Reprinted from When Thou Sittest In Thine House, by Abraham Kuyper, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1929. Used by permission of Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Every one among us knows that in the so-called Sermon on the Mount our Savior declared and testified: “Blessed are they that mourn.” But do we also remember that, ten centuries before this, the Preacher said: “Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better” (Eccl. 7:3)?
And do we bring to mind this yet stronger exhortation of the apostle James: “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness” (Eccl. 4:9)?
Test by the principle implied in this, the ordinary tone of life in families, and you feel at once that, even in our Christian circles, this principle does not come to its own.
All too generally the common tone of life is one of gaiety, of tense amusement, where people come together, even for a good part, from an over stimulated desire to laugh.
Life must be “convivial,” “convivial” one’s associations, “convivial” the conversation, and under the dominion of this inclination you constantly come into companies in which, almost for hours together, it is a cracking of jokes, a play of wits, and in which the high-spirited, overstrained tone does not tolerate almost for a single moment the absence of laughter from the lips.
Mingling in such company frequently affects the nerves so strongly that it takes a certain period of time to bring oneself back again to the ordinary run of things, or to compose oneself to sleep.
It is a “setting-up” of life, a mutual attempt at “forced levity,” a strain to work oneself up to a laughing, joking mood, which is not natural, but artificial, and which for the most part makes the impression as though one would cover up the inner hollowness and emptiness of his presence by witticism and cunning play of words.
When people can so laugh and giggle, and wind themselves up as it were to the point of folly, then they deem themselves to be just really happy; and a household in which this tone predominates is called “convivial” and “chummy.”
But Scripture judges differently.
It discerns the inward untruthfulness of this play of excitement, and therefore it testifies: To mourn is better than so to laugh.
For under such laughter frequently the heart suffers loss, while sadness of countenance oftentimes makes the heart better.
Now do not take the meaning of this word amiss; and do not commit the fault of falling from one extreme into the other.
Also in that other extreme is very serious danger.
An extreme that shows itself in this, that intentionally one represses all freer, happier utterance of heart, lets gall operate upon the blood more freely than the blood upon the nerves, and now takes a certain kind of pleasure in showing a gloomy face, and sighfully and complainingly to make oneself a burden to others.
This, too, is unnatural, not commanded by Holy Scripture but avenged.
An affectation that makes pleasure in making a very spiritual show, and aims to make an intentional impression of piety, which perchance readily degenerates into spiritual pride and ends in making the heart insensible to the ordinary impression of our human life.
Then there is no thanksgiving and no laugh of gladness for the many good things that come to us from God.
There is a sigh, but no song of praise.
Always a saying it over of the: “O, wretched man that I am,” with never a Hallelujah on the lips.
This is no “mourning.”
“Mourning” must come from the heart. It must be an utterance of real “hunger and distress” that fills our inner life; and therefore the “mourning” that Jesus calls blessed has nothing whatsoever in common with that artificial melancholy that has presently become a second nature.
One can show tears. But “mourning” is the tender word of a sorrow of heart which permits no false show.
Thus, whether you mourn or do not mourn depends upon two things. First, whether the impressions that come to your heart make you glad or sad, and in the second place whether your heart is sufficiently sensitive to receive that impression and to undergo the effect of it.
In the blessedness of heaven, mourning is unthinkable, because there nothing sorrowful will come into your heart, and everything around you will be abounding wealth and glory. Also in Paradise it would have had no meaning if, before his fall, Adam had mourned. His was pure joy and gladness.
In our estate and condition, on the other hand, now that our internal and external life is sunken in and broken, most impressions that come to us are sorrowful and disappointing. Read your papers, whose influence upon our life is now so great, and confess whether they do not bring you almost every day, from East or West, from far off and close by, sorrowfulness, of thunderclouds that threaten and of cruelties and accidents that have happened, while oh so rarely even for one single day nothing but praiseworthy and glad reports fill their columns.
But most of the time the sensibility of our heart is so dulled that, time and again, you see a person read his paper, which reports all sorts of murders and suicides, of people that are drowned and people that are burned, of theft and robbery, of cruel immorality and low intrigues, and then lay his paper aside and light-heartedly and jokingly resume conversation, as though his heart had received no single impression.
From this you understand already something of that “blessed are they that mourn.” For he who lives in the midst of a world like ours, and sympathizes with the need and the moral and social misery which surrounds him, by much and serious thought about it would almost be overcome.
In the measure in which you have less love, you have less sympathy and thus less pity. All that misery does not affect you. It does not trouble you. And therefore you are always able to jest and to laugh.
Hence this continuous laughter and jesting is proof and evidence of your lack of love and of the apathy of your heart. While he who has much love, and is less concerned about himself than about others, is affected with great seriousness, and under the impression of all the misery and all the sin that is abroad, though the eye may not weep, is sadly tuned in heart.
And here we mentioned only general misery, and the dark shadow which as such rests upon our human life.
But to him who lives the deeper life, there is, added to all this, not only his personal griefs and disappointments which he suffered at human hands, and unfaithfulness of friendship, but far more yet concern about the lot and future of people and native land, about demoniac spirits that are abroad, and, most deeply of all, sorrow over God’s Zion when God’s name is put to shame, or His church suffers loss, and His law is trodden underfoot.
Bring to mind what the psalmist sang: “Rivers of water run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law” (Ps. 119:36).
And now, who is there among the children of God who can say this after the psalmist, and who so loves his God?
There is, however, also much good abroad, much that makes for gladness and must be cause for joy.
He who understands what it is to give thanks, and does not abuse it as mere form, cannot kneel any night in worship, but material overwhelms him…. Even birds when they sing and the dog that jumps up to us in happy greeting bring something kindly into our life.
Hence, he who has a tender, receptive heart, and knows his own unworthiness, and in all honesty testifies: “Who am I, Lord, that all these blessings should come upon me,” also truly knows in his heart the deep emotion of joy and gladness which the apostle had in mind when he wrote: “Rejoice evermore” (I Thess. 5:16).
This then is real gladness. No artificial flower, but one of joy budded on the stem of our life. A high gladness and thankfulness which has nothing in common with the laugh of excitement or of forced gaiety. Not a gliding over one’s heart, but a life from his heart, and therefore a being kind to everyone and a being thankful before his God, with a gladness which never quarrels with seriousness, which is in perfect keeping with compassion for all that are in sorrow and want.
What we need, therefore, in our homes and in society at large, is neither endless laughter and joking fun, nor stiffness of melancholy and depression of sombernesses, but a serious tone of life which is animated by real love, which is token of a deep life, not of a gliding over things, but of taking vital interest in everything that pertains to the life of our heart. Also the generous laugh in its time, and the pleasure of sparkling wit. But these as exception. As a rule, such a tone of life as an angel of God would strike if he came down into the midst of our misery, and at the same time opened our eyes to the rich grace wherewith the love of God sweetens it.