Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.
Indisposition of body shows itself in a pain somewhere or other — a distress which draws our thoughts to it, impedes our ordinary way of going on, and throws the mind off its balance. Such, too, is indisposition of the soul, of whatever sort, be it passion or affection, hope or .fear, joy or grief. It takes us off from the clear contemplation of the next world, ruffles us, and makes us restless. In a word, it is what we call an excitement of mind. Excitements are the indisposition of the mind; and of these excitements in different ways the services of Divine worship are the proper antidotes. How they are so shall now be considered.
1. Excitements are of two kinds — secular and religious. First, let us consider secular excitements. Such is the pursuit of gain, or of power, or of distinction. Amusements are excitements; the applause of a crowd, emulations, hopes, risks, quarrels, contests, disappointments, successes. In such cases the object pursued naturally absorbs the mind, and excludes all thoughts but those relating to itself. Thus a man is sold over into bondage to this world. He has one idea, and one only before him, which becomes his idol. The most ordinary of these excitements, at least in this country, is the pursuit of gain. A man may live from week to week in the fever of a decent covetousness, to which he gives some more specious name (for instance, desire of doing his duty by his family), till the heart of religion is eaten out of him. Now, then, observe what is the remedy. "Is any afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms." Here we see one very momentous use of prayer and praise to all of us; it breaks the current of worldly thoughts. And this is the singular benefit of stated worship, that it statedly interferes with the urgency of worldly excitements. Our daily prayer, morning and evening, suspends our occupations of time and sense. And especially the daily prayers of the Church do this. It is impossible (under God's blessing) for any one to attend the daily service of the Church "with reverence and godly fear," and a wish and effort to give his thoughts to it, and not find himself thereby sobered and brought to recollection. What kinder office is there, when a man is agitated, than for a friend to put his hand upon him by way of warning, to startle and recall him? It often has the effect of saving us from angry words, or extravagant talking, or inconsiderate jesting, or rash resolves. And such is the blessed effect of the sacred services on Christians busied about many things, reminding them of the one thing needful, and keeping them from being drawn into the great whirlpool of time and sense.
2. Next, let us consider how religious excitements are set right by the same Divine medicine. If we had always continued in the way of light and truth, obeying God from childhood, doubtless we should know little of those swellings and tumults of the soul which are so common among us. Men who have grown up in the faith and fear of God have a calm and equable piety; so much so, that they are often charged on that very account with being dull, cold, formal, insensible, dead to the next world. Now, it stands to reason that a man who has always lived in the contemplation and improvement of his gospel privileges, will not feel that agitating surprise and vehemence of joy which he would feel, and ought to feel, if he had never known anything of them before. The jailer, who for the first time heard the news of salvation through Christ, gave evident signs of transport. This certainly is natural and right; still, it is a state of excitement, and, if I might say it, all states of excitement have dangerous tendencies. Now, this advice is often given: "Indulge the excitement; when you flag, seek for another; live upon the thought of God; go about doing good; let your light shine before men; tell them what God has done for your soul." By all which is meant, when we go into particulars, that they ought to fancy that they have something above all other men; ought to neglect their worldly calling, or at best only bear it as a cross; to join themselves to some particular set of religionists; to take part in this or that religious society; go to hear strange preachers, and obtrude their new feelings and new opinions upon others, at times proper and improper. If there was a time when those particular irregularities, which now are so common, were likely to abound, it was in the primitive Church. Men who had lived all their lives in the pollutions of sin unspeakable, who had been involved in the darkness of heathenism, were suddenly brought to the light of Christian truth. Their sins were all freely forgiven them, clean washed away in the waters of baptism. A new world of ideas was opened upon them, and the most astonishing objects presented to their faith. What a state of transport must have been theirs! And what an excited and critical state was theirs! Critical and dangerous in proportion to its real blessedness; for in proportion to the privileges we enjoy, ever will be our risk of misusing them. How, then, did they escape that enthusiasm which now prevails, that irreverence, immodesty, and rudeness? If at any time the outward framework of Christianity was in jeopardy, surely it was then. How was it the ungovernable elements within it did not burst forth and shiver to pieces the vessel which contained them? How was it that for fifteen hundred years the Church was preserved from those peculiar affections of mind and irregularities of feeling and conduct which now torment it like an ague? Now, certainly, looking at external and second causes, the miracles had much to do in securing this blessed sobriety in the early Christians. These kept them from wilfulness and extravagance, and tempered them to the spirit of godly fear. But the more ordinary means was one which we may enjoy at this day if we choose — the course of religious services, the round of prayer and praise, which, indeed, was also part of St. Paul's discipline, as we have seen, and which has a most gracious effect upon the restless and excited mind, giving it an outlet, yet withal calming, soothing, directing, purifying it. Let restless persons attend upon the worship of the Church, which will attune their minds in harmony with Christ's law, while it unburdens them. Did not St. Paul "pray" during his three days of blindness? Afterwards he was praying in the temple, when Christ appeared to him. Let this be well considered. Is any one desirous of gaining comfort to his soul, of bringing Christ's presence home to his very heart, and of doing the highest and most glorious things for the whole world? I have told him how to proceed. Let him praise God; let holy David's psalter be as familiar words in his mouth, his daily service, ever repeated, yet ever new and ever sacred. Let him pray; especially let him intercede. Doubt not the power of faith and prayer to effect all things with God. However you try, you cannot do works to compare with those which faith and prayer accomplish in the name of Christ.
(J. H. Newman, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.