The Book of Comfort

by J. R. Miller, 1912

Speak Tenderly

"Comfort, comfort My people. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and announce to her that her time of servitude is over, her iniquity has been pardoned, and she has received from the Lords hand double for all her sins." Isaiah 40:2

There is need always for tender words. Always there is sorrow. Everywhere hearts are breaking. There is no one who is not made happier by gentle speech. Yet there is in the world, a dearth of tender words. Some people scarcely ever speak them. Their tones are harsh. There seems no kindness in their hearts. They are gruff, severe, faultfinding. Even in the presence of suffering and sorrow, they evince no tenderness. "Speak tenderly" is a divine exhortation. That is the way God wants us to speak to each other. That is the way God himself ever speaks to his children. The Bible is full of tender words. We would say that in view of the wickedness of men, their ingratitude, the base return they make for God's goodness, the way they stain the earth with sin—God would be angry with them every day. But instead of anger, only love is shown.

He is ever speaking in words of loving kindness. He makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends the rain on the just and the unjust. Every message he sends is love. All his thoughts toward his children are peace. The most wonderful expression of his heart toward the world, was in the giving of Christ. He was the Word, the revealer of the heart of God. He never spoke so tenderly to men—as when he sent his Son. Who can measure the comfort that was given to the world in Jesus Christ? Never an unkind word fell from his lips, never a frown was seen on his brow. Think of the tender words he spoke in his mother's home. He was a sinless child, never giving way to angry words or violent tempers. His youth and manhood were without a trace of unlovingness.

We also know what he was during his public ministry—having all power—but gentle as a woman; able to call legions of angels to defend himself—but without re sentient, returning only gracious love for cruelty and bitter hate. Think of the tender words he spoke—to the sick who were brought to him for healing, to the mourners sitting beside their dead, to the weary ones who came to him to find the warmth of love in his presence. The ministry of his gracious words as they were uttered by his lips and fell into sad and discouraged hearts—was marvelous in its influence.

In his life, Christ set an example for us. He wants us ever to be speaking tender words. We shall not meet a man today in our going about, who will not need the tender word that we are able to speak. The gift of speech is marvelous in its possibilities. Man is the only one of God's creatures to whom this gift is given. This is one of the qualities that makes him Godlike. It is never meant to be perverted—it was intended always to be beautiful and pleasing. Dumbness is very sad—when one cannot speak. But would not one better be dumb—than use his divine gift of speech in anger to hurt others?

Yet how many are those who never speak—but to give pain? The hurt that is done any fairest day by words, is incalculable. War is terrible. Who can describe the ruin wrought by shot and shell rained upon a city of homes, leaving devastation everywhere. Words may not lacerate, mangle like the missiles of war—but they may be almost as deadly in the cruel work they do. God wants us to use our speech to speak only and ever tenderly. When this message was first given to the prophets, it had a definite meaning. The people were in sore straits. They were suffering. They were in sorrow because of the judgments visited upon the land and upon the holy city. Jerusalem lay in ruins, a city through whose breached walls all the winds of heaven blew mournfully across her forsaken floors. And the heart of Jerusalem, which was with her people in exile, was like the city—broken and defenseless. In that far-off, unsympathetic land it lay open to the alien; tyrants forced their idols upon it. The people tortured it with their jests." It was to these people in sorrow and distress, that God bade his heralds go with divine comfort.

The words were remarkable for their tenderness. The heralds were to go to carry comfort to these broken-hearted ones. The words, "Speak tenderly," have in them therefore a divine sobbing of love. God cares that men and women and children about us are sad. He knows their distress and pities them. He would have us go out to them in his name, carrying in our hearts and upon our lips the echo of his compassion and yearning. It is our privilege to represent God himself in our relations with people about us. How can the gentleness of God be passed to those who are being hurt by the world's cruelty and unkindness, if not through us, God's children? Who will carry God's sympathy and impart God's comfort to those who are sorrowing and broken-hearted, if we do not? God needs us to be his messengers, his interpreters. If we do not faithfully and truly represent him, how will people in their suffering and distress know his gracious interest in them and his compassionate feeling toward them? If we fail in showing kindness to those who are in need, if we treat them with coldness, withholding our hands from the ministries of love which we might have performed for them, we are not only robbing them of the blessing which we ought to have given them—but we are also failing to be true to God, are misrepresenting him, giving men false conceptions of his character and his disposition toward them.

Men learn what God is, and what his attitude toward them is—only when his own friends are faithful to all their duties and responsibilities. When one in trouble receives no kindness, no help; when one in sorrow receives no sympathy and comfort, it is not because God does not care—but because some child of God neglects his duty.

A story is told of a child sitting sadly one day on a door-step when a kindly man was passing by. "Are you God?" the child asked. The man was struck by the strange question. "No," he answered. "I am not God—but God sent me here, I think." "Weren't you a long time coming?" the boy asked. Then he told the passer-by that when his mother had died a little while ago, she told him that God would care for him. The boy had been watching for God to come. Too often not God—but those he sends, are long in coming to speak for God or to bring the relief or comfort God sends by them. People in distress, who have learned to believe that God will provide for them, are ofttimes compelled to wait long, until their hearts grow almost faint before the blessing comes. Sometimes they begin to wonder whether after all God really hears prayers and keeps his promises; while the delay is not with God—but with us who are so long coming.

"Speak tenderly." We need to train ourselves to remember that we are God's messengers, that it is ours to be intent to any bidding of our Master and to go quickly with any message of relief or encouragement, or comfort, which he gives us to carry. We must not linger or loiter. The need may be urgent. The person may be near death. Or the distress may be so keen that it cannot be endured a moment longer. What if the sufferer should die before we reach him? We are sent to give comfort to one who is in the anguish of bereavement. We hesitate and shrink from carrying our message. Meanwhile the bereft one has come back from the grave to the desolated home and the emptiness and silence. God's heart is full of compassion and he has blessed comfort for his child—but there is no one to go with the message.

There are Bibles in the sad home—but there is no human messenger to speak the tender words. It needs a gentle heart to bring in tender and loving words and the warm touch of comfort which is needed. We fail God while we do not hasten on his errand to our friend who sits uncomforted in the shadows. We try to excuse ourselves by saying that we ought not to break in on our friend's sorrow, that we should make our condolences formal, that it would be crude and could only add to the pain if we were to try to speak of the sorrow. This may be true of the world of people in general—but there is always one to whom God gives the message, "Go and speak tenderly," one who will fail God if he does not carry the message, leaving the heart to break when God wanted it to be relieved and comforted.


The Ministry of Comfort

"Comfort, comfort My people—says your God." Isaiah 40:1

A distinguished clergyman said, in reviewing his ministry at its close, that if he were to begin over again, he would preach more comfortingly. There always are in any company of people, many who have sorrow, many at least who need uplifting and encouragement. There is always a place for the comforter. And there are few who really understand the art of giving comfort. Many who seem to think they do and who are ready on every occasion to seek to console others who are in trouble, fail in their efforts. Job said that the friends who came to him in his calamity and spoke to him so volubly concerning his afflictions, were only "miserable comforters". Those who have passed through experiences of trouble and have had their friends and neighbors come and sit with them and give them what they considered words of consolation, have found ofttimes that they gave but small help. The burden of sorrow was not lighter after they had gone. No new light broke through the clouds upon those who sorrowed as they listened to the words of their friends. Their hearts were not quieted. They had learned no new song of joy.

It is worth our while to learn what true comfort is, and how we can speak tenderly to others. No ministry is more needed or finds more frequent opportunity for exercise. No men, in any community, become so highly esteemed and loved while the years go by—as those who are wise in giving comfort to others. The sad and weary turn to them for encouragement and help. They always have a word to give, which imparts strength.

Those who would be wise in comforting—must be sympathetic. They must be patient with even the smallest griefs of others. It is not easy for the strong, to sympathize with the weak. They cannot understand how little sufferings and troubles, such as those which seem so hard for others to bear—should really cause any distress. They are disposed to laugh at the complaints of those who seem to have so little of which to complain. No doubt there are many people who make altogether too much, of very small cares and difficulties. They fret over every imaginable inconvenience or discomfort. No matter how well they are—they imagine they have many ills and can never talk to any one without speaking of their ailments. They magnify the minutest sufferings and sorrows. It seems to be their natural disposition to think of themselves, as particularly unfortunate. They find their chief pleasure apparently in having others commiserate them and sympathize with them.

It is not easy for people of a strong, brave spirit, who are accustomed to look with contempt on the little trials and sufferings in their own life—to have patience with those who are really weak and unable to endure; or with those who so magnify their little ills and troubles. But if the strong would become real helpers of the weak, they must learn to be patient with every phase of their weakness, and to condescend to it. Indeed, weakness of this kind needs comfort that will cure it and transform it—into manly strength. Sympathy, to be truly rich and adequate, in its helpfulness, must be able to enter into every form of suffering, even the smallest, and to listen to every kind of complaining and discontent, to every fear and anxiety, however needless.

It was thus that Christ condescended to all human fraility. He never treated any one's trouble, however small, or any one's worry, however groundless, with lightness, as if it were unimportant. He bade to come to him, all who were weary, receiving graciously everyone who came. He was infinitely strong—but his strength was infinitely gentle to the weakest. Nothing in this world is more beautiful than the sight of a strong man giving his strength to one who is weak, that he may help him also to grow strong.

Another class who find it hard to sympathize with sorrow—are those who never have any sorrow of their own. They have been reared in sheltered homes, with love and tenderness all about them. They have never had an unmet need. They have never known hardship. They have never watched by the death-bed of a loved one, and there has been no break in their home circle. They have never had a bitter disappointment in their life. What do they know—of the experiences of suffering, of pain, of anguish, of struggle, of want, which comes to such multitudes in some form or other in life? These cannot sympathize with their fellows in their trials, in the things which make their life so hard. They do not understand what these experiences mean.

An artist has painted a picture which represents the scene of the crucifixion after it was all over. The crowd has gone. The cross is empty. The thorn-crown is lying on a rock, and an angel is looking at it, with his finger touching one of its sharp thorns wonderingly. He is trying to learn what pain is. He had beheld the anguish of the Son of God on the cross, and could not understand the mystery. The angels cannot understand our suffering, for they have never suffered. Nor can men who have never had pain or sorrow understand these experiences in us. They may pity us when they see us enduring our sufferings—but they cannot sympathize with us. Before we can be true comforters of others—we must know by experience in our own lives, the meaning of the things which give us pain or distress. If we do not, we cannot help them by any words we may say to them. There is nothing in our experience to interpret to us what they are suffering.

If we would help those who are in trouble, we must know what comfort really is. Many people do not. Many think that if they weep with those who weep, that they have comforted them. There is a measure of help in this. It does us good when we are suffering—to know that another feels with us. It brings another life into fellowship with ours. We are not alone—somebody cares. This makes us stronger to endure. We can bear our pain better if a friend holds our hand. This is the only way some people think of giving comfort. They sit down beside us and listen to our recital of grief. They let us tell it out in all its details. They encourage us to dwell on the painful incidents. They give expression to their pity, entering with us into our suffering as if it were their own. They dwell on the bitterness of our trial, emphasizing its sharpness and poignancy, thus adding to our pain and distress. Then they rise and go their way—leaving us just where they found us when they came in! They have shown their interest in us, their sympathy with us. But they have not given us the best comfort!

The word "comfort" is from a root that means to strengthen. In our modern use of the word, we have almost dropped this thought of its original sense. But we would better recall it. To comfort is to strengthen. When we would give comfort to others, we are not merely to let them know that we are their friends and are sorry for them. We are not just to try in some way to alleviate their pain. It is not enough that we in some measure relieve their distress. We are to seek to have them grow strong—so that they can endure the trouble and rejoice in it. This should be our aim in our ministry of comfort to others. We have not finished our work with them, therefore, until we have brought them some divine truth which will cast light on their sorrows, which will inspire them with hope and courage!

The comforter needs gentleness, for a harsh word would make the sorrow deeper. He needs patience, for grief yields slowly even to most faithful love. He needs tenderness like a mother's. God says to his afflicted ones, "As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you." A father's comfort is different from a mother's, and if we would be like God we must learn from mothers how to comfort. He who would give comfort must have faith. He must believe in God, must know him, must be sure of God's love. Then he will know how to sustain with words, him who is weary.


How Christ Comforts His Friends

The little Twenty-third Psalm is the most familiar, and most often read portion of the Bible. It has comforted more sorrow than any other composition the world possesses. Next to it, the Fourteenth Chapter of John is the best known of all the Scriptures. It is a chapter of comfort. How many tears it has dried! To how many sorrowing hearts has it brought peace! Its words were first spoken to a company of broken-hearted friends, who thought they never could be comforted. It is well to study how Jesus, the truest comforter the world ever has known, consoled his friends. Look at the way Jesus comforts his disciples.

First of all, in that saddest of all hours he bade them not to be troubled. Yet they were about to lose their best friend. How could they but be troubled? He comes to his friends today in their bereavement with the same word: "Let not your heart be troubled." This is not mere professional consolation. As Jesus saw it that night, there was no reason why the disciples should be troubled. As Jesus sees it, there is no reason why you should be troubled, even though you are watching your dearest friend pass away, in what you call death. It is only the earthly side of the event which you see—and it seems terrible to you. The friends of Jesus thought they were losing him and forever. He had been a wonderful friend. He had a rich nature, a noble personality, power to love deeply, capacity for unselfish friendship, and was able to inspire us to all worthy life. The disciples thought they were about to lose all that. You think you are losing all friendship's best, in the departure of your friend. Yet Jesus, looking upon his disciples and looking upon you—bids you not to be troubled.

Death is not an experience which harms the believing one who passes through it. The Christian mother who died this afternoon, is not troubled and in sorrow where she is tonight. Dying has not disturbed her happiness—she never was happier than she is now! Leaving her children behind has not broken her heart, nor filled her with distress and anxiety concerning them. As she looks upon them from her new point of view, on death's other side, there is no cause for grief or fear. They are in the divine care which is so loving, so wise, so gentle, and so far-reaching, that she has not a shadow of uncertainty regarding them. The children are in distress because they have lost their mother, who has been so much to them. They cannot endure the thought of going on without their mother's love and tenderness, her guidance and shelter.

Yet the Master says to them: "Do not be troubled." He means that if they understood all that has taken place as he understands it—if they knew what dying has meant to their mother—and what the divine love will mean to them in the days to come—they would not be troubled. What seems to them calamity, would appear perfectly good—if they could see it from the heavenly side. Jesus told his disciples what they should do. "Believe in God, believe also in me." They could not understand that hour why all was well, why nothing was going wrong, why good would be the outcome of all the things, that then seemed so terrible. They could not see how their loss would become gain, when it was all wrought out to the end; how what appeared the destruction of their hopes would prove to be the glorious fulfilling of those hopes. Yet they were to believe. That is, they were to commit all the broken things of their hearts that night, into God's hands, trust him, and have no fear, no anxiety, no doubt.

They themselves could not bring good out of all this evil—but God could, and faith was committing the whole matter to him. "Believe in God." Jesus had taught them a new name for God. He was their Father. A whole world of love-thoughts was in that name. The very hairs of their heads were numbered. Not a sparrow could fall to the ground without their Father—which meant that the divine care took in all the events of their lives, all the smallest incidents of their affairs.

We are to believe absolutely in the love of God, and trust him—though we cannot see him. We do not need to understand, we do not have to know. We must believe that the eternal God is caring for us—and nothing can ever go wrong in his hands! "Believe in God."

"Believe also in me." They had been believing in Jesus Christ, thinking that he was their Messiah. "You are the Christ!" Peter had confessed. But they were now in danger of losing faith in him, when they saw him sent to the cross. He called them to keep their faith through the terrible hours just before them. We are always in danger of losing faith in Christ—in time of great sorrow or of trouble which sweeps away our hopes. Again and again Christian people in grief and loss are heard asking, "Why does Christ let me suffer thus? If he loves me, how is it that he allows me to be thus troubled?" The trouble is, that our vision is short-sighted. We are impatient and cannot wait.

The going away of their Master left the disciples in despair. They thought they were losing him. They did not know that his going away was part of his love for them, its highest expression, that none of the things about him they had believed had failed. We need to continue to believe in Christ—though everything seems to have gone from us. His way is always right! Our comfort comes through abiding trust in him.

Jesus went further with his disciples. He told them more. He told them where he was going, and what his going away would mean to them. "In my Father's house are many mansions. I am going to prepare a place for you!" On this earth there is no place so sweet, so sacred, so heart-satisfying as home. It is a place of love. It is a place of confidence. We are sure of home's loved ones. We do not have to be on our guard after we enter our home doors. Home is a refuge in which we are safe from all danger, from injustice, from unkindness. Home is the place where hungry hearts are fed on love's bread.

Mrs. Craik, in one of her books, has the fine picture: "Oh, conceive the happiness to know someone dearer to you than your own self, some tender heart into which you can pour every thought, every grief, every joy; one person who, if all the rest of the world were to culminate or forsake you, would never wrong you by a harsh thought or an unjust word; who would cling to you the closer in sickness, in poverty, in care; who would sacrifice all things to you—and for whom you would sacrifice all; from whom, except by death, night or day, you never can be divided; whose smile is ever at your hearth—and you love the same. Such is marriage," says Mrs. Craik, "if they who marry, have hearts and souls to feel that there is no bond on earth so tender and so sublime." This is a glimpse of what ideal home love is. We may find the picture partially realized in some earthly homes—but in the Father's house the realization will be perfect!

The New Testament paints heaven in colors of dazzling splendor, its gates and walls and streets and gardens all of the utmost brilliance—but no other description means so much to our hearts as that which the Master gives us in these three words. "My Father's house!"—Home! One writes: "Life changes all our thoughts of heaven. At first, we think of streets of gold, of gates of pearl and dazzling light, of shining wings and robes of white, and things all strange to mortal sight. But in the afterward of years—it is a more familiar place. A home unhurt by sighs and tears—where waits many a well-known face. With passing months it comes more near; it grows more real day by day—not strange or cold—but very dear—the glad home-hand, not far away, where none are sick, or poor, or lone—the place where we shall find our own. And as we think of all we knew who there have met to part no more—our longing hearts desire home, too, with all the strife and trouble over."

"My Father's house." That is the place where those we have lost awhile from our earthly homes, falling asleep in Jesus, are gathering. That is the place to which the angels have carried our believing family and friends, who have passed out of our sight. That is the place where the broken Christian life of earth will find its perfectness!

"My Father's house!" Home! Is there any comfort sweeter than this in the sorrow of our parting from the dear ones, who leave us in the experience which we call dying?

The Master said further in his comforting, that he would come and receive his friends to himself. Dying is no accident, therefore. It is merely Christ coming to receive us to himself. Do not think something has gone wrong in the ways of God—when you hear that a Christian friend is dead. Your friend passed away the other night. You were expecting that he would be with you for many years. Has Christ any comfort? Yes, in all this experience, one of God's plans of love is being fulfilled. The end is home, blessedness. One said, "Yes—but my friend was with me such a little while. I could almost wish I had not let my heart fasten its tendrils about the dear life, since so soon it was torn from me." Say it not! It is worth while to love and to let the heart pour out all its sweetness in loving—though it be for a day!


Be of Good Cheer!

"And now I exhort you—to be of good cheer!" Acts 27:22

In the story of his voyage and shipwreck, we find Paul not only cheerful himself—but a giver of encouragement to others. The storm had grown fiercer and fiercer. It had simply laid hold of the ship, torn it out of the hands of the officers and seamen, and was forcibly bearing it along in its teeth. There was nobody in command. The record says, "But the weather changed abruptly, and a wind of typhoon strength (a "northeaster," they called it) caught the ship and blew it out to sea." No wonder the long hope of being saved was gone. The people on the ship were in despair. Then came Paul with his inspiring word, "Be of good cheer!" That was a splendid message—and it was not a mere idle or empty word.

Some people's optimism has no basis. Some people's "Don't worry" is only meaningless talk. But when Paul said, "Be of good cheer," he had reasons for saying it. "I believe God," he said. And it was not an empty faith he had. God had sent an angel to him that night, assuring him of deliverance from the storm, both for himself and for all on the ship. So his words had power over the panic-stricken men on the ship. He besought them to take some food. They had been so terrified that they had eaten almost nothing for fourteen days. He urged them now to eat, and said that not a hair should perish from the head of them. Then, to encourage them by example, he himself took bread, and having thanked God before them all, he broke the bread and began to eat. Then they were all of good cheer, and took some food.

Note how the one man lifted up a despairing company of nearly three hundred men, and gave them encouragement. There is no mission of faith and love—which is more important and Christlike, than that of being encouragers, of giving cheer! Everyone needs encouragement at some time. Life is hard for many people—for some it is hard at all times. Some are always bending under heavy burdens. Some are in storm and darkness many a night.

I am not justifying worry. A child of God never should worry. Paul said: "Do not worry about anything." Jesus himself said: Do not worry about tomorrow." Discouragement and worry are unbelief—and unbelief is sin. None who love God—should ever worry. Yet there are many who have burdens, cares, sorrows and trials—who always need encouragement, and to whom we should ever be saying: "Be of good cheer!" There is scarcely a person you will meet today or tomorrow, who will not be helped on the journey—by the hearty word of encouragement which you can so easily give.

Jesus told his disciples, when he sent them out to preach, not to stop to greet anyone along the way. Their mission was urgent, and there was no time to lose in mere courtesies. He did not mean however, to forbid us to show kindness even on our busiest days, or to speak a word to the lowly and suffering ones we meet on the way, even when we are most hurried.

The example of Paul on this ship—is full of beautiful and inspiring meaning. We cannot know what those two hundred and seventy-six men would have done—if it had not been for his earnest and faithful encouragement. There was no other person to say a brave word to them. Think how he lifted them up and made their hearts strong.

Let us take the lesson. Tomorrow we may find ourselves in a home of distress, or in the presence of men who are discouraged or cast down. Even if there should be no special trouble, we shall meet people whose hands hang down, whose knees are feeble, to whom no one is giving encouragement or cheer. Have you ever noticed how many people were perpetual discouragers? They make life harder for every person they meet. They tell you, that you do not look well. They remind you of your paleness or sallowness of complexion. If you are sick and they call to see you, they talk ominously of your condition. They seem to think you like that kind of 'sympathy'. When you have had some sorrow or trouble, they appear to think it kind to dwell upon its painful features. They talk pessimistically about your affairs, about everything. It is hard to speak patiently of this miserable habit of discouraging others, which is so very common.

Many people who love you and mean well for you, unintentionally become hinderers of your progress, dishearteners, and make life harder for you!

They tell us in mountain regions, that avalanches are ofttimes hanging poised so delicately on the crags, that even the reverberation of a whisper on the air may cause them to fall with ruinous effect upon the homes and villages in the valleys! The guides caution tourists at certain points not to speak or sing, lest they cause disaster. Just so—there are human lives bearing such burdens of sorrow and trouble—that one disheartening word may bring them into despair! We should learn never to give discouragement. It is a crime against humanity. Beware that you never speak dishearteningly to any one. Only love can save the world. No matter how the person may have sinned, only gentleness can save him.

A newspaper writer makes the suggestion, that for men like himself some kind of league should be formed by which those who join should bind themselves to say some kind word, or do some kind act daily. The editor suggests, however, that only one kindness daily is too formal, and altogether too meager. There is need for kindness not once a day—to one person; but a thousand times a day—to a thousand people. There is need for encouragement continually. If you can truly say, "I believe God," you cannot but be an encourager. God himself is a God of encouragement. True religion is simply love and kindness.

Washington Gladden says that "religion is friendship; friendship first with the great Companion, on the Godward side. Then on the manward side the same is true." To be friends with everybody; to fill every human relation with the spirit of friendship; is there anything more than this—that the wisest and best of men can hope to do? So let us seek to encourage others wherever we are. You cannot possibly estimate the uplifting power of such a life as Paul's, moving among men. You cannot possibly estimate the uplifting power of your own life in the community where you dwell. Let us live so that everyone may go away from us heartened and brave. Let our message ever be, "Be of good cheer, for I believe God!"


Does God Care?

About the beginning of this century, an unbeliever was reported to have said that the mission of the twentieth century would be to discover God, and when God should be discovered, it would be found that he does not care. It would be a bitter sorrow for the world—if this opinion was true. Into countless homes and hearts—it would bring the darkness of despair. The secret of hope in believing souls everywhere, is that God does care! This is the one great truth that God has been striving through all the generations, to have men believe. This is the whole gospel of redemption. The Bible presents it on its every page. The world's condemning unbelief, has always been its refusal to believe that God cares.

But does God really care? Is there anywhere, an omnipotent ear—which hears the world's cries of pain—and gives attention to them? Is there anywhere a loving heart which is touched by the world's sorrows, which feels with those who suffer, and which desires to give help and comfort? The greatest stranger when he is passing along the street and sees one suffering, in pain or distress—somewhat cares and pities him. A tender-hearted man feels even for an animal, or a bird which has been hurt. Some great calamity occurs—the destruction of a city by an earthquake, a volcanic eruption pouring its lava streams over homes and villages, an explosion in a mine, burying hundreds of miners—and a wave of pain sweeps over the world. Human hearts are sensitive to every shade of need and experience in others. When we see a passing hearse, telling us that there is death within, that a family is mourning, though they are utter strangers to us—our hearts are touched, we walk softly, laughter is hushed, loud speech is restrained, we speak more quietly. We care. Is God less compassionate than men are?

Some believe, that God's care is general—not individual. They believe that all things in creation and providence, are planned for the good of the race as a whole. The movements of the earth are so guided as to bring day and night, the seasons in their order, cold and heat, winds and tides and all the changes which bring health, comfort and fruitfulness. God is good to all. "He makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust." Nature is ready with gentle service, in all its attributes and forces. But it is the same to all. There is no love in all this, no care for any individual. They sat that the providence of God is kindly, benevolent, helpful—but is no more so to the weak than to the strong, to the sick than to the well, to the distressed and broken-hearted than to the happy and rejoicing. There seems to be no special divine tenderness shown to a home where there is suffering, or where there is great need or bitter sorrow. Life appears no more kindly to the blind man, to the cripple, to the helpless, to the bedridden—than to those who have the use of all their powers and faculties and are well and strong.

Does God really care for us, as individuals? Does he give personal thought to any of us—to you, to me—according to our condition? Does pain or trouble in us, cause pity in his heart? Does God care? Does he see the individual in the crowd? When you are passing through some great trouble, enduring pain or adversity—does God know it, and does he care? Does he have any thought or feeling for you different from that which he has for the person living in the house next to yours—who has no trouble, no suffering?

We know how it is with our human friends. Love is individual. Its interest in us is sympathetic, and varies with our condition and our need. When we are happy, without painful condition, our friends love us—but feel no anxiety concerning us. Tomorrow we are sick or are suffering from some painful accident, or enduring some loss. Then they love us no more than before—but their hearts are torn with sympathy. That is what it means to care. Is there any such experience as this in God? When we suffer—does he suffer too? Does he know that we are in any particular need—and is his feeling toward us affected by our experience?

A mother was speaking to a trusted friend about her daughter. The child had had a bitter sorrow, a sore disappointment. The mother knew just what her daughter was passing through. Her love for her child, entered into and shared all the child's experiences. The mother cared. Is there ever anything like this in the heart of God—as he looks upon his children and knows that they are suffering?

The Psalmist says: "I am poor and needy—yet the Lord thinks upon me!" There was wonderful comfort in this assurance. For a man, one man, in the great world of millions—poor, needy, surrounded by enemies and dangers, and with no human friend or helper, to be able to say: "Yet the Lord thinks upon me!" was to find marvelous strength.

But was the needy and beleaguered soul justified in its confidence? Was it indeed true—that the great God in heaven thought upon his servant on the earth in his loneliness and suffering? Or was it only a imagined assurance, with which to comfort himself? Did God really care for him? And does God care for us, and think upon us—when we are poor and needy?

When we turn to the Bible we find on every page the revelation—that God does care! The Old Testament is full of luminous illustrations of the truth. A great crime has been committed, a brother slain by a brother—and God cares! A woman is in distress because she has been cast out—and God cares! The Lord has heard your affliction," was the message sent to comfort her. All the Bible story shines with records of similar divine care. The Psalms likewise are full of assurances of God's personal interest in men.

Christ teaches the same truth. He speaks over and over of the Father's thought and care. He told his disciples that amid all his care of the worlds—God clothes the grass and the lilies, and finds time to attend to the feeding of the birds, and in all the events of the universe, notes the fall of a little sparrow. He assured them further that the very hairs of their heads are all numbered, meaning that God personally cares for all the minutest affairs of our lives. Not only did Christ teach that God cares for his children—but that he cares for them as individuals. His love is not merely a vague kindly sentiment of interest, in the whole human family—but it is personal and individual as the love of a mother for each one of her children.

The Shepherd calls his sheep by name. Paul took the love of Christ to himself as if he were the only one Christ loved. "He loved me—and gave himself up for me!" God's love is personal. His heart lays hold upon each life. He cares for us—for me! He enters into all our individual experiences. If we suffer—he suffers. In a remarkable passage in the Old Testament, the writer, speaking of the love of God for his people, says: "In all their suffering—he also suffered, and he personally rescued them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them through all the years." Isaiah 63:9. How could the care of God for his children, be expressed in plainer or more positive way? In their afflictions—he was afflicted. When they suffered—he suffered. In their sorrows—he sorrowed!

We know how Jesus entered into all the experiences of his disciples. Their life was his. It is the same today. In heaven he is touched with the feeling of his people's infirmities! If you are weak—the burden of your weakness presses upon him. If you are hurt—the hurt is felt by him. If you are wronged—he endures the wrong. There is no experience of your life—which he does not share. Whatever your need, your trial, your perplexity, your struggle may be—you may be sure that God knows and cares—and that when you come to him with it, he will take time amid all his infinite affairs to help you—as if he had nothing else in all the world to do!

God cares! His love for each one of His children is so deep, so personal, so tender—that He has compassion on our every pain, every distress, every struggle. "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him!" Psalms 103:13. God is our Father, and his care is gentler than a human father's—as his love exceeds human love.

Much human care has no power to help—but when God cares—he helps omnipotently. Jesus said that when his friends would leave him alone—yet he would not be alone—"because the Father is with me." When human friendship comes not with any relief—then God will come. When no one in all the world cares—then God cares! "Cast all your care upon Him, because He cares about you!" 1 Peter 5:7


You Will Not Mind the Roughness

Sometimes there is inscrutable mystery in the difficult experiences through which godly people are led.

A few years ago a happy young couple came from the marriage altar, full of hope and joy. Their home was bright with love. A year later a baby came and was welcomed with great gladness. From the beginning, however, the little one was a sufferer. She was taken to one of the best physicians in the land. After careful examination, his decision was that her condition is absolutely hopeless. Until that moment the mother had still hoped that her child might sometime be cured. Now she understands that however long she may live, she will never be any better. "What shall I do? What can I do? How can God help me?" was the mother's question. What comfort can we give to such mothers as this?

Yes, it is hard to look upon the child's condition, so pathetic, so pitiful, and to remember the doctor's words: "Absolutely hopeless!" Is there any comfort for this condition? Can this mother say that God is leading her in the path of life? Is this experience of suffering, part of that path? Does God know about the long struggle of this mother? Does he know what the doctor said? Yes—he knows all. Has he then no power to do anything? Yes—he has all power. Why, then, does he not cure this child? We may not try to answer. We do not know God's reasons. Yet we know it is all right. What good can possibly come from this child's condition, and from the continuation of this painful condition year after year? We do not know. Perhaps perhaps it is for the sake of the mother and father, who are being led through these years of anguish, disappointment and sorrow. Many people suffer for the sake of others, and we know at least that these parents are receiving a training in unselfishness, in gentleness, in patience, in trust.

Perhaps this painful experience in their child is to make them richer-hearted. The disciples asked the Master, "Why was this man born blind? Was it a result of his own sins or those of his parents?" "It was not because of his sins or his parents' sins. He was born blind so the power of God could be seen in him." May it not be, that this child's suffering finds its justification in the ministry of love it has called out in the father and mother? They are being prepared for a blessed service to other suffering ones. Perhaps in eternity, they will learn that they owe to their child's suffering, much of the beauty of Christ which grew into their characters.

In one of the lace shops of Brussels there are certain rooms devoted to the spinning of the finest and most delicate lace patterns. The rooms are left altogether dark, except for the light that comes from one very small window. There is only one spinner in each room, and he sits where a narrow stream of light falls from the window directly upon the threads he is weaving. "Thus," says the guide, "do we secure our choicest products. The lace is always more delicately and beautifully woven, when the worker himself sits in the dark and only his pattern is in the light." May it not be the same with us in our weaving? Sometimes we must work in the dark. We cannot see or understand what we are doing. We cannot discover any possible good in our painful experience. Yet, if only we are faithful, we shall some day learn that the most exquisite work of our life was done in those very dark days.

Let us never be afraid, however great our sufferings, however dark life is. Let us go on in faith and love, never doubting, not even asking why, bearing our pain and learning to sing while we suffer. God is watching, and he will bring good and beauty out of all our suffering. We must remember that it is "the path of life" that God is showing us. He never leads us in any other path. If we are prompted to go in some evil way, we may be sure that it is not God's way for us. He leads us only in paths of life. They may be steep and rough—but the end will be blessed and glorious—and in our joy we will forget the briers and thorns on the way!

There are days when you do not know what to do. You have perplexities, doubts, uncertainties. You lie awake half the night wondering what you ought to do. Something has gone wrong in your affairs, in your relations with a friend, or in your home life. Or, one near to you is suffering and you want to help—but you do not know what to do. Your days are full of questions. Instead of vexing yourself, just go to Him who is infinitely wise and say: "Show me the path!" and He will.

There is something else. It is told of Wenceslaus, king of Bohemia, that he was one night going to prayer in a distant church, barefoot, over the snow and ice; and his servant, Podavivus, following him, imitating his master's devotion, grew faint. "Follow me," said the king; "set your feet in the prints of mine." That is what our Master says when we grow weary in the hard way, when the thorns pierce our feet, or when the path grows rough or steep: "Follow me. Put your feet into my footprints! It is but a little way home!"

Why Does No One Ever See God?

There are many sincere Christians who are longing for clearer revealings of God. An earnest young Christian wrote to her pastor: "I find myself ever asking, as I read the New Testament, "These things are very beautiful—but do we know that they are true?" Several years since, a writer told of two girls who were overheard one evening talking as if in perplexity, and one of them said: "Yes—but why has no one ever seen God?" This was all that was heard of the conversation—but that single sentence revealed the questioner's state of mind. Evidently she had been talking about the apparent unreality of spiritual things. Why had nobody ever seen God? She had heard a great deal about God—about his love, his care, his interest in human lives, his kindness. But she had never had a glimpse of him. How could she know that all she had heard about him was true? How could she know that the things of Christian faith and hope, were real?

Such questions will arise with all who think. Does God indeed love me? If he does, why must I suffer so? If he does, how can I explain all the accidents, calamities, and troubles of life? It is not surprising, if sometimes we cannot understand the mysteries of Christian faith. All of life is full of things which we cannot comprehend. Can you understand how, on the bushes in your garden, which in March were bare and briery, there are coming masses of glorious roses? In the most common things there is mystery. A great botanist said that there was enough mystery in a handful of moss, to give one a lifetime's study. There really are but few things we can understand. How do your eyes see? How do your ears hear? How does your mind think? Shall we refuse to believe these things—because we cannot explain them?

Why, then, should we doubt that when a mother sat by her suffering child the other night, and pleaded with God, her prayer reached the ears of her Heavenly Father? Why do we question that God loves us, when we believe that our human friends love us? You cannot see the love in your friend's heart—any more than you can see the love in God's heart. You say that your friend is true, is patient, is kind, that he is a tower of strength to you; but you cannot see these qualities in him. Your friend is much out of your sight, and you cannot set spies on him to know that he is always faithful. Yet you never doubt him. How can you not in like manner, believe in the love of God, which you cannot see?

A sorrow breaks in upon you. You cannot understand it. Yet—we would be far happier sometimes, if we did not try to understand things. Sir Robertson Nicoll says: "There are some very devout people who know far too much. They can explain the whole secret and purpose of pain, evil, and death in the world. They prate about the mystery of things—as if they were God's spies. It is far humbler and more Christian, to admit that we do not fully know the reason and method in this long, slow tragedy of human existence."

But God does really show himself to us, and we do see him oftener than we think. Philip said to Jesus: "Lord, show us the Father;" and have you noticed what Jesus said to him in reply? "Have I been so long time with you, and have you not known me? He who has seen me has seen the Father." What Philip had in mind when he said: "Show us the Father," was some outshining of God's majesty and splendor. That was the way he thought God must appear. When Jesus said: "He who has seen me has seen the Father," he referred to his common, daily life with his disciples—not to his miracles. Only a small proportion of the things Jesus did were supernatural. Most all of his acts were simple, common things, that did not need deity to perform. He wrought only one recorded miracle in the Bethany home. But in his frequent visits—sitting with the family by the hearth, or at the table, talking with them in the evening, walking with them in the garden, showing them the gentle things of friendship—there were a thousand kindly words and acts, which made his name forever sacred to them.

It was so in all Christ's life. There were a few miracles, showing divine power; there were countless revealings of gentleness, sympathy, thoughtfulness, encouragement, which were as full of God as the miracles. It was chiefly to this part of his life, that Jesus referred when he said to Philip: "He who has seen me has seen the Father." His miracles awed them. Mary could not have sat at his feet and listened calmly—if he had appeared in glory and majesty. John could not have leaned on his breast restfully and quietly—if supernatural glory had been shining in his face. God is love, and he reveals himself in acts of love. Jesus showed the disciples the Father—in all the sweetness and compassion that they saw in him continually. Do we not see him in like ways? Does he not reveal himself to us in a thousand familiar things, which we do not think of at all—as divine revealings?

A writer says that most men are religious when they look upon the faces of their dead babies. The materialism which at other times infects them with doubts of God and immortality, drops from them in this hushed hour.

People see God only in the unusual. "If we could see miracles," they say, "we would believe!" But the common things are likewise full of God. Moses saw God in one bush which burned and was not consumed. Yet God is as really in every bush in the woods—for those who have eyes to see—as he was in a special way in that little bush at Horeb. Have you never seen God? If you think of God as only burning majesty, shining glory, you will answer: "No—I never saw God!" But splendor, Sinai clouds, and flaming fires are not God. You have seen God a thousand times—in love, in peace, in goodness, in comfort. You see him daily in providential care, in the sweet things of your home, in friendships, in the beauty of little children. You have been receiving blessings all your life in manifold ways. Do not call it chance, luck, or good fortune!

The heart-hungry girl asked: "Why has no one ever seen God?" Yet she had seen God every day, every hour of her life, in the goodness and mercy which had followed her from her infancy. You have seen God a thousand times! You were in danger, and there came a mysterious protection which sheltered you from harm. You called it chance; but it was God! You had a great sorrow which you thought you could not possibly endure, and there came into your heart a strange, sweet comfort. You thought a friend brought it; but God sent the friend! There was a tangle in your affairs which seemed about to wreck everything, and then in an inexplicable way it was all straightened out by invisible hands. The hands were God's! Your years have been full of wonderful providences, unusual guidances, gentle comforts, answered prayers, sweet friendships, surprises of goodness, help, and care. All your life you have been seeing God! Do not question it—but rejoice in the vision, that you may see him still more!


The One Who Stands By

Jesus spoke to his disciples of the Holy Spirit as the Comforter. We think of a comforter, as one who gives consolation in trouble. There is much sorrow in the world, and there is always need of those who understand the art of comforting. There is constant need for true comforters. Barnabas is called, a "son of consolation." No doubt he was a sunshiny man. No other one, can be a consoler. When Barnabas went into a sick room, we are quite sure his presence was a blessing. It is a great thing to be son of consolation. Christ himself was a wonderful comforter. The Holy Spirit is a comforter. He brings the gentleness and healing of divine love, to hurt hearts.

But the best scholars agree that "comforter" is not the word which most adequately gives the sense of the original word which our Lord used. It is Paraclete. It is used only a few times, and only by John. In his Gospel, it is translated Comforter. But, in John's First Epistle, it is translated Advocate. Advocate is perhaps the more accurate translation—not merely a comforter who consoles us in trouble, and makes us stronger to endure sorrow—but one who stands for us. The word Advocate means one who stands by; strictly, one who stands by the side of another.

The thought "one who stands by" is very suggestive. This is one of the best definitions of a friend. He must be one who always stands by. He may not always be close to you, always manifesting affection in some practical way, always speaking words of encouragement. He may be miles away in space—but you know that he is always true to you, your real friend, wherever he may be. He always stands by you. He may not be able to do many things for you. Indeed it is but little that a friend, even your best friend, really can do at any time for you. He cannot lift away your load. Each one must bear his own burden, meet his own life's questions, make his own decisions, endure his own troubles, fight his own battles, accept his own responsibilities. The office of a friend is not to make life easy for you. But he always stands by you. If ever you need him in any way and turn to him, he will not fail you nor disappoint you. If you do not see him for years, nor even hear from him, and if you then should go to him with some appeal—you will find him unchanged, the same strong, faithful friend as always. Though your circumstances have changed, from wealth to poverty, from popular favor to obscurity, from strength to weakness, still your friend is the same, stands by you as he did before, meets you with the old cordiality, the old kindness, the old helpfulness. Your friend is one who stands by you through everything.

Such a friend the Holy Spirit is. Jesus said the Father would give "another Comforter," that is, another one like himself. Jesus an advocate for his disciples, who always stood by them, their comrade, their defender, their shelter in danger. His friendship was unchanged through the years. His disciples failed him, grieved him, disappointed him—but when they came back to him they found him the same, waiting to receive them. Jesus said they would receive another comforter when he was gone. He was not really going away from them. They would not see any face, would not feel any hand—but he would be there, as he always had been—ever standing by. They would lose nothing by his going away. In the Paraclete, he would still be with them and would still be their Comforter, their Comrade.

Think what it was to them to have Jesus for a personal friend. There never was such another Friend. Think of his gentleness, his tenderness, his sympathy, his kindness, the inspiration of his love. Think of the shelter he was to them, the strength, the encouragement. Then remember what he said—that the Holy Spirit would be "another Comforter," one like himself, and that it would be more to them to have the Spirit for their Friend and Comforter—than if Jesus had stayed with them.

The Holy Spirit is everything to us—which Jesus was to his personal friends. He is our Advocate. He always stands by, and for us. We speak of the love of the Father. We are his children. He comforts us with his wonderful tenderness. We talk and sing of the love of Christ. We do not speak or sing so much of the love of the Spirit. Yet the Spirit's love is just as wonderful as the Father's or the Son's! For one thing, he loves us enough to come and live in our hearts. Does that seem a little thing? We speak a great deal, especially at Christmas time, of the condescension of the eternal Son of God in coming to earth, to be born in a stable and cradled in a manger. Is it a less wonderful condescension, for the Holy Spirit to make your heart his home—and to live there as your guest? Think what a place a human heart is! Think of the unholy thoughts and desires, the impure things, the unlovingness, the jealousy, the bitterness, the hate—all the sin of our hearts. Then think of the love of the Spirit—which makes him willing to live in such a place, in order to cleanse us and make us godly and holy! The love of the Spirit is shown in his wondrous patience with us in all our sinfulness, while he lives in us and deals with us in the culturing of our Christian life.

We speak of the patient love of Christ with his disciples the three years he was with them, having them in his family, at his table, enduring their ignorance, their dullness, their narrowness, their petty strifes, their unfaithfulnesses. It was a marvelous love—which never grew weary of them, which loved on in spite of all that so tried his love. We never can understand the depth of the love of Christ, in enduring all that he endured in saving the world. But think also of the love of the Holy Spirit in what he suffers in his work with us. A young Christian had a friend whom she had long loved deeply. She had regarded this friend as like an angel—in the truth and beauty of her life. She never had had a shadow of doubt concerning her. Then she learned that this girl had been leading a double life for years. The discovery appalled her! At first she refused to believe it—but the evidence was so unmistakable that she could not but believe it, and it almost killed her. She wrote: "I understand now a little of the bitter sorrow of my Savior in Gethsemane, as he drank the cup of his people's sins." If a human friend can be broken-hearted over the sin of a friend, how the Holy Spirit must suffer in his nourishing of us, in his wondrous brooding over us. How he must grieve when we fall into sin!