Great Texts of the Bible
Rejoice in the Lord alway: again I will say, Rejoice.—Php 4:4.
1. It has been well said that this whole Epistle may be summed up in two short sentences: “I rejoice”; “Rejoice ye!” The word and the thing crop up in every chapter, like some hidden brook, ever and anon sparkling out into the sunshine from beneath the shadows. This continual refrain of gladness is all the more remarkable if we remember the Apostle’s circumstances. The letter shows him to us as a prisoner, dependent on Christian charity for a living, having no man like-minded to cheer his solitude; uncertain as to how it shall be with him, and obliged to contemplate the possibility of being offered, or poured out as a libation, on the sacrifice and service of his faith. Yet out of all the darkness his clear notes ring jubilant; and this sunny Epistle comes from the pen of a prisoner who did not know but that tomorrow he might be a martyr.
2. This is not the enervating speech of the lotus-land; it is a bracing exhortation ringing through the stifling air of difficulty and strife. Age is not frequently associated with such sunny exuberance of spirit. Its song is apt to “crack,” its lights burn dim, its disposition becomes despondent. Age is so prone to become reminiscent, and memory is a fertile breeding-ground of dark and tearful regrets. Age fondly dwells on “radiant morns” which have “passed away”; it turns its eyes away from the east whence new mornings break. And so the psalm changes into a threnody, and minor tunes pervade the evening hymn. But here is an old man in whose vespers the minor note finds no place. Hard circumstances have not made him hard. Apparent failure has not soured him into a cynic. He retains his fine, appreciative sense of life’s essential sweetness. He has not become moodily reminiscent of past glories and of vanished feasts. He feels the days before him. The pains of to-day are only the birth-pangs of a better to-morrow. The immediate difficulty is only a prickly burr which contains most toothsome fruit. Rome may separate the Apostle from his fellows, she is powerless to separate him from his Lord. Imprisonment still provides a room for two, and by no earthly conspiracy can he be bereft of his great Companion. The Lord is with him, and so the prison is ablaze with light. Old age glows with sunny optimism. The psalm of adoration rises night and day. And the captive sends forth to his fellow believers the invigorating counsel, “Rejoice in the Lord alway.”
3. This is the Apostle’s farewell. When a Roman wished to say “Good-bye,” he said, “Be well,” “Be strong.” When a Greek would say it, he said, “Be happy.” And it is in this simplest sense first that St. Paul says “Rejoice.” It is one, nearly the last, of the farewells which he essays again and again in this Epistle to his beloved Philippian Church. But just as we might dwell on our own formula of leave-taking, delighting to feel that in saying “Good-bye” we were saying the best and truest of prayers for those from whom we parted—if indeed it means “God be with you!”—so St. Paul dwells on the formula and puts its full meaning into it, “Be happy”; yes, not only in the formal, idiomatic, complimentary sense, but in very truth. “Be happy, be happy always in the Lord.” It is a wish, but it is more than a wish; it is an exhortation.
Bishop Hacket chose as his motto, “Serve God, and be cheerful.” Golden words these. I do not know how it may be with you; but the remembrance of these words has often lifted me up from the pit, and dissipated the cloud of gloom. Yes, learn to connect with the direct service of God this obligation of cheerfulness—cheerfulness having its springs in Christian joy, cheerfulness flushing and refreshing the heart, cheerfulness overflowing in deeds and thoughts of kindliness towards others, and of thankfulness towards God.1 [Note: J. B. Lightfoot, Ordination Addresses, 314.]
The worst thing Carlyle did was his incessant barking at mankind, and it was an ill legacy to leave to us. It damaged all the rest of his work, made it less effective than it would otherwise have been. It pressed despair into the heart of man, and though he pressed duty also into our hearts, the sense of duty he impressed was weakened by the sense of despair he encouraged. Had his statement been true, I should not complain. Let us have the truth by all means, however unpleasant it may seem. But his abuse was not true. Men are not “mostly fools.” All work is not ill done. Cheating does not cover all business, nor gabble all speech, nor is the great river of things running in darkness. Whoever would get the good out of Carlyle, let him put apart all this side of him as one of the untrue things he himself denounced so heartily. The voice of the true Prophet speaks better things. He believes in God and therefore he believes in Man, God’s child. And his face should be bright, his voice clear, his eyes with a light of victory, in his right hand the sword and in his left the trumpet. The spirit of St. Paul should be in his heart, and the praise of St. Paul on his lips.1 [Note: Stopford A. Brooke, The Kingship of Love, 117.]
Rejoice we are allied
To That which doth provide
And not partake, effect and not receive!
A spark disturbs our clod;
Nearer we hold of God
Who gives, than of His tribes that take, I must believe.
Then, welcome each rebuff
That turns earth’s smoothness rough,
Each sting that bids nor sit nor stand but go!
Be our joys three-parts pain!
Strive, and hold cheap the strain;
Learn, nor account the pang; dare, never grudge the throe!
Yet gifts should prove their use:
I own the Past profuse
Of power each side, perfection every turn:
Eyes, ears took in their dole,
Brain treasured up the whole;
Should not the heart beat once “How good to live and learn?”
Not once beat “Praise be Thine!
I see the whole design,
I, who saw power, see now love perfect too:
Perfect I call Thy plan:
Thanks that I was a man!
Maker, remake, complete,—I trust what Thou shalt do!”2 [Note: Browning, Rabbi Ben Ezra.]
The Source of Christian Joy
1. The secret spring of Christian joy is union with Christ.—When we surrender self and lose ourselves in Christ, the fountains of joy are at once opened. Having yielded his heart utterly to Christ, man is at one with himself, and in this harmony begins a joy which this world can neither give nor take away.
To be “in Christ,” which is commended to us here as the basis of all true blessedness, means that the whole of our nature shall be occupied with, and fastened upon, Him; thought turning to Him, the tendrils of the heart clinging and creeping around Him, the will submitting itself in glad obedience to His beloved and supreme commandments, the aspirations, and desires feeling out after Him as the sufficient and eternal good, and all the current of our being setting towards Him in earnestness of desire, and resting in Him in tranquillity of possession. And, says St. Paul in the great words of the text, such a union, reciprocal and close, is the secret of all blessedness. If thus we are wedded to that Lord, and His life is in us and ours enclosed in Him, then there is such correspondence between our necessities and our supplies that there is no room for aching emptiness; no gnawing of unsatisfied longings, but the blessedness that comes from having found that which we seek, and in the finding being stimulated to a still closer, happier, and not restless search after fuller possession. The man that knows where to get anything and everything that he needs, and to whom desires are but the prophets of instantaneous fruition—surely that man has in his possession the talismanic secret of perpetual gladness. They who thus dwell in Christ by faith, love, obedience, imitation, aspiration, and enjoyment are like men housed in some strong fortress, who can look out over all the fields alive with enemies, and feel that they are safe. They who thus dwell in Christ gain command over themselves; and because they can bridle passions, and subdue hot and impossible desires, and keep themselves well in hand, have stanched one chief source of unrest and sadness, and have opened one pure and sparkling fountain of unfailing gladness.
What holy whispers would pass to and fro between the Father and us if, at every heart’s beat and at every pulse of breath, we could repeat our untiring hallelujah with them on high, who, again and again, at each pause, at each close of God’s unceasing display are ever saying, again and yet again, “Hallelujah.” Here is the secret of Christian cheerfulness; and no power on earth can break it down when once we have discovered that there is absolutely nothing but sin itself which is not fitted to renew and to replenish the delight of giving thanks. Why, then, are any Christian faces clouded and thick? Why are there any Christian hearts that are sullen and tired? Call upon your spirits to give thanks unto the Lord God. That door of escape is ever open, that gateway into gladness can never be shut; and, day after day, you can magnify the Lord, and worship His Name, ever world without end. “Lift up your hearts unto the Lord,” for indeed “it is meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks” to God for His great glory.1 [Note: Canon H. Scott Holland, Helps to Faith and Practice, 121.]
It is interesting to note that the earliest representations of the face of Christ in art picture Him in the bloom of youth, suggestive of the eternal youth of the Word. Such representations are ideal in their nature, and are founded on classic forms, and they express the joyfulness of primitive Christianity as well as its radiant belief in the risen Christ. It was not until the fourth century that the representations of the Saviour became clouded over: sorrow, austerity, anguish taking the place of youthfulness and beauty, and Christ becoming the grief-stricken sufferer.2 [Note: J. Burns, Illustrations from Art (1912), 24.]
(1) When we are divided between many conflicting interests, halting between two opinions, trying to serve two masters, distracted by the cares of many things, which enter in and choke the word, we cannot be really joyful. But when the whole current of our being sets in towards God, wiping out the minor ruffles and cross-currents of the stream; when we have no motive save to please our master Christ and do His will; when we are the gilded temples for His indwelling, the channels for His outworking, then our peace begins to flow as a river, and having peace with God, we rejoice in hope of His glory, and rejoice in tribulations also, and rejoice in God Himself through our Lord Jesus Christ.
When Haydn was once asked how it was that his church music was always so cheerful, the great composer made a most appropriate and beautiful reply: “I cannot,” said he, “make it otherwise; I write according to the thoughts I feel. When I think upon God my heart is so full of joy that the notes dance and leap, as it were, from my pen; and since God has given me a cheerful heart, it will be pardoned me that I serve Him with a cheerful spirit.”1 [Note: W. J. Armitage, The Fruit of the Spirit, 22.]
Be very sure that it is right and good to appear cheerful as long as ever you can, and that it has nothing hypocritical in it. To aim at appearing cheerful would be wrong; not so to aim at being cheerful. And the only way to aim at being cheerful is to try to cheer others, to see the bright side, and to show one’s best. Just as we try to become good by doing painfully what we might perhaps do so easily if we were already good. And God does not leave us alone, so doing. Joy comes by giving joy, often when things look most unpromising for ourselves.2 [Note: Life of William Edward Collins, Bishop of Gibraltar, 51.]
Let us never believe for a moment that God looks askance at human happiness. It is true that He has sanctified sorrow as a discipline and a preparation; but only that it may be “turned into joy.” “Sorrow may endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning.” The blessed Lord did not hesitate to take His part in the wedding feast. He noted with disapproval those who imagined that to be religious was to be “of a sad countenance.” His eye was attracted to the children playing in the market-place. Man of sorrows as He was, He “rejoiced in spirit,” and promised to His followers that they should be partakers of His joy. We are made for gladness, and shall not be able to fulfil our destiny until we know how to be glad.3 [Note: A. W. Robinson, The Voice of Joy and Health, 188.]
(2) Men find their truest joy not in the things they ask for, but in the things they surrender. The truly happy life at all its points of contact with the world does not ask for anything, it gives something. Happiness is founded, as far as all earth relations are concerned, not on what the world can do for us, but on what we become able to do for it. Happy are they who can take to their fellows the treasures of mercy and peace. Happy are they who can add something to the common stock of the world’s tenderness and quietness.
The secret of happiness is not found in selfishly seeking for it, as an end in life, any more than Prince de Leon found the fountain of perpetual youth by seeking it among the flowers of Florida. The Golden Rule of life will bring the golden reign of joy and happiness into the heart. Paul and Silas have more joy in the dungeon than those who confined them there. Jeremy Taylor, while in the hands of thieves, had welling up in his heart a joy that surmounted all adverse conditions. Says he, “They have left me the sun and moon; fire and water; a loving wife and many friends to pity me and some to relieve me, and I can still discourse, and they have not taken away my merry countenance and my cheerful spirit and the good conscience; and he that hath so many causes of joy and so great, is very much in love with sorrow and peevishness, who loses all these pleasures and chooses to sit down on his little handful of thorns.” Looking out upon the beauties of nature, recognizing the necessities of life that were supplied him, the love of wife and friends, the privilege of discourse, he was happy in the thought that his merry countenance could not be taken away, for without were still so many pleasantries and within a cheerful spirit and a good conscience. He found the secret of happiness in the peculiar sense of victory over the untoward conditions of life. To how many has this thought given courage and renewed length of happy days!1 [Note: C. F. Ireland.]
Joy is a most contagious, catching thing. But of all joys, joy in the midst of trouble. Nothing more wins men to the Gospel of Christ than the witness of a bright life; and that witness we have all of us within our power to bear. Nothing persuades the world of the reality of religion more than the deep rest it brings to the believing heart. A mind at perfect peace—that is the mystery of Christian living, that is the secret of communion with God. But this strange, inward power is most clearly perceived in the midst of distress. Men cannot fathom it; human nature cannot furnish it. It is no worldly stoicism crushing down the natural impulses of the heart. It is a Divine thing to “glory in tribulations”; to feel the power of Christ resting upon you, raising you above yourself, turning your very weakness to strength.2 [Note: R. W. Barbour, Thoughts, 49.]
2. This joy is fed by belief in the steadfast love of Christ.—Man’s soul is not only discordant but vacant. It cries out for emotion. The fulness of emotion is its life. Now that vacancy is the death of joy, and it sends men on that perpetual chase after happiness, which we see so much of in the world. Hence the life-cry of most men is, “Give, give”; for the human soul, unsatisfied with the world, unsatisfied had it possession of the starry universe, yearns for that fulness of emotion which is given only by the love of God. Hence it is that you so often find the young heart, while yet undegraded in its first fresh feelings, willing and even wishing to die in its youth. For what means that sentimentalism which so many young souls feel—viz., that to die young is youth’s divinest gift—but this, that they are becoming conscious of that hollowness and vacancy in the heart which no mere human emotion can fill? Or to see this in its crisis, look at the unbeliever. The man who has lost his early faith in Christianity will often tell you in unutterable sadness, “I have looked upwards, and backwards, and beyond, and I find nothing in life but the shadow of that vanity and vexation which fill my own soul.” For there is no sorrow so intense as that which enters a man when he is tempted to believe that there is no Christ. The hollowness of the heart is awfully realized then. But belief in the love of Christ gives this fulness of emotion. It is the perception of that love in all its grandeur, caring for us in every personal sorrow, sympathizing with us in every individual experience, that fills the heart’s vacancy, and at once creates joy.
There is one thing which Christ’s followers can do, and that is to keep themselves in the delightful atmosphere of His love. It is our fault and our shame if we spend so many days in the chilling fogs or under the heavy clouds of unbelief, or in the contaminating atmosphere of conformity to the world. “Is it always foggy here on the banks of Newfoundland?” inquired a passenger of an old Cunard captain. “How should I know, madam? I don’t live here.”1 [Note: T. L. Cuyler.]
Joy. What is joy? Love awake and alive, fully conscious of herself. If love be the heart’s first beat, joy is its counter beat. If love be the outflow of the heart, joy is the inflow, the flowing back of the loving heart. The rise of temperature which love brings, the heightened being, the effervescence—that is joy.2 [Note: R. W. Barbour, Thoughts, 2.]
’Twixt gleams of joy and clouds of doubt
Our feelings come and go;
Our best estate is tossed about
In ceaseless ebb and flow.
No mood of feeling, form of thought,
Is constant for a day;
But Thou, O Lord, Thou changest not:
The same Thou art alway.
I grasp Thy strength, make it mine own,
My heart with peace is blest;
I lose my hold, and then come down
Darkness and cold unrest.
Let me no more my comfort draw
From my frail hold of Thee;
In this alone rejoice with awe,
Thy mighty grasp of me.
Out of that weak, unquiet drift
That comes but to depart,
To that pure Heaven my spirit lift
Where Thou unchanging art.
Lay hold of me with Thy strong grasp,
Let Thine Almighty arm
In its embrace my weakness clasp,
And I shall fear no harm.
The purpose of eternal good
Let me but surely know;
On this I’ll lean, let changing mood
And feeling come or go;
Glad when Thy sunshine fills my soul;
Not lorn when clouds o’ercast;
Since Thou within the sure control
Of love dost hold me fast.1 [Note: J. C. Shairp.]
3. This joy is independent of circumstances.—Real joy must be independent of outward changes. The longing to attain a state of life superior to the accidents of time and change shows this. The wisest men have spoken of following the right in the face of all consequences as the source of the highest and purest joy of man. The fellowship of Christ’s joy gives this. It is a joy undisturbed by sorrow; it may seem to be weakened, but it is in reality strengthened, by suffering. So those men found it to whom Christ said that their joy should be full. They never fully understood what He meant until they suffered. Peter came to feel it, not when looking into the silent depths of the Sea of Galilee in the calm evening, and remembering Him who once walked there, but when made a “partaker of the sufferings of Christ.” It was not when rising to some lofty region of thought, wherein his “fiery pulse beat fast” with the contemplation of the Everlasting, that Paul felt this deep blessedness, but when cast down, forsaken, always bearing about in his body the sufferings of Christ, and while glorying in infirmity, that he knew the “peace which passeth understanding.” So with the followers of the Saviour now. Changes, disappointments, battles, sufferings, only deepen the joy which springs from the utter surrender of self, and which finds its expression in the cry, “Thy will, O Father, be done.” And even death itself, which damps out the joy of all other men, consummates the blessedness of those who, through fellowship of life, are partakers of the joy of Christ.
Stevenson prescribed cheerfulness for books as well as for people: “As I live I feel more and more that literature should be cheerful and brave-spirited, even if it cannot be made beautiful and pious and heroic. The Bible, in most parts, is a cheerful book; it is our little piping theologies, tracts, and sermons that are dull and dowie.” And all this was not the easy outflow of health and animal spirits, bidding other people be gay because the mantle of gaiety clung without effort to his own shoulders. It was the sturdy creed of a harassed, suffering invalid, with death constantly at his elbow; a body hampered and restricted, denied what it most coveted, kept in a subjection that at moments bent the spirit but never broke it. No one ever had more obstacles between him and his ideal, or brought a more unfaltering courage to surmount them, or could say with a greater sincerity, “sick or well, I have had a splendid life of it, grudge nothing, regret very little.”1 [Note: J. A. Hammerton, Stevensoniana, 223.]
Paul “rejoiced in his bonds” in Christ Jesus, because, being chained to a soldier, he was enabled to speak the gospel message to that soldier; and, having a new guard chained to him every day, he was enabled in the course of due time to speak in turn to the whole of the Praetorian Guard. What a blessed triumph it is, when a man rejoices in fetters, thanks God for his bonds! The very clanking of the chains of the Apostle Paul had a voice for his Master! When Dober, the Moravian missionary, first went down to St. Thomas to labour for the blacks, and was told that he could never get a chance to reach and teach the slaves there because he was not a slave himself, he said, “We will sell ourselves into slavery and work by their side.” Dober rejoiced in bonds for Christ Jesus if those fetters could be the means of telling the gospel story. Paul and Silas rejoiced in the stocks if the stocks could be the means of a wider preaching of the gospel; and Paul writes that his own imprisonment, and his own boldness in preaching Christ notwithstanding his imprisonment, became the means of inspiring courage and confidence in more timid souls, so that many other brethren were waxing bold and confident to speak the Word of God in the face of opposition.1 [Note: A. T. Pierson, The Heights of the Gospel, 204.]
I do not believe there lives on God’s earth a man who has lived through more sorrow, shame, toil, danger, drags and insult than I have. This I know, whatever tries other men, everything that had deadly power to try me came. For fifteen years, from thirty-three to forty-eight or fifty, I never knew real health, and had to work on in pain and weakness day by day. For thirty years the only thing I ever really longed for was bed. It sounds mean, I dare say it is mean, but it is true, and I wish to tell you the truth; whatever joy or sorrow came, the overwhelming sense of weariness and endless pain made bed, forgetfulness, the only human solace that satisfied. It is only in the last three years that I have begun to joy again in my waking life. Yet, strange contradiction to all this, I count myself blessed to have been allowed to live such a life. I felt the warrior joy of life and the conqueror’s joy of getting the mastery. In my worst agony I could not pray to have it taken away, so utterly, by degrees, did I feel the power and light that came. And now all creation has opened out to me by living, and everything that I count happy I know to have come out of the self-mastery and training and truth which those years of anguish brought. My positive creed is an absolute unfaltering certainty of life triumphant.2 [Note: Edward Thring, Head Master of Uppingham.]
Joy and blithe serenity which received death with no alarm or self-abasement were the marked characteristics of the early Christians. St. Luke throws a flood of light on the tone of their society—“drunken, but not with wine”; intoxicated, so to speak, with the rushing influences of Pentecost—when he says that “they did take their food with exultation and singleness of heart.” The words indicate their bounding gladness, their simplicity and smoothness of feeling, as of a plain without stones, or a field without furrows.1 [Note: Dean Farrar.]
Speak to me, heart of mine, old and weary of years,
Labour and loss have been thine, pains and terrors and tears;
Why art thou now so light, making my tired feet
Forget the steps of their pilgrimage and spring as if life were sweet?
Why? Because life is sweet. Thy secret I know, I know,
By the stream in the beautiful street the trees of gladness grow,
And under their fruitful boughs I see one Angel stand,
So close, so close, that I sometimes think he lays a hand in my hand.
Red Love still rules the day, white Faith enfolds the night,
And Hope, green-mantled, leads the way by the walls of the City of Light.
Therefore I walk as one who sees the joy shine through
Of the Other Life behind our life, like the stars behind the blue.
The Continuity of Christian Joy
It is one of the most important features in Christian joy, that it is not of man, and that it cannot be undone. Sometimes it may be brighter and more glowing than at other times, and by contrast we will occasionally feel that there is very little of it stirring our hearts and beautifying our lives; yet we are distinctly taught that, however faint and weak the gift that is in us may appear, if we only “stir it up,” as the Apostle directs, we shall again go on our way rejoicing. Let us remember, then, that this spiritual joy continues for ever in the heart of him who has given himself to God, as it is God’s gift and in its nature eternal. If it be ours, no one can deprive us of it, for He has attached His promise to it—“Your joy no man taketh from you.”
We sometimes speak as if the joy peculiar to childhood were but a dream, as though the best thing a man can do is to associate with children in order to catch by reflection a fleeting ray of the sunshine which once rested on his own childhood. We sometimes speak as if the young man’s joy, the sense of life, of boundless hope, of a widening horizon, must die out of heart and soul as a mere illusion. We speak as if the mature man’s joy, the relish for work, the rejoicing activity can last only a certain time, that the joy of our work must cease with the newness of it. But do you not know that it is Christ’s function to keep open the springs of life within us with the special joys which belong to each period of it? To be children always with the hearts of children, that is the privilege He bestows on those to whom He gives a place in the household of God. We cannot be children when we pass from the care and home of our earthly father. But we never pass from the care and home of our Heavenly Father. We need not cease to be gay, to be free from care. Nay, we should not cease to be so. To look hopefully forward, to lean trustfully back, that is the attitude of children. Children do not question. No, I am wrong; they do question, but it is things they question. They never question love. They never question the power and wisdom of a parent. Their gladsomeness would go at once, the sunshine of their life would pass into shadow at once if they did. If we could renew our childhood we should be glad, and the command to rejoice always is simply a command to renew our childhood. God wants us to remove the stones and earth from this clearest, brightest spring of water, that it may bubble up afresh. To receive the Kingdom of Heaven as little children; to walk and live in the Kingdom of Heaven as little children; that is the secret of perpetual joy.1 [Note: J. F. Ewing, Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 120.]
Napoleon, when sent to Elba, adopted, in proud defiance of his fate, the motto, “Ubicunque felix.” It was not true in his case; but the Christian may be truly “happy everywhere” and always.2 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]
The Duty of Rejoicing
The joy of the Lord is a duty. It is so because it is the natural effect of faith, because we can do much to regulate our emotions directly, and much more to determine them by determining what set of thoughts shall engage us. A wise and strong faith is our duty. To keep our emotional nature well under control of reason and will is our duty. To lose thoughts of ourselves in God’s truth about Himself is our duty. If we do these things, we cannot fail to have Christ’s joy remaining in us, and making ours full. This is a truth which we have great need to lay to heart. It is of no great consequence that we should practically confute the impotent old sneer about religion as being a gloomy thing. One does not need to mind much what some people say on that matter. The world would call “the joy of the Lord “gloom, just as much as it calls “godly sorrow” gloom. But we are losing for ourselves a power and an energy of which we have no conception, unless we feel that joy is a duty, and that not to be joyful is more than a misfortune, it is a fault.
There is always a sunny side to the house of our life—a chamber where brightness is, and the door of this chamber is never locked against us, though it sometimes requires some art and patience to open the door. And it is because joy is a possibility that it becomes more than a possibility, viz., a duty. We do our best work when we are joyous; we ought to be joyous that we may do our best work. And when we are inclined on our own account to be grave and gloomy, let us strive to be joyous on Christ’s account, and on account of others. We cannot dispel the world’s shadows unless there is some sunshine in our own hearts. We cannot heal and cheer and strengthen the men and women around us unless there is some joy in our face and soul.
It had been well for Ruskin’s health if he could have husbanded all his gradually recovered strength for the studies which brought him peace of mind. His friends, as he says in “Fors,” often counselled him to avoid controversial and painful subjects. Cardinal Manning, for one, had written to him: “Joy is one of the twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost. There is before you and about you a world of beauty, sweetness, stillness, peace, and light. You have only to open your whole soul to it.” But his eager spirit made such peaceful preoccupation and such economy of power impossible to him.1 [Note: E. T. Cook, The Life of Ruskin, ii. 435.]
“Joy is a duty”—so with golden lore
The Hebrew Rabbis taught in days of yore.
And happy human hearts heard in their speech
Almost the highest wisdom man can reach.
But one bright peak still rises far above,
And there the Master stands whose name is Love,
Saying to those whom heavy tasks employ,
“Life is divine when duty is a joy.”1 [Note: H. van Dyke.]
1. Joy is strength.—All gladness has something to do with efficiency; for it is the prerogative of man that his force comes from his mind, and not from his body. The old song about a sad heart tiring in a mile is as true in regard to the gospel, and the works of Christian people, as in any other case. If we have hearts full of light, and souls at rest in Christ, and the rest and blessedness of a tranquil gladness lying there and filling our being, work will be easy, endurance will be easy, sorrow will be bearable, and trials will not be so very hard.
Just as joy in ourselves for the time being softens, elevates and purifies, so the influence we exercise on others while we are joyous is more or less strong in helping them to be good instead of evil, soft and kind instead of harsh and cruel. The cheerful master makes gentle, willing and happy servants. The cheerful mate makes work pleasant and keeps off strife. The cheerful husband lightens the burdens of his wife’s cares, and thus soothes her temper. The cheerful father makes it easier for his children to obey him, helps them over their moments of ill-temper and discontent, and by joy alone dispels many a gathering storm of anger and strife. The cheerful teacher keeps better order in his class than a surly one, and the cheerful boy is ever so much more teachable and tractable than a sulky one. A morbid, melancholy and discontented person makes it tenfold more difficult to discharge our duties towards him. To say nothing of the elements of domestic discord which are involved in depression of spirits, it leads imperceptibly to estrangement and consequent neglect.
Anyone can rejoice “when there’s nothing whatever to grumble at”—though some people often fail to do so, even then—but, as Mark Tapley would say, there’s “some credit in being jolly” when everything goes wrong. What a pleasure it is to see anyone with a beaming smile, even though we know that the face wearing it often looks gloomy or cross! But, when the joyous look may be depended on, the effect is magical. Happy people are like sunshine, cheering up everybody around them. When we meet one of these glad souls, we find our smiles rising to match theirs, and we go on our way feeling cheered and helped.… We have no right to add to the sorrows of the world by being gloomy or discontented. We all create a certain soul-atmosphere. Let us see to it that the atmosphere we are creating every day may help others to thank God and take courage. We can all walk in the glad consciousness of sins forgiven and in the radiance of God’s wonderful Love. Though it is true enough that anyone may, by determined effort, acquire the valuable habit of cheerfulness, I think those who are glad at heart—like a merry child—without special effort, help and cheer their comrades far more. Happiness is very infectious. I used to keep a photograph of a laughing baby on the mantelpiece, because I could not help smiling when I looked at it—and it is impossible to smile, all to one’s self, and cherish melancholy thoughts at the same time. Light must always banish darkness when they are brought together.1 [Note: Dora Farncomb, The Vision of His Face, 156.]
During the South African war, we were told of the scion of a noble house, who had escaped from captivity at Pretoria, being able to live for four days on some sticks of chocolate, because he had begun to taste the inexpressible joy of liberty. What cannot men do when their hearts are glad and free? Joy gives wings to the feet, sinews to the legs, muscles to the arms, elasticity to every motion.2 [Note: F. B. Meyer, The Soul’s Pure Intention, 83.]
2. Joy garrisons the soul against temptations.—The evil one is foiled by song as much as by prayer, and perhaps more. As the microbes of disease cannot exist in the sunlight, neither can temptation succeed against a joyous, singing heart. Song is an antiseptic environment—a bank of sunbeams—which is utterly impregnable to all the assaults of the adversary.
The first thing that led me to seek the secret of God was the exuberant joy which I discerned beaming forth from the noble nature of a young man who had recently yielded himself entirely to God. What he said was probably not remarkable. At least, it has long ago faded from my mind. But I said to myself, “Here is one who is happy in his religious life—not condemned for the past, not conscious of a cloud between himself and God, not dreading the future. His religion is a light on his inner heart, and the glow of it is on his face.” To see it was to hunger for it, and to desire it was to obtain. Yes, there is a spring that rises in the soul, and flows over in musical ripples on the face and in the speech, which is infinitely attractive to those who have just religion enough to make them miserable. If only we were happy in our religious life, with the sparkle, the light, the song that Christ gives, many would come around to ask for our secret, whose joy has been like the brief crackling of thorns under a pot.1 [Note: F. B. Meyer, The Soul’s Pure Intention, 84.]
We should be as happy as possible, and our happiness should last as long as possible; for those who can finally issue from self by the portal of happiness know infinitely wider freedom than those who pass through the gate of sadness. The joy of the Lord, the joy that is strength, the joy that no man taketh from us, the joy wherewith we joy before God, the abundant joy of faith and hope, and love and praise, this it is that gathers like a radiant, fostering, cheering air around the soul that yields itself to the grace of God, to do His holy, loving will.2 [Note: Bishop Francis Paget.]
Am I wrong to be always so happy? This world is full of grief;
Yet there is laughter of sunshine, to see the crisp green on the leaf,
Daylight is ringing with song-birds, and brooklets are crooning by night;
And why should I make a shadow where God makes all so bright?
Earth may be wicked and weary, yet cannot I help being glad!
There is sunshine without and within me, and how should I mope or be sad?
God would not flood me with blessings, meaning me only to pine
Amid all the bounties and beauties He pours upon me and mine;
Therefore will I be grateful, and therefore will I rejoice;
My heart is singing within me; sing on, O heart and voice.3 [Note: Walter C. Smith, Hilda Among the Broken Gods.]
Armitage (W. J.), The Fruit of the Spirit, 21.
Barry (A.), Sermons Preached at Westminster Abbey, 313.
Bright (W.), Morality and Doctrine, 179.
Brooke (S. A.), The Kingship of Love, 114.
Burrell (D. J.), The Gospel of Gladness, 5.
Ewing (J. F.), The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, 113.
Goodman (H. H.), The Lordship of Christ, 73.
Hunt (A. N.), Sermons for the Christian Year, i. 24.
Jowett (J. H.), The High Calling, 169.
Krause (W. H.), Sermons, iii. 13.
Kuegele (F.), Country Sermons, ii. 29.
Liddon (H. P.), Advent in St. Paul’s, 207.
Lightfoot (J. B.), Ordination Addresses, 309.
Maclaren (A.), Creed and Conduct, 83.
Manning (H. E.), Sermons, iii. 240.
Martin (S.), Fifty Sermons, No. 10.
Meyer (F. B.), The Soul’s Pure Intention, 77.
Murphy (J. B. C), The Journey of the Soul, 21.
Noble (F. A.), Discourses on Philippians, 277.
Pierson (A. T.), The Heights of the Gospel, 199.
Vaughan (J.), Sermons, ii. 37.
Watkinson (W. L.), The Education of the Heart, 80.
Wilmot-Buxton (H. J.), The Life of Duty, i. 24.
Christian Age, liii. 18 (Cuyler).
Church of England Pulpit, xxxvi. 145 (Ganby); xlix. 7 (Jones).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Fourth Sunday in Advent, ii. 38 (Cotton); The Old and New Year, ii. 490.
Contemporary Pulpit, 2nd Ser., iii. 231 (Wickham).
Literary Churchman, xxi. (1875) 515.
Preacher’s Magazine, ii. (1891) 31 (Harper).