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Bells for the Horses

by C. H. Spurgeon
From the March 1866 Sword and Trowel


"In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, Holiness unto the Lord."—Zechariah 14:20.
BELLS on the horses! Unnecessary! Very unnecessary, indeed," says my neighbour, Dr. Dull; "very needless, trivial, and absurd. Horses do not derive a particle of strength from wearing a set of jingling nuisances which can be of no possible service, and only spoil the quiet, so sweet to melancholy." Well, well, most judicious doctor, we will not dispute with you, for it is very much a matter of taste, and therefore, not to be quarrelled over; as saith the old rule, De gustibus non est disputandum. You delight in comfortable misery, and I delight in overflowing joy. Your portion is quite safe from my envy, and if you do not care for mine, you have only to let me enjoy it, and we shall agree right well. Nevertheless, I am most decidedly for bells as well as horses, for the bells ring in my ears, and do not jingle on my tympanum as they do on yours. I hear their sweet silvery notes with far too much satisfaction to think them a nuisance, or to wish to silence their busy tongues. You shall do as you please with your hacks; I have an appointment under the great King, and I am bound to see to it that the royal horses shall not lack for bells. So, here, according to my ability, I seek to hang his Majesty's own bells about the necks of those goodly steeds who draw his chariot.
    Cheerfulness, that compound of many excellencies, comparable unto "the powders of the merchant," may scarcely claim to be called a virtue; but it is the friend and helper of all good graces, and the absence of it is certainly a vice. If cheerfulness be not health, assuredly melancholy is disease. Practically, cheerfulness occupies a very high position, and without it the Christian laborer is destitute of a very considerable element of strength. All wise workers for the Lord Jesus desire to preserve their tools in the best condition; their common sense teaches them that the tool-chest within themselves must not be left uncured for, since holy working with depressed spirits and gloomy views is as difficult as for the artist to paint with worn-out brushes, or the sculptor to fashion his marble with broken chisels. Cheerfulness sharpens the edge, and removes the rust from the mind. A joyous heart supplies oil to our inward machinery, and makes the whole of our powers work with ease and efficiency; hence it is of the utmost importance that we maintain a contented, cheerful, genial disposition. The longer I am engaged in my Master's service, the more am I confident that the joy of the Lord is and must be our strength, and that discontent and moroseness are fatal to usefulness. With all my heart would I say to my fellow-servants, "rejoice in the Lord always," not only for your own sakes, but for the sake of the work which is so dear to you. Whoever may advocate dreary dullness, I cannot and dare not do other than impeach it as an enemy of true religion. The deadening gloom and murderous chilliness of certain religionists is guilty of the blood of souls, and is to be avoided as men shun the death damps of malarious swamps. The Puritans were never accused of too much hilarity, but they were, as a rule, happy men; and one of them shall speak from the grave in support of the duty which I am now urging upon you. Ho, Master Thomas Watson, let us hear thy voice from thy sepulchre! These are the words which my ear drinks in from him who discoursed so sweetly upon "Divine Contentment:" "Cheerfulness honors religion; it proclaims to the world that we serve a good Master; cheerfulness is a friend to grace; it puts the heart in tune to serve God. Uncheerful Christians, like the spies, bring an evil report on the good land; others suspect there is something unpleasant in religion, that they who profess it hang their harps upon the willows, and walk so dejectedly. Be serious, yet cheerful. Rejoice in the Lord alway." Well said, Master Watson, may we all have grace to practice thy good counsel!
    Among professed Christians there lurks an undefined and unexpressed idea, that cheerfulness, if not absolutely sinful in itself, is very dangerous; and to be kept like gunpowder in small quantities only, and always under lock and key, for fear of mischief. Mr. Timbs might have included in his list of "Popular Errors," the tradition that true piety lives at the sign of the long face, and he might have added to his "Things not generally known," the fact that holiness and happiness are blood relations. I have remarked that many apparently good people put certain lively and sparkling Saxon words under a ban, because of their expressive joyousness; as for instance, that innocent and even scriptural word, "merry." Sundry of my friends were just going to wish me "A Merry Christmas," but they suddenly stopped, like a spiritless huntsman at a five-barred gate, and backed out of it. They even looked solemnly penitent, as if they had committed the beginning of a sin, and felt that their feet had well nigh slipped. I looked them full in the face, and said, "Why don't you out with it? Why should I not be merry at Christmas, and all the year round beside?" God says of himself as the great Father, and of his holy angels as his friends and neighbors, "It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad, for this thy brother was dead and is alive again." "They began to be merry," is the Holy Ghost's own expression of Christian joy over converted sinners, and if you will use it in a holy sense, there is not a more gracious, and blessed word in all our language than that word "merry." We do not seek worldly merriment, but we do love such holy mirth as James alludes to, when he says, "Is any merry? let him sing psalms," James 5:13. Solomon sent away the people at the opening of the temple "glad and merry in heart, for all the goodness that the Lord had shewed unto David, and to Solomon, and to Israel his people," 2 Chronicles 7:10; and he tells us that "a merry heart doeth good like a medicine," Proverbs 17:22. I decline, therefore, to be robbed of such a rich, bell-ringing, festive word as that "merry," which so shocks a spurious propriety. I have heard of being merry and wise, and I believe in being merry and holy. The bells must be holiness unto the Lord, but they must be bells, and we cannot afford to have them melted down and turned into coffin-plates. Working Christians should, as far as possible, be cheerful of countenance, happy in manner, and merry in heart; and there are several reasons why I think so.
    They should be happy, BECAUSE THEY SERVE A HAPPY GOD.
    It enters into the essential idea of God that he is superlatively blessed. We cannot conceive of a God who should be infinitely miserable. Our written rule and guide speaks of him whom we adore as "God over all, blessed for ever." Good Mr. Knibb used to employ, instead of the term "the blessed God," what, I believe, is an equally accurate translation, "the happy God." As it is true that "God is love," so is it equally true that God is happiness. Now it would be an exceedingly strange thing if, in proportion as we became like a happy God, we grew more and more miserable. It would be a singular and unaccountable thing indeed if, by acting like the Giver of all good, whose bliss is perfect, we should increase in wretchedness. The livery of kings should be bright and lavish with gold lace, and the livery of the King of kings, the Lord of blessedness, must not be of somber hue. If a black ray should cry, "I come, from the sun," who would believe it? and who will credit our credentials as coming from heaven if we look like souls fore-doomed to hell? Congruity is to be studied everywhere, and it seems not meet that the ambassadors of the Prince of light should wear a perpetual shadow over their faces. The priests of old were not to sully themselves with sorrow when they performed their functions, and saints who are of a higher priesthood should show forth delight in their approaches to their God. Angels sing, and why not God's other servants who are a little lower and yet far higher? David danced before the ark, which was but a symbol of Divinity; what ails us that our heart so seldom dances before the Lord himself? The old creation has its sunshine and flowers; its lowing herds and bleating flocks; its heaven-mounting larks and warbling nightingales; its rivers laughing, and its seas clapping hands; is the new creation of grace to render less happy worship to God our exceeding joy? Nay, rather let us come into his presence with thanksgiving, and show ourselves glad in him with psalms. Most of the English versions alter the Old Hundredth Psalm into "Him serve with fear;" but for my part, by God's grace, I mean to sing it as it used to be, and still is sung in Scotland—

"All people, that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice,
Him serve WITH MIRTH, his praise forth tell
Come ye before him and rejoice."

    I know you will tell me that the gold must be thrust into the fire, that believers must pass through much tribulation. I answer, Truly it must be so, but when the gold knows why and wherefore it is in the fire, when it understands who placed it there, who watches it while amid the coals, who is sworn to bring it out unhurt, and in what matchless purity it will soon appear, the gold, if it be gold indeed, will thank the Refiner for putting it into the crucible, and will find a sweet satisfaction even in the flames. "And not only so, but we glory in tribulation also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope." "Let the saints be joyful in glory; let them sing aloud upon their beds." God himself in our worst condition is an unfailing source of joy.

"A Deity believed is joy begun;
A Deity adored is joy advanced;
A Deity beloved is joy matured,
Each branch of piety delight inspires."

    Heaven is happiness, and it is scarcely conceivable that those who possess the "earnest of the inheritance," can find that "earnest" to be unlike the "inheritance" itself. "An earnest" is a part of the possession; the earnest of heaven must, surely, be joyful and blissful like heaven, of which it is the foretaste.
    Furthermore, (as preachers say,) IS NOT THE GOSPEL CALCULATED TO MAKE MEN HAPPY WHEN IT IS REALLY UNDERSTOOD, BELIEVED, ENJOYED? You believe that Jesus Christ is man in our nature; that the Word was made flesh. Did not this grand truth set all heaven on a blaze with splendor on the night of the nativity, while angels chanted midnight chorales, and should it not also set your heart a-glow with sacred joy every night and every day, while all your powers and passions sing with gratitude?
    You believe that Jesus died for sinners. The doctrine of the atonement is earth's heaven-given light, by which the dark despair of humanity is chased away. Do you believe yourself to be forgiven and washed in the precious blood, and does your heart never say,

"I will praise thee every day,
Now thine anger's turned away"?

Do you derive no comfort "from the bleeding sacrifice"? Shall the praises of Jesus never be your pleasant song? It seems to me that if one had to conceive beforehand, without observation, what state of mind that heart would be in which had thoroughly received the gospel of peace, one would be constrained to mention, together with other sacred effects, happiness as a most prominent result. Surely, I should say, a soul elect of God, bought with blood, called by the Spirit, made a partaker of heavenly banquets, and ordained unto eternal life, must have a new song put into its mouth. We have fellowship with a Savior whose joys were as deep though not so apparent as his agonies; and we may find peace where he found his, namely, in a contemplation of the glory which the Father receives in the work of his dear Son.

"Christ had his joys, but they were not
The joys the son of pleasure boasts—
O, no! 'twas when his spirit sought
Thy will, thy glory, God of Hosts!

"Christ had his joys, and so hath he
Who feels the Spirit in his heart;
Who yields, O God, his all to thee,
And loves thy name for what thou art."

    Moreover, rest assured, dear friends, that, AS A WORKER, CHEERFULNESS WILL BE ONE OF THE VERY BEST ASSISTANTS YOU CAN HAVE. That grim sage, Thomas Carlyle, hits this nail on the head, when he says, "Give us, oh give us the man that sings at his work! Be his occupation what it may, he is equal to any of those who follow the same pursuit in silent sullenness. He will do more in the same time—he will do it better—he will persevere longer. One is scarcely sensible of fatigue while he marches to music. The very stars are said to make harmony as they revolve in their spheres. Wondrous is the strength of cheerfulness, altogether past calculation its powers of endurance. Efforts to be permanently useful must be uniformly joyous—a spirit of all sunshine—graceful from very gladness—beautiful because bright." Cheerfulness readily carries burdens which despondency dares not touch. "A merry heart goes all the day, a sad heart tires in a mile." Despondency whispers, "Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?" But cheerfulness points to the risen Savior, and the stone already moved. Despondency scarcely entertains as possible the plan which cheerfulness readily works out. Despondency gives up the work at the very first discouragement; but cheerfulness sings of success yet to come. Despondency is broken-hearted, because of the hardness of men's hearts; but cheerfulness remembers the might of the eternal hammer which can break the rock in pieces. A sad heart goes mourning to its loneliness, sullenly murmuring at its hard lot, but the stout heart repairs to the throne of grace, and opens its mouth wide that God may fill it. You can work for God at a great rate when you can praise him whilst you are working for him. Have you never noticed in the morning how much the aspect of the day will depend upon the spirit and temper in which you leave your bed? Suppose yourself tortured with headache; then all nature has the headache too, and the streets and houses are throbbing with it. To a poor soul troubled with indigestion a wet morning is horrible, the roads are rivers of malicious mud, the heartless rain-drops come pattering down most cruelly, every one of them bitterly chilling your marrow and spitefully shivering your bones, while the grim clouds are piled one upon the other as though some celestial upholsterer, of most diabolical disposition, were furnishing an unlimited supply of funeral palls to be placed over the coffins of your joys. "All these things are against me!" say you, as you look to the threatening heavens above and to the slushy earth beneath. But how very different it is when your heart is glad! "Here come," say you, "the silver drops from heaven again, those blessed clouds of God are still bounteously bestowing the soil-enriching rain! God intends a blessing on the earth in all this, and I will rejoice in the rain-drops as so many sparkling love-tokens from the hand of my Father, who forgets not to moisten the earth when it needs it." So you walk along cheerfully to your work, splashing up stars from the pavement and hearing the rain playing on your umbrella almost as sweet a tune as if it were the music of the spheres, a music to which your heart keeps tune as you go on marching through Immanuel's ground to fairer worlds on high. Everything depends on how you keep the inward man; if the immortal tenant be happy, the surroundings of his house are of very small account. Monarchs have been miserable in palaces, and peasants have been happy in cottages. I am sure that I am right in saying that the happiest Christians are able to work the best for their Lord. Sorrow doubtless tends to sharpen the soul, as the hard grindstone does the knife; but no cutler sends home the knife till he has used the polishing leather, and so should we shine with a bright polish of thankful joy, even though we have felt the hard grindstone of affliction.
    The main reason why I advocate cheerfulness is, that IT ALWAYS RECOMMENDS THE TRUTH TO THOSE WHOM YOU WISH TO IMPRESS WITH IT.
    If you stand up and say, with a miserable face and a whining voice, it is a most blessed thing to be in Christ Jesus, observers will form their judgment rather by your face than by your words; and after you have been commending the religion of Jesus, they will mentally make this note—"And a blessed specimen of it you are! From what we see in you, its ways are not the ways of pleasantness, and its paths are not the paths of peace." The story goes, that two naughty youngsters were warned by their mother that they would never go to heaven, if they continued to be such bad boys; whereupon the saucy young sinners replied that they did not want to go to heaven at all. When their mother very sadly wanted to know why they did not wish to go to heaven, they said—"Ma, won't grandpa go to heaven?" "Yes, dears; your dear grandpapa is a very holy man." "Then, please, we don't want to go to heaven if grandpa is to be there; for he would begin to scold us, and say—'There's those horrid boys again,'" I will be bound to say that such a grandpa's teaching would not be very effective with his grandchildren; but when a kind, cheerful grandpapa—and there are many such—takes the little one on his knee, and begins to talk of Jesus in gentle words and with loving glances, Master Johnny never forgets it. The gospel tunnels its way into the heart with kindness as its boring rod. No matter what good truths you have to teach, no one will thank you if you do not speak kindly. Mrs. Prosser's parable of the east wind sets this forth admirably; I must tell it you. "Why do you shrink from me?" said the east wind, angrily, to the flowers. The primrose, for answer, crept under its leaves; the snow-drop, bending lower, laid her head sadly on the earth; the opening buds closed again, and the young and tender green leaves curled up, looking dry and withered. "Why do you fly from me?" said the east wind, reproachfully, to the birds. For answer, the chaffinch fluttered into a bush; the warblers kept close to their half-made nests; the robin hid under the window-sill; and the sparrows huddled into their holes. "Ungrateful!" howled the east wind. "Do I not fill the sails of treasure-ships, that bring balmy spices, shining merchandise, and all the precious gifts of far-off lands? The gold, the silver, the gems of earth and of ocean, are they not wafted by me to these shores? Yet love never greets me. I find a barren land and a reproachful silence wherever I come." "Ah, my stern brother," replied the sun, struggling for a moment through a leaden sky, "read aright the reason of your reception. Who brings the piercing blast and destructive blight? who hides the azure of the heavens, and dims the beauty of the earth? who tries to veil me with impenetrable gloom, so that I can no longer bid the world rejoice? Is not this your work? Riches you may bring, but the gifts of your hand cannot atone for your harsh voice and unloving nature. Your presence inspires terror and spreads unhappiness, and where fear is, love is never seen."
    When you have to distribute your tracts, or visit from house to house, or to teach a class of boys or girls, prefer sugar to vinegar for your breakfast. Vinegar did, according to very doubtful history, soften the rocks for Hannibal, but it will not soften hearts for you. There are more flies caught with honey than with vinegar. Better to go forth with a sweet smile upon your face and with gentleness written across your countenance than to be morose, stern, and uncivil; for if you are the latter, you belie with your face what you say with your tongue. My friend, the late Judge Haliburton, once invited me to visit him, saying in his humorous way, that if my clock was out of order, a few days with the clockmaker might be good for me. Now he is gone from among us, but I shall venture to give a little bit of his Yankee talk to help to set some of your clocks in order. Under the name of Sam Slick he gave us a great deal of very useful truth, in a form perhaps a little too broad, but never lacking in vigor. I must repeat to you very much in Slick's own style the story of the Rev. Joshua Hopewell's apple trees, which nobody ever meddled with, and I shall hardly need to make an application. "The old minister had an orchard of most particular good fruit, for he was a great hand at buddin, graftin, and what not, and the orchard stretched right up to the road. Well, there were some trees hung over the fence. I never see such bearers, the apples hung in ropes, for all the world like strings of onions, and the fruit was beautiful. Nobody touched the minister's apples, and when other folks lost their'n from the boys, his'n always hung there like bait to a hook; but there never was so much as a nibbling at 'em. So I said to him, one day, 'Minister,' said I, 'How on earth do you manage to keep your fruit that's so exposed, when no one else can't do it no how?' 'Why,' says he, 'They are dreadful pretty fruit, aren't they?' 'I guess,' said I, 'There aren't the like on 'em in all Connecticut.' 'Well,' says he, 'I'll tell you the secret, but you needn't let on to no one about it. That are row next the fence I grafted in myself, I took great pains to get the right kind, I sent clean up to Roxberry, and away down to Squaw-neck Creek.' (I was afeer'd he was agoin for to give me day and date for every graft, being a terrible long-winded man in his stories.) 'So,' says I, 'I know that, minister, but how do you preserve them?' 'Why, I was agoin to tell you,' said he, 'when you stopped me.' 'That are outward row I grafted myself, with the choicest I could find, and I succeeded. They are beautiful, but so dreadful sour no human soul can eat them. Well, the boys think the old minister's graftin has all succeeded about as well as that row, and they search no farther. They snicker at my griffin, and I laugh in my sleeve, I guess, at their penetration.'" It would seem as if certain sour professors had taken a leaf out of the old minister's book, and had planted the garden of the Lord all round with the sharpest fruit to prevent the young from tasting the goodly fruit of the tree of life; if such be their aim they succeed admirably, but as it is our desire to bring many to feed upon the blessed fruit, let our trees near the road bear as pleasant apples as an earthly garden can yield.
    And now I can fancy some of you saying, "Yes, it is very easy to tell us to be cheerful; but how can we be so when we have so many difficulties, so many crooks in our lot, so many crying children at home and bad debts abroad?" May I escape your anger if I observe that I have often noticed that; many of the most cheerful people are those who have the most trials and troubles; while, on the other hand, many who are dull and heavy are those who, in the judgment of all but themselves, might well be envied. When children cry who have nothing to cry for, one could almost wish they had. There are tradesmen who save money, and yet never own to prosperity. God increases their wealth, but they still moan over their supposed poverty. I have known some who have grown rich enough to retire, and yet they have been, according to their own account, losing money ever since they began business, although they started with nothing! They calculate their balance on a most amusing theory; they say they ought to have gained a certain sum, and then they set down what falls short of their expectations as so much loss, and with this they worry themselves and torment others! If we could get all our brethren out of a murmuring spirit,—and methinks they ought to abjure it at once,—they would very soon find that, resting upon God, looking to Christ, and being sustained by the Holy Spirit, their troubles would teach them patience, and they would praise God even in the worst periods of life, if "worst periods" indeed there be to those for whom "all things work together for good."
    Bells for the horses, then, and there is no lack of metal to make them with! Turn to your own experience, and to God's Word. Think of the goodness of God in the past, and of the promises of God as to the future. Remember that you are still a child in the divine family; that the mercy-seat is open still; that Christ's precious blood is still able to cleanse; that the Holy Spirit still worketh in us, to will and to do of the Master's good pleasure; that there is, beyond this little life, a world to come, brimming with happiness and blessedness. Surely these bells will ring in your ears with a holy melody.
    Get every now and then a season of quiet; and sometimes enjoy the stillness of some rural retreat. You country people are highly favored to have quiet haunts so near you; but you citizens should spend your holidays less in fashionable mobs, and more in communion with nature. You must get out of the world's din if you would renew our cheerfulness. I have had an empty seat set for you in my engraving by the side of a rill, which ripples among the stones in the midst of a grove. Such places are my hospital, my oratory, my armory, my observatory, my earthly heaven. Beyond all medicine, stimulant, cordial, or lecturing, I commend quiet hours in calm retreats to God's hardworking servants in order to help their spirits up to the mark. That blessed Spirit who led his servant Paul into Arabia, and Moses into the desert, is frequently pleased to bless retirement to the restoration of the believer's joy and strength. Now, ye workers, as I cease my exhortation, I must repeat the words, "Serve the Lord with joy." Imitate the angels "who do his commandment, hearkening unto the voice of his word," and at the same time, "with songs and choral symphonies, day without night circle his throne rejoicing."
    Let your every service be a song, and every act of teaching others be a thanksgiving unto God; so shall your own life be blessed, God be honored, and souls be saved.—C. H. S.

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