There is no conflict between this subject and the previous one in this series on the Christian character – sobriety.* The same Christian who is exhorted to be sober and grave is also to be cheerful. It is not that the cheerful Christian is light and superficial:
rather that the professing believer who fails to be cheerful has not understood true sobriety.
1. An Imperative
The verb associated with cheerfulness in the New Testament is usually found in the imperative mood. It is linked with comfort, confidence and courage; and is addressed to us in the form of an exhortation: “Be of good cheer”. The point is always that there is
good reason to be cheered, solid ground for cheerfulness. This is a significant line of demarcation between the world and the Church. The world says “Cheer up!”, “Put on a brave face!”, “Keep smiling!” but can give no support for such a policy. Its voice is hollow, the foundation of its philosophy is sinking sand. But the true Church of Jesus Christ has every reason for cheerfulness. Joseph Hart, in one of his lesser known hymns, puts it like this:-
Thy word is past, thy promise made;
With power it came from heaven;
‘Cheer up, desponding soul’, it said,
Thy sins are all forgiven.
And again in a better known hymn:
Come, ye humble sinner-train,
Souls for whom the Lamb was slain,
Cheerful let us raise our voice;
WE HAVE REASON TO REJOICE.
How many needy and despairing sinners went away with a cheerful heart and merry countenance when Christ said: “Be of good cheer”! What a difference it made to a persecuted Church, and has made to troubled believers ever since, to remember the words of the Lord:
“In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world”! (John 16.33). How encouraging for the Apostle Paul when the future looked so ominous to have the Lord stand by him and say: “Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome”! (Acts 23.11). Yes, true believers have reason to rejoice!
2. A Constant Characteristic
Perhaps someone says: “I am not always, or even often, in the enjoyment of such cheering blessings as these. How can I be cheerful when I do not feel cheerful?” Let me ask whether you apply the same reasoning to sobriety: “I do not feel the seriousness of the things of God as I should. How can I be sober if I do not feel sober?” Clearly the Christian is, by God’s grace, to develop certain constant characteristics which are based not so much on immediate feelings and experiences, but on the facts of the case, on the truth. Sobriety is one of them, cheerfulness another. It is eminently good and desirable that we do feel both the solemnity and the blessing of spiritual realities. And if we never feel these things we bear no evidence that we are Christians at all. But there is such a thing as a constant Christian character and witness based on what the believer has indeed known and felt. We either adorn or betray our profession of the name of Christ: and if we fail to live cheerfully we betray it. Another hymn writer, John Berridge, states it well:
So like a pilgrim let me wait,
Contented well in every state
Till all my warfare ends;
Live in a calm and cheerful mood,
And find that all things work for good,
Which Jesus kindly sends.
3. Practical Cheertulness
This constant attribute of cheerfulness will express itself in practical ways. If you have an opportunity to forgive a person for a wrong they have done to you, how do you do it? Do you want to make them suffer for it first, to retain the luxury of standing on your dignity? Do you want to take every opportunity to remind them, and others, of what they have done? Do you show mercy grudgingly, or do you do it cheerfully? “He that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness” (Rom 12.8). Likewise how are we to give? Is it to be fitful giving, reluctant giving, or giving only when we ourselves are blessed? No, “…God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9.7) and He Himself gives constantly, bountifully.
4. Evident Cheerfulness
The present writer well remembers the impression made on him by the evident cheerfulness of some of the godly people he knew when he was a boy. Here were people who had got something. They were happy, and it showed. Genuine cheerfulness will be apparent, and is an important aspect of the testimony of a true Christian in the world. The Biblical word for the outward aspect of cheerfulness is ”mirth” and its derivative “merry”. It is surprising how many references there are in the Bible to mirth, by no means all negative ones. The wise man tells us that “he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast” (Prov. 15.15), and again: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine” (Prov. 17.22). In Ecclesiastes he concludes:
“…then I commended mirth…” (Eccles. 8.15). It was a judgement upon God’s people when He said through the prophet Hosea: “I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts” (Hos. 2.11: see also Jer. 7.34). After the feast of the dedication of Solomon’s temple we read: “On the three and twentieth day of the seventh month he sent the people away into their tents, glad and merry in heart for the goodness that the Lord had shewed unto David and to Solomon, and to Israel his people” (2 Chron. 7.10). Similarly in the time of Nehemiah when the book of the law was read and explained publicly after such a long lapse, we read that: “all the people went their way to eat and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them” (Neh. 8.12). Good grounds for mirth! And in case we should think this concept of mirth confined to the Old
Testament let us remember that the Lord Jesus spoke of it without disapproval in the parable of the prodigal son, and that James says:
“Is any merry? let him sing psalms” (James 5.13).
For why? the Lord our God is good;
His mercy is for ever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure.
P. G. Watts
*See Gospel Tidings Vol.12 No.4 p. 132