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11. The comforts belonging to mourners
Having already presented to your view the dark side of the text, I shall now show you the light side, ‘They shall be comforted’.
1 Mourning goes before comfort as the lancing of a wound precedes the cure. The Antinomian talks of comfort, but cries down mourning for sin. He is like a foolish patient who, having a pill prescribed him, licks the sugar but throws away the pill. The libertine is all for joy and comfort. He licks the sugar but throws away the bitter pill of repentance. If ever we have true comfort we must have it in God’s way and method. Sorrow for sin ushers in joy: ‘I will restore comforts to him, and to his mourners’ (Isaiah 57:18). That is the true sunshine of joy which comes after a shower of tears. We may as well expect a crop without seed, as comfort without gospel-mourning.
2 Observe that God keeps his best wine till last. First he prescribes mourning for sin and then sets abroach the wine of consolation. The devil does quite contrary. He shows the best first and keeps the worst till last. First, he shows the wine sparkling in the glass, then comes the ‘biting of the serpent’ (Proverbs 23:32). Satan sets his dainty dishes before men. He presents sin to them coloured with beauty, sweetened with pleasure, silvered with profit, and then afterwards the sad reckoning is brought in. He showed Judas first the silver bait, and then struck him with the hook. This is the reason why sin has so many followers, because it shows the best first. First, the golden crowns, then comes the lions’ teeth (Revelation 9:7, 8).
But God shows the worst first. First he prescribes a bitter portion, and then brings a cordial, ‘They shall be comforted.’
3 Observe, gospel tears are not lost; they are seeds of comfort. While the penitent pours out tears, God pours in joy. If you would be cheerful (says Chrysostom), be sad. ‘They that sow in tears shall reap in joy’ (Psalm 126:5). It was the end of Christ’s anointing and coming into the world, that he might comfort them that mourn (Isaiah 61:3). Christ had the oil of gladness poured on him (as Chrysostom says) that he might pour it upon the mourner. Well then may the apostle call it ‘a repentance not to be repented of’ (2 Corinthians 7:10). A man’s drunkenness is to be repented of; his uncleanness is to be repented of; but his repentance is never to be repented of, because it is the inlet to joy. ‘Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.’ Here is sweet fruit from a bitter stock. Christ caused the earthen vessels to be filled with water, and then turned the water into wine (John 2:9). So when the eye, that earthen vessel, has been filled with water brimful, then Christ will turn the water of tears into the wine of joy. Holy mourning, says Basil, is the seed out of which the flower of eternal joy grows.
The reason why the mourner shall be comforted is:
(i) Because mourning is made on purpose for this end. Mourning is not prescribed for itself but that it may lead on to something else, that it may lay a train for comfort. Therefore we sow in tears that we may reap in joy. Holy mourning is a spiritual medicine. Now a medicine is not prescribed for itself, but for the sake of health. So gospel-mourning is appointed for this very end, to bring forth joy.
(ii) The spiritual mourner is the fittest person for comfort. When the heart is broken for sin, now it is fittest for joy. God pours the golden oil of comfort into broken vessels. The mourner’s heart is emptied of pride and God fills the empty with his blessing. The mourner’s tears have helped to purge out corruption, and after purging physic God gives a julep. The mourner is ready to faint away under the burden of sin, and then the bottle of strong water comes seasonably. The Lord would have the incestuous person (upon his deep humiliation) to be comforted, lest ‘he should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow’ (2 Corinthians 2:7).
This is the mourner’s privilege: ‘He shall be comforted’. The valley of tears brings the soul into a paradise of joy. A sinner’s joy brings forth sorrow. The mourner’s sorrow brings forth joy. ‘Your sorrow shall be turned into joy’ (John 16:20). The saints have a wet seedtime but a joyful harvest. ‘They shall be comforted’.
Now to illustrate this, I shall show you what the comforts are the mourners shall have. These comforts are of a divine infusion, and they are twofold, either here or hereafter.
They are called ‘the consolations of God’ (Job 15:11); that is, ‘great comforts’, such as none but God can give. They exceed all other comforts as far as heaven exceeds earth. The root on which these comforts grow is the blessed Spirit. He is called ‘the Comforter’ (John 14:26), and comfort is said to be a ‘fruit of the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:22). Christ purchased peace, and the Spirit speaks peace.
How does the Spirit comfort? Either mediately or immediately.
(i) Mediately, by helping us to apply the promises to ourselves and draw water out of those ‘wells of salvation’. We lie as dead children at the breast, till the Spirit helps us to suck the breast of a promise; and when the Spirit has taught faith this art, now comfort flows in. O how sweet is the breast-milk of a promise!
(ii) The Spirit comforts immediately. The Spirit by a more direct act presents God to the soul as reconciled. It ’sheds his love abroad in the heart’, from whence flows infinite joy (Romans 5:5). The Spirit secretly whispers pardon for sin, and the sight of a pardon dilates the heart with joy. ‘Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee’ (Matthew 9:2).
That I may speak more fully to this point, I shall show you the qualifications and excellencies of these comforts which God gives his mourners. These comforts are real comforts. The Spirit of God cannot witness to that which is untrue. There are many in this age who pretend to comfort, but their comforts are mere impostures. The body may as well swell with wind as with flesh. A man may as well be swelled with false as true comforts. The comforts of the saints are certain. They have the seal of the Spirit set to them (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13). A seal is for confirmation. When a deed is sealed, it is firm and unquestionable. When a Christian has the seal of the Spirit stamped upon his heart, now he is confirmed in the love of God.
Wherein do these comforts of the Spirit which are unquestionably sure, differ from those which are false and pretended? Three ways:
First, the comforts of God’s Spirit are laid in deep conviction: ‘And when he (that is, the Comforter) is come, he shall reprove (or, as the Greek word is, he shall convince) the world of sin’ (John 16:7, 8).
Why does conviction go before consolation? Conviction fits for comfort. By conviction the Spirit sweetly disposes the heart to seek after Christ and then to receive Christ. Once the soul is convinced of sin and of the hell that follows it, a Saviour is precious. When the Spirit has shot in the arrow of conviction, now, says a poor soul, where may I meet with Christ? In what ordinance may I come to enjoy Christ? ‘Saw ye him whom my soul loves?’ All the world for one glimpse of my Saviour!
Again, the Spirit by conviction makes the heart willing to receive Christ upon his own terms. Man, by nature, would article and indent with Christ. He would take half Christ. He would take him for a Saviour, not a prince. He would accept of Christ as he has ‘an head of gold’ (Canticles 5:11), but not as he has ‘the government upon his shoulder’ (Isaiah 9:6). But when God lets loose the spirit of bondage and convinces a sinner of his lost, undone condition, now he is content to have Christ upon any terms. When Paul was struck down to the ground by a spirit of conviction, he cries out, ‘Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’ (Acts 9:6). Let God propound what articles he will, the soul will subscribe to them. Now when a man is brought to Christ’s terms, to believe and obey, then he is fit for mercy. When the Spirit of God has been a spirit of conviction, then He becomes a spirit of consolation. When the plough of the law has gone upon the heart and broken up the fallow ground, now God sows the seed of comfort. Those who brag of comfort, but were never yet convinced, nor broken, for sin, have cause to suspect their comfort to be a delusion of Satan. It is like a madman’s joy, who fancies himself to be king, but it may be said of ‘his laughter, it is mad’ (Ecclesiastes 2:2). The seed which wanted ‘depth of earth’ withered (Matthew 13:5). That comfort which wants ‘depth of earth’, deep humiliation and conviction, will soon wither and come to nothing.
The Spirit of God is a sanctifying, before a comforting Spirit. As God’s Spirit is called the ‘Comforter’, so he is called ‘a Spirit of grace’ (Zechariah 12:10). Grace is the work of the Spirit. Comfort is the seal of the Spirit. The work of the Spirit goes before the seal. The graces of the Spirit are compared to water (Isaiah 44:3) and to oil (Isaiah 61:3). First, God pours in the water of the Spirit and then comes the oil of gladness. The oil (in this sense) runs above the water. Hereby we shall know whether our comforts are true and genuine. Some talk of the comforting Spirit, who never had the sanctifying Spirit. They boast of assurance but never had grace. These are spurious joys. These comforts will leave men at death. They will end in horror and despair. God’s Spirit will never set seal to a blank. First, the heart must be an epistle written with the finger of the Holy Ghost, and then it is ’sealed with the Spirit of promise’.
The comforts of the Spirit are humbling. Lord, says the soul, what am I that I should have a smile from heaven, and that thou shouldest give me a privy seal of thy love? The more water is poured into a bucket, the lower it descends. The fuller the ship is laden with sweet spices, the lower it sails. The more a Christian is filled with the sweet comforts of the Spirit, the lower he sails in humility. The fuller a tree is of fruit, the lower the bough hangs. The more full we are of ‘the fruit of the Spirit, joy and peace’ (Galatians 5:22), the more we bend in humility. St. Paul, a ‘chosen vessel’ (Acts 9:15), filled with the wine of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:5), did not more abound in joy, than in lowliness of mind. ‘Unto me who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given . . ’, (Ephesians 3:8). He who was the chief of the apostles calls himself the least of the saints.
Those who say they have comfort, but are proud; who have learned to despise others and are climbed above ordinances; their comforts are delusions. The devil is able, not only to ‘transform himself into an angel of light’ (2 Corinthians 11:14), but he can transform himself into the comforter. It is easy to counterfeit money, to silver over brass and put the king’s image upon it. The devil can silver over false comforts and make them look as if they had the stamp of the King of heaven upon them. The comforts of God are humbling. Though they lift the heart up in thankfulness, yet they do not puff it up in pride.
Second, the comforts God gives his mourners are unmixed. They are not tempered with any bitter ingredients. Worldly comforts are like wine that runs dregs. ‘In the midst of laughter the heart is sad’ (Proverbs 14:13). Queen Mary Tudor once said, if she were opened, they would find Calais graven on her heart. And if the breast of a sinner were anatomised and opened, you would find a worm gnawing at his heart. Guilt is a wolf which feeds in the breast of his comfort. A sinner may have a smiling countenance, but a chiding conscience. His mirth is like the mirth of a man in debt, who is every hour in fear of arrest. The comforts of wicked men are spiced with bitterness. They are worm-wood wine.
‘These are the men who tremble, and grow pale at every lightning flash, and when it thunders are half-dead with terror at the very first rumbling of the heavens.’
But spiritual comforts are pure. They are not muddied with guilt, nor mixed with fear. They are the pure wine of the Spirit. What the mourner feels is joy, and nothing but joy.
Third, the comforts God gives his mourners are sweet. ‘Truly the light is sweet’ (Ecclesiastes 11:7); so is the light of God’s countenance. How sweet are those comforts which bring the Comforter along with them! (John 14:10). Therefore the love of God shed into the heart is said to be ‘better than wine’ (Canticles 1:2). Wine pleases the palate, but the love of God cheers the conscience. The ‘lips, of Christ ‘drop sweet-smelling myrrh’ (Canticles 5:13). The comforts God gives are a Christian’s music. They are the golden pot of manna, the nectar and ambrosia of a Christian. They are the saints’ festival, their banqueting stuff. So sweet are these divine comforts, that the church had her fainting fits, for want of them. ‘Stay me with flagons’ (Canticles 2:5). In metonymy the name of an accompanying thing is substituted for the thing meant. The ‘flagons’ are put for the wine. By these flagons are meant the comforts of the Spirit. The Hebrew word signifies ‘all variety of delights’ to show the abundance of delectability and sweetness in these comforts of the Spirit. ‘Comfort me with apples.’ Apples are sweet in taste, fragrant in smell; so sweet and delicious are those apples which grow upon the tree in paradise. These comforts from above are so sweet that they make all other comforts sweet; health, estate, relations. They are like sauce which makes all our earthly possessions and enjoyments come off with a bitter relish. So sweet are these comforts of the Spirit that they do much abate and moderate our joy in worldly things. He who has been drinking spirits of wine, will not much thirst after water; and that man who has once ‘tasted how sweet the Lord is’ (Psalm 34:8), and has drunk the cordials of the Spirit, will not thirst immoderately after secular delights. Those who play with dogs and birds, it is a sign they have no children; such as are inordinate in their desire and love of the creature, declare plainly that they never had better comforts.
Fourth, these comforts which God gives his mourners are holy comforts. They are called ‘the comfort of the Holy Ghost’ (Acts 9:31). Everything propagates in its own kind. The Holy Ghost can no more produce impure joys in the soul than the sun can produce darkness. He who has the comforts of the Spirit looks upon himself as a person engaged to do God more service. Has the Lord looked upon me with a smiling face? I can never pray enough. I can never love God enough. The comforts of the Spirit raise in the heart an holy antipathy against sin. The dove hates every feather that has grown upon the hawk. So there is an hatred of every motion and temptation to evil. He who has a principle of life in him opposes everything that would destroy life. He hates poison. So he that has the comforts of the Spirit living in him, sets himself against those sins which would murder his comforts. Divine comforts give the soul more acquaintance with God. ‘Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus.’ (1 John 1:3).
Fifth, the comforts reserved for the mourners are ‘filling comforts’: ‘The God of hope fill you with all joy . . .’ (Romans 15:13). ‘Ask . . . that your joy may be full’ (John 16:24). When God pours in the joys of heaven, they fill the heart and make it run over. ‘I am exceeding joyful . . .’ (2 Corinthians 7:4); the Greek word is ‘I overflow with joy’, as a cup that is filled with wine till it runs over. Outward comforts can no more fill the heart than a triangle can fill a circle. Spiritual joys are satisfying. ‘My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow, and I will praise thee with joyful lips’ (Psalm 63:5). David’s heart was full, and the joy broke out at his lips. ‘Thou hast put gladness in my heart’ (Psalm 4:7). Worldly joys put gladness into the face: ‘They rejoice in the face’ (2 Corinthians 5:12), but the Spirit of God puts gladness into the heart. Divine joys are heart joys (Zechariah 10:7). “Your heart shall rejoice’ (John 16:22). A believer rejoices in God: ‘My Spirit rejoiceth in God . . .’ (Luke 1:47). And to show how filling these comforts are which are of an heavenly extraction, the Psalmist says they create greater joy than when ‘wine and oil increase’ (Psalm 4:7). Wine and oil may delight but not satisfy; they have their vacuity and indigence. We may say as Zechariah 10:2, ‘They comfort in vain.’ Outward comforts sooner cloy than cheer, and sooner weary than fill. Xerxes offered great rewards to him that could find out a new pleasure, but the comforts of the Spirit are satisfactory. They recruit the heart. ‘Thy comforts delight my soul’ (Psalm 94:19). There is as much difference between heavenly comforts and earthly, as between a banquet that is eaten and one that is painted on the wall.
Sixth, the comforts God gives his mourners in this life are ‘glorious comforts’: ‘Joy full of glory’ (1 Peter 1:8). They are glorious because they are a prelibation and foretaste of that joy which we shall have in a glorified estate. These comforts are an handsel and earnest of glory. They put us in heaven before our time. ‘Ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit, which is the earnest of the inheritance’ (Ephesians 1:13, 14). The earnest is part of the sum behind. So the comforts of the Spirit are the earnest, the ‘cluster of grapes’ at Eshcol (Numbers 13:23), the first-fruits of the heavenly Canaan. The joys of the Spirit are glorious, in opposition to other joys, which compared with these, are inglorious and vile. A carnal man’s joy, as it is airy and flashy, so it is sordid. He sucks nothing but dregs. ‘Ye rejoice in a thing of nought’ (Amos 6:13). A carnal spirit rejoices because he can say this house is his, this estate is his. But a gracious spirit rejoices because he can say this God is his: ‘For this God is our God for ever and ever’ (Psalm 48:14). The ground of a Christian’s joy is glorious. He rejoices in that he is an heir of the promise. The joy of a godly man is made up of that which is the angels’ joy. He triumphs in the light of God’s countenance. His joy is that which is Christ’s own joy. He rejoices in the mystical union which is begun here and consummated in heaven. Thus the joy of the saints is a joy ‘full of glory’.
Seventh, the comforts which God gives his mourners are infinitely transporting and ravishing. So delightful are they and amazing, that they cause a jubilation which, as some of the learned say, is so great that it cannot be expressed. Of all things joy is the most hard to be deciphered. It is called ‘joy unspeakable’ (1 Peter 1:8). You may sooner taste honey than tell how sweet it is. The most pathetic words can no more set forth the comforts of the Spirit than the most curious pencil can draw the life and breath of a man. The angels cannot express the joys they feel. Some men have been so overwhelmed with the sweet raptures of joy that they have not been able to contain, but as Moses, have died with a kiss from God’s mouth. Thus have we seen the glass oft breaking with the strength of the liquor put into it.
Eighth, these comforts of the Spirit are powerful. They are strong cordials, strong consolation, as the apostle phrases it (Hebrews 6:18). Divine comfort strengthens for duty. ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength’ (Nehemiah 8:10). Joy whets and sharpens industry. A man that is steeled and animated with the comfort of God’s Spirit, goes with vigour and alacrity through the exercises of religion. He believes firmly, he loves fervently, he is carried full sail in duty. ‘The joy of the Lord is his strength’. Divine comfort supports under affliction: ‘Having received the Word in much affliction, with joy’ (1 Thessalonians 1:6). The wine of the Spirit can sweeten ‘the waters of Marah’. They who are possessed of these heavenly comforts can ‘gather grapes of thorns’, and fetch honey out of the ‘lion’s carcass’. They are ’strong consolations’ indeed, that can stand it out against the ‘fiery trial’, and turn the flame into a bed of roses. How powerful is that comfort which can make a Christian glory in tribulations (Romans 5:3)! A believer is never so sad but he can rejoice. The bird of paradise can sing in the winter. ‘As sorrowing, yet alway rejoicing’ (2 Corinthians 6:10). Let sickness come, the sense of pardon takes away the sense of pain. ‘The inhabitant shall not say, I am sick’ (Isaiah 33:24). Let death come, the Christian is above it. ‘O death, where is thy sting?’ (1 Corinthians 15:55). At the end of the rod a Christian tastes honey. These are ’strong consolations’.
Ninth, the comforts God’s mourners have are heart-quieting comforts. They cause a sweet acquiescence and rest in the soul. The heart of a Christian is in a kind of ataxy and discomposure, like the needle in the compass; it shakes and trembles till the Comforter comes. Some creatures cannot live but in the sun. A Christian is even dead in the nest, unless he may have the sunlight of God’s countenance. ‘Hide not thy face from me, lest I be like them that go down into the pit’ (Psalm 143:7). Nothing but the breast will quiet the child. It is only the breast of consolation quiets the believer.
Tenth, the comforts of the Spirit are abiding comforts. As they abound in us so they abide with us. ‘He shall give you another Comforter that he may abide with you for ever’ (John 14:16). Worldly comforts are always upon the wing, ready to fly. They are like a land-flood, or a flash of lightning. ‘They will oftentimes pass away and glide from thy closest embrace’. All things here are transient, but the comforts with which God feeds his mourners are immortal: ‘Who hath loved us and given us everlasting consolation’ (2 Thessalonians 2:16). Though a Christian does not always have a full beam of comfort, yet he has a dawning of it in his soul. He always has a ground of hope and a root of joy. There is that within him which bears up his heart, and which he would not on any terms part with.
Behold, then, the mourner’s privilege, ‘He shall be comforted’. David who was the great mourner of Israel, was the ’sweet singer of Israel’. The weeping dove shall be covered with the golden feathers of comfort. O how rare and superlative are these comforts!
But the question may be asked, May not God’s mourners lack these comforts? Spiritual mourners have a tide to these comforts, yet they may sometimes lack them. God is a free agent. He will have the timing of our comforts. He has a self-freedom to do what he will. The Holy One of Israel will not be limited. He reserves his prerogative to give or suspend comfort as he will; and if we are awhile without comfort, we must not quarrel with his dispensations, for as the mariner is not to wrangle with providence because the wind blows out of the east when he desires it to blow out of the west; nor is the husband-man to murmur when God stops the bottles of heaven in time of drought; so neither is any man to dispute or quarrel with God, when he stops the sweet influence of comfort, but he ought rather to acquiesce in his sacred will.
But though the Lord might by virtue of his sovereignty withhold comfort from the mourner, yet there may be many pregnant causes assigned why mourners lack comfort in regard of God and also in regard of themselves.
1 In regard of God: He sees it fit to withhold comfort that he may raise the value of grace. We are apt to esteem comfort above grace, therefore God locks up our comforts for a time, that he may enhance the price of grace. When farthings go better than gold the king will call in farthings, that the price of gold may be the more raised. God would have his people serve him for himself and not for comfort only. It is an harlot love to love the husband’s money and tokens more than his person. Such as serve God only for comfort, do not so much serve God, as serve themselves of him.
2 That God’s mourners lack comfort, it is most frequency in regard of themselves.
(i) Through mistake, which is twofold. They do not go to the right spring for comfort. They go to their tears, when they should go to Christ’s blood. It is a kind of idolatry to make our tears the ground of our comfort. Mourning is not meritorious. It is the way to joy, not the cause. Jacob got the blessing in the garments of his elder brother. True comfort flows out of Christ’s sides. Our tears are stained, till they are washed in the blood of Christ. ‘In me peace’ (John 16:33). The second mistake is that mourners are privileged persons, and may take more liberty. They may slacken the strings of duty, and let loose the reins to sin. Christ has indeed purchased a liberty for his people, but an holy liberty, not a liberty for sin, but from sin. ‘Ye are a royal priesthood, a peculiar people’ (1 Peter 2:9). You are not in a state of slavery, but royalty. What follows? Do not make Christian liberty a cloak for sin. ‘As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness’ (v 16). If we quench the sanctifying Spirit, God will quench the comforting Spirit. Sin is compared to a ‘cloud’ (Isaiah 44:22). This cloud intercepts the light of God’s countenance.
(ii) God’s mourners sometimes lack comfort through discontent and peevishness. David makes his disquiet the cause of his sadness. ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Why art thou disquieted within me?’ (Psalm 43:5). A disquieted heart, like a rough sea, is not easily calmed. It is hard to make a troubled spirit receive comfort. This disquiet arises from various causes: sometimes from outward sorrow and melancholy, sometimes from a kind of envy. God’s people are troubled to see others have comfort, and they lack it; and now in a pet they refuse comfort, and like a forward child, put away the breast. ‘My soul refused to be comforted’ (Psalm 77:2). Indeed a disquieted spirit is no more fit for comfort, than a distracted man is fit for counsel. And whence is the mourner’s discontent, but pride? As if God had not dealt well with him in stopping the influences of comfort. O Christian, your spirit must be more humbled and broken, before God empty out his golden oil of joy.
(iii) The mourner is without comfort for want of applying the promises. He looks at sin which may humble him, but not at that Word which may comfort him. The mourner’s eyes are so full of tears that he cannot see the promise. The virtue and comfort of a medicine is in the applying. When the promises are applied by faith, they bring comfort (Hosea 2:19; Isaiah 49:15, 16). Faith milks the breast of a promise. That Satan may hinder us of comfort, it is his policy either to keep the promise from us that we may not know it, or to keep us from the promise that we may not apply it. Never a promise in the Bible but belongs to the mourner, had he but the skill and dexterity of faith to lay hold on it.
(iv) The mourner may lack comfort through too much earthly-mindedness; by feeding immoderately on earthly comforts we miss of heavenly comforts. ‘For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and I hid me’ (Isaiah 57:17). The earth puts out the fire. Earthiness extinguishes the flame of divine joy in the soul. An eclipse occurs when the moon, which is a dense body, comes between the sun and the earth. The moon is an emblem of the world (Revelation 12:1). When this comes between, then there is an eclipse in the light of God’s face. Such as dig in mines say there is such a damp comes from the earth as puts out the light of a candle. Earthly comforts send forth such a damp as puts out the light of spiritual joy.
(v) Perhaps the mourner has had comfort and lost it. Adam’s rib was taken from him when he was asleep (Genesis 2:21). Our comforts are taken away when we fall asleep in security. The spouse lost her beloved when she lay upon the bed of sloth (Canticles 5:2, 6).
For these reasons God’s mourners may lack comfort, but that the spiritual mourner may not be too much dejected, I shall reach forth ‘the cup of consolation’ (Jeremiah 16:7), and speak a few words that may comfort the mourner in the want of comfort. Jesus Christ was without comfort, therefore no wonder if we are. Our comforts are not better than his. He who was the Son of God’s love was without the sense of God’s love. The mourner has a seed of comfort: ‘Light is sown for the righteous’ (Psalm 97:11). Light is a metaphor put for comfort, and it is sown. Though a child of God does not have comfort always in the flower, yet he has it in the seed. Though he does not feel comfort from God yet he takes comfort in God. A Christian may be high in grace and low in comfort. The high mountains are without flowers. The mines of gold have little or no corn growing on them. A Christian’s heart may be a rich mine of grace, though it be barren of comfort. The mourner is heir to comfort, and though for a small moment God may forsake his people (Isaiah 54:7), yet there is a time shortly coming when the mourner shall have all tears wiped away, and shall be brim full of comfort. This joy is reserved for heaven, and this brings me to the second particular.
‘They shall be comforted’. Though in this life some interviews and love tokens pass between God and the mourner, yet the great comforts are kept in reversion. ‘In God’s presence is fullness of joy’ (Psalm 16:11). There is a time coming (the daystar is ready to appear) when the saints shall bathe themselves in the river of life, when they shall never see a wrinkle on God’s brow more, but his face shall shine, his lips drop honey, his arms sweetly embrace them. The saints shall have a spring-tide of joy, and it shall never be low water. The saints shall at that day put off their mourning and exchange their sables for white robes. Then shall the winter be past, the rain of tears be over and gone (Canticles 2:11, 12). The flowers of joy shall appear, and after the weeping of the dove ‘tine time of the singing of birds shall come’. This is the ‘great consolation’, the Jubilee of the blessed which shall never expire. In this life the people of God taste of joy, but in heaven the full vessels shall be broached. There is a river in the midst of the heavenly paradise which has a fountain to feed it (Psalm 36:8, 9).
The times we are cast into, being for the present sad and cloudy, it will not be amiss for the reviving the hearts of God’s people, to speak a little of these comforts which God reserves in heaven for his mourners. ‘They shall be comforted’.
The greatness of these celestial comforts is most fitly in Scripture expressed by the joy of a feast. Mourning shall be turned into feasting, and it shall be a marriage-feast, which is usually kept with the greatest solemnity. ‘Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage-supper of the Lamb’ (Revelation 19:9). Bullinger’ and Gregory the Great understand this supper of the Lamb to be meant of the saints, supping with Christ in heaven. Men after hard labour go to supper. So when the saints shall ‘rest from their labours’ (Revelation 14:13), they shall sup with Christ in glory. Now to speak something of the last great supper.
(i) It will be a great supper in regard of the Founder of this feast, God. It is the supper of a king, therefore sumptuous and magnificent. ‘The Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods’ (Psalm 95:3). Where should there be state and magnificence but in a king’s court?
(ii) It will be a great supper in regard of the cheer and provision. This exceeds all hyperboles. What blessed fruit does the tree of life in paradise yield! (Revelation 2:7). Christ will lead his spouse into the ‘banqueting house’ and feast her with those rare viands, and cause her to drink that spiced wine, that heavenly nectar and ambrosia wherewith the angelic powers are infinitely refreshed.
First, every dish served in at this heavenly supper shall be sweet to our palate. There is no dish here we do not love. Christ will make such ’savoury meat’ as he is sure his spouse loves.
Second, there shall be no want here. There is no want at a feast. The various fullness in Christ will prevent a scarcity, and it will be a fullness without surfeit, because a fresh course will continually be served in.
Third, they who eat of this supper shall ‘never hunger more’. Hunger is a sharp sauce. The ‘Lamb’s supper’ shall not only satisfy hunger, but prevent it. ‘They shall hunger no more!’ (Revelation 7:16).
(iii) It will be a great supper in regard of the company invited. Company adds to a feast, and is of itself sauce to sharpen and provoke the appetite. Saints, angels, archangels will be at this supper. Nay, Christ himself will be both Founder and Guest. The Scripture calls it ‘an innumerable company . . .’ (Hebrews 12:22); and that which makes the society sweeter is that there shall be perfect love at this feast. The motto shall be ‘one heart and one way’. All the guests shall be linked together with the golden chain of charity.
(iv) It will be a great supper in regard of the holy mirth. ‘A feast is made for mirth’ (Ecclesiastes 10:19). At this supper there shall be joy, and nothing but joy (Psalm 16:11). There is no weeping at a feast. O what triumph and acclamations will there be! There are two things at this ’supper of the Lamb, which will create joy and mirth. First, when the saints shall think with themselves that they are kept from a worse supper. The devils have a supper (such an one as it is), a black banquet. There are two dishes served in, weeping and gnashing of teeth. Every bit they eat makes their hearts ache. Who would envy them their dinner here, who must have such a supper? Second, it will be a matter of joy at the ’supper of the Lamb’, that the Master of the feast bids all his guests welcome. The saints shall have the smiles of God’s face, the kisses of his lips. He will lead them into the wine cellar, and display the banner of love over them. The saints shall be as full of solace as sanctity. What is a feast without mirth? Worldly mirth is flashy and empty. This will be infinitely delightful and ravishing.
(v) It will be a great supper for the music. This will be a marriage supper, and what better music than the Bridegroom’s voice, saying, ‘My spouse, my undefiled, take thy fill of love’. There will be the angels’ anthems, the saints, triumphs. The angels, those trumpeters of heaven, shall sound forth the excellencies of Jehovah, and the saints, those noble choristers, shall take ‘down their harps from the willows’, and join in consort with the angels, praising and blessing God. ‘I saw them that had gotten the victory over the beast, having the harps of God, and they sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty, just and true are thy ways thou king of saints . . .’ (Revelation 15:2, 3). O the sweet harmony at this feast! It shall be music without discord.
(vi) This supper is great in regard of the place where it shall be celebrated, in the ‘paradise of God’ (Revelation 2:7). It is a stately palace. Stately: for its situation. It is of a very great height (Revelation 21:10): for its prospect. All sparkling beauties are there concentred, and the delight of the prospect is propriety! That is the best prospect, where a man can see furthest on his own ground: for its amplitude. This royal feast shall be kept in a most spacious room, a room infinitely greater than the whole firmament, one star whereof (if we may believe astronomers) is bigger than the whole earth. Though there be such a multitude as no man can number, ‘of all nations, kindreds, people and tongues’ (Revelation 7:9), yet the table is long enough and the room spacious enough for all the guests. Aulus Gellius in his thirteenth book, makes this to be one of those four things which are requisite to a feast—‘a fit place’. The empyrean heaven bespangled with light, arrayed with rich hangings, embroidered with glory, seated above all the visible orbs, is the place of the marriage-supper. This infinitely transcends the most profound search. I am no more able to express it, than I can span the firmament, or weigh the earth in a pair of balances.
(vii) It will be a great supper in regard of its continuance. It has no end. Epicures have a short feast, and a long reckoning, but those who shall sit down at the heavenly banquet, shall not rise from the table. The cloth shall never be taken away, but they shall always be feeding upon those sweet junkets and delicacies which are set before them. We read that King Ahasuerus made a feast for his princes that lasted ‘an hundred and fourscore days’ (Esther 1:4). But this blessed feast reserved for the saints, is ‘for ever’. ‘At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore’ (Psalm 16:11).
For your consolation, consider how this may be as Bezar stone to keep the hearts of God’s people from fainting! ‘They shall be comforted’. They shall sit with Christ ‘upon the throne’ (Revelation 3:21), and sit down with him ‘at the table’. Who would not mourn for sin that are sure to meet with such rewards! ‘They shall be comforted’. The marriage-supper will make amends for ‘the valley of tears’. O saint of God, you who are now watering your plants and weeping bitterly for sin, at this last and great feast your ‘water shall be turned into wine’. You who now mortify your corruptions, and ‘beat down your body’ by prayer and fasting, shall shortly sup with Christ and angels. You who refused to touch the forbidden tree shall feed upon ‘the tree of life in the paradise of God’. You impoverished saint, who have scarce a bit of bread to eat, remember for your comfort, ‘in thy father’s house there is bread enough’, and he is making ready a feast for you, where all the dainties of heaven are served in. O feed with delight upon the thoughts of this marriage-supper! After your funeral begins your festival. Long for suppertime. ‘The delay is long which separates us from our honey-sweet joys’. Christ has paid for this supper upon the cross, and there is no fear of a ‘reckoning’ to be brought in. ‘Wherefore comfort one another with these words’.
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