Good Cheer

And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God.
~ 1 Samuel 30:6

He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD.
~ Psalm 112:7

Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.
~ 2 Corinthians 1:4-6

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
~ Philippians 4:8

If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
~ Romans 12:18, Romans 14:19

Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.
~ Mark 9:50

When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.
~ Proverbs 16:7

But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
1 Corinthians 7:12-16

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
~ Matthew 5:14-16

For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
~ John 3:20-21

For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid.
~ Mark 6:50

On Christian Cheerfulness and Society, by Thomas Watson (c.1620-1686). The following contains Chapter Nine of his work, “Dissertations On Various Interesting Subjects, With A View To Illustrate the Amiable and Moral Spirit of Christ’s Religion; And To Correct the Immoral Tendency Of Some Doctrines, At Present, Popular and Fashionable”.

Thomas Watson was a Presbyterian pastor who studied at Cambridge. He was a popular preacher and prolific author whose writings have remained immensely popular. His straightforward language and warm tone make Watson a good entry point for those who are just beginning to read the Puritans. Originally titled “Christ’s Religion Forbids Not Cheerfulness, Nor the Innocent Enjoyments of Society”, this discourse is taken from the volume Dissertations on Various Interesting Subjects.

The religion of Christ is a friend to cheerfulness. False religion consists of various principles, and the effects must be various. There have been religious enthusiasts who have given the full reins to joy, and to every sensual indulgence. Others have retired from the world and demoted themselves to a life of the most painful mortification. But neither of these were countenanced by the precepts or example of our great Master. The unjust representations that many religious zealots have given of the Supreme Being are inconsistent with cheerfulness.

Christ’s religion was instituted for men living in society, and his doctrines interfere no further with the customs and manners of men than to enforce real goodness. A cheerful man may be a good man, and so, also, may a grave and melancholy man. Cheerfulness is perfectly reconcilable to goodness; and when man enters into the society of the world, religion should govern him there. When we sit in the company of the cheerful, let us guard against sin; and if we engage in the amusements and recreations of life, we should take care to keep ourselves from offending, either by showing a bad temper, by an excess of levity, or by acting fraudulently and dishonestly—or by devoting too much of our time to recreations.

The precept given by the apostle regarding anger may be applied with great propriety to other things: “Be ye angry, and sin not; and let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26). Anger is not forbidden here; it is often necessary. But in anger we are liable to sin; this we are to guard against, and we are to guard against its continuance. The same is true for our recreations; we are to be watchful not to sin; and therefore, we are not to continue in them too long.

Again, true religion does not separate our duties in this life from the duties which are meant to prepare us for the future life. On the contrary, the faithful discharge of our duties here is the best preparation for our heavenly abode: our worldly duties form an important part of religion. The profession of a Christian does not exclude him from filling his station in society. A Christian may be a father, a magistrate, a prince, or a subject. And he who labours honestly at his calling in order to provide for himself and his family is, in the eye of God, acting a much more respectable part (and more consistent with duty) than he who retires from the world under the plausible pretence of serving his God—or he who spends his time in reading religious books, or in a constant round of religious exercises, leaving his children and family to govern themselves.

There is an error which often runs through religious services, as if they were intended only to please our Maker, whereas, the great principle that should be constantly kept in view is that they are for our own edification—and this is the true way to please God. Those exercises which have no tendency toward our improvement are not likely to have been ordained by God. Doctrines that cannot be directed to any good do not come from God. Doctrines which give us unworthy conceptions of the Supreme Being (or that check our endeavours in a good life) have not been delivered to us by our Father in Heaven.

The life of Christ, which was a common life, and intended for a common example, will best illustrate and explain the excellence of his temper. When John the Baptist appeared as the forerunner of the Messiah, his clothing was of the coarsest nature, and his food was harsh and austere. In those things he was evidently not intended to be a general example, though some religious zealots have copied his manners more closely than the manners of Jesus Christ. But when the Messiah came, he came eating and drinking; he lived in the society of men. There was no peculiarity in his diet, nothing to distinguish him from the rest of the world. There was no severity in his manners, and he did not impose any unnecessary restraint upon his disciples. The character of Jesus Christ was different from the character of every other reformer. Some of the most celebrated heathen philosophers and moralists favoured the austere virtues, and encouraged a retirement from the world. But the virtues which adorned the character of our Lord were of the most amiable kind, and during his active ministry, he was generally found in society and in the temple, where the Jews always resorted.

Some of the philosophers have recommended that we root out our passions and rise above our affections, not submitting to pain, pleasure, or grief. But Jesus Christ expressed a sense of pain; he also rejoiced in spirit, and wept at the grave of Lazarus. If these are the expressions of weakness, they are the most amiable weaknesses, and those which all men must approve of.

The character of Christ was very different from what the world expected from one who introduced a new religion, and very different from what religious zealots of all ages would say comprises a good man. He sat at the tables of the rich, and in mixed company. He was even present at a marriage feast, and performed his first miracle there, by turning water into wine. But in all his accommodation to the customs of the world, we only find in him the most exalted piety and sublime devotion; the most unfeigned reverence and love for his heavenly Father, and the firmest reliance upon his providence; and we find in him no expressions of murmuring or complaint. On all occasions we see his most active benevolence and love toward men; tenderness towards his friends and disciples, and subjection to his parents in the early part of his life. In him you see the happy union of piety, benevolence, and sobriety, with cheerfulness and good will to all men and yet totally free from every vice. His manners only differed from the rest of men by their perfect purity. He neither practised nor recommended any unnecessary severity. He lived in the world as he wished his disciples to live there.

How different is his example from the examples of those who are called saints in his church? Their virtues were made up of unnecessary acts of mortification, as if the most high God took pleasure in seeing his rational creatures rejecting the comforts and innocent enjoyments of life, so that they might instead lie upon the damp ground, being clothed in sack-cloth, inflicting upon themselves the voluntary discipline of scourging, and taking up their abodes in the caves and dens of the earth. Can it be acceptable to him to see his disciples clothed in gloom and a sour temper, uttering loud groans and sighs, placing their duty in dark and unprofitable tenets, and by praying often and long with a kind of Pharisaical righteousness?

Another part of his character in which he differs from other reformers, is the cheerfulness which he diffuses over his religion, and which he exemplified, at least in some degree. This may be deduced from several circumstances. In the first place, he severely censures the Pharisees (or, as he calls them, hypocrites) for putting on sad countenances and disfiguring their faces. His sharp condemnation of such practices makes known to us the temper he recommends. Everyone who puts on a show of unusual sanctity puts on this garb. What an idea must they entertain of him whom they worship! He is thus made to speak, in his religion, a language very different from what he speaks in his works, and in his providence.

This is very different from what our Saviour teaches. He says God so loved the world, that he gave to us his son. He represents him as the author of all mercy, and the God of all grace and consolation; and his apostle says God is love. All his plans are calculated to carry forward our eternal happiness. And is this not a cause for great joy? God is our father and friend: here again is cause for joy. The psalmist says, “The Lord reigneth, let the earth be glad” (Psalm 97:1). Christ has gone to Heaven to prepare a place for us, therefore rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven.

Thus a religion which instills sadness, downcast looks, and disfigured faces must be a bastard religion. His treatment of his disciples shows that he never meant that his religion should be a source of sourness and melancholy; wherever these are found, they render the character suspicious.

We see our Lord’s social character when we read the accounts which the evangelists give of him. He appears several times in large mixed companies. He was a guest with Zaccheus the tax collector (Luke 19:2). His enemies saw this, and they murmured and said that he had gone to be the guest of a man who was a sinner (v.7). Luke 5:29 records an instance of our Lord accepting an invitation to public entertainment upon his calling of Levi the disciple (also called Matthew). Levi prepared a great feast for Jesus in his own house, and there was a great company of tax collectors and others who sat down with him. This ready acceptance of the invitation presents us with an interesting view of the social character of our blessed Lord.

Besides accepting the invitation of Zaccheus the tax collector, and the great feast that Levi made for him, we also have in the gospels an account of three other entertainments or banquets which he received invitations to, and which he also accepted. At each of these he received particular marks of respect. One of these was at the house of Simon the Pharisee, recorded in Luke 7:36. A woman of the city, knowing that Jesus was there, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and after washing his feet with her tears and wiping them with the hairs of her head, she anointed them with the ointment. The circumstances are well worth reading, as they lay open some excellent views of our Lord’s character.

The second of these happened at the house of Lazarus, whom he raised from the dead, and it is recorded in John 12:2. This took place only six days before the last Passover. Mary, the sister of Lazarus, took an ointment of spikenard which was very costly and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the aroma of the ointment.

The last time he was anointed was at the house of Simon the leper, just two days before the last Passover (Mark 14:3; Matthew 26:6). While he was in Simon’s house, sitting at the dinner-table, there came a woman who had an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard which was very precious, and she broke the box and poured it on his head.

After reading these different accounts, the first question that will naturally arise is, what could be our Lord’s view in accepting these various invitations so readily? Several reasons may be assigned:

First. To discountenance the gloomy ideas which zealots or hypocrites have spread over the character of religion, as though a man could not be religious without renouncing the world and all its enjoyments. This presents our Maker as the most severe taskmaster, and his service as inconsistent with joy.

Second. By frequenting these merry parties, he had an opportunity to show the world how men ought to conduct themselves in this situation, so that they might join in social entertainments, and yet keep free from offending God. On these occasions his manners must have been most agreeable; his gentleness, his kindness, his lowliness of mind, his universal benevolence, and the tenderness he showed to sinners.

Third. At these gatherings he laid his character open to the inspection of his enemies, for we are told on some of these occasions that they were watching him. And in this we have the strongest evidence that they did not have it in their power to gain any accusation against him at these times. Otherwise, such accusations would have been brought forward at the time of his trial. They accused him of eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners, but could not charge him with intemperance, quarrelling, blasphemy, or sedition. And at such times, men are the most off their guard, and liable to expose themselves to censure. Such occasions furnished him with an opportunity to impress upon the minds of men the excellence of his character, curing their prejudices and making them his disciples.

The next question is, how can we account for permitting these women to anoint him with such costly spikenards? Jesus condescends to receive such marks of respect not only without displeasure, but with expressions of satisfaction. In this we may venture to say that he complied with the innocent and fashionable customs of the world. His example was much more extensive than we could have imagined. He complied with the manners of the world in everything which was not sinful.

It may be said that this act was a wanton waste, but such things are not intended to be saved, but to be used. The austere and rigid professors are saying with Judas, ‘Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?’ Yet it is not that they care for the poor more than others, but instead to court the favour of the multitude by their ostentatious sanctity and charity. The wanton waste of meat, corn, and such other things which are necessary for the sustenance of life is highly blameworthy—but the use of perfumes, gum, and odours encourages labour and industry in the production of them; and it would puzzle the most ill-tempered hypocrite to find good grounds for censuring the use of them. Here, also, our Lord shows his wisdom and exalted benevolence.

But we meet with another and decided expression of our Saviour’s social character, and a clear demonstration that he was not an enemy to the innocent joys of society; and that, of course, his religion is perfectly consistent with such enjoyments—and the evidence of these things is found in his first miracle, which was performed at the marriage feast. This miracle gives us a very interesting view of his character, and greatly extends his example. We often see him in the exercise of those duties which he paid to his heavenly Father, and we have many opportunities of witnessing his love for mankind, and his daily exercises of goodness. But here we see him in a different light, and have a new aspect of his example. We see his conduct at a merry gathering, and this occurs at the very beginning of his ministry. He has not given us a direct precept for our conduct on such occasions, nor has he expressed himself clearly about whether we are to join with the world on such occasions, or to avoid them as snares and as sins. But he has given us his example, which shows that it is not inconsistent with Christian character to join in public entertainments.

It has been observed that he has given us no teaching concerning patriotism or friendship, and this omission has been brought forward as an objection to his religion. But if he has not given us specific instruction in these areas, he has given us clear examples. He showed his friendship to the beloved disciple John and to the house of Lazarus in a very extraordinary degree. It is difficult to frame a precept on patriotism or friendship that is not liable to be abused. In many cases, friendship will lead to a transgression of God’s law. In the pursuit of friendships men often commit the greatest excesses. In serving the interest of your friend, you may be guilty of great acts of injustice toward others.

The same observations can be extended to patriotism. The love of country often leads the patriot to commit acts of cruelty and injustice to those of other countries. But though he has left no precept on patriotism, he shows the warmest affection for the nation of the Jews. “I am not sent,” he says, “but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). We also see him weeping over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41).

Thus he shows his perfect wisdom in abstaining from delivering precepts of this nature. And so with respect to festive meetings, and the recreations and amusements that are common there, though has given us no precepts, yet we have his example, and our conduct in these situations ought to be regulated by the principles of his gospel. We are not to transgress against temperance, or offend against decency. Nor are we to give way to profane language, riotous mirth, quarrelling, fighting, defrauding others, or committing any other act of injustice. And if we join in the amusements, most of the common ones are not sinful in themselves, but they become sinful when they are abused, especially if they excite strife, ill temper, provoking language, or acts of cheating and injustice. They also become sinful when we devote more time to them than is necessary for our recreation.

A question might now arise, ‘What could be the reason for our Lord honouring the marriage feast with this, his first miracle? All his other works have the general character of goodness, with the exception of his cursing of the barren fig tree, and his granting of permission to the evil spirits, so that they might enter into the herd of swine. These two exceptions may be easily justified. All his other works have the general character of goodness, and were wrought for the most benevolent purposes. Therefore what was the reason for Christ turning water into wine, and so supplying the guests of this wedding feast?’

One thing, I think, seems perfectly clear; it was intended to condemn the austerity of the Pharisees, who placed religion in the rigid observance and practice of unnecessary acts of self-denial. And in opposition to their hypocrisy, he carries his example to social and joyous entertainments as a proof that he did not forbid them, but, by this miracle at the very beginning of his public ministry, he countenances and consecrates the marriage feast.

Therefore this miracle may have been designed to rescue religion from the melancholy and sourness which the Pharisees had clothed it in—and in which it has been clad by zealots and hypocrites in all ages.

This miracle certainly has a peculiar character. It is like his other miracles in that it is a display of his power, a proof of his command over nature, and a manifestation of his goodness. But his turning of water into wine in order to supply the shortage of it at the marriage feast appears to have been wrought to contribute to the cheerfulness of the guests.

As I have already observed from his history, it is certain that he was never a popular character. And undoubtedly, one reason for this was that he never humoured the common prejudices of mankind, in making religion to consist of formal manners and a sour and sullen temper, in the face of the common enjoyments of society. The Pharisees reproached him for eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners, but here he does much more: he exerts his miraculous power not to relieve the distressed, or to multiply the loaves and fishes to furnish meat for the hungry—but to contribute to the cheerfulness of the marriage feast. Who can contemplate this without admiring and adoring the gracious condescension of the divine Saviour, who invites men to rejoice, and even supplies materials for their rejoicing!

What a contrast this is to the sour and ill-tempered Pharisee, who, in his words, manners, and forbidding countenance, is an enemy to all joy! Nothing can portray Jesus so strongly as the friend of mankind, and nothing can present us with a more favourable character of his religion, than this proof of his cheerful temper at the commencement of his active ministry. This is rescuing religion from the hands of the austere and gloomy fanatic, and assigning to it its proper station as the source and parent of innocent joy. I cannot fathom what other conclusion an ill-tempered commentator could put upon this great work. O how it reflects the goodness of his heavenly Father!

There are some circumstances which this account furnishes which may help to further illustrate the purpose of this miracle. In the first place, it seems to have been a large and mixed company, for his disciples and his mother were invited; and, from the liberties which his mother takes in giving orders to the servants, it is probable that the parties were related to her family—and this also accounts for the presence of Jesus, his mother, and the disciples at this ceremony and reception.

In the second place, it has been calculated that the minimum quantity of wine miraculously supplied amounted to fifty-four of our gallons—and this is in addition to the wine which was originally supplied and consumed. These figures suggest that the company was large indeed.

A marriage feast is generally a scene of mirth and enjoyment, and so it seems to have been on the present occasion, and, we may likewise suppose, that it was accompanied with music and dancing, the usual expressions of cheerfulness on such occasions. And perhaps at such times, nothing can be found that is more innocent. By studying their history we find that such things were practiced among the Jews. Such festivities often exceed the bounds of moderation and temperance, but this is not always the case, nor is it necessarily so. And the presence of him who on this occasion condescended to be their guest, and to set them an example of cheerfulness, would have contributed to preservation of order and decorum in that large company. Thus one part of his design might have been to exemplify how cheerfulness may be kept up in harmony with innocence.

While he condemns the arrogant sanctity and hypocritical austerity of those who would make religion consist of rigid observance and the practice of unnecessary and unedifying acts of self-denial, he is at the same time delivering it from the gloom of the cloister, and making it enter into the innocent enjoyments of life.

How would the Pharisees regard this miracle, and what could they interpret from it? An occasion such as this furnished them with the opportunity of saying, “Behold a man gluttonous, and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners” (Matthew 11:19). But to every reasonable enquirer, this must be regarded as an act of the greatest geniality and goodness, and must lead them to admire and adore the ever-blessed Jesus. He despises all popular clamour and the reproaches of his enemies, and comes forward and says by this act that God has scattered many blessings around us which he invites us to partake of, and that we may be cheerful, and have a share of the amusements of this life, and yet not sin. An imposter would not have dared to risk an act so contrary to the prejudices of the bulk of men. They expect that a heavenly messenger will encourage none of these earthly enjoyments. But in the eye of reason, this is a confirmation of his most excellent character, and it shows us the dignity and resolve of him who did not court the applause of men, but the honour and glory of his father in Heaven. If God bestows such good things upon men, he requires of us gratitude and the temperate enjoyment of them, and to consider ourselves as stewards of the most high God, who are to distribute the bounties of his providence among those whom providence has given only a small share.

That such things may be (and most certainly very often are) abused is no argument against the indulgence. Eating and drinking are often converted into gluttony and drunkenness, but the sin does not lie in the eating and drinking, but in the excess of it.

Many indulgences are innocent in themselves, but become sinful in their excess, in spending too much time in them, and when they occupy the place of important duties. One would be struck with horror to hear that prayer may become sinful, and yet there can be no doubt that this is often the case. Prayer becomes sinful when employed to cloak wickedness, and to deceive men into an opinion that those who use it are truly pious and honest. Prayer becomes sinful when people indulge in prayer when they should be attending to their children and families by watching over them, minding their education, clothing them, providing food for them, and training and forming their moral character. Our Lord tells us that the Pharisees committed sin in their prayers, making prayer a cover for their hypocrisy, and substituting prayer for essential duties. And other religious exercises become sinful also, when they occupy the time and place of important, private, family, or social duties. And there is as much sin committed in the excess of these as there is in the excess of music and dancing.

This view of the character of our Lord obligates his disciples to an important duty, to rectify those false notions of religion which are too prevalent, but which are discouraging to the real Christian, as though our religion were an enemy to joy. Gratitude to God for his favours and daily mercies calls upon us to rejoice: we rejoice that we are always in the presence and protection of our heavenly Father. We rejoice in the hopes which are set before us; and toward these hopes we ought to rise constantly. The services which we pay to the best of beings should certainly be different from what we would be compelled to pay to a powerful but malignant spirit whom we must constantly fear. And Heaven, which we are encouraged to look forward to as the everlasting habitation of good men, the habitation of happiness and joy; and the hopes which we have of becoming a part of that blessed company—these things should animate us to secure these happy mansions with a joyful exertion. Therefore guard against any practice, habit, or expression that may give the world discouraging representations of the religion which we profess, or of the Master whom we serve. Teach young people to see a pleasing prospect of Christ and his religion by your own steady cheerfulness, and by laying upon them no unnecessary restraint.