The Note Of Cheer

The chapter now to be added is written under the influence of a Sabbath

afternoon service in which, a few hours ago, we occupied a pew. The

scene was a village chapel among the mountains of the North of England.

The preacher was a layman well advanced in age, who told us that, for

five-and-forty years, he had been coming from the head of the circuit

to take appointments in the village. The sermon was not eloquent. It

was neither learned nor profound. It gave no evidence of any great

acquaintance with modern thought. There was absolutely no attempt at

exegesis. Indeed, the discourse would have failed to satisfy most of

those elementary canons upon which the homiletical professors lay such

stress. Yet, one great excellence it had, which, to its simple-minded

auditors, more than atoned for all its many imperfections:--It was

effective; it was successful. We came away thanking God for the

testimony we had heard.

And herein lay the success of this local brother's unpretentious

discourse:--It cheered us, one and all. Faces brightened and

drooping heads were lifted up as the old man pursued his way. The last

hymn was the heartiest of all, not because, as is sometimes the case,

the people were encouraged by the thought of approaching liberation,

but because of the spiritual "uplift" they had realised. We heard a

happy buzz of pleasant talk from young and old as they poured through

the door to assemble in friendly groups for mutual "good-days" on the

pavement in front of the little temple. With most of them we were well

acquainted. Some were aged and infirm. Others found the struggle of

life a hard one. One pew was filled with mourners who, during the

latest week, had stood around an open grave. There were Christian

workers to whom recent days had brought disappointments and

weariness--labourers in the vineyard who had much to try their faith,

for religious work in the villages has many difficulties in these days

when the great towns attract so many of our most hopeful young people

from the lanes to the streets. The widow was there, the orphan, the

poor, the man who had failed in life. Ah! those people had come

together bringing with them to the sanctuary much doubt and care and

perplexity and fear. It was good to watch them as the preacher went

on; good to feel that these hearts were losing their loads, these minds

their anxieties. "Not a great discourse," the critic would have said.

Perhaps not--from some standpoints. Having reached the end of fifty

years of preaching, this white-haired patriarch had long given up the

idea of great discourses. To him the Master had said, "Comfort ye,

comfort ye My people," and he had walked long, long miles up the

mountain side to do it. Pace the critic! This preaching was the

very thing for those needy folk this wintry afternoon.

And now, in recollection of that blessed sermon, and under its gracious

influence, we are strengthened to assert that it is an essential of the

message that it contain good cheer for those who need it. The preacher

is more than the accuser of men in Christ's stead; more, even, than the

mouthpiece of a divine invitation. His task is not completed in the

edifying of churches, in the building up of individual souls in faith

and doctrine and righteousness. Jesus saw the sorrow of the world,

anticipated the afflictions through which men would have to pass and

the burdens they would have to bear. "He was touched with the feeling

of our infirmities," He drank of our bitter cup. Our griefs were in

His mind when He sent His preachers forth. To be the agents of a great

purpose of consolation, ministers of cheer and encouragement to

hard-pressed and burdened men and women to the end of time were they


And for this work of consolation He not only gave a commission but He

furnished, as well, an example to all who should ever preach His word.

Surely one great secret of the wondrous effectiveness of that brief

ministry lay in the fact that while, as we have seen, it spoke to the

consciences of men, bringing home the truths of righteousness and

judgment; while it set before them the way of spiritual salvation and

formulated the demands and conditions thereof, indicating the higher

path, the strait gate and the narrow way, it was also directed to the

bruised hearts and broken spirits of those who attended His steps. We

are told, after all, but very little of the words and deeds of Jesus

during those eventful years in which He trod the highways and byeways

of the land breaking the bread of life from city to city. Of the

period passed in Nazareth in preparation for the strenuous days to come

we are told nothing at all. The world, it is said, would hardly

contain the books if all had been written down. But enough is told to

give us visions of those unrecorded days, and to show that He was a

cheering Christ, a messenger of comfort--this Saviour of ours. Healing

was in His words. "Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked

with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?" said,

one to another, those two disciples who, with saddened countenances,

had set out together to Emmaus on that troubled day. Watch Him yonder

in the house at Bethany, what time bereavement casts its shadow upon

the dwelling. "And He took little children in His arms and blessed

them." Here, again, is a whole history of tenderness. From this one

act a flood of light streams backward and forward upon His whole

earthly life, and we can see the kindly glance that brought the little

ones around Him. We can hear the gentle voice that dispelled their

shyness and gave confidence to their hearts. Even in that old time,

and in the quiet and dreamy East, life had many cares. There were push

and drive and hard and grinding rivalry even then. Those days had

their economic questions as well as ours. It was only by hardest

struggle that many a cupboard was furnished and many a table spread;

for poverty is no new thing, and sorrow, affliction, oppression, dread

and death are as old as the hills. We read of the beggar by the

wayside, of Lazarus writhing in hunger and smitten with sores on the

threshold of Dives, who wore purple and fine linen and fared

sumptuously every day. The widow's house was robbed; the orphan was

cheated of his small inheritance; life, even for the fortunate, went

much as it does now--the music of gladness to-day, the solemn tones of

the dirge to-morrow. How gracious to many a hearer would be that

Sermon on the Mount with its passages for the special blessing of

perplexed and worried souls, spoken, also, for the teaching of all who

may be called to stand before the children of grief and want.

"Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall

we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?" .... "For your heavenly

Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things." .... "Take

therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought

for the things of itself." .... "And why take ye thought for raiment?

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither

do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his

glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe

the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the

oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?" ....

"Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings? And not one of them is

forgotten before God: But even the very hairs of your head are all

numbered. Fear not, therefore: ye are of more value than many

sparrows." .... "Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap;

which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much

more are ye better than the fowls?" Think of it all! Imagine that

great multitude gathered out of the cities and villages round about.

It was a hard world from which they had come to hear this man of

Nazareth, and, even as they came, care had tugged at their skirts; fear

had rattled upon the doors of their hearts. Think what music would be

in that sweet new Gospel of divine providence and affection, spoken in

that calm and gentle voice whose every tone was vibrant with

understanding, sympathy and love! Can we not see the people as

darkness throws its veil across the blue Syrian sky turning once more

to their distant homes, new hope and courage enthroned upon the

forehead so recently seamed by care? Can we not follow them to the

dawning of another day, and behold their going forth, once again, to

the tasks of life brightly, bravely, cheerily? To them, indeed, had

come glad tidings of great joy!

And if the Master so gave Himself to this ministry of brightening the

lives of men, His first preachers caught the lesson and went forth, the

same good purpose lively in their hearts. To "lift up the hands which

hang down, and the feeble knees;" to heal "that which was lame," that

"it be not turned out of the way;" "to visit the widow and the

fatherless;" to "speak peace" to the people--in these happy duties lay

a large part of their work. Dark, indeed, were those early days for

the infant Church; heavy the clouds above her; terrible the storms of

hate and persecution which spent their fury upon her and scattered

abroad her fellowship, but amidst it all more songs were heard than

sighs, more triumphs than complaints. In the midnight hour a strange

new music ran through the prison, for Paul and Silas "prayed and sang

praises and the prisoners heard them," and so, to crushed and bleeding

souls, even there, a breath of heavenly comfort came. We have

sometimes heard people talk of St. Paul in such a way as to picture one

who was above the tenderness wherefrom sad hearts are blessed--the

great theologian, the mighty logician, the lone, strong, sublime man

whose self-mastery lifted him above sympathy with common men. Great he

was, but great in compassion as well as in mind. Among the watchwords

of encouragement you will find none more inspiring than those written

by his fettered hand. Was it not he who wrote that assurance which has

so often come between us and despair:--"And we know that all things

work together for good to them that love God"? From him, also, came

that glowing word which has shed radiance upon many a couch of pain:

"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a

far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." There is a more noble

picture of the great Apostle to the Gentiles than that above referred

to. The ship is "driven up and down in Adria." Euroclydon roars

through the rigging. Mighty billows come crashing over the bulwarks.

"Neither sun, nor moon nor stars" have "for many days appeared."

Nearer and nearer the helpless craft is being swept to the cruel rocks

of yonder savage coast. The ship's company is in an agony of dismay.

Suddenly from the cabin comes he of Tarsus. "Wherefore, sirs, be of

good cheer," he cries, above the blast, "for I believe God." Thus does

he summarise in one great assuring word the message learned at the foot

of the cross. Behind it is all the authority of God's revelation to

his soul upon the Damascus road!

So ministered the Master, and so, His first preachers, and hence it

came to pass that the early disciples of the infant faith were known

for their calmness, their courage and their joy. Men "took knowledge

of them that they had been with Jesus." This was the very age of which

the poet has told us:--

On that hard Pagan World disgust

And secret loathing fell;

Deep weariness and sated lust

Made human life a hell.

But the servants of the Galilean, more persecuted than any other men,

walked abroad with a gladness which was at once the perplexity and the

condemnation of the time. "Rejoice evermore" was a sacred command and

a glorious possibility of the new religion, for they were taught to

believe that "All things are yours and ye are Christ's and Christ is

God's"; they were assured that "Nothing shall be able to separate us

from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord"!

That was the first century, and with us now is the twentieth; and it

is said that the burdens of men become more numerous and more heavy as

the years pass on. Older grows the world, but there is no lessening of

its care, no relief from its perplexity, its pain, its sorrow. As

civilisation becomes more complex the "drive" of life waxes ever more

and more fierce. Along with this complaint, it is said by some, that

in the Church there is less joy than in those old days--less, indeed,

than in times within the memory of the grey-haired among us. We who

are Methodists are often reminded of a former Methodism which was vocal

with praises and electric with joy. They whisper that it is different

with us now; that even the pulpit has lost its note of gladness. Care

sits upon the preacher's brow. The songs of Zion are timed to the

throb of hearts that lag for very weariness. "Some are sick and some

are sad." "Cares of to-day and burdens of to-morrow" haunt us in the

very means of grace, and little is said to make us forget. "Fightings

without and fears within," from these we seek deliverance in vain. The

prophet has forgotten how to comfort or, if he have not forgotten, he

thinks the task unworthy of hours which might be more learnedly and

impressively employed.

If we admit, as perhaps we may, the existence of a measure of truth in

this complaint, it will only be to claim that there is some excuse for

those whom it asperses. The intellectual problems bred of a

materialistic age have so compelled the preacher to the defence of the

walls of Zion that it may well have come to pass that the inhabitants

of the city--the men and women down in the streets and dwellings, for

the security of whom he has been contending--may have had to go short

of many things; a time of siege is a time of deprivations and hardships

for citizens as well as soldiers. The great social questions of the

present day have also claimed much of his thought and effort. He has

felt, and justly, that these questions ought to receive more pulpit

recognition. It is possible, and should not be thought surprising,

that in the ardour of the social crusade the preacher may have

sometimes given to these things time and strength which might have been

better spent in ministering to the personal griefs and perplexities of

such as sat before him for their need's sake. It may be well for us

each to make inquiry concerning ourselves in these matters. As a

result we will realise again, no doubt, how numerous and insistent are

the demands made upon us to turn aside in our ministry to treat of a

hundred things which once upon a time we did not think of as pulpit

questions. Be this as it may, here lies work for the preacher which he

must not neglect. It is as certainly his duty to cheer and encourage

the heart of the individual as to indicate the path to better

conditions of life for the multitude.

And this he can only effectively do as he perfects himself in his

understanding of their needs. Of this understanding, and of the ways

in which it must be sought, we have already written and will say no

more, except to point out how every new discovery concerning the

preacher's duties furnishes additional illustration of the absolute

necessity that he study not books only, but also men and the conditions

of their lives. It is of little use knowing the contents of

well-filled shelves if we have never read the living volumes before us

in the pews. Again we say, "if we only knew."

Still knowledge is not the whole of the preacher's need in order that

his message may contain this cheering quality. It is even more needful

that he shall, himself, be one of those who abide in the comfort of

God. He must have learned the efficacy of the great consoling and

gladdening verities by experience of their application to his own soul.

He only can surely cheer others who himself is cheerful, and no man who

has ever felt the pressure and care of life can be cheerful excepting

in so far as these great guarantees have become real to his own spirit.

Only with "the comfort wherewith he is comforted of God" will he

comfort others!

And what are the verities whose application he must have experienced?

There is not one of all the glorious circle of revealed truths that is

not of use for the strengthening and encouraging of men; but there are

some of these truths which might almost have been designed for this

special use. Do we receive--do we preach them as we ought?

There is the doctrine of Divine Providence. Surely this truth should

be preached more frequently than it is. Surely, too, it should be

preached in such a way as to link its meanings to the common hours, the

common needs and anxieties of life. For the vast majority of men life

is actually a struggle for bread for themselves and their dependants.

We had almost said that it is a constant escape from ever threatening

evils. The question of food and raiment is full for them of the direst

probabilities. Many a man listens to the preacher whose life is,

indeed, from hand to mouth. Fierce competition seeks at every turn to

rob him of his little opportunity of bread winning. Such a man had

rather be told of a providing God than of the newest discoveries in

Biblical criticism. If we forget his need and suffer him to go from

the Sanctuary no more hopeful and brave than when he came--then, so far

as he is concerned, we have surely failed.

There is again the doctrine of the Divine Presence. "I will be with

thee in the six troubles, and in the seventh I will not leave thee."

The wonderful truth of Jesus Christ in living, constant, saving

nearness to every man, ready to help, to deliver and guide--here is a

doctrine, mighty to comfort all the world. Before us are men who,

morning by morning, go forth with trembling to spend the day in

associations full of such temptations and dangers as are undreamed of

by us. Here are men and women haunted by bitter memories, whose

midnight solitude is disturbed by the ghosts of buried years. There

are many lonely people in the world, many from whom lover and friend

have been put far away. For such is this treasure of promise committed

unto us. Send yonder man back to his conflict; yonder stranger to his

loneliness; yonder memoried soul to his solitude to face again the

spirits of his bygone days, with this thought: that every step of the

way--whether in the city or in the desert--Jesus Christ will be by his

side. Such a preaching will be sweeter to him a thousand times than

perplexing metaphysical discussions.

Then let us not forget to apply the promises by which the Master has

strengthened the exhortations given to His servants in all times to

labour in the fields of Christian service. Of such promises there is

surely a varied and glorious store, and for all of them there is need

enough. Never do we preach but before us is some toiler almost ready

to give up because of long delay in the appearance of the first signs

of harvest. Encourage him! Tell him that the God of the sowing is

also the God of the reaping. Tell him not to be "weary in well doing,

for in due season" he "shall reap if" he "faint not." Tell him that

"he that goeth forth weeping, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless

come again rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." Tell him this.

He has heard it all before, of course, or else he had not so long

struggled on in the work. Tell it him again and again, for again and

again the need to hear it all will come. Tell it him gloriously,

confidently. He will go back to his Sunday School class, back to his

labour among the poor, out to his next appointment on the plan, with a

new hope which will be also a new power!

And let us remember that there has been given unto us for the

comforting of His people the revelation of the glory laid up for them

that fear Him. To the writer a little while ago an able and

spiritually minded Unitarian minister made this statement:--"In every

service I conduct I announce, at least, one hymn on immortality. The

people need to hear of it." There is food for thought in such a

confession from such a source. Once upon a time it was common in

Methodism to hear sermons on Heaven. To-day how infrequent such

sermons are! Yet surely the King has not withdrawn this portion of the

message from our hands. And surely there is occasion for such

reminders to be given. How many there are to whom "Earth's but a sorry

tent;" how many, again, who go in bondage to the fear of death all

their days; how many more who look mournfully after departed dear ones

and wonder how it goes with them across the stream. To all such people

is the preacher commissioned, and they look wistfully toward him for

the word that may let the glory in!

And that word we do not speak nowadays as often as we might, perhaps

not as often as we ought. Here, again, is something to be recovered by

the present-day preacher. Possibly when he comes to talk of the

glories "laid up," this same preacher may find need for some new forms

of expression. Perhaps he will not find it possible to speak with the

old literalism of his predecessors. But the living core of the message

is still his as it was theirs. The divine example, too, is before him

every time he harks back to his Master's presence. In that great day

of sorrow when He spake to the disciples of His early departure, He,

seeing their grief, said, "In My Father's house are many mansions ....

I go to prepare a place for you." Preach Heaven! This very day

there are hearts breaking for the story!

To cheer the souls of men by the use of this, or any other material,

and in any legitimate way we can--to this must our preaching be

absolutely and resolutely bent. To make brighter the lives of men; to

take out of the future its dark dreads and fears and to fill it with

beckoning blessings; to make the sanctuary a place of healing, a house

of bread, a rock of cooling streams; to make of every service a season

of refreshing--for all this are we responsible to the King who sent us

out to His suffering children. The message He entrusted to us contains

the sufficiency for it all!

But more, we repeat, than the mere letter of the message is needed.

The best of words may be so spoken as to bring but small assistance to

such as hear. Again we say that the preacher must, himself, live in

the comfort and courage he preaches to others, or else there will be

somewhat in his voice that will spoil it all. The word and also the

tone! "The tone" must be the tone of absolute realisation and

assurance. Pronounced in any other accent the words of the Gospel of

joy sound impossible; the blessings they promise seem dim and far away;

the fact of providence becomes a mere theory; the future harvest of

holy sowing a pious but foolish hope; the sweet fields of Eden a fair

but airy dream. Nothing is colder than perfunctory, official,

professional consolation and encouragement. When fear whispers

"Courage!" the chattering of his teeth makes our terror worse!

So, once again, the preacher's success and effectiveness are found

largely to depend upon his own heart's condition. The message will

carry little more cheer than the messenger can pour into it out of the

stored up happiness and confidence of his own breast. In the cheer of

God must he abide who would scatter a little comfort among his fellow