A Cause of Rejoicing

Luke 15:6,7.---' He calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me . . . Likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth.' 15:9,10.---' She calleth her friends and her neighbors together saying, Rejoice with me . . . Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God.' 15:32.---' It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad.'

St. Luke is the Evangelist of joy. He sees Christ as a man of joy who initiates His followers to a life of joy. It is to the Scribes and Pharisees that Christ is speaking. The Pharisees had a saying, "There is joy before God when those who provoke Him perish from the earth." Not so says our Lord. You are mistaken all ye Scribes and Pharisees. 'There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.'

In these words we can almost detect a touch of refined and venomless satire. The sons of light who encircle the Father's throne show no trace of pride or caste; the temper of gentleness and pure compassion possesses them. The holiest spirits of heaven, who kindle with delight and responsive sympathy when erring men and women are moved to amend their ways, although the superior priests of earth may curl the lip in scorn. A Pharisee surely need not frown at that which causes the angel to uplift his soul in exultation.

No other interpreter of Christ's Good News has put into our hands ointment half so precious and efficacious as this gospel of joy of St. Luke. By it the self-inflicted wounds of the penitent wanderer are anointed. Penitence, seen in the light of this gospel of joy, is swallowed up in the vision of the wealth and abundance to which it at once admits us by right. The wanderer forgets his prepared speech as he receives the welcome and loving attentions of his father. 'Let us be merry.'

What interpreting light does this joy, joy actually felt in the presence of the angels of God, throw on the fact of repentance?

It shows, first, that untold value is attached to this unobtrusive act, which forms a turning point in the character. Such a fact is not in agreement with our methods of viewing things. We are duped by our course senses, and many things which dominate our thoughts are petty, irrelevant to our true welfare, not drawn to a large scale. We have much in common with the untaught tribe which has no knowledge of international values, and barters its precious stones for cast-off playthings of a civilized continent. But that which stimulates the interest of higher worlds must have within it great potentialities. That which is a topic of comment among the hosts of light---which, indeed, God Himself proclaims, when he says, 'Come and rejoice with Me'---is of much import. It is the stepping back into life of one who is heir to a throne. The man who comes to himself fills a larger space in the thought of those who dwell in the high and holy place than the man who leads a heroic fight, discovers a new law of Nature, or writes a deathless book. There are no infinitesimal things in morals.

Assess the intensiveness of the declaration, 'Joy . . . over one sinner that repenteth.' It is to a single instance of the contrite temper that attention is directed, and the joy is caused by a mere beginning of better things, and not by the consummated excellence and perfection of a new life. The figure of a forlorn penitent, with no companions in his distress, does not realize all the dreams of the prophets, who spoke of nations flowing in great tides to the house of the Lord, or moving like flocks of birds. We make much of numbers, and reserve our best songs of thanksgiving for the great ingatherings. Perhaps the conversion of multitudes, if we had a share in the work, might tempt us to pride; and, while we despise the meanest unit, our fitness for ampler success has scarcely begun.

In these days we are being dazed by arithmetic; we are bluntly assured that worlds and histories turn on vast hinges, while individual lives are the dust of the balances; and society, collectivism, and humanity are most familiar terms of contemporary politics and philosophy, until the individual is well-nigh forgotten. Continents and mountains are always in evidence, while the atom remains invisible; and the individual is being similarly ignored in the social mass. Christ writes across the sky in blazing letters, 'One.' The lowliest must not forget his mysterious greatness nor the fact that in the highest world his fortune is followed with impassioned interest. He knew, who told us this.

'One sinner that repenteth.' Repentance is only a beginning, and carries with it at first little or no evidence of achievement. Have we those holy instincts and sensibilities which enable us to rejoice in the things which best please God? The hearts closed, like those of the Pharisees, against this common joy of earth and heaven, are proud, pitiless, diabolic. Some men derive more satisfaction from investments and advancing renown than from the coming of many penitents into the Kingdom, and such men are strangers and aliens to the angels. Our near kinship to God is vindicated by our accessibility to the inflow of these joys.

Have we those quick prophetic glances which come to the nature within which the genius of Christ's personality acts? It is easy to magnify the grace of God in one long recovered from the quality or state of being, dishonor, and remorseless selfishness, and to applaud the penitence that has justified itself by the improved conduct of thirty years. But can we discern Divine potentialities in the man who has scarcely extricated himself from the world.

There is much silent, undefined, and undeclared repentance in the world, and if Jesus Christ were still with us He would surprise us by His discoveries.

Plentiful and unfailing rivers run just beneath the burning desolations of the Sahara. Twenty or thirty feet under the sand-drifts there is an impervious sheet of rock which prevents the escape of the collected rain-waters. It is easy to see the oasis but not so easy to track the windings of the hidden river. The skilled engineer can get at the river, bring it up through his wells, and change the desert into an earthly paradise. Society at large is not the dreary, all-devouring, illimitable ethical waste we often imagine. The rivers of God flow under natures we call reprobate, and create penitential moods which are the earnest of a coming righteousness.

Let us rejoice, when the lost returns! It is most human that we should rejoice, and what is most truly human is most nearly Divine. But if repentence is an event to make heaven glad, is it not one to make us glad also? It is, indeed, the beginning of truth, peace and felicity. 'Sing, O ye heavens, for the Lord hath done it; shout, ye lower parts of the earth; break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.'

Peace, timothy. maranatha