by James W. Alexander
consolation traced up to its divine source
As we have pursued the various topics of consolation which reside in the attributes, the covenant, and the promises of God—in their application to different conditions of humanity—we have been perpetually led to observe that these means of comfort have no efficiency of themselves—but need to be impressed upon the sufferer's soul by an omnipotent hand! If in treating our subject we had observed the order of nature, and begun with the cause, we should have opened our subject with the Fountain of all grace, even God himself. We have, however, arrived at the same point by an inverse method, and singling out some of the numerous streams, have traced them up to the divine excellency from which they flow. But this deserves our more particular consideration.
In much of the foregoing remarks, we have found occasion to make reference to the Apostle Paul. There is scarcely a single writing of his preserved to the church in which this subject is not touched. But there is one of his epistles, namely, the second to the Corinthians, in which he more fully opens the stores of Christian consolation. It was penned after emerging from a great and severe trial, in which he was pressed out of measure above strength, insomuch that he despaired even of life, and had the sentence of death in himself. (2 Cor. 1:8, 9.) These extraordinary afflictions, as he informs us, were intended to fit him for the delightful work of consoling others. "And whether we are afflicted," says he, "it is for your consolation and salvation, which is wrought in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer—or whether we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation." (1:6) And in recollection of what he had graciously received, he breaks forth into a doxology, which contains a very remarkable expression—"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the GOD OF ALL COMFORT!"
Although this is introduced by us only as introductory to the chief subject, it certainly merits a moment's regard. When God is here spoken of as the source of all consolation, it is to be observed that he is so exhibited, not in his essential glory—but in his covenant relation, that is, as the "God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ;" justifying what we have had repeated occasion to say in these pages, that all God's mercies, and all his comforts, come to us only through the channel provided by the plan of grace in Christ Jesus.
That God is the great Consoler is abundantly testified by the Old Testament, which in all its parts is a consistent prelude and anticipation of the New. To establish this assertion, we might cite a large portion of the book of Psalms. Every parental heart comprehends and feels the tender figure, when David sings, "Like as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust." (Ps. 103:13, 14.) And the same assurance is presented even more touchingly, where the Lord thus addresses his people—"As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you, and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem." (Is. 66:13.) This special work of fatherly kindness is largely set forth in the prophecies. "For the Lord shall comfort Zion, he shall comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody." (Is. 51:3.)
Without resorting, however, to textual proof, we cannot fail to observe, from the patriarchal days downward through all the tracts of the Hebrew annals, how benignant a regard the Almighty bestows upon his suffering servants, and how ready his hand is to wipe away their tears. Yet it must be acknowledged, that during all this preparatory discipline of the ancient church, their eye is directed to a period yet future, in which divine consolations should have larger scope. And the blessed agencies thus indicated are seen to center themselves in Him who is "the desire of all nations." It has frequently been remarked by commentators, that the hope of the coming Messiah is thrown in, upon many occasions, precisely where the prospects of the chosen seed were most enveloped in darkness. The Messiah of prophecy characterizes himself as a Consoler. "The Spirit of the Lord God is on Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of our God's vengeance; to comfort all who mourn, to provide for those who mourn in Zion; to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning, and splendid clothes instead of despair. And they will be called righteous trees, planted by the Lord, to glorify Him." (Isaiah 61:1-3)
Accordingly, when the Lord Jesus Christ, in the fullness of time made a public demonstration of his Messiahship in the synagogue of Nazareth, he unrolled the sacred scroll, and read aloud this very prediction. (Luke 4:16.) And the whole series of his words and his benefactions were in the spirit of this prophetic word.
But we approach more touching manifestations of this spirit of consolation in those days when the cloud of his mediatorial sufferings was growing more dark, and he was about to be separated from his disciples. We shall here find a new aspect of the doctrine which may properly occupy our thoughts in conclusion.
After the institution of the Lord's supper, and in that discourse which preceded his arrest in the garden, our blessed Savior uttered some of his most remarkable words of grace. Among these one great promise stands pre-eminent; it is in these terms—"And I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it sees him not, neither knows him; but you know him, for he dwells with you and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless (orphans), I will come to you. These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, who is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said unto you." (John 14:16-18, 25-26.)
For the satisfactory understanding of this delightful passage, it is necessary for us to give especial attention to its principal term. Expressive as is the word Comforter, it does not reach the full comprehension of the original, Paraclete, which signifies also a counselor, helper and an advocate. (The verb from which it is derived means to call upon, to admonish, and to exhort in the way of consolation. The derivative here used, is therefore an advocate, an intercessor, who pleads the cause of any one before a judge, and then a consoler or comforter.)
The first observation which suggests itself is that this promised visitant was to come in Christ's stead. "These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you; but the Comforter, who is the Holy Spirit, shall teach," etc. That is, He shall come in my name and place. And there are unspeakable grace and fullness in this, which we shall not duly estimate unless we consider what the actual presence of Jesus conferred on the disciples. They were "the children of the bride-chamber," and could not mourn, because the Bridegroom was with them. He was to them an ever-present spring of consolation. Imperfect as were some of their views, before the resurrection and Pentecost, they were nevertheless with Christ. They saw his countenance. They witnessed his mighty works. They heard him speak as never man spoke. They had communication with him. They enjoyed his love. They were overshadowed by his continual protection. If sorrow sometimes broke forth, there was a hand always near to wipe away their tears. He was himself their personal helper, advocate, and comforter. The promise of the Holy Spirit, is one which intimates a gracious substitution, and was suited to that moment of sorrow. How much they were confounded by the tidings of his approaching departure, is sufficiently manifest from the words, "Therefore some of His disciples said to one another—What is this He tells us: 'A little while and you will not see Me . . . because I am going to the Father'?" And it is to console them under this expected removal, that the Comforter is promised, just at this juncture.
The Holy Spirit is here unquestionably proposed, as able and willing to do for disciples all that they would seek from the personal presence of Christ. Our Lord expresses this most strongly, when he represents the mission of the Comforter as a great reason why he was about to ascend into the heavenly places. "It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you." (16:7.) They should not lose—but gain, by such a departure of our Lord to the completion of his mediatorial work. The Spirit, as we shall presently see more fully, was eminently able to supply these needs, for he is the Spirit of Christ, by whom, as man, Jesus himself was anointed above measure, and endowed for his work; by whom also, in their measure, each believer is endowed and anointed, receiving from his fullness, "and grace for grace." We are therefore authorized to believe, that the divine Paraclete fully, gloriously, and increasingly, supplies to disciples the place of a present Jesus.
Another observation, by no means to be omitted, is that the promised Comforter is to come from the Father. God himself is the author of this consolation; as he is the eternal fount of all excellency. But it is not as Creator, Preserver, Sovereign, or Lawgiver that he now acts—but as the God of grace and redemption. And hence we are led anew to admire the harmony of the Divine Persons. The Holy Spirit is not a creature, however exalted, nor a power, nor an effluence, nor an agency—but a co-equal and co-eternal Person in the Divine essence. In every moment of the mediatorial work the Three, who are One, are equally and gloriously operative towards the end in view; but according to a mysterious economy, in which the office and acts of each are distinguished. The Comforter is the Spirit of the Father and the Son. He proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son. And in the dispensation of time, he is sent by the Father, in those influences which are needed to complete the work of grace in believers.
The adorable Father himself, "our Father who is in heaven," loves us. He is especially and primarily the fountain of redeeming mercy; the deviser of the covenant, the giver of the Surety. He moreover loves his people, in the carrying on of this very work; and it is in the exercise of an eternal and ineffable love that he sends the Holy Spirit; for he is "the God of all comfort." This should dispose us, especially in times of trial, to look up to God the Father with unwavering filial confidence. Yet these manifestations of favor observe a due order, and are connected with the merit and intercession of Him, who is more strictly our Redeemer.
This will be more apparent, when we add the observation, that the promised Comforter is to come in Christ's name. All spiritual blessings so come; and we may regard the Holy Spirit as the all-comprehensive blessing. He who has this gift has all. Now, this gift is bestowed with a direct reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. "Whom," said he, "the Father will send in my name." We have already seen that he comes in Christ's place. It remains to be said, that he comes at Christ's request. The Lord assured them that he would ask the Father for this gift. For our blessed Redeemer, though ascended to heaven in his human nature, is not indifferent to the interests of his people; "seeing he ever lives to make intercession for us." Every benefit of the covenant which we receive during our whole existence is the result of Christ's prevalent agency for us in the court of heaven. No application of the righteousness procured by his suffering and obedience would ever be made—but for the perfect carrying on of this work in the Holy of Holies, beyond the veil of the visible heavens. And when, as High Priest, he bears the stones of the breastplate engraved with the names of the holy tribes, he forgets none of his chosen—but looks down with an individual regard on each of his people, with a wise and merciful reference to every particular case of need or affliction. Nor can I think of a doctrine more fraught with consolation, if properly considered, than that the Lord Jesus Christ makes each of us the subject of his prayers in heaven; unless it be this further intimation of the same truth—that what he so prays for, is nothing less than the gift of the Holy Spirit.
When it is said that the Comforter shall be sent in Christ's name, the meaning unquestionably is that he shall be sent in consideration of Christ's merits. We are not to look on this magnificent gift of the Spirit, as among those bounties which come to us in the ordinary routine of common providential dispensations. There would have been no sending of the Holy Spirit but for the covenant work, the righteous deserving, the federal subjugation, and the atoning death of the Son of God. This death placed the crown of glory on his work of humiliation. When, at a certain time, preaching in the temple, he promised this blessing under the beautiful image of rivers of living water, it is added by the evangelist—"But this he spoke of the Spirit, which those who believe on him would receive—for the Holy Spirit was not yet given; because Jesus was not yet glorified." (John 7:39.)
Some communications in this kind had doubtless been made, even under the Old Testament dispensation; but the moment was not fully come "for the ministration of the Spirit;" nor could it come until the day of his ascension in triumph unto glory.
Let it then be fixed in our minds, that the gift of the Comforter is a purchased gift. It was purchased by our Lord's mediatorial obedience unto death. The work of Gethsemane and of the cross must precede this effusion of the Spirit. So felt the apostles on the day of Pentecost, when, after visible and audible tokens of this presence, Peter, speaking in their name, said, "Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has shed forth this, which you now see and hear." (Acts 2:33.) Indeed the communication of the Holy Spirit is but a carrying forward of the work which Christ began on earth. It is Christ himself working by the Spirit in the hearts of his people.
An equally important observation is, that, even in his consoling work, the promised Spirit comes as a teacher and counselor. Not only "is all truth, in order to goodness;" but it may be added, all truth is in order to consolation. Hence we read concerning "the comfort of the Scriptures;" the solace of divine truth. This connection is very obvious in the promise, "He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said unto you."
No careful reader will fail to observe, that this is one of the most important senses in which the Holy Spirit, as the Paraclete, was to supply the place of Christ. The Lord Jesus, in his prophetic office, was the teacher of his disciples. These his personal and direct instructions were valuable and delightful beyond expression. Grace was poured into his lips. The loss of Jesus, in this respect, must have seemed irreparable, and all human instructors must have been despicable in comparison. Remembering how he spoke, we may be almost forgiven if we sometimes regret that we had not lived in the days of the Son of Man. But that which the Lord Jesus once did with his own lips, he now and henceforth accomplishes by the Holy Spirit. "He shall teach you all things."
The apostle John, in speaking of false and seducing teachers, contrasts with them this teaching of the Holy Spirit, as enjoyed by believers. "But you have an unction from the Holy One, and you know all things. But the anointing which you have received of him abides in you, and you need not that any man teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you of all things, and is truth and is no lie, and even as it has taught you, you shall abide in him." (1 John 2:20, 27.) Thus we are enabled to perceive more clearly and fully, how the adorable Spirit comes in Christ's name. He teaches what Christ taught. He takes of the things of Christ, and shows them unto us. From the infinite fund of Scriptural wisdom and knowledge--He draws and dispenses, according to the diversified necessities of His people. It is scarcely a change of teacher. The Spirit gives the same lesson as Jesus. He repeats and revives it. He brings out afresh in the chambers of memory, the truths which had faded. He touches the sluggish heart to awaken it to new impressions of Scriptural truth.
All this is by a direct influence on the soul—opening the mind and pouring in light, causing knowledge, belief, emotion, and will—no less than providing an objective revelation in the scriptures. There is a condescension even to the weakness of human memory. It need scarcely be said that truth derives much of its value from being seasonable. Experience testifies that a doctrine or promise of the word, long neglected or forgotten, may be so applied in a moment of emergency, by the Holy Spirit, as to diffuse a sudden and unspeakable joy over the soul. It is this which accounts for the difference between reader and reader, between hearer and hearer, and between different states of the same individual. In order that truth be efficacious, especially to consolation, something more is necessary than that it should be revealed in the Bible; something more than that it should be apprehended by the natural understanding. It must be powerfully brought home to the mind and heart. And to do this is the especial province of the Holy Spirit. In the preceding discourses our minds have been brought into the presence of many divine truths which are suited to lift up the heart that is cast down. But no effect will be produced in reading Scripture, except so far as the Holy Spirit takes, shows, and impresses them to the heart. And this He graciously does to many a broken-hearted Christian.
But why should we be detained from that which after all, is the great import of these divine communications? The promised Spirit is sent to believers, as a Comforter, in the common acceptance of the word. This it is which brings the subject more particularly within the scope of the present investigation. It is the "God of all comfort," in the person of the adorable Spirit, pouring his consolations over the sorrowing heart. For the words of Jesus would have failed of their application—if this had not been included. The disciples were in unexampled grief; sorrow had filled their hearts; they were expecting orphanage and desolation. That which the benignant Redeemer promises them is a Comforter; and this it is which we all need. It is into a world of sighs and tears, from manifold and multiform calamity, and into a church which through much tribulation presses on towards the kingdom—that this divine Visitant deigns to come.
The primary mode of communicating consolation has been already pointed out. It is by the instrumentality of truth. This truth, as to the matter of it, is not a new revelation; but the Spirit takes of the things of Christ and shows them to us. This truth is summed up in the canon of Scripture; and, therefore, the word of God is beyond all other volumes, the Book of Consolation. Though neglected in days of prosperity, and seasons of religious decline, it is sure to be open on the tables and in the hands of sorrowing disciples. The disposition to fly to the Bible in hours of trouble is so strong and constant—that it may be denominated an instinct of the new nature. Not more naturally does the newborn babe turn to the fount of infant nutrition. And the testimony of all Christian mourners is, that at these wells of salvation they have found refreshment and solace. It would be next to impossible, to remove the Scriptures from a burdened saint. But though persecution has often removed the letter of the external volume, the Holy Spirit, even in dungeons, has awakened the inward ear of the sufferer, and brought to remembrance the words of this life.
The truth which we have been last considering, is clearly taught in those words of the Apostle Paul, in which he says, "Now the God of hope fill you with all peace and joy in believing, that you may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit." (Rom. 13:3.) Here the consolation is very distinctly ascribed to belief of the truth. This truth, as containing the plan of salvation for lost sinners, is denominated the Gospel, or good tidings; and as such it is made to rejoice the believer's heart from the very beginning of the Christian life. To a soul properly exercised, all its truths are consolatory, and more and more so as progress is made in divine things. As the views of divine truth become more clear and comprehensive, the comforts of the Spirit become more abiding, agreeably to what we attempted to lay down in treating of Hope and Joy in the Lord.
It is of great importance to remember, that direct and large and believing views of precious Christian doctrines, concerning God, Christ, salvation, and heaven—are the principal means which the Holy Spirit uses for the support of the soul, even under heavy afflictions. On this head SERIOUS ERRORS are prevalent.
First, the thoroughly worldly man, having treasure and heart in the present life, neither desires nor seeks any portion but that which is carnal; and if this is taken away, he is like Micah of old when bereft of his gods. Remaining in this condition, he is utterly insusceptible of any spiritual relief from the chosen means of the great Consoler. He lacks all taste and relish for those divine realities which are angels' food. Under sudden and alarming strokes of providential judgment, he is sometimes stupefied and sometimes frantic; and when the storm of rebellious passions lulls itself to rest, he murmurs awhile, like the tempest-tossed ocean, and then subsides into the calm of some false hope. In all this there is no operation of comforting truth.
Secondly; the partially enlightened believer, as yet inexperienced in these lessons of the heavenly Teacher, is at first greatly surprised by the access of severe chastening. The mode in which divine comforts are communicated is as yet unknown to him. He looks for removal of the rod as the only relief which can suffice; and for a time his earnest supplications go out in this direction. If, for example, he has been impoverished, he expects some amends in kind. If some grievous burden is laid upon him, he hopes that it may be removed; and it is only after repeated trials that he learns the method of grace.
But thirdly, the experienced and godly Christian, long tried in the school of sorrows, is made to know that the soul may be comforted amidst the deepest afflictions. In some unexpected moment, the divine Illuminator reveals to him the great abiding truths of the spiritual world; truths which are as precious and as satisfying, in adverse as in prosperous days. By a process of holy attraction, his thoughts are drawn away from self and all its interests and losses—to be fixed and absorbed by the character of God, by his mighty works, by the person of the Redeemer, by the work of redemption, by the progress of the kingdom, and by the glory yet to be revealed. Filled and animated and tranquilized by these blessed truths, he is led to forget his private griefs; and thus the Comforter performs his office by means of the truth. "The things of Christ," applied to the heart by the Spirit, direct the mind from its earthly pangs, and to a certain extent afford a foretaste of the celestial joy.
From what has been said it might readily be anticipated, that the processes by which the Holy Spirit forms the soul to holiness, do, at the same time, conduce to its consolation. Here the work of the Sanctifier and the work of the Comforter really coalesce. Sin is a disorder of the human powers, in which their harmony is destroyed, and the result is the turbulence of wretched passions. If this discord were not limited, it would become absolutely hellish; and such is in part the penal woe of the eternal torment. "There is no peace, says my God, to the wicked." But every step in sanctification is a restitution in measure to the primitive harmony and peace of man. And this work cannot go on without a proportionate augmentation of happiness. To arrive at consolation—we must be made more holy.
Nothing is more evident than that those graces which are denominated the fruits of the Spirit, are in their very nature modes of happiness. No man can possess them without a diminution of suffering. Some of them are directly consolatory, because they strike at the very root of our inward disquietudes. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." (Gal. 5:22, 23.) "For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth." (Eph. 5:9.)
For instance, Faith, by realizing to the soul, the divine truths which we have been considering, carries it away above its sufferings, and so consoles; while we look not at the things which are seen, which are temporal—but at the things which are not seen, which are eternal. Goodness, or evangelical benevolence, is delightful in its very acts; and we never so forget our own sorrows as when we are endeavoring to increase the happiness of our neighbor. Gentleness diffuses a blessed calm over the nature. Love is the atmosphere of heaven. Patience and Meekness counteract all those distresses—and they are innumerable—which arise from pride, anger, and revenge. Joy, as we have already seen, drives out the soul's pains by the expulsive power of a new dominant affection. And Peace is but the scriptural name for the entire result of combined holy satisfactions in the heart. When the promised Spirit enters into a soul, and produces these its fruits, it does, in the same degree, tend to dispel troubles, and is the efficient cause of consolation amidst the greatest fight of afflictions.
We might here enlarge upon the comforting effects produced by the witness of the Spirit, and the assurance of God's love; but this has already been made the subject of a separate discourse.
Let us rather bestow a few thoughts upon the enduring nature of this spiritual influence. It is found in these clauses of the promise—"For he dwells with you, and shall be in you." "And he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever." Their Lord was about to be removed from them, in respect to his personal presence, and they were filled with sorrow. He promises them a Consoler who would never be removed. It is one of the most precious truths of our holy religion, that the Spirit of grace is not merely a guest or visitor—but a perpetual inhabitant. This is true in regard both to the collective body of saints, who are a temple of the Lord, and to the individual believer. Both were prefigured by the constant residence of Jehovah, with the manifested Shekinah, in the tabernacle and the temple. "I will dwell among the children of Israel," said the Lord, "and will be their God." (Exod. 29:45.) He is, therefore, addressed as dwelling between the cherubim, that is, in the Holy of Holies, above the golden mercy seat. The temple was typical of the New Testament church, "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together, grows unto a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also," says Paul to the Ephesians, "are built together, for a habitation of God through the Spirit." (2:20, 21, 22.) And to other Christians of primitive days, "You are the temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (2 Cor. 6:16.) Nor is this inhabitation confined to Christians as a collective church; for the same apostle says, with individual application, "What! Don't you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, who you have of God—and you are not your own?" (1 Cor. 6:19.)
There is something at once dreadful and delightful in this indwelling of the Holy One in houses of clay. It is dreadful to be so near that divine glory, before which the seraphim veil their faces. The argument hence derived against the abuse of the body to purposes of sin, is natural and powerful. It is on the other hand delightful to consider, that the source of all holiness and comfort is within us, if we belong to Christ. The promised Comforter has made his shrine in our very bodies, and possesses our souls with his presence. He cannot be ignorant of our condition. And no trial can befall us without his permission, as there is also no sorrow which he cannot assuage. This is felt with unutterable peace when the Divine witness testifies within the soul. "And hereby we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us." (1 John 3:24.)
While, as we have seen, there is a perpetual indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the soul of the true believer, it by no means follows that the manifestations of his consoling attributes are equal at all times. On the contrary, as he keeps his throne in this palace of his choice, so he exercises his sovereignty in regard to the time and the degree of his joy-giving disclosures. There are various stages of advancing comfort, and sometimes there are decays and eclipses of the beatific light. Nevertheless, the Spirit of grace, by whom we are sealed unto the day of redemption, is never absent, and never inaccessible. It is sometimes his pleasure to shine forth with splendor from amidst the tempestuous cloud; and his chief triumphs of consolation often gleam from the falling ruins of his frail sanctuary, in the hour of dissolution. Happy would it be for us, if we could always maintain an unwavering persuasion as to the reality and the greatness of this inhabitation of God through the Spirit. It would confer a dignity of which we now know too little upon the whole tenor of a Christian life. Temptation would be disarmed by the sense of such a presence, and we would tremble at the thought of grieving one so great and yet so near. The current philosophy of this world disallows the existence of all these spiritual facts, which are matters of pure revelation. Yet to one whose mental eye has been purged of its film, and who is raised "above the stir and smoke of this dim spot, which men call earth," there is nothing more substantially true than the reality and presence of this divine and blessed Paraclete. And when by long habits of holy contemplation the human spirit has acquired the sacred art of turning inward, resorting to the most holy place, and consulting 'the Urim and Thummim of divine communications', these truths begin to establish themselves as articles of faith, sources of peace, and principles of action. Can we then too earnestly crave the presence of the Comforter in our souls? Or can we any longer be indifferent to the means whereby we may receive more of his consoling suggestions?
When we spoke of Divine Truth, as an instrument in the hand of the Spirit, for the accomplishment of his work of consolation, we really indicated one of the principal ways in which to seek this great blessing. If we would be comforted, we must seek it by the truth. The Comforter is the Spirit of Truth. The consoling process is carried on by the application of truth. In all which we find a very strong argument for making ourselves early familiar with the scriptures. Afflictions come with so little warning, that it is a part of our Christian forecast to have knowledge in store, against the time of need. Our very acquaintance with the Divine Consoler himself, is derived solely from the revealed word; and there also we learn the methods of Providence and the grounds of consolation.
If, as has been already observed, the Holy Spirit works our comfort by means of our sanctification, then holiness must be reckoned among the means of Christian enjoyment, and we should seek our solace in conformity to God's will. Excluding every self-righteous or pharisaic assumption on this subject, we may nevertheless say in a safe sense—that God will not pour so rich a balsam into an impure vessel. It is no part of his gracious plan to comfort us in our sins. The very pains and fears into which his good providence casts us, are occasioned by our delinquencies, and are chastisements for our faults. The way of return is, therefore, by the thorny path of contrition and repentance. Nor do backsliding disciples usually find themselves restored to favor, until they have done their "first works," and passed afresh through exercises like those which first brought them to Christ. We may state the truth therefore with some generality, that genuine consolation is not to be looked for independently of increased holiness.
The conclusion which ought to be drawn is, that he who leads a worldly life under a Christian profession is in a most unfit state to grapple with great trials. To him they will be sore surprises, "as snow in summer and as rain in harvest." They will arouse him at midnight—as when besiegers suddenly break upon a city without gates or walls. We have been called to witness such experiences, when some poor carnal professor has been driven up from his resting-place and cast into utter discomfiture. It is well for such, if the rod in God's hand is made the means of bringing them back to holy living. For as it is altogether uncertain in what hour or instant, God's dart may pierce us in the most sensitive spot—it is the part of wisdom to be always in a condition suited to receive divine communications, and in a posture in which it shall be easy to roll our burden on the Lord. And in the very height of afflictive visitations, when all God's waves and billows go over the soul, the method of seeking relief is the same—we return to peace only by returning to God.
Before leaving the means of attaining religious consolation, we must name the most important of all. It is indicated in those words of our blessed Lord—"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children; how much more shall your heavenly Father give his Holy Spirit to those who ask him?" (Luke 11:13.) It is difficult to conceive of greater encouragement to pray for this gift than is afforded by this promise of our Lord Jesus Christ. The comparison which he uses goes home at once to the parental heart. The benefit which he offers is plainly exhibited as the greatest; for, indeed, if God gives us his Holy Spirit, he gives us all that is requisite to our comfort here and our salvation forever.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by God's power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to be distressed by various trials so that the genuineness of your faith—more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. You love Him, though you have not seen Him. And though not seeing Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls!" (1 Peter 1:3-9)