Mourners in Zion, be comforted! if yours be a life of sorrow, yours also is a religion of hope. If the book of Providence seems to you to be "written within and without," like Ezekiel's roll, in characters of "lamentation, and mourning, and woe," the Bible is filled with consolation and peace; and the more stormy your passage through this world, the more awful God's judgments, the more severe and confounding your trials and bereavements may be, the more should that blessed books be endeared to your hearts of which every true disciple will say, with the afflicted Psalmist, "This is my comfort in mine affliction."
It is not one of the least benefits of severe affliction, that it shatters our confidence in every other stay, and breaks up our hopes from every other quarter, and leads us, in simplicity, to search the Word of God for comfort; nor is it one of the least recommendations of that precious book, that is characters become more bright in proportion as all else around us is dark, and that, when all other information becomes insipid or nauseous, its truths are rendered only the more sweet and refreshing by the bitter draught of sorrow. The Bible cannot be known in its excellence, nor its truths relished in their sweetness, nor its promises duly appreciated and enjoyed, until, by adversity, all other consolation is lost, and all other hopes destroyed; but then, when we carry it with us into the firey furnace of affliction, like the aromatic plant, which must be burnt before the precious perfume is felt, it emits a refreshing fragrance, and is relished in proportion as our sufferings are great. Glorious peculiarity! other books may amuse the hours of ease; other knowledge may suffice to pass the short day of prosperity, but this book only is for the hour of sorrow; this knowledge comes to my aid when all other knowledge fails; and, like the sweet stars of heaven, the truths of God shine most brightly in the darkest night of sorrow.
And why is it so? Is it because the Bible denies the existence of sorrow and suffering? or, because it represents the afflictions of life as being few in number, or easy to be borne? Does it seek to withdraw our attention from them? or, does it ridicule the feelings which such afflictions awaken, and enjoin a heartless indifference to whatever may befall us? Does it mock the friendships of nature, and scorn our feelings when these friendships are broken up by bereavement? God forbid! On the contrary, the Bible proceeds on the assumption that sorrow and suffering prevail in the world; that all, without exception, are liable to their depressing influence, and, so far from representing them as being few in number, or easy to be borne, it presents a picture of human life, which, in the season of youth and hope, many may be disposed to regard as gloomy and exaggerated, but which, in the hour of sorrow, comes home to the heart as the only faithful representation of this state of trial. It declares to every disciple, that in "the world he shall have tribulation," and that, although "troubles springs not from the dust, nor sorrow from the ground, yet man is born to sorrow as the sparks fly upwards." Nor does it seek to withdraw our attention from the afflictions of life; on the contrary, it presses them on our regard; it declares them to be a proper and salutary subject of contemplation, and affirms, "that it is better to go to the house of mourning, than to the house of mirth." And, in doing so, it is far from enjoining us to contemplate any scene of sorrow, with heartless indifference, or stoical unconcern. That religion which commands us to "weep with those who weep," cannot be supposed to condemn the tears which we shed over our own sorrows or bereavements; nor can its Divine Author, who wept over the grave of Lazarus, be regarded as the pattern of his people, if, unlike him, they are to derive their support in the hour of sorrow from the suppression of those feelings which nature prompts, and of those tears which nature sheds, over the grave of friendship. And if stoical apathy and indifference be not enjoined, far less does the Bible sanction or countenance that bitter ridicule of human suffering, and that sarcastic contempt of human life, which, in the madness of despair, some have been tempted to indulge, and which has led them to strip man of his rightful dignity, and life of its due importance, and to regard the chequered scene of his existence with misanthropic bitterness, and even the last tragic scene of dissolution with morbid unconcern. Ah! little would such a scheme have suited the hearts which God hath given us! but the Bible breathes the spirit of compassion over all our sorrows; its Divine Author sympathizes with us in the lowest depths of our afflictions; he ridicules not even the weakness of nature, but tenderly upbinds the heart when it bleeds; for, "even as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him," and that divine pity breathes throughout every page of Scripture.
The grand peculiarity of the Bible, as a book of consolation, is, that while it seeks not to cast our sufferings into the shade, but rather sets them before us in all their variety and magnitude, it teaches us to find consolation in the midst of acknowledged sorrow, and causes light to arise out of the deepest darkness. In many respects, it gives a more gloomy view of human life than we are ofttimes willing to entertain. It represents affliction as ordained for us, and appointed so that it cannot be escaped. It tells us that our future life will be chequered with trials, even as the past has been. It gives no assurance of respite from suffering, so long as we are in this world. And, when it traces these afflictive events to their causes, -- when it represents suffering as the fruit and the wages of sin, -- when it charges us with guilt, and affirms that we have provoked the Lord to anger, -- when it leads us to regard our sorrows as connected with our characters, and inflicted by a righteous governor and judge, -- and when, carrying our eye beyond this world altogether, it points to an eternal state of retribution, where sorrows infinitely more severe, and judgments infinitely more confounding, await impenitent and unforgiven guilt, -- it does present such a view of our present condition and future prospects, as may well fill us with awe and alarm; -- and yet still it is the book of consolation; still it contains the elements of peace, the seed of hope, the well-spring of eternal joy. It is out of the very darkness of our present state and our eternal prospects, that the brightness of that dawn appears which shall issue in everlasting day; the golden rays of divine light and love appear in the midst of that thick cloud; the cup of bitterness is sweetened by an infusion of mercy, so that the Christian can be "joyful in the midst of tribulation," and "greatly rejoice, though now, for a season, if need be, he is in heaviness, through manifold temptations."
For, while the Bible spreads out to our view the whole scene of human life, chequered with every variety of shade, it raises our eye above it, and reveals a superhuman and spiritual System, which stretches over and comprehends every part of it, -- a System founded on principles which are as fixed as the incidents of human life are fluctuating, -- a System which overrules every event that may happen, and determines them all, however casual they may seem to be, to some great and lofty end, -- a System which, although in its immensity it is incomprehensible, and, in many of its bearings, mysterious, is, nevertheless, when in any measure understood, a great and lofty System, and obscure only because of its transcendent grandeur, -- which gives stability to what was before uncertain, and throws light on what was formerly dark, and imparts regularity and order to what might otherwise seem to be a world not only of vicissitude, but of chance. It is by revealing this spiritual and superhuman System, that the Bible seeks to elevate our minds out of the depression which the present aspects of the world might occasion; not by concealing the dark aspect of "things seen and temporal;" not by disputing the reality of those afflictions which we feel, and underrating their magnitude, but by showing us their necessity and suitableness, as means under a higher economy than that of the present life -- an economy which stretches from eternity to eternity -- which comprehends in its courses all orders of creatures, and every class of events, and which controls and overrules them all for the promotion of an end worthy of the magnitude of the scheme, and infinitely important to ourselves.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Mourners in Zion, Be Comforted!
James Buchanan, Comfort in Affliction: A Series of Meditations, pp. 9-14: