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For They Shall Be Comforted


“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”—ST MATTHEW 5:4.


We dealt with the transforming power of sorrow last Sunday. Let us pass on to consider God’s comfort, the comfort that comes to men here and now in a degree as the earnest of the full consolation hereafter.


There is a great difference which we must all have observed in the way people wish for comfort, and the kind of comfort they wish for. “If I could only forget,” is the ideal often. “O God,” they say, in effect, “blot out this memory, help me to forget my unhappiness.” Surely that is to destroy oneself by the most determined moral suicide. To kill the nerve of one’s sensibility, to try to drown one’s grief by seeking the distraction of pleasure, is to seek comfort in a distinctly false fashion. Here, as elsewhere, it is the motive that makes the difference. If you wish for comfort merely to save yourself feeling about things, you will never arrive at God’s comfort; if you wish for it as a mere anodyne, as something to kill the nerve, it will never come in any healthy fashion. It is better to go mourning all the day long, far better to be one whose night of loss is always there, than to kill one’s highest feelings, to commit moral suicide. No doubt time softens things, no doubt work brings its alleviations, no doubt we see, after a time, compensations; let us thank God for all that comes to us of consolation in such fashion, but let us never try to violently strangle our highest feelings in order to save ourselves pain. This is a matter we must settle within ourselves. There is so little, so much too little of inward self-regulation. Men try to make the fruit good without making the tree good, and succeed only in producing a reading of religion which is felt to lack consistency, and to fail in power. The full strength of God’s consolation can only come to us when we are really taking pains with ourselves.


But, while we are trying to take pains, we must hold on to the conviction that it is God Who really sends the help, through whatever means; it is God Who turns the bitter into sweet. We cannot comfort ourselves in any bitter sorrow, any more than we can cure ourselves in serious illness. When God’s love becomes a fact, God’s comfort begins to overspread us. As long as He is a Being, a Being full of power and wonderful, but of another order from ourselves, as long as it is only the Divine Existence upon which we dwell, we shall feel little strength or consolation. If we can only be sure that God cares, we can bear our troubles much better; for it is a great advance from God is to God cares. When it begins to dawn on us that God cares, that God cares enough to bear the burden with us, that it is true that communion with Him, thinking of Him, calling to Him will assure us of His nearness, that we can know His sympathy, feel His hand, then we see the fulfilment of God’s promise of comfort.


Of course I know that the conditions of our modern life make it very difficult for any of us to rest on the conviction that God cares for each of us, and will, if we seek Him, let us feel His care. Things are so big now; places are so large; the population of London, when we come in contact with any appreciable fragment of it, seems endless—streets, and squares, and crescents, and rows, and buildings, all alive with human beings. If you go down any great thoroughfare you encounter an endless stretch of faces that tell of an infinite variety of life, that tell of anxiety, sorrow, hope, joy, weariness, thoughtfulness, carelessness, folly, sin, despair; it seems so inconceivable that God, a Personal God, should have each of these millions within His heart. The only thing that I know of in such moments that is likely to bring us back to ourselves, is the thought of the multitudes of every age and every country who have believed that God felt for them in trouble, have gone to Him and left on record their unalterable conviction, the fruit of their own blessed experience, that God was the consoler of His people, that none ever yet believed in Him and did not find Him a refuge in time of trouble. “Whom have I in heaven but Thee?” That is the universal conviction of all who have made the experiment. There is not one life which the Life-Giver loses out of His sight; not one that so sins that He casts it away; not one that may not come to the knowledge of the great truth to which the Bible bears witness on every page, that whatever touches man with sorrow or with joy, touches God also with sorrow or with joy.


And one great way in which God will let us know His nearness if we seek Him in trouble, one of the great proofs of His sympathy, is in the enlargement of ideas that He brings us at such times. He does not treat men like children who are to be petted with soft words. He deals with them as men who are able to see, and in a measure to understand, the discipline of life, the meaning and the purpose of the troubles that come to them. He not only educates by trouble, but He shows them how trouble educates, how men grow through it. He takes the simplest law of growth which runs through all creation, which is illustrated in the pruning of the vine and the cutting of the grass, and He shows the eternal principle that underlies it, viz., the sacrifice of the present to the future. He stretches men’s minds in that way. He says to them, in effect, “It is better for your growth that some things should leave you and others go wrong with you, that you should have something to live for, some sweet re-union, some cleared-up understanding, some resurrection joy. It is better for your growth, and though you shrink from the process, you can yet understand it and feel how you and I work together in this fashion.”


Then, again, He reveals another great consoling truth through this association in sorrow, viz., that the soul, the inner being of man, his whole spiritual and moral nature, is of far more importance than his material life—a lesson difficult to learn, an idea too large to be taken in all at once. There are many adversaries, there is the tremendous sense of the importunity of the material nature; it squeaks and cries so when it is hurt, it makes its laments in so imperious a fashion, that we are often in danger of thinking that it is really the predominant partner. On the other hand, the higher spiritual and moral self only makes itself known by a twinge or a sigh, like an uncomplaining servant who executes our whims; and so it is very hard often to realize that the inner spiritual being is far the more important of the two, that, e.g., it matters much more that a man should be gentle than that he should be healthy, or affectionate than muscular; and that though the spiritual grows only out of the natural, yet that it is the fruit without which the natural remains barren and useless. It is through enlargement of ideas that God makes His consolation felt, and one great kind of enlargement is when He teaches us that the spiritual part of us is the part which most matters.


Then there is another enlargement in our whole point of view which He brings to us. He opens to us a vision of immortality, and shows us the end and finishing of lives which have only begun here to play their parts and will learn in another world to complete them. He shows us how nothing can be judged of here; that here is the seed only, and there is the fruit and the flower, and how the things that seem so untoward here may have, will have, a place in the great final result. He shows us that the present to which we cling so fondly is only of value inasmuch as it shapes us for higher work.


Machinery just meant

To give thy soul its bent,

Try thee and turn thee forth sufficiently impressed.


In these ways, by enlarging our ideas and stretching our views of things, God consoles us. He educates us. He gives us the true balance, as He shows us the issue of things. Do we say that these things will take away your sorrow, that you will not feel? No: you are like a tired man, you must feel your weariness; but it is quite one thing to sink down, and quite another to have strength put into you, so that, though still tired, you may be able to bear your burden. God would strengthen you by His consolation in sorrow, not by taking away sorrow, but by giving you, in and by the sorrow, enlargement of ideas, by giving you a new sense of spiritual proportion, by enabling you to live in the large room, “the place of liberty,” where you can grow larger, and escape from the cramped littleness of mere self-indulgent mourning.


But there is a deeper consolation still. Only it is so hard to speak of; one always dreads the language that sounds conventional to express the deepest of all experiences; and the utterance of the truths about God’s consoling power have so often been reduced to such thin commonplace, even to such nauseous cant, that one dreads to add to the sensation of weariness which the association of ideas may produce. The young cannot know about this but surely many of you have been through enough to know it. For it is true, and it is the deepest truth of all, that God does console His children in sorrow, not only by education, not only by enlarging their ideas, but by Himself coming and letting them feel a larger measure of His Presence and His Oneness. He comes to bind up the broken-hearted, by giving us the sense that in some way He replaces the lost father, the dead child, the vanished friend, by a fuller gift of Himself. The best gift of all that we can have, the dearest affection, the sweetest intercourse, is that which comes from a deepened association with God and Christ. The touch of Christ healed the sick, sent new life into man; there was a power, not mechanical but moral, about Him that made men feel that here at last was One Who could and did understand not their superficial wants but their deepest needs, and they followed Him. He said but little to St Peter, or to St Matthew, or to Nathanael, or to the woman taken in adultery, but the little that He did say proved to them that He had taken them into His closest sympathy, that He understood where the trouble was, and where the strength was wanted. Brethren, our deepest sorrows often come to us from being misunderstood. Things seem so clear and plain to us, and yet the man who stands by us does not see them. ‘There they are,’ we say, while he says ‘you must be blind or wicked to think that things are so’; and I do not know whether a man ever realizes what it is to go to the Father so completely as when he goes to Him as the refuge from the misconception of men. “Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy presence from the pride of men, Thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.” Whatever difficulties men may raise about prayer, this difficulty can always stand the test of experience. Really to pray is to go home, to feel here that “the Father Himself loveth you.”


I have left till the last the comfort of God’s forgiveness. “Blessed are they that mourn” for their sins, “for they shall be comforted.” To mourn for our sins, what does it mean? Not to make excuses founded on our bad bringing up or on our surroundings, for no one is ever really sorry who makes excuses. Not to sink into hopeless despair for them, not to let the dull toothache of remorse poison and spoil our lives. To mourn for our sins is to brace our will and to nerve our heart to leave them off, to do the wrong no more, to avoid the temptation, to shrink from the association, to refuse the dangerous pleasure, to choose rather to suffer affliction than to enjoy the pleasures of sin—it is above all, to act. They who mourn thus have here and now the deepest comfort. They hear Christ’s voice, “Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more,” and they feel that life again is full of possibilities, that, however dark the past, the future is theirs; and oh the comfort of the possession of that future, oh the joy of feeling that things can be changed! That even we who have been so sick with ourselves, for our weakness, and our selfishness, and our want of self-control, have done so little to support the weak, may yet find our true selves, and live our best lives, and leave behind us when we go, some little mark unknown of men, hidden from ourselves, but dear to God, some mark that tells not that we were happy or prosperous, but some mark that tells that the world is a better place because we have lived in it.


“Blessed are they that mourn” for their sins, “for they shall be comforted,” comforted now by enlargement of ideas, comforted by a closer fellowship with God, comforted forever by that recognition of their faithful struggles that surely awaits them, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”


Eyton, R. (1896). The Benediction on Mourners (II). In The Beatitudes (Second Edition, pp. 34–43). Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. Ltd. (Public Domain)

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