But not all joy is Christian. Joys may be classified as, 1) unnatural, 2) natural, 3) supernatural.
The first is the exhilaration resulting from the application of stimulants to the nervous system. Lord Bacon credits drunkenness with intense pleasure. This is the secret of the fatal fascination of the cup. It awakens a delirious, evanescent, and fatal joy, which momentarily lifts up the soul to ecstatic heights, and then plunges it into the depths of despair. The daydreams of the opium eater, and the serene composure of the slave to tobacco, belong to the class of unnatural and injurious delights. The joy which ends in the scorpion's sting must be ranked as the lowest in the scale of rational satisfactions. Yet all nations and generations have plucked this apple of Sodom and tasted its ashes.
[The second] is a mere animal joy which flows from the healthful condition of the body. The animal spirits overflow in their exuberance. The lambs frisk upon the sunny hillside, and the horse, in the very fullness of life, prances through the pasture with arched neck and nimble foot. So men may be joyful by reason of their good physical condition. There may be not only "no rebellion when the stomach is full," but there may be an outflowing stream of animal joy. Higher than this is the gladness of worldly success, when the corn and the wine increase, the joy of sordid gain, the joy of the miser, the joy of the harvest. Above this is the intellectual triumph of the student, the gladness incident to the victories of mind, the solution of a mathematical problem, or the discovery of the missing truth which was necessary in order to convert an hypothesis into a science. Still higher is ethical joy, the approval of a good conscience pronouncing on a good action. This is no small joy. It is all that many have to cheer their sojourn in this vale of tears. More excellent still is the gladness of beneficence, the joy of awakening gladness in another heart, or of mitigating another's sorrows. Many who are not Christians have learned the secret of this semi-Christian joy, and by a charitable use of money have opened fountains of felicity for themselves along their earthly path. All these kinds of joy are natural; they lie on the dead level of the plain of nature. They are transient, and limited to this world.
At the disparity of an infinite distance is the joy of the Holy Ghost. It is supernatural — an out-gushing fountain from a rock stricken by the rod of a greater than Moses. It is a joy not springing up in the course of nature, but handed down from heaven, and implanted in the believing soul. It is really a miraculous spring opened by the Holy Spirit in the Sahara of the human breast.
It may be surprising that the fullness of the Spirit is several times in the Scripture contrasted with fullness of wine. "Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit." Contrast always implies some point of likeness. This seems to consist in three facts: (1.) Exhilaration and elevation of feeling; (2.) Out of the course of nature; and (3.) By an agent from without the man entering and exciting his sensibilities. The universal appetency of the fallen race of Adam for some external stimulant argues the loss of the true excitant, the Holy Spirit, which filled the hearts of the unfallen pair with satisfying joy, just as He fills now all who regain the Eden of perfect love.
Christian joy exists in every degree. There is the joy of penitence, described by the poet as "the sweet distress," "the pleasing smart." There follows the joy of conscious pardon — a radiant angel standing out on the dark background of condemnation like a thundercloud overcasting all the sky. The Spirit of adoption, crying in the heart, Abba, Father, is the source of gladness above the negative joy of forgiveness. Adoption is positive, and entitles to heirship with Christ. But when we enter upon the fullness of the Spirit, in the words of Mr. Wesley, "it will feast our souls with such peace and joy in God as will blot out the remembrance of every thing we called peace or joy before." This is strong language, but it is justified by all who have been led to this banqueting house, and have read on the banner floating over them! the new, best name of Love — Perfect Love.
"O, what a heaven of heavens is this,
This swoon of silent love!
How poor the world's sublimest bliss
Compared with joys above!"
To portray this bliss by words would be like representing the rainbow by a charcoal sketch. If the meagerness of human language fails to convey to a blind man the vastness of that ocean which lies in the hollow of the Creator's hand, how much more is its poverty seen when it attempts to set forth to an inexperienced soul all the plenitude of God himself.
No simple emotion of the soul can be indicated in any other way than by stating the circumstances under which it arises, as the sense of beauty in the presence of the rose, the feeling of sublimity where Niagara pours down its avalanche of waters before our eyes. The heart that has never felt the throb of love and the gladness that follows, as the shadow follows the substance, can never learn it from the most graphic writer in the whole range of literature. It is thus with the joy of the Holy Ghost in the fullness of his abiding presence. It differs from the joy of the justified, from the gladness of the adopted, in degree, if not in kind. These seem like gifts liable to decay, while the joy of the Divine fullness is the possession of the Giver — the perennial fountain of all blessedness. Jesus intimated to the woman begging the mysterious water which he had, that she might not only taste but carry away the well with her. "But the water which I will give you shall be in you a well of water springing up to everlasting life." This promise, rightly interpreted, is, that the love to Christ and the attendant joy shall become ingrained, inherent in the fully believing soul as a second nature; faith, love, and joy becoming as natural and involuntary as breathing. Hence permanence is a marked characteristic of perfect love. Mr. Wesley was fifty-five years old before he became "thoroughly convinced that it is amissible, capable of being lost."
— edited from Love Enthroned, Chapter 11.