth ofholiness delights the Most High and, therefore, it delights His loyal courtiers. The coming back of Jehovah’s wandering children gladdens Him and it, therefore, gladdens every servant in the family. You can see, in the parable, that the servant who went out to speak to the elder brother had his measure of joy over the prodigal’s return. He speaks in happy and grateful tones–and the spirits before the Throne of God cannot help being glad when God is glad. Will loyal subjects be sighing and crying when their king has a day of special rejoicing and is peculiarly honored? It cannot be! And the angels would not be what they are–the true and faithful servitors of God–if they were not glad when God is glad!
But besides that, they also have great sympathy with men. It would be worth your while to study the subject of thefriendship of angels to men–their kindly feeling, the joy with which they have often brought God’s messages to men, the delight with which they have interposed, at critical times, to accomplish the miraculous designs upon which God has sent them on behalf of men. They are, indeed, most gracious spirits! We must not worship them–we are forbidden to do that–for we must worship God alone. But we may feel an intense amity, friendship and respect towards those bright and blessed spirits. What we owe to them, we shall never know, I suppose, till eternity. And then we shall set it all down to the Glory of their Master and ours! Still, he who thinks well of God may think well of God’s holy angels on the principle of, “Love Me, love My servants.” Does He not give them charge over us, to keep us in all our ways? Do they not bear us up in their hands, lest we should dash our foot against a stone? “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” They are not actually akin to us, but still, they are very near neighbors to us and they are very kind and helpful neighbors! So, when they see a soul saved, they are right glad of it.
Further, they know better than you and I do, what a soul is saved from when a sinner repents. They have looked overthe battlements of Heaven into the dread abyss–they recollect the day when there was war in Heaven and the mighty Son of God overthrew Satan and his rebel followers and cast them down to Hell. The holy angels know that it was God’s electing love that enabled them to stand fast in that evil day. They know, too, that God passed by the fallen angels and never gave them a hope of recovery, or promised them a Mediator. Yet they do not envy men because God, in the Sovereignty of His Grace, has provided for them a Savior. They rejoice to know that repenting men shall never be cast into the Lake of Fire, the awful place prepared for the devil and his angels. They have none of the modern infidel notions, for they have seen that there is a worm that dies not and a fire that cannot be quenched, so they lift up their songs right gladly whenever a sinner is saved from going down into the Pit!
Besides this, the angels know what repenting sinners gain, for they have long frequented the golden streets andwalked by the river of the Water of Life. They know the bliss of beholding Christ face to face–have they not done so ever since He returned to Heaven to sit upon His Father’s Throne? When a man is very happy because he is very holy, he wants other people to be happy, too, and he feels all the happier the more there are to share in his joy. Our proverb “The more, the merrier,” just expresses what the angels think, so they rejoice, with the utmost gladness, over those who repent because they know that, for them, there is laid up in Heaven the triple crown of life, glory and righteousness, that fades not away.
One thought I cannot help interjecting just here. I am sure that these holy angels all believe in the Doctrine of theFinal Perseverance of the Saints. If they did not, they would be very foolish in rejoicing over repenting sinners. The old proverb bids us not to count our chickens before they are hatched–and if I were an Arminian, I would recommend the angels to not rejoice over a sinner who repents, for he might fall from Grace and perish–and then they would have to ring the bells of Heaven backwards, or to toll them, and to recall their songs, and say, “We rejoiced too soon.” But it is not so, for they know that repentance has in it the germ of perfection! Sincere repentance is the commencement of perfect sanctification and God will make it grow to full fruition! This grain of mustard seed will become a great tree and yonder birds of Paradise shall sit in the branches and sing to God’s praise forever! So they begin to sing even now because they know what true repentance guarantees concerning the future of everyone who truly repents and believes in Christ Jesus!
Thus I have tried to give, in as brief a space as I could, the reasons for the joy of God and the joy of God’s servants, the angels, over repenting sinners. There are just two lessons I want each one of us to learn and then I have done.
The first is a lesson of self-examination. Are you and I fit for Heaven? Have we the nature which would fit us to dwell in the presence of the angels of God? You say, “Well, you have set us a hard task.” No, I have not. Or if so, I will help you through it. The angels rejoice “over one sinner who repents.” Do you rejoice over repenting sinners? Having yourself repented, do you feel intense sympathy for other sinners? Do you dread lest they should be lost? Do you pray that they may be saved? Do you seek, by your personal testimony and entreaty, to bring them to Christ? Can you truthfully say that it would be Heaven on earth to you to see your children converted–your servants converted–your neighbors converted? Alas, there are many professors who do not care the turn of a halfpenny whether souls are lost or saved! Their one desire is to be saved themselves, but, as to doing anything to spread the Gospel of Jesus–denying themselves that the poor and ignorant may know of Christ–that is not in their line at all!
But, Sir, if you have no concern about another man’s soul, it is time that you should have grave concern about your own! If no joy comes to you when another is saved, you have need to be saved yourself! And if the thought of the future world and the ruin of immortal souls never makes you bow your head even to the dust, you need to be born-again, for they who are born in the likeness of Christ weep over sinners, pray for sinners and seek the salvation of sinners! By this test, I beseech you to try yourselves. There is not one among us who may not well chide himself for some measure of hardness of heart and indifference about this matter. I often feel as if I could flog myself and bite my tongue, to think that I preach so often with dry eyes and with a heart that is not half as earnest as it ought to be. Yet I have heard colder sermons than I generally preach, so I suppose that my Brothers must be partakers in my fault, or else their manner much belies them. And I think I know some members of the church who must make a similar confession to mine. Oh, that we were all alive to the real value of an immortal soul! Did we but believe that it is born for eternal bliss, or doomed to eternal despair, I think that we would go about as with a sword in our bones, mourning because of the multitude of mankind rushing madly upon Jehovah’s buckler, dashing themselves against the bosses of His shield and seeming determined to commit spiritual suicide! God save them! Let us pray that prayer from our inmost souls. If we do not, how can we hope to ever enter that Heaven where they rejoice over repenting sinners?
The other lesson is for any of you who are seeking Christ Jesus the Lord. I gave it to you at the commencement of the sermon. I want to give it to you again that you may be sure to remember it. How gladly, how heartily, how immediately ought you to hasten to seek peace with God when you know how joyously you will be welcomed! If it will make Heaven all the gladder to see you come, why do you not come? I have read, sometimes, in the newspaper, an advertisement to this effect–“A. B.” or somebody else whose initials are given, “is earnestly entreated to come back to his loving father and mother. All is forgiven. Everything is made right. Do not delay! Come back to us at once.” If I were to read such an advertisement as that, and it referred to me, I do not think I could have the heart to stand out against it. I would be thinking of my father, “What? Does the old man want me as much as that?” I would be thinking of my brother, “Does he want to see me?” I would think even of the old servant of the family, “Does old Mary want to see me? She who nursed me when I was a child, does she want me back? Well, with such an invitation, I will go at once.” Dear Heart, do you want to come back to God? That is a sign that the Lord wants you back! You will be glad to get back to Him, but He will be gladder to receive you than you will be to be received! And all the angels want you–they are watching and waiting for you. And those on earth who love our Lord, are, many of them, very anxious about you. The whole Church of God in Heaven and on earth, and the goodly fellowship of the angels, and God Himself, will all be glad to receive you! Come and welcome! Come and welcome! I wish I had a trumpet-tongue that I might sound the invitation out still more loudly! Remember that verse with which we began the service–
“From the Cross uplifted high
Where the Savior deigns to die,
What melodious sounds I hear,
Bursting on my ravished ear!
‘Love’s redeeming work is done;
Come and welcome, Sinner, come.’”
You have but to trust Him and you have come to Him–to rely upon Him–to depend upon Him–to lean upon Him–to cast yourself upon Him, to believe in Christ Jesus, who died, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God–for, as soon as you do so, you are brought back to the great Father’s house. May the Divine Spirit bring you there now, for His love’s sake! Amen.