It is a mistake often made by young people, to associate
piety with a downcast look, a sad countenance, and an aching heart. Perhaps
the mistakes of some good people, in putting on a grave and severe visage,
approaching even to moroseness, may have given some occasion for this
sentiment. I do not know, indeed, how prevalent the sentiment is among the
young. I can hardly think it is common with those who are piously educated.
As for myself, I well remember that, in my childhood, I thought true
Christians must be the happiest people in the world. There is no doubt,
however, that many pleasure-loving young people do look upon religion with
that peculiar kind of dread which they feel of the presence of a grave,
severe maiden aunt, which would spoil all their pleasure.
And, I do not deny, that there are certain kinds of
sinful pleasure which piety spoils; but then it first removes the taste
and desire for them, after which the spoliation is nothing to be
lamented. It is true, also, that there are some things in piety which are
painful. Repentance for sin is a painful exercise; self-denial is painful;
the resistance of temptation is sometimes trying; and the subduing of evil
dispositions is a difficult work. But, to endure whatever of suffering there
is in these things, is a saving in the end. It is less painful than the
tortures of a guilty conscience, the gnawings of remorse, and the fear of
hell. It is easier to be endured than the consequences of neglecting true
religion. If you get a sliver in your finger, it is easier to bear the pain
of having it removed, than it is to carry it about with you. If you have a
decayed tooth, it is easier to have it extracted than to bear the toothache.
So it is easier to repent of sin than to bear remorse and fear. And the
labor of resisting temptation, and of restraining and subduing evil
dispositions, is not so great an interference with one's happiness as it is
to carry about a guilty conscience.
There is, however, nothing in true piety inconsistent
with habitual cheerfulness. There is a difference between cheerfulness and
levity. Cheerfulness is serene and peaceful. Levity is light and trifling.
The former promotes evenness of temper and equanimity of enjoyment; the
latter drowns sorrow and pain for a short time, only to have it return again
with redoubled power.
The Christian hope, and the promises and consolations of
God's word, furnish the only true ground of cheerfulness. Who should be
cheerful and happy, if not one who is delivered from the terrors of hell and
the fear of death—who is raised to the dignity of a child of God—who has the
hope of eternal life—the prospect of dwelling forever in the presence of
God, in the society of the blessed, and in the enjoyment of perfect
felicity? But no one would associate these things with that peculiar kind of
mirth, which is the delight of the pleasure-loving world. Your sense of
propriety recoils from the idea of associating things of such high import
with rudeness, frolicking, and mirth. Yet there is an innocent gaiety of
spirits, arising from natural vivacity, especially in the period of
childhood and youth, the indulgence of which, within proper bounds, piety
does not forbid.
There is a happy medium between a settled, severe gravity
and gloom—and frivolity, levity, and mirth—which young Christians should
strive to cultivate. If you give unbounded license to a mirthful spirit, and
indulge freely in all manner of levity, frivolity, and foolish jesting, you
cannot maintain that devout state of heart which is essential to true piety.
On the other hand, if you studiously repress the natural vivacity of
youthful feeling, and cultivate a romantic kind of melancholy, or a severe
gravity—you will destroy the elasticity of your spirits, injure your health,
and very likely become peevish and irritable, and of a sour, morose temper;
and this will be quite as injurious to true religious feeling as the other.
The true medium is, to unite serious piety with habitual
cheerfulness. Always bring Christian motives to bear upon your feelings. The
gospel of Jesus Christ has a remedy for everything in life that is
calculated to make us gloomy and sad. It offers the pardon of sin to the
penitent and believing, the aid of grace to those who struggle against an
evil disposition, and succor and help against temptation. It promises to
relieve the believer from fear, and afford consolation in affliction. There
is no reason why a true Christian should not be cheerful. There are, indeed,
many things, which he sees, within and without, that must give him pain. But
there is that in his Christian hope, and in the considerations brought to
his mind from the Word of God, which is able to bear him high above them
Let me, then, earnestly recommend you to cultivate a
serious but cheerful piety. Let your religion be neither of that spurious
kind which expends itself in sighs, and tears, and gloomy feelings; nor that
which makes you insensible to all feeling. But while you are alive to your
own sins and imperfections, exercising godly sorrow for them, and while you
feel a deep and earnest sympathy for those who have no saving interest in
Christ, let your faith in the atoning blood of Jesus, and your confidence in
God, avail to keep you from sinking into melancholy and gloom, and make you
cheerful and happy, while you rest in God.
And now, gentle reader, after this long conversation, I
must take leave of you, commending you to God, with the prayer that my book
may be useful to you, in the formation of a well-balanced Christian
character; and that, after you and I shall have done the errand for which
the Lord sent us into the world, we may meet in heaven. God bless you!