A few months ago I finished Michael Reeves’ excellent little book, Spurgeon on the Christian Life. Charles Spurgeon was a powerful, Christ-centered preacher who lived and ministered in London from 1834-1892. His sermons are still some of the most read and widely circulated publications of all time. He was a man ablaze for the glory of God and filled with the love of Christ.
At the beginning of the book, Reeves keys in one of Spurgeon’s character traits I found both challenging and encouraging: Christian happiness.
Spurgeon actually battled severe bouts of depression during his life, stemming from physical ailments, ministry trials, and a constitution that seemed susceptible to what was then called melancholy.
Nevertheless, Spurgeon spoke often on the need for Christians to exhibit genuine happiness; not superficial levity, but steady and consistent joy. Indeed, happiness was in some cases an expression of holiness.
I do believe in my heart that there may be as much holiness in a laugh as in a cry; and that, sometimes, to laugh is the better thing of the two, for I may weep, and be murmuring, and repining, and thinking all sorts of bitter thoughts against God; while, at another time, I may laugh the laugh of sarcasm against sin, and so evince a holy earnestness in my defense of the truth.Charles Spurgeon on the Christian Life
While Spurgeon would be the first to affirm that mourning over sin is an essential aspect of the Christian life (see Matt 5:4), he was also certain that true happiness in the Christian was an attractive quality that adorned the gospel.
It is a very vulgar error to suppose that a melancholy countenance is the index of a gracious heart. I commend cheerfulness to all who would win souls; not levity or frothiness, but a genial, happy spirit. There are more flies caught with honey than with vinegar, and there will be more souls led to heaven by a man who wears heaven on his face than by one who bears Tartarus in his looks.Charles Spurgeon on the Christian Life
It is no wonder, then, why Paul commanded cheerfulness (Rom 12:8; 1 Cor 9:4) and why he repeatedly instructs Christians to rejoice (Phil 3:1; 4:4; Rom 12:12). Our happiness not only glorifies God, it adorns the good news.
None of this should lead us to conclude that Spurgeon (or the biblical authors) had a glib outlook on life. Spurgeon suffered tremendously during his earthly pilgrimage, as did the apostle Paul (2 Cor 11:24-27). Suffering at some level will be the lot of every Christian in this life (John 16:33; Rom 8:17). We live in a fallen world where sickness, pain, various physical ailments, relational strife, and persecution will afflict even the most faithful Christian. On top of these trials is the trial of our own sin, which causes us to mourn, longing for final deliverance (Matt 5:4; Rom 7:14-25).
But if we give Scripture a fair reading, we will concede with the great preacher from 19th-century England that holiness and happiness often belong together. We’ve been delivered from eternal death, transferred into the kingdom of Christ, and stand to inherit a new heavens and new earth where righteousness and peace dwell and sin and sorrow do not. We presently have the forgiveness of our sins and fellowship with our Creator, the source of the greatest of all spiritual pleasures (Ps 16:11). Indeed, God is our exceeding joy (Ps 43:4).
To be regularly professing these truths while dragging ourselves through each day in a perpetual state of cheerlessness is to speak an implicit lie about the gospel: our great Savior doesn’t make us happy. But these things ought not be. May we, by God’s grace, find consistent joy in Christ, for this is his will for us (John 15:11).