"The God of All Comfort"

2 Corinthians 1:3.

As is well known, the words "comfort" and "consolation" (they are the same word in the original), which run through this scripture, might be, and often are, rendered "encouragement." It is not easy, however, to press all their meaning into any one single term; for, as will readily be perceived, wherever encouragement is ministered, by whatever means, the effect will be comfort to the soul. The same word in another form, it will be remembered, is used of the Holy Spirit by the Lord Himself in John's Gospel, and is given in our translation as the "Comforter"; and it is adopted by John in his first epistle to describe the service of our blessed Lord on high in relation to any of His people who may fall into sin, though here our translators have chosen the word "Advocate" to express its meaning. We need not further discuss the term, for what has been said will suffice to enable the reader to compare the several passages: we simply add that in the following remarks we shall keep to the term "comfort," leaving it to the reader to expand its significance and apply it as he may be taught and led by the Holy Spirit.

How blessed, then, to know that the God of our salvation, the One who has been fully set forth in Christ, is "the God of all comfort." The phrase is preceded by another - "the Father of mercies"; that is, as we understand it, the mercies or compassions which have been ministered to us through our Lord Jesus Christ have all flowed out to us through Him from the Father's heart. (Compare Rom. 12:1; 1 John 3:1.) In like manner, God is the blessed fount and source of all the comfort which can be received, and He is this because He is the God of resurrection. Now that . He has been fully glorified in the death of His beloved Son, He is set free in righteousness to let the mighty tide of His comforts flow out, without let or hindrance on His side, into the sorrowing hearts of His people in every part of the world. The only barrier to its inflow, at any time of need and distress, is to be found in our own state. A clear way has been made for Himself to minister it; but, alas! its reception is often checked by our unbelief and lack of expectation.

Together with this it must be remembered that, if He is "the God of all comfort," there is no comfort outside of Himself. It is one of the sorrowful failings of His people that they do so often turn to other sources for relief and alleviation in seasons of grief; and thereby they miss the blessed lessons which He would teach them through their exercises under His chastenings. Like Israel of old, instead of turning at once, when under pressure, to Himself, they frequently have recourse to the broken cisterns which can hold no water. Not living amid unseen things, they want human sympathies and support, and seek thus to comfort themselves, only, however, to realise, sooner or later, that the very thing which they most craved for and obtained for themselves was but another means of sorrow. No! God is "the God of all comfort," and His mourners are shut up to Him, for He alone can put off their sackcloth and gird them with gladness, and cause them to sing praise to Him and not be silent. Taking up this attitude of waiting alone upon Him, they will soon learn that, if weeping endure for a night, joy cometh in the morning. Let these two things, therefore, be engraven upon our hearts, that He Himself is the source of all our comfort, and that there is no comfort elsewhere to be found.

It should be remarked, also, that to comfort is His character - that, in other words, He is the comforting God. As the apostle says, "Who comforteth us in all our tribulation," and again in chapter 7, "Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down." So likewise in the Psalms, as, for example, "He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds." In each of these passages it will be noticed that the verb is in the present tense, that the action is consequently characteristic, and that therefore it is not what God will sometimes do if we wait upon Him, but what He ever does because it is His character and delight to do it. The question need therefore never be raised, Is He willing to comfort? It should rather be this, Are we in the state to receive this blessed ministry from Himself? What a God it is with whom we have to do! One who has told out all His heart in the dark domain of death through the gift of His beloved Son; One who, being "rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us … hath quickened us together with Christ"; and the One who, while we are passing through a world where sorrow and tribulation are our portion, presents Himself to us as a comforting God - the God, as Paul says, "who comforteth us in all our tribulation."

In connection with chapter 7 we learn, moreover, who they are who are qualified for this gracious ministry of comfort. It is, in one word, "those who are cast down," as we have it again in the Psalm, "The Lord upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that be bowed down." To be in distress and sorrow, in fear and depression, burdened with grief, constitutes an appeal to the heart of God for consolation and succour. How often this was blessedly illustrated in the life of the Lord Jesus on earth! In the synagogue at Nazareth He proclaimed His mission to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and to set at liberty them that were bruised. And in fulfilling it, when He saw the multitude having nothing to eat, He had compassion upon them, and would not send them away fasting to their houses, lest they should faint by the way, for He knew they had travelled a long distance to hear His blessed words. When, moreover, He beheld the widow of Nain, in her unspeakable sorrow, following her only son to the grave, He had compassion upon her, and turned her night of weeping into a morning of joy by raising her son to life and giving him back to her. And is He not the same still? He is not One who cannot be touched with a feeling of our infirmities, and we may therefore come boldly to the throne of grace for the needed mercy and the seasonable help. What an evangel of consolation this is to weary, burdened, and sorrowing hearts!

In Paul's own case the means of the ministry of comfort to his soul are indicated. He says, "Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not by his coming only, but by the consolation wherewith he was comforted in you, when he told us your earnest desire," etc. (Chapter 7:7.) There were therefore two things which God took up to minister to the depressed heart of His servant: they were the visit of a brother and the assurance he brought to the apostle of the love of the saints at Corinth. We desire to press this upon the attention of the reader, for it very often happens, when we are "bowed down," that we look for some special and extraordinary manifestation of comfort or consolation, or expect some striking interposition on the part of God to remove our burdens. But more frequently it is in a quiet way, as with the apostle, that He meets our need. The visit of his companion in labour, and his conversation upon the state and feelings of the Corinthian saints, were very simple things, but they proved an effectual antidote to the apostle's sorrow and depression. God can use any means He pleases, but this instance shows that we should ever be on the alert for His succour, and that, if we welcome a visit from a saint as God's messenger, he may be the chosen instrument for our needed consolation.

Finally, we are told God's object in comforting His people in their tribulations. It is "that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God." God ministers His consolations to us, in the first instance, for our own enjoyment; and furthermore to qualify us for the same kind of blessed service. Nothing that we receive from Him is for ourselves only. We are to be like Himself - givers, but, in our case, givers of that which He has bestowed upon us out of His own fulness through the Lord Jesus Christ. And let it be remembered that it is His love which prompts Him to comfort us in our tribulation; and it is only when the divine affections are in activity in our hearts that we can be vessels of consolation to others. May we all be so constantly receiving, that we may know more of this ministry amongst His people!