The Bible and Consolation

James Buchanan (1804-1870)

Mourners in Zion, be comforted! If yours is 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 “lamentations, and mourning, and woe” (Eze 2:10), 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[68] may be, the more should that blessed book be endeared to your hearts—of which every true disciple will say with the afflicted Psalmist, “This is my comfort in my affliction” (Psa 119:50).

It is not one of the least benefits of severe affliction that it shatters our confidence in every other stay,[69] breaks up our hopes from every other quarter, and leads us in simplicity to search the Word of God for comfort.

The grand peculiarity of the Bible, as a book of consolation, is that 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—“That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we were appointed thereunto” (1Th 3:3). In many respects, it gives a more gloomy view of human life than we are oftimes[70] 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 checkered with trials, even as the past has been. It gives no assurance of respite[71] from suffering, so long as we are in this world: “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Phi 1:29). 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. Yet still it is the “book of consolation”; still it contains the elements of peace, the seed of hope, the wellspring 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 that 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” (1Pe 1:6). “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1Pe 4:12-13).

James Buchanan (1804-1870): Church of Scotland minister and theologian; a prolific and popular writer with a reputation as an earnest, eloquent, and powerful preacher in the Free Church of Scotland. Best known for The Office and Work of the Holy Spirit and The Doctrine of Justification; born in Paisley, Scotland.

Such is the splendor, the brightness, the glory, the happiness, and blessedness that are reserved for the saints in heaven, that had I all the tongues of men on earth and all the excellencies of the angels in heaven, yet I would not be able to conceive nor to express that vision of glory to you! That glory is inconceivable and inexpressible! It is best to be hastening there, that we may feel and enjoy that which we shall never be able to declare!

All the troubles, afflictions, and sorrows of this life, in comparison with eternal happiness and blessedness, are to be considered as nothing. They are but as the point of a pin compared to the starry heavens.—Thomas Brooks

Oh, how sweet are the fruits of Christ’s mediation to the faith of His saints! He that can find no relief in mercy, pardon, grace, acceptation with God, holiness, sanctification, etc., is an utter stranger to these things…that are prepared for believers. —John Owen