‘I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?’
Solomon says of the mirthful man, of the man who makes others laugh, that he is a madman. We need not suppose that all laughter is indiscriminately condemned, as though gloom marks a sane person and cheerfulness an insane. ‘Rejoice evermore’ is a Scriptural direction, and blithe-heartedness ought to be both felt and displayed by those who know that they have God for their Guardian and Christ for their Surety. It is the laughter of the world which the wise man calls madness.
I. That conflict of which this creation is the scene, and the leading antagonists in which are Satan and God, is a conflict between falsehood and truth.—And it is in consequence of this that so much criminality is everywhere in Scripture attached to a lie, and that those on whom a lie may be charged are represented as more especially obnoxious to the anger of God. Now, whilst the bold and direct falsehood gains for itself general execration, mainly perhaps because felt to militate against the general interest, there is a ready indulgence for the more sportive falsehood which is rather the playing with truth than the making a lie. Here it is that we shall find laughter which is madness, and identify with a madman him by whom the laughter is raised. The man who passes off a clever fiction, or amusingly distorts an occurrence, or dexterously misrepresents a fact, may say that he only means to be amusing; but as he can hardly fail to lower the majesty of truth in the eyes of his neighbour, there may be ample reason for assenting to the wise man’s decision,’ I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?’
II. But it is not perhaps till laughter is turned upon sacred things that we have before us the madness in all its wildness and injuriousness.—The man who in any way exercises his wit upon the Bible conveys undoubtedly an impression, whether he intend it or not, that he is not a believer in the inspiration of the Bible; and he may do far more mischief to the souls of his fellow-men than if he engaged openly in assaulting the great truths of Christianity.
III. The great general inference from this subject is that we ought to set a watch upon our tongues, to pray God to keep the door of our lips. ‘Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt.’
‘Luther says, “Many a one arranges all his matters with much toil and trouble, that he may have repose and peace in his old age, but God disposes otherwise, so that he comes into affairs that cause his unrest then to commence. Many a one seeks his joy in lust and licentiousness, and his life is embittered ever after. Therefore, if God does not give joy and pleasure, but we strive after it, and endeavour to create it of ourselves, no good will come of it, but it is, as Solomon says, all vanity. The best gladness and delight are those which one does not seek (for a fly may easily fall into our broth), but that which God gives to our hand.” ’