By Horatius Bonar
"Serve the Lord with gladness." -- Psalm 100:2
I once had the question put to me, "Do you think a sinner has any right to be happy here?" Without entering into the truths or errors which that question suggested, I simply answered, "Is there any religion in being miserable?" and I added at another time to a similar question, "I do not think that gloom is a bit better or more acceptable to God than the most frivolous levity." "Be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance," said the Lord. Let us consider the sin and folly of being unhappy; specially of rendering unhappy service to God. His yoke is easy, and his burden light.
I. God is happy. He is the blessed God, in whom are the fountains of all gladness. Hence that expression, "the joy of God" is one denoting the joy that is in God, even more than the joy he gives. Christ was a man of sorrows during his earthly life, because he was bearing our sins. But he sorrowed that we might not sorrow, but rejoice. He served the Father in sorrow that we might serve him with gladness.
II. The angels are happy. They are the blessed angels. They only know what sorrow is by seeing it in us when they come to minister to us. Their heaven is a happy heaven, all around them is happiness, their wells never run dry, their sky never clouds, their sun never sets. They do not sigh, nor weep, nor wring their hands, nor sprinkle ashes on their fair heads. They drink always of the rivers of pleasure, which are at the right hand of God. Sometimes their joy rises higher, as when they shouted for joy over the new-made world, or as when they are called on to join in the joy of God over one sinner that repenteth. They serve the Lord with gladness.
III. Forgiven men are happy. This is David's testimony, "Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven." These are a two-fold class: (1.) Those who have departed and are with Christ; (2.) Those who are still here. Of that latter section of redeemed men we say they are happy though imperfect, because they are forgiven. They are in an evil world, and have much evil within them,--many trials, sore warfare, great feebleness,--yet they are happy. Why? Because forgiven. The favour of God rests on them. They know it, and find that in his favour is life. Being forgiven, and knowing this, they serve the Lord with gladness.
It would appear, then, not only that there is happiness in heaven with God and the holy angels, but that there is happiness here on earth, and that we may be partakers of it. The basis and the beginning of that happiness must be the forgiveness of sins and the favour of God. These are attainable; they are presented to us as free gifts; we are besought to accept them; we cannot reject them without sinning. We see then that it is both sinful and foolish to be unhappy; that is, where there is unhappiness it must be the result of our own sin and folly in refusing to be happy. Let me notice then,
I. We can only be unhappy by refusing pardon. The pardon is provided, and it is preached to the sons of men. (1.) It is a free pardon; (2.) a righteous pardon; (3.) a present pardon; (4.) a comprehensive pardon, covering all sin; (5.) it is to be had in simply, believing what God has told us about the propitiation of his Son. So that God is not refusing pardon, nor bargaining about it; nor affixing unreasonable conditions, nor indeed conditions of any; kind; nor making it an uncertainty, or the reward of a good life. On the contrary, he is making it known in the; clearest terms; he is laying it down at our feet; he is taking it up and putting it into our hands, pressing us with exceeding and infinite urgency to receive it at once, absolutely, unconditionally, and unchangeably as his free gift. If so, then must not the absence of this pardon be the fruit of our own rejection of it; and not God's sovereignty or unwillingness? We are unhappy, not simply because we are sinful and foolish, but because we are resolutely indulging in the sin and folly of rejecting God's gift, and so of refusing to be happy. A sinner's unhappiness is the result of his sin and folly. O sinful, foolish man, thus to refuse the happiness provided by God; to prefer the "sad countenance" of the hypocrite to the face shining with pardon.
II. We can only be unhappy by refusing Christ. It is not Christ's refusing us (he never did so), but it is our refusing Christ that keeps us unhappy. He is the free gift of God to us; he, the living, the dying, the buried, the risen Christ; he, the Word made flesh; he, the great vessel of divine fullness; he, the depositary of eternal life; he is God's free gift to us; a gift which we are not merely at liberty to accept, but which we refuse at our peril. We can only be unhappy by refusing Christ! Oh the folly and sin of remaining unhappy! Persistence in the rejection of Christ is the true cause of all the unhappiness of earth. You shut your eyes and ears against him, how can you be happy?
III. We can only be unhappy by determining not to turn. God says, "Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die"; turn and live. It is vain for us to throw the blame off ourselves, and say, "I want to turn, but I cannot, and God will not help me." This is not true. "I am most willing to be converted, but God will not convert me," is just as if the drunkard were to say, "I am most willing to give up drinking, but God will not help me to be sober"; or the swearer, "I am most anxious to cease swearing, but I cannot, and God will not give me the power." Whatever, then, the solemn truth of God's sovereignty may be (and he would not be God were he not sovereign), it is not that sovereignty that is hindering you from turning, but your own determination not to do so. Your not turning is the cause of your unhappiness; you cannot be happy till you turn. Your being unhappy is, then, your own sin and folly. O foolish sinner, to refuse to be happy! O folly, without a name or parallel! But in that unhappy state you cannot serve the Lord.
In like manner is it with all of us. We might be always happy, were we always receiving the gifts which Christ presents to us; crediting the divine testimony as to the sufficiency of the great sacrifice, and the freeness of the great love.
"Unhappiness thus is wilful. "Ye will not come to me." It profiteth nothing. It does not liberate, or strengthen, or sanctify, or comfort. To be unhappy is our folly and our sin. When happy, we can work so much more vigorously and successfully; no toil is irksome; no trouble or annoyance is felt. When unhappy, all is reversed. Be happy then in God (this is one great part of our testimony); taste his love; live in his smile; then you will see what a wise and holy thing happiness is; and when Jesus comes the second time you will enter into his joy.