The World a Sorry Comforter
George Mylne, 1871
The Preacher speaks of some who "had no comforter," because, as we infer that they sought comfort wrongly — on earthly, and not on heavenly grounds. And so it is too often with the bereaved — people try to cure their broken hearts with human remedies, the quackery of the world, which mocks the patient, and does not heal him. And thus, when sorrow comes, mourners are urged to seek their consolation in worldly pleasure, and to drown their recollections for a season, only to return more bitterly at last. They might as well expect a cure from sheer intoxication — as banish sorrow thus!
"Miserable Comforters" are they who recommend such remedies to distract your grief. Pleasure can only make a man forget his sorrows; and as waters wear the stones by ceaseless droppings — so a continuous round of pleasure may in time induce complete oblivion.
Yet this, to say the least, is a dishonorable way of stifling sorrow — advisedly I use the word. It does dishonor to the dead, that you must needs forget him, and for his memory substitute the theater, the race-course, or the whirling dance. Could he but know the fact, or tell the feelings of the eternal world — would he commend your conduct, or consider it a compliment to be banished thus from mind? Through pleasure you may try to forget your friend. The giddy spectacle, whatever it may be, hides him from view. It must be so. Such objects are not transparent, but opaque, with their many sorts of deadening influences.
Not so the atmosphere of God's grace. Its clear expanse forms no impediment to vision — quite the reverse. It gives you objects to survey, as clear as itself. It invites you to fix your eye on Jesus, Himself the Sun of that clear medium — Himself the object to bring out its properties. This will hide nothing from your view, that may be safely looked upon. It hides, indeed, objects of earthly vanity, as they again obscure the Cross. But it enables you to see more clearly, as you ought to see, all lawful objects of consideration. It enables you to weigh their consequences, discern their right proportions, and look upon them as they are looked upon by God. May you thus bear your sorrow honorably, and know the dignity of sanctified distress!
It is also dishonoring to yourself not to confront your sorrows like a man. It implies a lack of courage, the absence of proper self-command. There is something wrong, you may be sure — for is it correct, is it manly, thus to cheat the soul, to hide yourself behind some passing vanity, rather than face the sober truth? It proves you lack a higher principle, the muscles and sinews of a braver purpose, a mind nerved against unworthy refuges, a buoyancy to rise above the wave.
Yet I mean not Stoicism — encasing the mind with adamant, suppressing sensibilities, ignoring natural affection — its ground of resignation fatalism, unconscious or avowed; a dogged resolution to suffer on; a sullen tribute to some principle of harm — too blind to trace, too proud to own, the hand of the Almighty. Stoicism is not courage! There is nothing noble in its composition. It is rather cowardice, making its would-be hardiness a refuge for its lies. It dares not see affliction in its proper light.
Oh no! the strength of which I speak is something higher. It has no place whatever in the natural man. It is the offspring of saving grace. It brings its powers and its consolations from another world.
In some there is a way of sorrowing, nor seeking its distractions in the world, nor yet hardening itself in stoicism; feeding in calmness on its sensibilities, clothed in the mantle of a mournful dignity, attending to life's duties with self-denying purpose, exhibiting a quiet resignation to the blow. Yet it lacks the principle of God's grace, the principle of glad compliance with the will of Heaven; sorrowing, yet able to rejoice, distressed yet cheerful; not merely saying, "This is a grief — and I must bear it!" (Jeremiah 10:19), but counting it a privilege to feel a Father's Hand — rising above the instrument, to see a Father's Love, serene in the resilience of grace. It is thus the bread of bitterness is turned to sweetness, and the path of sorrow trodden with unfaltering steps, because of consolations that the world knows nothing of, and because the everlasting arms are underneath — surely, sweetly, sensibly.
Thus fortified and taught, a man may look bereavement in the face, undaunted. No need has he to seek a refuge in the world, and drown his sensibilities in pleasure. He has no need to arm himself with stoicism. He meets affliction not as a foe, but as a friend — the bearer of a message from the Lord. To turn from facing it, would be to scorn its mission, to hide himself from God.
Yet trust not in any power of your own. Would you do honor to yourself aright, you must have engrafted spiritual principle, engrafted courage — a self within, entirely distinct from what by nature bears the name — a New Creation in heart and mind — in principle and powers (2 Corinthians 5:17). May you thus be qualified to have a true respect for self, and have a self worthy to be respected!
But, most of all, to seek your comfort in the world is most dishonoring to God. Man was intended to hold communion with His Maker, in Him to find his consolation — -to have his Maker for his friend. But Adam fell, and, with the fall, there came a sad estrangement between him and God — an estrangement, shared by all his posterity down to the present hour. And thus, my friend, why don't you take your sorrows to the Lord? Because you are estranged from Him. Conscious of sin, you sullenly avoid your Maker — and seek your comfort in the world.
And is it to be always so — that God, the kindest and the best, should be a cipher to your sorrowing heart — that He alone should be the subject of studied disregard? Perhaps this sad bereavement was sent to teach you better things — to show you where true comfort is to be found — and make you see your danger, if you treat your Maker as a thing of nothing, and systematically pass Him by.
Hasten to be wise. Hasten to be childlike with the Lord. Hasten to be at peace with Him through a Savior's Blood. Hasten to regard Him as your Comforter — to treat Him as your friend.
And as the world can give no real consolation — then as little can we gain by borrowing its grief. "The sorrow of the world works death" (2 Corinthians 8:10). And this it does in many ways. It means that we grieve, irrespectively of God — that we sorrow without a comforter — that our sorrow is indulged in to satiety — that our sorrow is pent up within the breast without a safety-valve — -that we sorrow with nothing to relieve it — -that our mind is fixed on its own distress — -that we have nothing to break the continuity of wearying thought. Such sorrow wearies the flesh — it dries the bones (Proverbs 17. 22), secretly undermines the health, openly shows upon the countenance, induces gradual decay — and thus, eventually, works death!
How many, hence, have died of broken hearts! How many have committed suicide! And all, because they had no real Comforter! Had they only been at peace with God — had they only confided to Him their sorrow — their grief would have found an outlet, and their life would have been saved. And then they might have said, "I shall yet praise Him who is the health of my countenance, and my God" (Psalm 42:11).
Ask the physician, and he will tell you how sickness is often averted by a peaceful mind. Can they but avert the sickness, the patient lives. And what will keep from sickness, like a mind at peace with God? Contrast with this a broken heart — and from what does it proceed? From some hidden canker left to prey upon the mind, unchecked, unremedied — some wound unmollified with ointment (Isaiah 1:6) — some worm that feeds upon the root, sapping the constitution, eating out the stamina of life!
Such is the sorrow of the world. I beg you, Mourner, give not way to it. Before morbid feelings root themselves eradicably — bestir yourself. Shake off the viper which would eat into your heart. Awake to consciousness and healthful thought. "Is any afflicted — Let him pray!" — thus says the Scripture (James 5:13). Let him speak to God — to Him, unfold his grief. This at once unfolds the spring which opens the safety-valve, and lifts the sluice of healthy sensibilities. You are "afflicted" — then speak to God in the attitude of humble prayer. At any rate, my friend, speak to God. Catch not infection from the world — which is sorrow unto death.
The sorrow of the world works death in yet another form. Instead of leading you to God, it takes you further From Him — further from grace — further From Christ — further from hope — further from eternal life! Instead of softening the heart — it hardens. It engenders a deadened spirit, a conscience not awake to suitable impressions — it paves the way for death — death here, and death hereafter! Then take a lesson, Mourner, if such is your temptation. Shun worldly sorrow, which eats as a canker! Seek peace. Seek sweet serenity. Seek life for soul and body in the simple remedy of Christ — the balsam of the soul.