“There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”
MAN’S HEART is never big enough to hold either its joys or its sorrows. You never heard of a man whose heart was exactly full of sorrow; for no sooner is it full, than it overflows. The first prompting of the soul is to tell its sorrows to another. The reason is, that our heart is not large enough to hold our grief; and we need to have another heart to receive a portion thereof.
It is even so with our joy. When the heart is full of joy, it always allows its joy to escape. It is like the fountain in the market-place; whenever it is full it runs away in streams, and so soon as it ceases to overflow, you may be quite sure that it has ceased to be full. The only full heart is the overflowing heart. You know this, beloved, you have proved it to be true; for when your soul has been full of joy, you have first called together your own kindred and friends, and you have communicated to them the cause of your gladness; and when those vessels have been full to the brim, you have been like the woman who borrowed empty vessels of her neighbors, for you have asked each of them to become partakers in your joy, and when the heart of all your neighbors have been full, you have felt as if they were not large enough, and the whole world has been called upon to join in your praise. You bade the fathomless ocean drink in your joy; you spoke to the trees and bade them clap their hands, while the mountains and hills were invoked by you to break forth into singing; the very stars of heaven seemed to look down upon you, and you bade them sing for you, and all the world was full of music through the music that was in your heart. And after all, what is man but the great musician of the world? The universe is a great organ with mighty pipes. Space, time, eternity, are like the throats of this great organ; and man, a little creature, puts his fingers on the keys, and wakes the universe to thunders of harmony, stirring up the whole creation to mightiest acclamation of praise.
Know ye not that man is God’s high priest in the universe? All things else are but the sacrifice; but he is the priest,—carrying in his heart the fire, and in his hand the wood, and in his mouth the two-edged sword of dedication, with which he offers up all things to God.
But I have no doubt, beloved, the thought has sometimes struck us that our praise does not go far enough. We seem as if we dwelt in the isle cut off from the mainland. This world, like a fair planet, swims in a sea of ether unnavigated by mortal ship. We have sometimes thought that surely our praise was confined to the shores of this poor narrow world, that it was impossible for us to pull the ropes which might ring the bells of heaven, that we could by no means whatever reach our hands so high as to sweep the celestial chords of angelic harps. We have said to ourselves, there is no connection between earth and heaven. A huge black wall divides us. A strait of unnavigable water shuts us out. Our prayers cannot reach to heaven, neither can our praise affect the celestials. Let us learn from our text how mistaken we are. We are, after all, however much we seem to be shut out from heaven, and from the great universe, but a province of God’s vast united empire, and what is done on earth is known in heaven; what is sung on earth is sung in heaven; and there is a sense in which it is true that the tears of earth are wept again in paradise, and the sorrows of mankind are felt again, even on the throne of the Most High.
My text tells us, “There is joy in the presence of God, over one sinner that repenteth.” It seems as if it showed me a bridge by which I might cross over into eternity. It doth, as it were, exhibit to me certain magnetic wires which convey the intelligence of what is done here to spirits in another world. It teaches me that there is a real and wonderful connection between this lower world, and what which is beyond the skies, where God dwelleth in the land of the happy.
We shall talk about that subject a little this morning. My first head will be the sympathy of the world above with the world below; the second, the judgment of the angels,—they rejoice over repenting sinners; we shall see what is their ground for so doing. The third will be a lesson for the saints; if the angels in heaven rejoice over repenting sinners, so should we.
- In the first place our text teaches us THE SYMPATHY OF THE TWO WORLDS. Imagine not, O son of man, that thou art cut off from heaven; for there is a ladder, the top whereof doth rest at the foot of the throne of the Almighty, the base whereof is fixed in the lowest place of man’s misery! Conceive not that there is a great gulf fixed between thee and the Father, across which His mercy cannot come, and over which thy prayers and faith can never leap. Oh think not, son of man, that thou dwellest in a storm-girt island, cut off from the continent of eternity. I beseech thee, believe that there is a bridge across that chasm, a road along which feet may travel. This world is not separated, for all creation is one body. And know thou, O son of man, though thou in this world doth but dwell as it were on the foot, yet from the feet even to the head there are nerves and veins that do unite the whole. The same great heart which beats in heaven beats on earth. The love of the Eternal Father which cheers the celestial, makes glad the terrestrial too.
Rest assured that though the glory of the celestial is one and the glory of the terrestrial be another, yet are they but another in appearance, for after all, they are the same. Oh! List thee, son of man, and thou wilt soon learn that thou art no stranger in a strange land—a houseless Joseph in the land of Egypt, shut out from his father and his children, who still remain in the happy paradise of Canaan. No, thy Father loves us still. There is a connection between thee and Him.
Strange that though leagues of distance lie between the finite creature and the infinite Creator, yet there are links that unite us both! When a tear is wept by thee, think not thy Father doth not behold; for, “Like as a father pitieth his children so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.” Thy sigh is able to move the heart of Jehovah; thy wisper can incline His ear unto thee; thy prayer can stay His hands; thy faith can move His arm. Oh! Think not that God sits on high in an eternal slumber, taking no account of thee. “Shall a mother forget her suckling child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, she may forget, yet will I not forget thee.” Engraven upon the Father’s hand thy name remains; and on His heart recorded there thy person stands. He thought of thee before the worlds were made; before the channels of the sea were scooped, or the gigantic mountains lifted their heads in the white clouds, He thought of thee. He thinketh on thee still, “I, the Lord, do keep it; I will water it every moment; lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.” For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro in every place to show Himself strong on the behalf of all them that fear Him. Thou art not cut off from Him. Thou dost move Him; in Him thou dost live and have thy being. “He is a very present help in time of trouble.”
Remember, again, O heir of immortality, that thou art not only linked to the Godhead, but there is another One in heaven with whom thou hast a strange, yet near connection. In the center of the throne sits One who is thy brother, allied to thee by blood. The Son of God, eternal, equal with His Father, became in the fullness of time the Son of Mary, an infant of a span long. He was, yea, is, bone of thy bone and flesh of thy flesh. Think not that art cut off from the celestial world while He is there; for is He not thy head, and hath He not Himself declared that thou art a member of His body, of His flesh and of His bones? Oh, man, thou art not separated from heaven whilst Jesus tells thee—
“I feel at My heart all thy sighs and thy groans,
For thou art most near Me, My flesh and My bones,
In all thy distresses, thy Head feels the pain.
They all are most needful, not one is in vain.”
Oh, poor, disconsolate mourner, Christ remembers thee every hour. Thy sighs are His sighs; thy groans are His groans; thy prayers are His prayers:—
“He in His measure feels afresh,
What every member bears.”
Crucified He is when thou art crucified; He dies when thou diest; thou livest in Him, and He lives in thee; and because He lives shalt thou live also; thou shalt rise in Him, and thou shalt sit together in the heavenly places with Him. Oh, never was husband nearer to his wife, and never head nearer to the members, and never soul nearer to the body of this flesh, than Christ is unto thee, and while it is so, think not that heaven and earth are divided. They are but kindred worlds; two ships moored close to one another, and one short plank of death will enable you to step from one into the other: this ship, all black and coaly, having done the coasting trade, the dusty business of today, and being full of the blackness of sorrow; and that ship all golden, with its painted pennon flying, and its sail all spread, white as the down of the sea-bird, fair as the angel’s wing—I tell thee, man, the ship of heaven is moored side by side with the ship of earth, and rock though this ship may, and career though she will on stormy winds and tempests, yet the invisible and golden ship of heaven sails by her side never sundered, never divided, always ready, in order that when the hour shall come, thou mayest leap from the black, dark ship, and step upon the golden deck of that thrice happy one in which thou shalt sail for ever.
But, O man of God, there are other golden links besides this which bind the present to the future, and time unto eternity. And what are time and eternity, after all, to the believer, but like the Siamese twins, never to be separated? This earth is heaven below, the next world is but a heaven above; it is the same house—this is the lower room, and that the upper, but the same roof covers both, and the same dew falls upon each. Remember, beloved, that the spirits of the just made perfect are never far from you and me if we are lovers of Jesus. All those who have passed the flood have still communion with us. Do we not sing—
“The saints on earth, and all the dead,
But one communion make:
All join in Christ, the living Head,
And of His grace partake.”
Doth not the apostle tell us that the saints above are a cloud of witnesses? After he had mentioned Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Gideon, and Barak, and Jephthah, did he not say, “Wherefore seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight”? . . .They cannot be a perfect church till we are gathered in, and therefore do they long for our appearing.
But to come to our text a little more minutely. It assures us that the angels have communion with us. Bright spirits, first-born sons of God, do ye think of me? Oh, cherubim, great and mighty; seraphim, burning, winged with lightning, do ye think of us? . . . Those creatures of God are mighty and strong, doing His commandments, hearkening to His word—and do they take notice of us? Let the Scripture answer, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister unto those that shall be heirs of salvation?” “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him.” “For He shall give His angels charge over thee; to keep thee in all thy ways; they shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.”
Yes, the brightest angels are but the [servants] of the saints; they are our lackeys and our footmen. They wait upon us; they are the troops of our bodyguard, and we might, if our eyes were opened, see what Elisha saw, horses of fire and chariots of fire round about us; so that we should joyously say, “More are they that are with us than they that are against us.”
Our text tells us that the angels of God rejoice over repenting sinners. How is that? They are always as happy as they can be; how can they be any happier? The text does not say that they are any happier; but perhaps that they show their happiness more. A man may have a Sabbath every day, as he ought to have if he be a Christian; and yet on the first day of the week he will let the Sabbatism come out plainly; for then the world shall see that he doth rest. “A merry heart hath a continual feast”; but then even the merry heart hath some special days on which it feasteth well. To the glorified eye every day is a Sabbath, but of some it can be said, “and that Sabbath was an high day.” There are days when the angels sing more loudly than usual; they are always harping well God’s praise, but sometimes the gathering hosts who have been flitting far through the universe, come home to the center; and round the throne of God, standing in serried ranks, marshaled not for battle but for music, on certain set and appointed days, they chant the praises of the Son of God “who loved us and gave Himself for us.” And do you ask me when those days occur? I tell you, the birthday of every Christian is a sonnet day to heaven. . . . There are days of sonnet, red-letter days, of overflowing adoration. And these are days when the Shepherd brings home the lost sheep upon His shoulder, when the church has swept her house and found that lost piece of money; for then are these friends and neighbors called together, and they rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory over one sinner that repenteth.
I have thus, I hope, shown you that there is a greater connection between earth and heaven then any of us dreamed. And now let none of us think, when we look upward to the blue sky, that we are far from heaven; it is a very little distance from us. When the day come we shall go post-haste there, even without horses and chariots of fire. Balaam called it a land that is very far off; we know better—it is a land that is very near. Even now
“By faith we join our hands
With those that sent before
And greet the blood-besprinkled bands
Upon the eternal shore.”
All hail, bright spirits! I see you now. All hail, angels! All hail, ye brethren redeemed! A few more hours, or days, or months, and we shall join your happy throng; till then your joyous fellowship, your sweet compassion shall ever be our comfort and our consolation—and having weathered all storms of life, we shall at last anchor with you within the port of everlasting peace.
- But the angels are said to [rejoice] whenever a sinner repents. Let us see if there is any JUDGMENT IN THEIR SONG, or whether they make a mistake. Why do angels [rejoice] over repenting sinners?
In the first place, I think it is because they remember the days of creation. You know, when God made this world, and fixed the beams of the heavens in sockets of light, the morning stars sang together, and the sons of God shouted for joy; as they saw star after star flying abroad like sparks from the great anvil of Omnipotence, they began to sing; and every time they saw a new creature made upon this little earth, they praised afresh. When first they saw light they clapped their hands, and said, “Great is Jehovah; for He said ‘Light be’ and light was.” And when they saw sun, and moon, and stars, again they clapped their hands, and they said, “He hath made great light; for His mercy endureth for ever. The sun to rule the day; for His mercy endureth for ever. The moon to rule by night; for His mercy endureth for ever.” And over everything He made, they chanted evermore that sweet song, “Creator, Thou art to be magnified; for Thy mercy endureth for ever.” Now when they see a sinner returning, they see the creation over again; for repentance is a new creation. No man ever repents until God makes in him a new heart and a right spirit. I do not know that ever since the day when God made the world, with the exception of new hearts, the angels have seen God make anything else. He may, if He hath so pleased, have made fresh worlds since that time. But perhaps the only instances of new creation they have ever seen since the first day[s], is the creation of a new heart and a right spirit within the breast of a poor penitent sinner. Therefore do they [rejoice], because creation cometh over again.
I doubt not, too, that they [rejoice] because they behold God’s works afresh shining in excellence. When God first made the world, He said of it, “It is very good”—He could not say that now. There are many of you that God could not say that of. He would have to say the very reverse. He would have to say, “No, that is very bad, for the trail of the serpent hath swept away thy beauty, that moral excellence which once dwelt in manhood has passed away”; but when the sweet influences of the Spirit bring men to repentance and faith again, God looks upon man, and He saith, “It is very good.” For what His Spirit makes is like Himself—good, and holy, and precious; and God smiles again over His twice-made creation, and saith once more, “It is very good.” Then the angels begin again, and praise His name, whose works are always good and full of beauty.
But, beloved, the angels [rejoice] over sinners that repent, because they know what that poor sinner has escaped. You and I can never imagine all the depths of hell. Shut out from us by a black veil of darkness, we cannot tell the horrors of that dismal dungeon of lost souls. Happily, the wailings of the damned have never startled us, for a thousand tempests were but a maiden’s whisper, compared with one wail of a damned spirit. It is not possible for us to see the torture of those souls who dwell eternally within an anguish that knows no alleviation. These eyes would become sightless balls of darkness if they were permitted for an instant to look into that ghastly shrine of torment. Hell is horrible, for we may say of it, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive the horrors which God hath prepared for them that hate Him. But the angels know better than you or I could guess. They know it; not that they have felt it, but they remember that day when Satan and his angels rebelled against God. They remember the day when the third part of the stars of heaven revolted against their liege Lord; and they have not forgotten how the red right hand of Jehovah Jesus was wrapt in thunder; they do not forget that breach in the battlements of heaven when, down from the greatest heights to the lowest depths, Lucifer and his hosts were hurled; they have never forgotten how, with sound of trumpet, they pursued the flying foe down to the gulfs of black despair; and, as they neared that place where the great serpent is to be bound in chains, they remember how they saw Tophet, which was prepared of old the pile whereof is fire and much wood; and they recollect how, when they winged back their flight, every tongue was silent, although they might well have shouted the praise of Him who conquered Lucifer; but on them all here did sit a solemn awe of One who could smite a cherubim, and cast him in hopeless bonds of everlasting despair. They knew what hell was, for they had looked within its jaws, and seen their own brothers, fast enclosed within them; and, therefore, when they see a sinner saved, they rejoice, because there is one less to be food for the never-dying worm—one more soul escaped out of the mouth of the lion.
There is yet a better reason. The angels know what the joys of heaven are, and therefore, they rejoice over one sinner that repenteth. We talk about pearly gates and golden streets, and white robes, and harps of gold, and crowns of amaranth, and all that; but if an angel could speak to us of heaven, he would smile and say, “All these fine things are but child’s talk, and ye are little children, and ye cannot understand the greatness of eternal bliss, and therefore God has given you a child’s horn book, and an alphabet, in which you may learn the first rough letters of what heaven is, but what it is thou dost not know. O mortal, thine eye hath never yet beheld its splendors; thine ear hath never yet been ravished with its melodies; thy heart has never been transported with its peerless joys.”
Thou mayest talk, and think, and guess, and dream, but thou canst never measure the infinite heaven which God has provided for His children: and therefore it is, when they see a soul saved and a sinner repenting, that they clap their hands; for they know that all those blessed mansions are theirs, since all those sweet places of everlasting happiness are the entail of every sinner that repenteth.
But I want you just to read the text again, while I dwell upon another thought. “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” Now, why do they not save their joy till that sinner dies and goes to heaven” Why do they rejoice over him when he repents? My Arminian friend, I think, ought to go to heaven, to set them right upon this matter. According to his theory, it must be very wrong of them, because they rejoice prematurely. According to the Arminian doctrine a man may repent, and yet he may be lost; he may have grace to repent and believe, and yet he may fall from grace and be a castaway. Now, angels don’t be to fast. Perhaps you may have to repent of this one day, if the Arminian doctrine be true. I would advise you to save your song for greater joys. Why, angels, perhaps the men that you are [rejoicing] over today, you will have to mourn over tomorrow. I am quite sure that Arminius never taught his doctrine in heaven. I do not know whether he is there—I hope he is, but he is no longer an Arminian; but if he ever taught his doctrine there, he would be put out. The reason why angels rejoice is because they know that when a sinner repents, he is absolutely saved; or else they would rejoice prematurely, and would have good cause for retracting their merriment on some future occasion. But the angels know what Christ meant when He said, “I will give unto My sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of My hand”; and therefore they rejoice over repenting sinners, because they know they are saved.
There is yet one more fact I will mention, before I leave this point. It is said that the angels “rejoice over one sinner that repenteth.” Now this evening it shall be my happy privilege to give the right hand of fellowship to no less than forty-eight sinners that have repented, and there will be great joy and rejoicing in our churches tonight, because these forty-eight have been immersed on a profession of their faith. But how loving are the angels to men; for they rejoice over one sinner that repenteth. There she is, in that garret where stars look between the tiles. There is a miserable bed in that room, with but one bit of covering, and she lieth there to die! Poor creature! Many a night she has walked the streets in the time of her merriment; but now her joys are over; a foul disease, like a demon, is devouring her heart! She is dying fast, and no one careth for her soul! But there, in that chamber, she turns her face to the wall, and cries, “O Thou that savedst Magdalene, save me; Lord I repent; have mercy upon me; I beseech Thee.”
Did the bells ring in the street? Was the trumpet blown? Ah! No. Did men rejoice? Was there a sound of thanksgiving in the midst of the great congregation?
tion? No; no one heard it; for she died unseen. But stay! There was one standing by her bedside, who noted well that tear; an angel, who had come down from heaven to watch over this stray sheep, and mark its return; and no sooner was her prayer uttered than he clapped his wings, and there was seen flying up to the pearly gates a spirit like a star. The heavenly guards came crowding to the gate, crying, “What news, O son of fire?” He said, “Tis done.” “And what is done?” they said. “Why, she has repented.” “What! She who was once a chief of sinners? Has she turned to Christ?” “’Tis even so,” said he. And then they told it through the streets, and the bells of heaven rang marriage peals, for Magdalene was saved, and she who had been the chief of sinners was turned unto the living God.
It was in another place. A poor neglected little boy in ragged clothing had run about the streets for many a-day. Tutored in crime, he was paving his path to the gallows; but one morning he passed by a humble room, where some men and women were sitting together teaching poor ragged children. He stopped in there, a wild Bedouin of the streets. They talked to him about eternity—things he had never heard before. They spoke of Jesus, and of good tidings of great joy to this poor friendless lad. He went another Sabbath, and another; his wild habits hanging about him, for he could not get rid of them. At last it happened that his teacher said to him one day, “Jesus Christ receiveth sinners.” That little boy ran, but not home, for it was but a mockery to call it so—where a drunken father and a lascivious mother kept a hellish riot together. He ran, and under some dry arch, or in some wild unfrequented corner, he bent his little knees, and there he cried, that poor creature in his rags, “Lord save me, or I perish.” And the little Arab was on his knees—the little thief was saved! He said,
“Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly.”
And up from that old arch, from that forsaken hovel, there flew a spirit, glad to bear the news to heaven, that another heir of glory was born to God. I might picture many such scenes; but will each of you try to picture your own? You remember the occasion when the Lord met with you. Ah! Little did you think what a commotion there was in heaven. If the Queen had ordered out all her soldiers, the angels of heaven would not have stopped to notice them. If all the princes of earth had marched in pageant through the streets, with all their robes, and jewelry, and crowns, and all their regalia, their chariots, and their horsemen —if the pomps of ancient monarchs had risen from the tomb—if all the might of Babylon and Tyre and Greece had been concentrated into one great parade, yet not an angel would have stopped in his course to smile at those poor tawdry things; but over you, the vilest of the vile, the poorest of the poor, the most obscure and unknown—over you angelic wings were hovering, and concerning you it was said on earth and sung in heaven, “Hallelujah, for a child is born to God today.”
III. And now I must conclude with this LESSON TO THE SAINTS. I think, beloved, it will not be hard for you to learn. The angels of heaven rejoice over sinners that repent. Saints of God, will not you and I do the same? I do not think the church rejoices enough. We all grumble enough and groan enough; but very few of us rejoice enough. When we take a large number into the church it is spoken of as a great mercy; but is the greatness of that mercy appreciated? I will tell you who they are that can most appreciate the conversion of sinners. They are those that are just converted themselves, or those that have been great sinners themselves. Those who have been saved themselves from bondage, when they see others coming who have so lately worn the chains, are so glad that they can well take the tabret, and the harp, and the pipe, and the psaltery, and praise God that there are other prisoners who have been emancipated by grace. But there are others who can do this better still, and they are the parents and relations of those who are saved. You have thanked God many times when you have seen a sinner saved; but, mother, did not you thank Him most when you saw your son converted? Oh! Those holy tears; they are not tears—they are God’s diamonds—the tears of a mother’s joy, when her son confesses his faith in Jesus. Oh! That glad countenance of the wife, when she sees her husband, long bestial and drunken, at last made into a man and a Christian! Oh! That look of joy which a young Christian gives, when he sees his father converted, who had long oppressed and persecuted him.
I was preaching this week for a young minister, and being anxious to know his character, I spoke of him with apparent coolness to an estimable lady of his congregation. In a very few moments she began to warm in his favor. She said, “You must not say anything against him, sir; if you do, it is because you do not know him.”
“Oh,” I said, “I knew him long before you did; he is not much, is he?”
“Well,” she said, “I must speak well of him, for he has been a blessing to my servants and family.”
I went out into the street, and saw some men and women standing about; so I said to them, “I must take your minister away.”
“If you do,” they said, “we will follow you all over the world, if you take away a man who has done so much good to our souls.”
After collecting the testimony of fifteen or sixteen witnesses, I said, “If the man get such witnesses as these, let him go on; the Lord had opened his mouth, and the devil will never be able to shut it.” These are the witnesses we want—men who can sing with the angels because their own households are converted to God.
I hope it may be so with all of you; and if any of you are yourselves brought to Christ today—for He is willing to receive you—you will go out of this place singing, and the angels will sing with you. There shall be joy in earth, and joy in heaven; on earth peace, and glory to God in the highest. The Lord bless you one and all, for Jesus’ sake.
—C. H. Spurgeon
What Is Biblical Repentance?
What is Biblical repentance? The most common word translated “repent” means, at its root, “a change of mind.” This is more than simply deciding to “accept” Jesus after a period of indecision. This is a fundamental change of opinion regarding nearly everything pertaining to God and man. Before conversion, man’s fundamental posture toward God is rebellion. Sin is actually an attack upon God’s authority, His right to rule us. Does the Creator have the right to command His creatures? Does He have the right to make rules (laws) and expect us to live up to them, pronouncing us guilty when we fail? Pride says, “No, God has no right to govern me. I have the right to decide what is right and wrong for myself. God has no business intruding in my life.” But when the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, we will repent. We will change our mind regarding our imagined right of self-rule, and will acknowledge Christ’s rightful rule in our lives. We will change our mind about the delights of sin. We now view our sins with deep sorrow and genuine regret. We will change our mind regarding our imagined goodness, and see ourselves as the sinners we are. We will understand our desperate need of a Savior. In short, repentance is a radical change in our thinking about God and man, sin and holiness, sovereignty and submission.
—Pastor Greg Barkman