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The time and the place will not allow me to enter more fully upon this subject; but thus much appeared to be necessary, in order to illustrate it, and to give some general ideas whereon to found our subsequent reasoning; and I will now proceed to consider,
2. How far wit is lawful.
And here we may reason from analogy, and say, that since God seems to have created many things for our delight, as well as for mere necessary use ;--since he hath not only created food for our nourishment, to support the body, but hath likewise given to it different and agreeable flavours,—since he hath not only created objects for our use, but hath given them, likewise, agreeable forms and colours,- since he hath made sounds not only for the purposes of conveying useful information, but likewise to please the sense of hearing,-since he hath given the sense of smelling, not only to distinguish in some measure between that which is good and that which is pernicious, but likewise to contribute to our delight,—and hath made the sense of feeling, likewise, to administer to our pleasure, as well as for use, there seems to be no reason why wit in itself, as improving the delight of conversation, should be considered as unlawful.
The faculty of wit, as well as that of reason, is peculiar to man, and “ whatever is peculiar to human nature, must surely deserve the serious attention of mankind. Experience gives us no reason to conclude, that we have any faculty, which is not worthy of cultivation; every faculty we have seems to be capable of endless improvement, and if any peculiarity in man turns upon the highest part of our nature, (which the moral part certainly is,) is it not right to conclude, that it is intended for good ends of a high and important sort?"*
Of that species of wit called ridicule, we certainly have some instances in Scripture. Elijah in his controversy with the priests of Baal, mocked them with the most pointed irony, or ridicule, and said of their god, “ Cry aloud, for he is a god, either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey; or peradventure he sleepeih, and must be awaked.” (1 Kings xviii. 27.) A similar passage is to be found in the book of the Prophet Isaiah), (ch. xliv. 9—20) where he is ridiculing the folly of those who make and worship idols. The whole passage
is too long to be cited, the following verses may serve as a specimen : • He heweih him down cedars,—he burneth part 'thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth
* Dr. Hey, p. 447.
roast and is satisfied; yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire: and the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my God.” v. 14, 16, 17.) The Author of the Lectures on Hebrero Poetry, in his remarks on the book of Job, says, “ In reply to Bildad, Job
', “ (ch. xxvi. 1-4.) demonstrates himself no less expert at wielding the weapons of satire and ridicule, than those of reason and argument.”*
But it is objected, that our blessed Saviour never was known to laugh. Supposing the fact to have been so (though I know not on what authority it is affirmed, nor how it can be proved, ) the excellent writer on ridicule, before quoted, offers these considerations to account for it: “ extensive views, business, sufferings, compassion, might easily prevent it.”+ But it is very certain, that Christ has mentioned laughter as a blessing: “ blessed are ye that weep now, for ye shall laugh;” (Luke vi. 21.)
. and the Psalmist says, " When the Lord turned again the captivity of Sion, then were we like unto them that dream: then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with joy.”
* Lowth's Lectures, vol. ii. p. 376, See also Job. xvi. 2. + Dr. Hey, p. 455.
(Psalm cxxvi, 1, 2.) And Bildad, in his expostulation with Job, (ch. viii. 20, 21.) says: “ Behold, God will not cast away a perfect man, neither will he help the evil doers, till he fill thy mouth with laughter, and thy lips with rejoicing.” The Almighty himself, and the Son, and the righteous of the earth-speaking as we must after the nanner of men,-are represented in more places than one, as laughing the wicked to scorn. (See Psalm ii. 4. xxviii. 13. lii. 6. lix. 8.) Though our Saviour was
" sometimes indignant at hypocrisy, he says of it what may be taken in a ludicrous light: " Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites;- ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel :” (Matt. xxiii. 23, 24.) the “ the camel were both unclean animals amongst the Jews; the swallowing of the latter was exaggeration, and of a kind not very serious.”* (Dr. Hey, p. 455.) Of the same nature are the other images made use of by our Saviour, in this address to the Scribes and Pharisees, where he represents them “ as making clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, while within they were full of extortion and excess,” (v. 25.)
* The picture” in the imagination" of hypocrites scrupulously "
“ filtering, lest they should be so unfortunate as to swallow an unclean insect, and then gobbling down a great unclean beast, has not much gravity in it: and what is represented by it, namely, great nicety in some things, and great want of nicety in others, makes a contrast of itself, which might excite some feeling of ridicule.” Ditto.
and where he compares them to " whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but within are full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." (v. 27.)–Our Saviour, in his teaching, did not want to make slight and superficial impressions; however, he says nothing against the use of ridicule” in its pure state. (Dr. Hey, p. 456.) Many are the passages of Scripture to the effect, that a merry heart doeth good." (Prov. xvii. 22. xv. 13.
. Eccles. ix. 7.) At the marriage in Cana, at which Christ wrought a miracle to produce the wine, which “ maketh glad the heart of man,” (Psalm civ. 15.) probably there was festive and facetious conversation; and at the entertainment given on the return of the Prodigal, which is a representation of the rejoicing in Heaven on the conversion of a sinner, there is music and dancing, and the Father says, “ It was meet that we should make merry and be glad.” (Luke xv. 32.) .
The Apostle, indeed, 'in the words of the text, forbids Eurpanenia, which we translate jesting, a word derived from another, (surgaTENOS) which signifies one who can easily, or readily turn his discourse, and accommodate it to the present occasion, for the purpose of exciting mirth or laughter, a wit; but since such persons are very apt to abuse this faculty, and to deviate into buffoonery, scurrility, and indecency, it is