The God of Christianity.
"Blessed he God, even the Father," etc. The God of nature is revealed in nature as the Almighty and the All-wise. "The invisible things of the world are clearly seen, being made visible by the things that are seen, even his eternal power and Godhead." But God in Christianity appears in three aspects.
I. AS THE FATHER OF THE WORLD 'S REDEEMER . "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Jesus Christ is the world's Redeemer, and the world's Redeemer is the Son of God. "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
II. AS THE SOURCE OF MAN 'S MERCIES . "The Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort," or the merciful Father. Mercy implies something more than mere benevolence; it is a modification of goodness; it implies sorrow and suffering. God is good to all, but he is merciful to the afflicted—he compassionates and comforts them. God in nature does not appear as the God of mercy and comfort for the fallen and the lost.
III. AS THE COMFORTER OF AFFLICTED SAINTS . "Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble," etc . The best of men have their tribulations here. Most, if not all, the men who have entered heaven have passed through much tribulation.
1 . He comforts his afflicted people "in all their tribulations." Whatever the nature and variety of affliction, he has suitable and adequate comfort to bestow. Moral remorses, worldly losses, social bereavements,—he has a healing balm for all.
2 . He comforts his afflicted people, that they may be able to administer comfort to others . "That we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble." Affliction is necessary to qualify us to sympathize with and administer comfort to others. "They comfort others who themselves have borne," says Sophocles. By affliction Christ qualified himself to comfort others. "We have not a High Priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities," etc .
Thanksgiving in the midst of tribulation; uses of sorrow; comforting others; personal references.
The ascription begins with "blessed," the strongest term the apostle could employ as representing the highest and strongest emotions, the head-word in the vocabulary of gratitude and praise, found in the Old and New Scriptures, and common to Jews and Gentile Christians. "Blessed;" the best in us acknowledging the God of grace, an anthem in a single utterance, and embodying the whole nature of man in reverence and adoration. "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ;" not only God, but the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and a Father to us in him. What significance Christ gave to the word "father" we all know. It is the root-word of the Lord's Prayer, every ascription and every petition being but an offshoot from "Our Father which art in heaven." So of the entire Sermon on the Mount; it is the motive to trust Providence, the reason to be like God, the ground of brotherhood, the inducement to forgive those who offend us, the inspiration of each duty, each sacrifice, and the joy and strength of each beatitude. So of the last conversations and discourse—all of the Father and of the Son in him, and the disciples in the Son. So after the Resurrection, "My Father and your Father." St. Paul rejoiced in the word. Nor did he hesitate to use on Mars' Hill the quotation," We are also his offspring," and from this point of view expose the error and sin of idolatry. And wherever he comes to give it the fulness of its import, as in Romans 8:1-39 ., his heart overflows with feeling. Here ( Romans 8:3 ) he is also the "Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort," and no matter how the mercies reach us and what their nature and connections, they are from the Father as the God of all comfort. Physical and spiritual blessings, a visit from Stephanas, the return of Titus, good news from Corinth,—all alike are mercies from the Father, the God of all comfort. One may lose himself in the omnipresence of Jehovah and be overwhelmed by its sublimity, but it is a very practical doctrine with the apostle, a constant reality, and he feels it deeply because he feels it always. "Not far from every one of us." How can he be, when "we live and move and have our being" in]aim? We say these great words, but with what little consciousness of their massive import! Reason tries in vain to comprehend omnipresence; imagination labours and sinks under its images; while the humble and docile heart accepts the grandeur of God's presence in immensity as the grandeur of his nearness in all the affairs of life. "God of all comfort" because "Father of mercies;" the mercies very welcome to him just then in that sore emergency, and the fatherhood of God in Christ unspeakably dear. it enlivened the sense of special providence in his soul; it was the Comforter whom Christ had promised as more than a compensation for his absence, and. while this Comforter was never taken from him, yet, as occasion demanded, his Divine manifestations were augmented. Just as we need human sympathy, assurances of human friendship and love, more at some times than at others, so need we the Consoler, and to this varying want he adapts himself in the infinitude of his power and tenderness. No soul is saved, we may suppose, on an unvarying plan; no soul is cheered and strengthened by a rigid monotony of spiritual influence. "The wind bloweth where it listeth," a zephyr, a breeze, a gate, but in all the wind. "So is every one that is born of the Spirit." "Blessed be God," not only for "mercies" and "comfort," but for them in particular adaptations to seasons and experiences that doubly endear the gracious offices of the Paraclete. Now, these words of praise naturally lead us to expect a justification of their special utterance, and we have it immediately. "Who comforteth us in all our tribulation," and for what purpose? Titus and Timothy had brought him much cheer and consolation, and why? Was it just to revive his drooping spirit? Just to assuage his personal pain, soothe his unquiet nerves, invigorate his tone of mind? Nay; consolation was not selfish. Happiness is not exclusively or even mainly for its possessor. "Doth God take care for oxen?" Yea; for the owner of oxen too in his providence over the beast. The tribulation had not fallen on St. Paul because of anything peculiar to him; it was vicarious; and the comfort had been granted, not in his behalf alone, but that he might know how to console others. This is his statement: "That we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble." If the Holy Ghost is the Comforter, we are his agents, and, just as the gospel of doctrine reaches you from him through us, so too the gospel of consolation comes to your hearts through our hearts. Look at what the apostolic office meant. Far more than preacher, organizer, administrator, leader, champion, was included in its high duties and arduous responsibilities. To console was one of its greatest tasks. Everywhere the dejected were to be lifted up, the discouraged animated, the afflicted taught to hope. To be a physician to suffering souls was a cease- less requisition on St. Paul. Think of what it entailed on such a man as he. Think of but one aspect of the matter—tension of sensibility. The exhaustion consequent on the unceasing strain upon sensibility is the hardest of all things to bear. It opens the door to all manner of temptations. It is the crucial test of manly fortitude, Now, the quality of emotion has much more to do with the exhaustion of the nervous system than the quantity. Every preacher knows that a funeral occasion on which he has to officiate is a severer tax on his nerves than half a dozen ordinary pulpit services. The more solemn, and especially the more pathetic, the circumstances, the more rapid and complete the subsequent exhaustion. Think now of what St. Paul had to endure in this kind of apostolic experience, and that too without a respite; how many thorns rankled besides "the thorn in the flesh;" and how many hearts bled in that one bleeding heart of his. Just now, moreover, he was suffering greatly on account of the Corinthians. This will appear hereafter. The main point before us is—How was he qualified to be a consoler? What Ms discipline, what his education, for this beautiful and holy service? Ah, Tarsus and Jerusalem, Gamaliel, all other teachers, pass out of view in this deepest and most personal of all culture, and the Holy Ghost and the man are the only parties to the work. "By the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God." Talking from the intellect is in such a case of no avail. A man must have been a sufferer, must have felt Christ in his sufferings, must have abounded in these "sufferings of Christ," as St. Paul designates his afflictions, before he can be fitted to minister unto others. Only sorrow can speak to sorrow. Notice the correspondence in the degree; if the sufferings of Christ abounded, so "our consolation also aboundeth by Christ." "By the sufferings of Christ abound in us" ("unto us," Revised Version), we understand the apostle to mean his fellowship with Christ in suffering the ills and sorrows that came ,.Ton him as an apostle and as a man because of his spiritual union with Christ. Mediation in all its offices, in the peculiar and exclusive work of Christ as the one Reconciler and Healer, in the subordinate and imperfect operations of human sympathy, is essentially painful. And allowing for the infinite distinction between the Divine Sufferer and. human sufferers, there is vet a unity in suffering predicable of Christ and the members of his mystical body. For it is the capacity to suffer which is the dignity and glory of our nature. We are God-like in this quality. It is the basis of all grand excellence, nor can our innate love of happiness nor any other ideal of our being have its fulfilment except through that kind of sorrow which Christians undergo in the Man of sorrows. Ver, 6 emphasizes this fact. If we are afflicted, argues he, it is for your good, that we may be instrumental in your salvation, and that grace may abound to yon because of what we endure. And, furthermore, it was for their present consolation; it was "effectual;" the example of their distressed apostle operated to strengthen and establish them, and the consolation wherewith he was sustained availed to animate their souls For this reason, his hope of them was "steadfast Corruptions were among these Corinthians God's judgments had overtaken them because of their free-thinking and laxity of morals: they were punished, they were chastened but in the midst of all, St. Paul was encouraged to hope for their stability and growth in grace, seeing that they were not only sympathizers but participants both in the sugaring and in the consolation he himself experienced for their sakes. Two points here come into view: first, the apostle was in great distress on their account, and they shared with him this peculiar burden of grief; and, secondly, the supporting grace which God had given him was not confined to his soul, but overflowed (abounded) in their souls. What a great truth is this! There are times in our history as believers when, if left without the support of Church relations, we should be overcome by temptation. In such hours God shows us the worth of membership in the Church; grace comes to us through their affections, and brethren in Christ are our best friends in the flesh. The human, or rather the Divine in the human, saves us when all else would be ineffectual, and thus it is that associates and companions in the faith cooperate with other "ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation." And what a meaning this imparts to the Holy Communion, wherein we express, not only our remembrance of Christ's suffering and death, but our fellowship with his sufferings in others! Keep in mind how sorrow ennobles us. Is it the silence and loneliness, the self-examination, the penitence, the amendment, in which the divinest fruits of chastening appear? These are not ultimate results. It is not alone what the discipline of pain makes us in ourselves; it is not the individual man, but the social man, that is under God's plastic hand, and who, while learning to "bear his own burden," is also learning a lesson far more difficult, to bear another's burden and "so fulfil the law of Christ." Who are they that practise the "so"? Who are the burden bearers—those that carry the ignorance, perverseness, folly, misfortune, troubles, of other people on their hearts? Only such as have known Christ as he suffered from taking "our infirmities" and bearing "our sicknesses," and who have been taught by the Holy Spirit that the mediating life to which we are called as the highest sphere of life is possible only by means of personal affliction. Was Bunyan immured in Bedford jail on his own account or for the world's benefit? Was Milton blind for his own sake or for England's? How could 'Pilgrim's Progress' or 'Paradise Lost' have been produced except in obedience to the law—partakers in suffering, partakers in consolation? St. Paul proceeds to the illustration. Of his general sufferings we have a definite idea. How he was misrepresented by his enemies, how he was charged with meanness and cowardice, how he was vilified for his self-denial, how the Judaizers pursued him with merciless zeal, we all know. We know, too, how his heart was moved by the deplorable state of things at Corinth. Now, it is quite true that the endurance of trouble prepares us to bear a new trouble; but it is true also that trouble increases the sensitiveness to pain, and hence, in a succession of sorrows, the last, though not in itself the heaviest, is virtually such because of the sensibility involved. This was St. Paul's condition. At this very conjuncture , when a phalanx of evils threatened, he had one particular trouble, of which he says, "We would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia." What it specifically was, we know not. He tells us, however, that it was exceptional even in his sad life; for he was "pressed [borne down] out of measure," and again, "above strength" (human resistance inadequate to bear the load), so much so that he saw no way of escape, life hung in peril, "we despaired even of life." In that dreadful hour all seemed over. Such hours do come to the best and noblest of God's servants. Body gives way, heroism is weakened, faith is half shorn of its strength. It is the eclipse of all light, the hour of darkness and of the Prince of darkness; the very soul seems to put off its better attributes, and life to its core appears an unreality. St. Paul "had the sentence of death" in himself. Was there any "lower deep"? Yet in this season of terrible experience a Divine lesson was being taught him, and it was "that we should not trust in ourselves." Had he not learned it long ago? Yes; in part, but not in this precise shape nor in this degree. The capacity to suffer is peculiar in this, that its development requires a manifold experience. One trouble is not another trouble; one grief is not another grief. Affliction that reaches a certain sentiment or a particular section of our nature may leave other sentiments and sections altogether untouched. Every quality within must go through this ordeal. The loss of money is not the loss of position and influence , the loss of friend is not the loss of a child, the loss of a child is not the loss of a wife. Each affection must pass through the refiner's fire. Nay, the very instincts must share the purification ordained for such as are to be made "perfect through suffering." Every link must be tested, must be thoroughly known, before the chain can be formed. What the issue was in St. Paul's case he informs us, and it was this—all self-reliance was taken away, and, in utter hopelessness, his heart was committed to God with his life, even the God "which raiseth the dead." Could anything represent his marvellous deliverance except the resurrection? "Who delivered us from so great a death;" it was an act of omnipotence, and as signal as raising the dead. After this era in his career imagine his consciousness of God's power in him. There it was—part and portion of his being, thought of his thought, feeling of his feeling, separable never from the existence of self. Had the crisis passed? Yea; but maligners and intriguers and foes were still on his track; the half-Christianized Pharisee nursed the old grudge against him, and the Judaizer, who believed in no gospel of which the Law of Moses was not a vital part as a requisite to salvation, was as inveterate as ever in cunning and in the arts that undermine. Yet what a potency of assurance lies in sorrow! After this season of trial, St. Paul, who was very apprehensive of mischief from this Judaizing source, and most serious mischief, and who felt his own ministry more imperilled at this point than at any other, must have had an unwonted degree of heavenly strength imparted to his spirit. Is it not likely, indeed, that it was a period of special education for this struggle with the Judaizers? May it not have been that, while in Ephesus, Troas, Macedonia, the principal warrior on the side of Christianity and free grace had his armour refitted and burnished for the dangers newly impending? It is on record that he was revived and reinvigorated; for he speaks of God as one who had not only "delivered , " but "doth deliver," and "in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us." "So great a death" had been escaped; why might he not hope for future and triumphant victory? Would not these Corinthians be brethren indeed? "Ye also helping together by prayer for us;" the joy of deliverance from his enemies would not be complete unless they were "partakers;" not even would he have triumph at the price of selfishness, but self in them and self in him must be one; and, therefore, the recurring plural, " we " and " us ." "By the means," or through the agency of "many persons," the future deliverance, "the gift bestowed upon us," will be secured, and what then? It would be no private and personal thanksgiving on his part. Instead of that, "thanks may be given by many on our behalf." His joy would be their joy; their joy his joy; and, in their mutual thanksgiving, all would see that a common sorrow had been overruled for a common glory.—L.
I. ITS SOURCE . God. Some seek comfort in reflecting that their case is no worse than that of others, that things will improve, that "it can't be helped;" in attempted forgetfulness; in exciting and dissipating pleasures; in unmeasured complaint and repining. But the child of God goes to his Father. God is the god of comfort; he is "the God of all comfort" ( 2 Corinthians 1:3 ). All mercies are of him, and this great mercy of comfort amongst others. Comfort is a mercy; it is of grace, not of right. Our sin has bred our sorrow, and we might have been left to it. But through the mercy of God we have abundant solace. As our comfort, comes through mercy, we are not surprised to find that it comes "through Christ" ( 2 Corinthians 1:5 ), the incarnation of the mercy of the Most High . It is of the God who is "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" ( 2 Corinthians 1:3 ). It is thus associated with our redemption. It is for those who can say " our Lord Jesus Christ;" his Father is then their Father. God's children shall be comforted; for they are the children of the One who is the sole Source of all true comfort.
II. ITS BESTOWAL . It comes to us when most needed.
1 . In affliction, The world's consolations, such as they are, are offered to us when we least need them. Affliction finds few friends; but it finds one Friend. In the dense darkness the Christian has light in his dwelling, like Israel in Egypt. When the child of God is sick and troubled, his Father comes to him.
2 . In all our affliction . ( 2 Corinthians 1:4 .) No affliction is beyond the reach of Divine comfort. God does not desert us in any trouble. Human comfort often aggravates our sorrow. When we are sore stricken we can bear no other touch but God's. We are sinking, but "underneath are the everlasting arms." Infinite in power; infinite also in consolation.
3 . In proportion to our affliction . ( 2 Corinthians 1:5 .) God weighs all our troubles. He knows our sorrows. "As thy days so shall thy strength be." He is acquainted with our need, and will he not supply it? We may reckon upon sufficient Divine consolation in all our sorrows; very especially so when those sorrows have been directly brought upon us by our steadfastness in the faith, our loyalty to Christ, our faithfulness to God. Each martyr had a martyr's portion of comfort as well as of pain. And so with Paul, whom we may regard as a long-lived martyr, dying daily, yet living through the death blows and comforted under them.
III. ITS OBJECT . We are comforted for our peace and happiness, but here we learn that we are comforted for our usefulness also. Like the apostle, we are comforted of God that we may comfort others. Divine comfort enables us to do this; for:
1 . We can then speak from experience of the efficacy of Divine comfort.
2 . We can direct to the Source of comfort.
3 . We can testify to the Divine faithfulness in bestowing comfort.
4 . The salutary influence of sorrow comforted by God will make us efficient comforters. Only those who have tasted trouble are fitted to minister to the troubled. And of these only they who have been divinely comforted can truly comfort. Such will be just unlike Job's comforters. Christ was perfected as a Comforter by his sorrows, and by the Divine consolation which kept him from sinking under them. We are brought down and then lifted up again, that we may be made meet for this service. And great will be our joy if we see those comforted by us patiently enduring (verse 6) their tribulation.
IV. ONE OF ITS EFFECTS . Gratitude, mingled with adoration. "Blessed be the God," etc. (verse 3). We shall thank God:
1 . That he has comforted us.
2 . That through this we have been enabled to comfort others. No stinted praise should we offer for such mercies. We shall all regard the first as great, but gracious spirits will regard the second as greater.—H.