THE JOYFUL SOUND. BY THE RIGHT REV. W. D. MACLAGAN, D. D.

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BISHOP OF LICHFIELD. Preached in Holy Trinity Church, Paddington.

PSALM LXXXIX, 15. " Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound : they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance."

In the words which I have chosen for my text, David speaks of the blessedness of the people that know the joyful sound. In these words there is possibly a reference to some of the more joyous festivals in the Jewish church. For although the characteristic of the service of God under the older dispensation was rather that it deepened the sense of sin, and led men to look onward to a Saviour by its daily sacrifices — by its yearly day of atonement, yet there were brighter gleams which illuminated that service of the older church. One of them was the annual feast — the most joyous of all, which they called the feast of trumpets ; for the word that is used here by the psalmist signifies the joyful noise that comes from the sound of the trumpet. But there was a special reference, probably, to a greater feast still. Although, year by year, the sound of the trumpet brightened the hearts of God's chosen people, yet there was one year in which that sound brought them exceeding joy. It was the year of jubilee when, on the day of atonement — when

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all the solemn services of that day were over, there was brought to the suffering and to the poor and to the distressed among the nation exceeding great joy. At the sound of that trumpet every slave was set free. At the sound of that trumpet the poor man who had parted with his possession in his need had that possession restored to him. And so through the length and the breadth of the land there was heard the joyful sound. And it may have been with special reference

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to this jubilee feast that David spoke in the words of our text — "Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound."

But yet the words had a deeper meaning even for David ; for all through the teaching of that older time there was an under-current heard by those who had ears to hear, which told them of exceeding joy. It was the hope which was the centre of their life — the great object of their longing — the hope of one who would deliver them from worse than earthly bondage, and restore them to a possession which they had forfeited by their sin. It was this joyful sound which whispered consolation to our first parents in the very hour of their fall, when they were told that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. It was this which nerved the faith of Abraham as he turned his back upon his home and his kindred. It was this which tuned the heart of David as

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he sang his psalms of joy. It was this which kindled the soul of the prophet Isaiah as he prophesied of the coming salvation. It was this which cheered the hearts of God's captive people in their long bondage in Babylon ; and, at last, it swelled into the song of angels as they told the glad tidings of great joy to all people. And blessed were they who, in that golden time, could know the joyful sound. The patriarchs, the prophets, the psalmist of those days of old, the just and the devout, such as Simeon and Hannah, waiting for the consolation of Israel — these knew the joyful sound — the sound of a coming salvation ; and they knew the blessedness which even that sound of promise brought to their longing hearts. But to us have not these words a deeper meaning still ? The joyful sound which stirs our hearts tells us, not of a coming salvation, but of a Saviour who has come. We know, as the apostle says, that the Son of God is come ; and it is because we know the joyful sound which proclaims that first coming, mighty to save, that we look forward with hope and expectation to that day when He shall come again to fetch His people home. " Blessed are the people that know this joyful sound : they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance."

It is a blessedness which, in some measure, belongs to us all. We have heard of it from our childhood. We are not, like the heathen, without God and without hope. We learned at our mother's knee to sing of gentle Jesus. We learned to lisp our prayers to His Father and our Father which is in heaven. Oh, blessedness above all words to tell,

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38 The Joyful Sound.

that we should have this happy privilege of being nurtured in a Christian land ! But, my friends, what responsibility does such a privilege lay upon us ! What will God not expect of us who, from our childhood, have heard this joyful sound ! And what does God find in us ? Does He find in our daily lives — does He read in our inmost hearts — the marks of those that know the joyful sound ? Do we find in our own hearts anything of that blessedness of which the 'text here speaks to us — "Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound"? It is not enough to hear that sound. David' speaks of knowing it ; and these are two very different things. We may know all about it, and yet not know that joyful sound. It is not enough for us that we can tell clearly of the way of salvation through Christ Jesus — that we can stand up in the house of God and recite with intelligent hearts the creed which sums up our faith and our hope. All this may be : it is with thousands, and yet they know not the joyful sound. To them it brings no joy. It is something which stands outside of themselves — something which they hear with their ears and understand with their lives, but which never comes home with power to their hearts. But " Blessed are those," says the psalmist, " that know the joyful sound."

And what a joyful sound is that which the gospel declares to us ! What significance there was in the arrangements of that day of jubilee !

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The atonement must first be offered before the bondman is set free — before the possession is restored. And the sound of the gospel of peace declares to us that the atonement is made once and forever — the full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world ; and it speaks to us, the bondmen of sin, and tells us that He who died for us came to set the captive free. And it speaks to us who, through our sins, had forfeited the kingdom of our God, and tells us that He, our Saviour, has opened that kingdom of heaven again to all believers. This is the joyful sound which the gospel of Christ sounds in the ears of Christ's people, and sounds in the hearts of them that truly believe ; and blessed are the people that know this joyful sound.

But how many there are to whom this is but an idle tale — an empty, not a joyful, sound. They know not the deliverance which has been achieved for them at that awful price. They never felt that bondage from which the Son of God has come to deliver them. They never mourn over the loss of that happy heavenly home from which unpardoned sin will shut

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Us out for ever. And though the gospel sound rings in their ears from day to day, they know not its joyfulness or the blessedness of the people of God. And yet, my friends, what a joyful sound it is ! The soul, burdened with a sense of unforgiven sin — the soul that trembles at the

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thought of death and judgment — that dares not face the awful thought of standing before that judgment-seat, each giving an account of himself to God, — to such a soul, when once the sense of sin has grasped it and holds it fast — when once it has come to that awful experience which David speaks of in one of his psalms — "My sins have taken such hold upon me that I am not able to look up," — then the blessedness of that joyful sound is indeed realized. Are there any of you, my friends, who have known that awful and yet most blessed experience ? — awful, because no agony of soul can compare with that which the sinner feels when he realizes his condition in the sight of a holy God ; but, oh, a thousandfold more blessed than the easy unconcern with which men live and with which men die who have never known the pangs of guilt, and never known the joyful sound. How many hundreds there are around us — how many there may be in this house of God to-night, who have never had one anxious thought of — never given one solemn consideration to — the prospects of their never-dying souls throughout eternity ! They shut out all these thoughts with the absorbing cares and the fleeting pleasures of a perishing world, content to live in a fool's paradise to dream away the few short years of life, and then wake up to the awful realities of eternity. I say a thousandfold more blessed than that careless, godless, reckless worldliness in which so many thousands live and die, is the fiercest agony of a sin-burdened soul, because it opens the heart to hear the joyful sound — the joyful sound which tells that, sinners though we be, and crushed beneath a load of guilt which is insupportable to us, there is one who has died to take away our sins ; "and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquities of us all." You who

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have heard that joyful sound speaking to your hearts know well the blessedness of which the psalmist speaks. You who know nothing of it but as an empty expression which you have heard a thousand times — which has fallen on your ear and rebounded again into the wide air, I ask you to-night, would you not indeed rejoice with a joy that you have never known before if to your hearts should come home, by the power of God's Holy Spirit, that joyful sound ? Would it not be a joy to all

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of us? But to the utterly hard and utterly worldly — and God knows there may be some such even in a house of prayer — would it not be to them, of all others, a joy above all joy to hear the voice of Jesus speaking to their hearts, " Go in peace : thy sins are forgiven thee.'' They are forgiven ? I speak not of a coming blessing in some possible future, but of a present joy. " Go in peace : thy sins are forgiven thee ; " " for the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquities of us all." Oh, blessed souls who know that joyful sound : they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance.

But, again, there are souls that have been roused to seek after God — who have long since begun the awful struggle against still unconquered sin — who are striving against the principalities and powers that surround them as they seek to fight their way to the

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open gate of the heavenly city, and whose hearts almost sink and fail within them as temptation comes back again and again, and as, through their weakness, they fall under temptation's power. And they ask themselves, " Is there no hope ? Shall I never be delivered from this awful oppression ? The enemy crieth so, and the ungodly cometh on so fast ; my enemies live and are mighty, and I have no power to overcome them." Are there any who have known such a blessed unrest as this — such a glorious state of conflict as this — the conflict of an awakened soul against the powers of evil ? Is it not a joyful sound which speaks to you from the lips of Jesus ? — " My grace is sufficient for thee. My strength is made perfect in weaknessBe thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." Oh, is it not a joy above all words to such a soul — cast down, trembling, fearing — scarce venturing to hope — almost driven to despair in that conflict against sin, to hear the joyful promise of a grace which no temptation will be too powerful for — which no sin can long resist — the grace of Him who has grace enough and to spare for all His struggling, suffering children ? Oh, "blessed are the people that know the joyful sound." The conflict may not cease in a day, but they know that, at last, the victory is sure. " They shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance."

But, again, there are souls that are weary with the long labor and toil and trial of the heavenward road. A languor seems to settle down upon the heart, and, as life goes on, and the shadows deepen,

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The Joyful Sound. 4*

the heart is filled with a sadness which it cannot express. They are weary of the conflict — long that it were over, yet wondering how or when it shall be. Oh, with all the power of joy comes to such hearts the blessed promise of our Lord and Saviour to all weary souls — " Come unto me, and I will give you rest." Seek refuge in that loving heart of Jesus, and all the weariness of life shall be turned into rest and peace. Nay, but a few short years, or months, or days, and then the rest which remaineth for the people of God. Blessed are they who experience the weariness, the trials, the sorrows, the bereavements of life, and hear the joyful sound : with weary step but with steadfast heart they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance.

Or, once more, there are souls among us who all their lifetime, through fear of death, are subject to bondage. They look onward to that inevitable hour when the messenger will come who cannot be put off. They think of the pains of dissolution — of the weakness of departing life — of the darkness of the Valley of the Shadow of Death ; and they ask themselves, " How shall I bear all this ? — to lie in that last hour when none can help and none can comfort — shut out, it may be, from the outer world — seeing no longer the loved faces around me — hearing no longer the words of love spoken to my

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ear — all alone at last, and going down into the dark valley ? How shall I bear that last — that awful — that necessary trial of life's close ? " Are there not some of you who know such fears as these ? — fears which, if they come upon you in the darkness of the night, you can scarce bear to think of, but which you turn away, busier with other things. But you cannot turn death away. You cannot avoid the awful hour itself, though you may now avoid the thought of it. And so all your lifetime, through fear of death, you are subject unto bondage. And is it not a joy to you when the blessed message of salvation tells you of one who has been down into that dark valley before you ? — known all its pains and all its perils, and is touched with the feeling of your infirmity — one who promises that He will be with you when all others must leave you ; for none, even of those who love you most, can go down one step into that dark valley beside you. But He tells you that even there He will be with you. If you have given your heart to Him and known Him as your

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Saviour and your God, He hath said, " I will never leave thee nor" forsake thee, least of all in that dread hour when thou needest most the help of thy Saviour, thy God, thy Friend." Oh, blessed are the people that know this joyful sound ; even in that dark valley they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance.

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My friends, how far is this blessedness our own ? Have we ever heard in our hearts these glad tidings of forgiveness, of grace, and of rest to the tempted, sinful, weary, troubled soul ? Oh, I beseech you, if you know nothing of these things but as an empty sound, give no rest to your God — and He is waiting to be gracious — give no rest to your God in your prayers and your tears till, in your own blessed experience in laying hold of Christ as all your salvation and all your desire, and yielding up your hearts to Him who gave Himself to die for you, you can say,^ out of the depths of a joyful and thankful experience, " Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound." Oh, that before the Christmas season comes, to repeat again in our ears the message of joy with which the coming Saviour was heralded into a guilty world, you might all know that joyful sound, and go forth, if God spare you to begin another year, to walk in the light of His countenance.

One moment let our thoughts rest upon that blessedness. " They shall walk in the light of Thy countenance." What safety is there here! If the light of God shine on our path, however hard it may be, we shall not stumble. Oh, it is safety indeed to walk in the light of that countenance. And what joy, as well as safety, to see the light that streams from the countenance of a reconciling God — that streams in peace within the troubled, trembling heart — that tells you of love everlasting with which He has loved you, and reminds you of loving-kindness with which He has drawn you. Blessed, indeed, are they who walk in the light of that countenance. All life long that light of love streams in quiet radi-

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ance upon their heavenward path. Clouds and darkness may be round about — trials and troubles and sorrows and cares ; but still the light shines on. They walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance. And they walk in that light on and on — nearer and nearer to the light itself, shining moie and more, unto the perfect day. As the belated traveller sees afar off the light of his loved home and presses onward and the light grows brighter and shines more clearly on his homeward path, so does the child of God, as he journeys heavenward, see that far-shining

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light and knows that it tells him of the joys and love of his heavenly home. But, oh, what is the light that shines from that home now compared with the light that shines within that happy city of God ! — what the joyful sound that falls upon our ears in this life of trial to the sounds which shall fill our ears and our hearts through all eternity ! Oh, surely, though in measure that blessedness is ours even in this life on earth, it will only be ours in fulness in that life in heaven when, joining our hallelujahs with angels and archangels, and our thankful anthems with all the ransomed ones of God, and singing our hymns to one who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood and has made us kings and priests unto God, we shall dwell forever in that presence where there is fulness of joy, seeing the very light of God as it streams from His loving face upon His gathered children. It is then

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that in all its fulness His ransomed ones will know the depth of meaning in those words of promise, " Blessed are the people who know that joyful sound ; for they shall walk for ever and for ever, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance."

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