by James W. Alexander
Reasons might be given, if it were seemly and important, why the mind of the writer has been strongly drawn towards this particular subject. It is, however, sufficient to say, that in the course of a ministry which now oversteps the quarter of a century, he has, like his brethren, often felt it to be his obligation and pleasure to attempt the work of comforting sufferers. One of the facilities afforded to the gospel by the press is, that it enables the preacher to extend his voice, according to his measure of ability, beyond the walls of his own church; and it is natural, and will perhaps be thought pardonable, that he should desire this increase of influence and fruitfulness. Of the discourses contained in this volume, some are for substance the same which have been pronounced from the pulpit, and others have been written expressly for publication.
The whole of Divine Truth may, in a certain aspect of it, be regarded as matter of comfort to Christian disciples. Even in a more restricted view, the range of subjects which are consolatory in their nature is very extensive. Only a selection, therefore, of these has been attempted in the present instance, and no expectation must be indulged that the volume now offered will contain either, on one hand, an exhaustive analysis of the Spirit's work as a Comforter, or, on the other, a detail of all the particular circumstances of life in which consolation may be needed.
If any should be surprised at the large amount of doctrinal discussion, he will probably acquiesce in the reasonableness of such a method, on considering that true evangelical comfort is little promoted by mere hortatory address. If the exhortation contains no solid matter of doctrinal truth, it will avail little for the end proposed. We do not reach the case of the disheartened by commanding or imploring him to be of good cheer—but by setting before his mind those great everlasting truths, the acceptance of which lays the basis for joy and peace. Such are the glorious attributes of God, his wonderful providence, his covenant of grace, his storehouse of precious promises, and his rewards of heavenly bliss. In discussing the attributes and the providence of God, it is not possible to avoid some truths which are subjects of controversy among Christians; and the writer has not sought to disguise his views on these articles by omission or compromise.
Delightful as is the work of administering the cordials of grace to God's suffering people, it is to be performed with a discerning hand; and he who "speaks unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort," must beware how he cries, 'Peace, peace!'—when there is no peace. This may account for the frequency with which consolation is here intermingled with warning and rebuke. If the book should find any favor with people as yet unrenewed in the spirit of their minds, it will not be the less profitable for these occasional attempts to arouse the benumbed conscience.
But, after all, this is a book for afflicted believers, and to such it is affectionately dedicated. If it shall soothe the ruffed spirit of the careworn disciple, or assuage the grief of the bereaved, or brighten the chamber of illness, or add a drop of balm to the cup of old age, the writer will be more than repaid for the pains which he has bestowed upon it. That this may be the case, and that the humble effort may be owned of God to the refreshment and support of the afflicted, is the prayer with which it is now surrendered to the public.