True Joy, as most people are willing to admit on a good day, is not tied to circumstances. We view our circumstances from a joy-filled inner man, or from an inner man that is not renewed and not filled by the Holy Spirit. John Owen’s Glory of Christ has much to say about this. My discussion of Owen began here, if you missed it. Though originally published in the 1600’s the quotes here are from the very recent Kindle edition.1
“Let them pretend what they please, who can understand no comfort or joy in this life but what they receive by their senses; they can look for nothing else.” Loc 181
“The minds of men are apt by their troubles to be cast into disorder, to be tossed up and down, and disquieted with various affections and passions. So the Psalmist found it in himself in the time of his distress [see Psalm 42:5] when he calls himself into that account ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted in me?’ And indeed, the min on all such occasions is its own greatest troubler. It is apt to let loose its passions of fear and sorrow, which act themselves in inferable perplexing thoughts, until it is carried utterly out of its own power. But in this state a due contemplation of the glory of Christ will restore and compose the mind, bring it into a sedate, quiet frame, wherein faith will be able to say unto the winds and waves of distempered passions, ‘Peace, be still;’ (Mark 4:39) and they shall obey it.” Loc 148
“…It is the Spirit of God who alone communicates a sense of this love unto our souls…Among these the principal is the contemplation of the glory of Christ insisted on, and of God the Father in Him.” Loc 154
Owen knew how distracted and wearied our souls become in this world, and urged his congregation and readers to engage in regular times of contemplation. Turns out people are the same in any generation; this message was needed in the 1600s, and still today. This goes against our American-McDonald-Clicklist-AmazonPrime view of life. Contemplation requires that we turn away from our inward ‘heart’ that deceives us, away from outside distractions like phones and computers and mindless games or hobbies. Contemplation requires a set aside time. This was possible for me as a salaried employee at a large company, as a student working on my Masters degree, and as a stay at home homeschooling mama. It is un-American, but very human. We need (and unknowingly long for) a view of His glory. God longs to bless us as we gaze at Him. He will not bless us as we chase ‘joy’ or ‘happiness’ or ‘fulfillment’ (call it what you will) in material objects, or relationships not centered in Him.
Owen discusses the fear of death, and the role of the body’s influence on our spiritual affections. It is a beautiful thing to realize the connection between heart-mind-body-soul, and see that God created our whole being to work together drawing us closer to Him, into His love and glory. Yet it is fear and bodily apprehension that keep us back. The Puritans were no strangers to these ideas and discuss them thoroughly. Owen in particular knew enough sorrow in his own life to attest the comfort and joy God gives as we contemplate His glory in the midst of fears and troubles. “To get above all perplexities on the account of these things, ps part of our wisdom in dying daily. And we are to have always in a readiness those graces and duties which are necessary thereunto.” Loc 279
“The hearts of believers are like the needle touched by the loadstone, [magnetic oxide of iron, i.e. a magnet] which cannot rest until it comes to the point where it is directed. …I shall lay the foundation of the ensuing meditations in this one assertion: One of the greatest privileges and advancements of believers, both in this world and unto eternity, consists in their beholding the glory of Christ.” Loc 321. (For your own delight, ponder how Owen drew this from John 17!)