“Above Henry Erskine’s head, let the weather be fair or foul to his neighbors, the sky was always blue. In his heart, every month of the twelve, the birds sang, and the flowers bloomed, and the river of the water of life made happy music.”
Such is the description of the 17th century Scottish preacher! And a bright description it is, indeed – one that strikes, woos, and convicts me every time I am reminded of it. Little wonder, growing up under such a father’s roof, that Henry Erskine’s sons (Ralph and Ebenezer) became two of the most influential preachers of the gospel that Scotland has ever known. Little wonder, too, that Thomas Boston, who was converted as a young boy in Erskine’s meeting house, continues to be read down to this day. “The joy of the LORD” truly was Henry Erskine’s “strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). And no doubt that strength overflowed in his ministry, and continued on through his disciples!
And I say that I am convicted whenever I think of this striking description of Erskine’s joy! Because so often I see the dark side of things, and the half of the glass that is empty. I notice the gray skies more readily, sometimes, than the blue. Indeed, some days it could probably be written of me that: ‘Above Kurt Strassner’s head, let the weather be fair or foul to his neighbors, the clouds were always grey.’ And I smite myself for that, when I am thinking clearly. I desire to have more and larger clusters of “the fruit of the Spirit” which is “joy”! And perhaps you do as well … which is why I present Erskine to you as a model. I don’t want you merely to be convicted by your lack of joy, but wooed by the example of someone who possessed and exuded it in spades!
Now I suspect it’s very likely that part of Erskine’s unquenchable joy had to do simply with a personal disposition with which he was born. Some people are, I believe, more natural optimists! And others less so. And therefore, even when two men have been equally captured by grace, the joy of the one may sparkle to the surface more effervescently than that of the other.
But it is significant that, in the description of Erskine, it is said that “the river of the water of life made happy music” (emphasis mine). For this is a reference, not to the wellspring of cheer that lay in the preacher’s own nature, but to Revelation 22:1, which speaks of “a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (emphasis mine). And it was the sound of that river that is said to have made “happy music” in Henry Erskine’s ear! His heart was attuned, in other words, to things above; to things eternal; to the life that flows out from God, and from His Son! And therefore He was glad!
And so I conclude that Erskine’s joy was not merely a product of an optimist’s outlook on life, but that it must have been, even more profoundly, the fruit of his always walking within earshot of the rippling sounds of the “river of the water of life.” And if we would but walk closely with God; and if we would but remember that He is still seated on His throne; and if we would but “set [our] mind[s] on the things above” and keep an eternal perspective on the circumstances of this life, then we too would hear that “happy music” always tinkling in the background. For heaven is the mainstream of joy upon joy! And thus, when our minds are fixed on the things (and the God) above, how could our skies not be just a little more blue, even here below?
We may not all be bubbling optimists! Our joy may take on slightly different outward sheen than that of Henry Erskine. And that’s OK. But joy is “the fruit of the Spirit”! If we have the Spirit, and if we have Christ, and if we are children of the heavenly Father … then we can hear the “happy music” of “the river of life.” Let’s be sure we listen in!