Is It Not Absurd

From “Sermon XLIII, Rejoice Evermore” (ca. 1670)

It is a scandalous misunderstanding, commonly admitted, concerning religion, that it is altogether sullen and sour, requiring a dull, lumpish, morose kind of life, barring all delight, all mirth, all good humor ; whereas, on the contrary, religion alone is the never-failing source of true, pure, steady joy  such as is deeply rooted to the heart, immovably founded in the reason of things, permanent like the immortal spirit wherein it dwelleth, and like the eternal objects whereon it is fixed, which is not apt to fade or cloy; and is not subject to any impressions apt to corrupt or impair it. Whereas, in our text and in many texts parallel to it, we see that our religion not only allows us, but even obliges us to be joyful, as much and often as can be, not permitting us to be sad for one minute, banishing the least fit of melancholy, charging us in all times, on all occasions, to be cheerful; supposing, consequently, that it is in some manner possible to be so, and affording power to effect what it doth require.

Such indeed is the transcendent goodness of our God, that he maketh our delight to be our duty, and our sorrow to be our sin, adapting his holy will to our principal instinct; that he would have us to resemble himself, as in all other perfections, so in a constant state of happiness; that as he hath provided a glorious heaven of bliss for us hereafter, so he would have us enjoy a comfortable paradise of delight here. He accordingly hath ordered the whole frame of our religion in a tendency to produce joy in those who embrace it; for what is the gospel, but, as the holy angel, the first promulgator of it, did report, “good tidings of great joy to all people” (Luke 2:8). How doth God represent himself therein, but as the God of love, of hope, of peace, of all consolation, cheerfully smiling in favor on us, graciously inviting us to the most pleasant enjoyments, bountifully dispensing most comfortable blessings of mercy, of grace, of salvation to us? For what doth our Lord call us to him, but “that he may give us rest and refreshment to our souls” (Matt. 11:28); that he may “wipe away all tears from our eyes” (Rev. 21:4); that he may save us from most woeful despair, and settle us ‘”in a blessed hope” (Titus 2:3); that we may “enter into our Master’s joy” (Matt. 25:23); that “our joy may be full” (John 15:11) and such “as no man can take from us” (John 16:22)

What is the great introduction of the gospel, but the gift of a most blessed “Comforter, to abide with us for ever” (John 14:16); cheering our hearts with his lightsome presence and ravishing consolations? Wherein doth the kingdom of heaven consist? “Not in meat and drink, but in righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Rom 14:17). What are the prime fruits sprouting from that root of Christian life, the Divine Spirit? They are, as St. Paul telleth us, “love, joy, and peace” (Gal. 5:22). Are there not numberless declarations importing a joyful satisfaction granted to the observers of God’s commandments; that “light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart” (Ps. 97:11). Doth not our Lord pronounce a special beatitude to the practiser of every virtue? And if we scan all the doctrines, all the institutions, all the precepts, all the promises of Christianity, will not each appear pregnant with matter of joy, will not each yield great reason and strong obligation to this duty of “rejoicing evermore.”

Wherefore a Christian, as such, (according to the design of his religion, and in proportion to his compliance with its dictates) is the most jocund, blithe, and gay person in the world; always in humor and full of cheer; continually bearing a mind well satisfied, a light heart and calm spirit, a smooth brow and serene countenance, a grateful accent of speech, and a sweetly composed tenor of carriage; no black thought, no irksome desire, no troublesome passion should lodge in his breast; any furrow, any frown, any cloud doth sit ill on his face; the least fretful word or froward behavior doth utterly misbecome him ; if at any time it appear otherwise, it is a deflection from his character; it is a blemish and wrong to his profession; it argues a prevarication in his judgment, or in his practice; he forgets that he is a Christian, or has not preserved the innocence belonging to that name. For, if a Christian remembers what he is, or is sensible of his condition; if he reflects on the dignity of his person, the nobleness of his relations, the sublimity of his privileges, the greatness and certainty of his hopes, how can he be out of humor? Is it not absurd for him that is at peace with heaven, with his own conscience, with all the world; for the possessor of the best goods, and the heir of a blessed immortality; for the friend, the favorite, the Son of God, to fret or wail?

Isaac Barrow (1630-1677) was an English Anglican priest and scholar, one of the most influential preachers of the Restoration period. He held professorships in Greek and mathematics at Cambridge, and was master of Trinity Hall. He played a significant role in the development of calculus and deeply influenced his most famous student, Sir Isaac Newton. This sermon was preached at Great St. Mary’s, the university church of Cambridge.


Online Archives