Proverbs 15:30a – A cheerful look brings joy to the heart. (NIV)
Recently, I explored a long-abandoned rural shack, the early home of a friend's parents. Inside, beneath the dusty rubble, we discovered boxes of clothes untouched for 50 years, mostly well-protected from the elements. I giggled with delight as I carefully unpacked item after item and held them to the sunlight. Their colours glowed with fresh beauty. My fingers gently caressed the soft, warm sweaters. I stroked textured crimplene, that familiar durable, wrinkle-resistant, wash-and-wear fabric. I found socks of a long-forgotten quality, labelled "Made in Canada". This clothing was designed to last, and it did.
Today, I make the same claim for another treasure that I'm scavenging: It's Puritan literature from nearly four centuries ago. This, too, was made to last — in the minds of God's people. I'm discovering it to be surprisingly fresh and crisp. Consider this excerpt on a popular Puritan theme: cheerfulness.
- It brings glory to God when the world sees a Christian has that within him that can make him cheerful in the worst times; that can enable him, with the nightingale to sing with a thorn at his breast. The people of God have ground for cheerfulness. They are justified and adopted; and this creates inward peace; it makes music within, whatever storms are without. If we consider what Christ had wrought for us by his blood and wrought in us by his Spirit, it is a ground of great cheerfulness; and this cheerfulness glories God. … When God's people hang their heads, it looks as if they did not serve a good master. … This reflects dishonour on God. As the gross sins of the wicked bring a scandal on the gospel, so do the uncheerful lives of the godly.
How's that for a fresh discovery in the "dusty old shacks" of Christian literature! The original source book is entitled A Body of Practical Divinity in a Series of Sermons on the Shorter Catechism — by Thomas Watson, Assembly of Divines at Westminster. I once owned this book, but misjudged the title and gave it away, regretfully.
Nowadays, Puritan literature is being rediscovered and repackaged for modern readers. Besides demolishing negative myths about Puritans, this material can enliven our own faith. It's not unlike rediscovering the loveliness of vintage things when we're accustomed to inferior quality — whether in apparel, décor, worship trends, and even theologies.
Indeed, today, we crave for a durable, wrinkle-resistant, wash-and-wear theology for ourselves — with staying power in the rubble of life. Thankfully, it exists through Christians such as the Puritans, who themselves endured adversity: plagues, death, fire, persecutions, and war. Those are the ones who can sincerely challenge us with words such as:
- A Christian's cheerful looks glorify God. Our Christian faith does not take away our joy but refines it. It does not break our violin but tunes it and makes the music sweeter.
In the Puritan outlook, Christian virtue, including cheerfulness, was never meant to be a thin veneer pasted on the outside, but rather the overflow of a life genuinely transformed and refined from within. Isn't that how it should work for us, too?
Prayer: Lord, train us to value whatever measures You use to forge a cheerful disposition within us; for You are "a friend to cheerfulness". Amen.
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