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Hope of the Gospel: 6 - Sorrow the Pledge of Joy

By George MacDonald

      'Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.'--Matthew v. 4.

      Grief, then, sorrow, pain of heart, mourning, is no partition-wall between man and God. So far is it from opposing any obstacle to the passage of God's light into man's soul, that the Lord congratulates them that mourn. There is no evil in sorrow. True, it is not an essential good, a good in itself, like love; but it will mingle with any good thing, and is even so allied to good that it will open the door of the heart for any good. More of sorrowful than of joyful men are always standing about the everlasting doors that open into the presence of the Most High. It is true also that joy is in its nature more divine than sorrow; for, although man must sorrow, and God share in his sorrow, yet in himself God is not sorrowful, and the 'glad creator' never made man for sorrow: it is but a stormy strait through which he must pass to his ocean of peace. He 'makes the joy the last in every song.' Still, I repeat, a man in sorrow is in general far nearer God than a man in joy. Gladness may make a man forget his thanksgiving; misery drives him to his prayers. For we are not yet, we are only becoming. The endless day will at length dawn whose every throbbing moment will heave our hearts Godward; we shall scarce need to lift them up: now, there are two door-keepers to the house of prayer, and Sorrow is more on the alert to open than her grandson Joy.

      The gladsome child runs farther afield; the wounded child turns to go home. The weeper sits down close to the gate; the lord of life draws nigh to him from within. God loves not sorrow, yet rejoices to see a man sorrowful, for in his sorrow man leaves his heavenward door on the latch, and God can enter to help him. He loves, I say, to see him sorrowful, for then he can come near to part him from that which makes his sorrow a welcome sight. When Ephraim bemoans himself, he is a pleasant child. So good a medicine is sorrow, so powerful to slay the moths that infest and devour the human heart, that the Lord is glad to see a man weep. He congratulates him on his sadness. Grief is an ill-favoured thing, but she is Love's own child, and her mother loves her.

      The promise to them that mourn, is not the kingdom of heaven, but that their mourning shall be ended, that they shall be comforted. To mourn is not to fight with evil; it is only to miss that which is good. It is not an essential heavenly condition, like poorness of spirit or meekness. No man will carry his mourning with him into heaven--or, if he does, it will speedily be turned either into joy, or into what will result in joy, namely, redemptive action.

      Mourning is a canker-bitten blossom on the rose-tree of love. Is there any mourning worthy the name that has not love for its root? Men mourn because they love. Love is the life out of which are fashioned all the natural feelings, every emotion of man. Love modelled by faith, is hope; love shaped by wrong, is anger--verily anger, though pure of sin; love invaded by loss, is grief.

      The garment of mourning is oftenest a winding-sheet; the loss of the loved by death is the main cause of the mourning of the world. The Greek word here used to describe the blessed of the Lord, generally means those that mourn for the dead. It is not in the New Testament employed exclusively in this sense, neither do I imagine it stands here for such only: there are griefs than death sorer far, and harder far to comfort--harder even for God himself, with whom all things are possible; but it may give pleasure to know that the promise of comfort to those that mourn, may specially apply to those that mourn because their loved have gone out of their sight, and beyond the reach of their cry. Their sorrow, indeed, to the love divine, involves no difficulty; it is a small matter, easily met. The father, whose elder son is ever with him, but whose younger is in a far country, wasting his substance with riotous living, is unspeakably more to be pitied, and is harder to help, than that father both of whose sons lie in the sleep of death.

      Much of what goes by the name of comfort, is merely worthless; and such as could be comforted by it, I should not care to comfort. Let time do what it may to bring the ease of oblivion; let change of scene do what in it lies to lead thought away from the vanished; let new loves bury grief in the grave of the old love: consolation of such sort could never have crossed the mind of Jesus. Would The Truth call a man blessed because his pain would sooner or later depart, leaving him at best no better than before, and certainly poorer--not only the beloved gone, but the sorrow for him too, and with the sorrow the love that had caused the sorrow? Blessed of God because restored to an absence of sorrow? Such a God were fitly adored only where not one heart worshipped in spirit and in truth.

      'The Lord means of course,' some one may say, 'that the comfort of the mourners will be the restoration of that which they have lost. He means, "Blessed are ye although ye mourn, for your sorrow will be turned into joy."'

      Happy are they whom nothing less than such restoration will comfort! But would such restoration be comfort enough for the heart of Jesus to give? Was ever love so deep, so pure, so perfect, as to be good enough for him? And suppose the love between the parted two had been such, would the mere restoration in the future of that which once he had, be ground enough for so emphatically proclaiming the man blessed now, blessed while yet in the midnight of his loss, and knowing nothing of the hour of his deliverance? To call a man blessed in his sorrow because of something to be given him, surely implies a something better than what he had before! True, the joy that is past may have been so great that the man might well feel blessed in the merest hope of its restoration; but would that be meaning enough for the word in the mouth of the Lord? That the interruption of his blessedness was but temporary, would hardly be fit ground for calling the man blessed in that interruption. Blessed is a strong word, and in the mouth of Jesus means all it can mean. Can his saying here mean less than--'Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted with a bliss well worth all the pain of the medicinal sorrow'? Besides, the benediction surely means that the man is blessed because of his condition of mourning, not in spite of it. His mourning is surely a part at least of the Lord's ground for congratulating him: is it not the present operative means whereby the consolation is growing possible? In a word, I do not think the Lord would be content to call a man blessed on the mere ground of his going to be restored to a former bliss by no means perfect; I think he congratulated the mourners upon the grief they were enduring, because he saw the excellent glory of the comfort that was drawing nigh; because he knew the immeasurably greater joy to which the sorrow was at once clearing the way and conducting the mourner. When I say greater, God forbid I should mean other! I mean the same bliss, divinely enlarged and divinely purified--passed again through the hands of the creative Perfection. The Lord knew all the history of love and loss; beheld throughout the universe the winged Love discrowning the skeleton Fear. God's comfort must ever be larger than man's grief, else were there gaps in his Godhood. Mere restoration would leave a hiatus, barren and growthless, in the development of his children.

      But, alas, what a pinched hope, what miserable expectations, most who call themselves the Lord's disciples derive from their notions of his teaching! Well may they think of death as the one thing to be right zealously avoided, and for ever lamented! Who would forsake even the window-less hut of his sorrow for the poor mean place they imagine the Father's house! Why, many of them do not even expect to know their friends there! do not expect to distinguish one from another of all the holy assembly! They will look in many faces, but never to recognize old friends and lovers! A fine saviour of men is their Jesus! Glorious lights they shine in the world of our sorrow, holding forth a word of darkness, of dismallest death! Is the Lord such as they believe him? 'Good-bye, then, good Master!' cries the human heart. 'I thought thou couldst save me, but, alas, thou canst not. If thou savest the part of our being which can sin, thou lettest the part that can love sink into hopeless perdition: thou art not he that should come; I look for another! Thou wouldst destroy and not save me! Thy father is not my father; thy God is not my God! Ah, to whom shall we go? He has not the words of eternal life, this Jesus, and the universe is dark as chaos! O father, this thy son is good, but we need a greater son than he. Never will thy children love thee under the shadow of this new law, that they are not to love one another as thou lovest them!' How does that man love God--of what kind is the love he bears him--who is unable to believe that God loves every throb of every human heart toward another? Did not the Lord die that we should love one another, and be one with him and the Father, and is not the knowledge of difference essential to the deepest love? Can there be oneness without difference? harmony without distinction? Are all to have the same face? then why faces at all? If the plains of heaven are to be crowded with the same one face over and over for ever, but one moment will pass ere by monotony bliss shall have grown ghastly. Why not perfect spheres of featureless ivory rather than those multitudinous heads with one face! Or are we to start afresh with countenances all new, each beautiful, each lovable, each a revelation of the infinite father, each distinct from every other, and therefore all blending toward a full revealing--but never more the dear old precious faces, with its whole story in each, which seem, at the very thought of them, to draw our hearts out of our bosoms? Were they created only to become dear, and be destroyed? Is it in wine only that the old is better? Would such a new heaven be a thing to thank God for? Would this be a prospect on which the Son of Man would congratulate the mourner, or at which the mourner for the dead would count himself blessed? It is a shame that such a preposterous, monstrous unbelief should call for argument.

      A heaven without human love it were inhuman, and yet more undivine to desire; it ought not to be desired by any being made in the image of God. The lord of life died that his father's children might grow perfect in love--might love their brothers and sisters as he loved them: is it to this end that they must cease to know one another? To annihilate the past of our earthly embodiment, would be to crush under the heel of an iron fate the very idea of tenderness, human or divine.

      We shall all doubtless be changed, but in what direction?--to something less, or to something greater?--to something that is less we, which means degradation? to something that is not we, which means annihilation? or to something that is more we, which means a farther development of the original idea of us, the divine germ of us, holding in it all we ever were, all we ever can and must become? What is it constitutes this or that man? Is it what he himself thinks he is? Assuredly not. Is it what his friends at any given moment think him? Far from it. In which of his changing moods is he more himself? Loves any lover so little as to desire no change in the person loved--no something different to bring him or her closer to the indwelling ideal? In the loveliest is there not something not like her--something less lovely than she--some little thing in which a change would make her, not less, but more herself? Is it not of the very essence of the Christian hope, that we shall be changed from much bad to all good? If a wife so love that she would keep every opposition, every inconsistency in her husband's as yet but partially harmonious character, she does not love well enough for the kingdom of heaven. If its imperfections be essential to the individuality she loves, and to the repossession of her joy in it, she may be sure that, if he were restored to her as she would have him, she would soon come to love him less--perhaps to love him not at all; for no one who does not love perfection, will ever keep constant in loving. Fault is not lovable; it is only the good in which the alien fault dwells that causes it to seem capable of being loved. Neither is it any man's peculiarities that make him beloved; it is the essential humanity underlying those peculiarities. They may make him interesting, and, where not offensive, they may come to be loved for the sake of the man; but in themselves they are of smallest account.

      We must not however confound peculiarity with diversity. Diversity is in and from God; peculiarity in and from man. The real man is the divine idea of him; the man God had in view when he began to send him forth out of thought into thinking; the man he is now working to perfect by casting out what is not he, and developing what is he. But in God's real men, that is, his ideal men, the diversity is infinite; he does not repeat his creations; every one of his children differs from every other, and in every one the diversity is lovable. God gives in his children an analysis of himself, an analysis that will never be exhausted. It is the original God-idea of the individual man that will at length be given, without spot or blemish, into the arms of love.

      Such, surely, is the heart of the comfort the Lord will give those whose love is now making them mourn; and their present blessedness must be the expectation of the time when the true lover shall find the restored the same as the lost--with precious differences: the things that were not like the true self, gone or going; the things that were loveliest, lovelier still; the restored not merely more than the lost, but more the person lost than he or she that was lost. For the things which made him or her what he or she was, the things that rendered lovable, the things essential to the person, will be more present, because more developed.

      Whether or not the Lord was here thinking specially of the mourners for the dead, as I think he was, he surely does not limit the word of comfort to them, or wish us to believe less than that his father has perfect comfort for every human grief. Out upon such miserable theologians as, instead of receiving them into the good soil of a generous heart, to bring forth truth an hundred fold, so cut and pare the words of the Lord as to take the very life from them, quenching all their glory and colour in their own inability to believe, and still would have the dead letter of them accepted as the comfort of a creator to the sore hearts he made in his own image! Here, 'as if they were God's spies,' some such would tell us that the Lord proclaims the blessedness of those that mourn for their sins, and of them only. What mere honest man would make a promise which was all a reservation, except in one unmentioned point! Assuredly they who mourn for their sins will be gloriously comforted, but certainly such also as are bowed down with any grief. The Lord would have us know that sorrow is not a part of life; that it is but a wind blowing throughout it, to winnow and cleanse. Where shall the woman go whose child is at the point of death, or whom the husband of her youth has forsaken, but to her Father in heaven? Must she keep away until she knows herself sorry for her sins? How should that woman care to be delivered from her sins, how could she accept any comfort, who believed the child of her bosom lost to her for ever? Would the Lord have such a one be of good cheer, of merry heart, because her sins were forgiven her? Would such a mother be a woman of whom the saviour of men might have been born? If a woman forget the child she has borne and nourished, how shall she remember the father from whom she has herself come? The Lord came to heal the broken-hearted; therefore he said, 'Blessed are the mourners.' Hope in God, mother, for the deadest of thy children, even for him who died in his sins. Thou mayest have long to wait for him--but he will be found. It may be, thou thyself wilt one day be sent to seek him and find him. Rest thy hope on no excuse thy love would make for him, neither upon any quibble theological or sacerdotal; hope on in him who created him, and who loves him more than thou. God will excuse him better than thou, and his uncovenanted mercy is larger than that of his ministers. Shall not the Father do his best to find his prodigal? the good shepherd to find his lost sheep? The angels in his presence know the Father, and watch for the prodigal. Thou shalt be comforted.

      There is one phase of our mourning for the dead which I must not leave unconsidered, seeing it is the pain within pain of all our mourning--the sorrow, namely, with its keen recurrent pangs because of things we have said or done, or omitted to say or do, while we companied with the departed. The very life that would give itself to the other, aches with the sense of having, this time and that, not given what it might. We cast ourselves at their feet, crying, Forgive me, my heart's own! but they are pale with distance, and do not seem to hear. It may be that they are longing in like agony of love after us, but know better, or perhaps only are more assured than we, that we shall be comforted together by and by.

      Bethink thee, brother, sister, I say; bethink thee of the splendour of God, and answer--Would he be perfect if in his restitution of all things there were no opportunity for declaring our bitter grief and shame for the past? no moment in which to sob--Sister, brother, I am thy slave? no room for making amends? At the same time, when the desired moment comes, one look in the eyes may be enough, and we shall know one another even as God knows us. Like the purposed words of the prodigal in the parable, it may be that the words of our confession will hardly find place. Heart may so speak to heart as to forget there were such things. Mourner, hope in God, and comfort where thou canst, and the lord of mourners will be able to comfort thee the sooner. It may be thy very severity with thyself, has already moved the Lord to take thy part.

      Such as mourn the loss of love, such from whom the friend, the brother, the lover, has turned away--what shall I cry to them?--You too shall be comforted--only hearken: Whatever selfishness clouds the love that mourns the loss of love, that selfishness must be taken out of it--burned out of it even by pain extreme, if such be needful. By cause of that in thy love which was not love, it may be thy loss has come; anyhow, because of thy love's defect, thou must suffer that it may be supplied. God will not, like the unjust judge, avenge thee to escape the cry that troubles him. No crying will make him comfort thy selfishness. He will not render thee incapable of loving truly. He despises neither thy love though mingled with selfishness, nor thy suffering that springs from both; he will disentangle thy selfishness from thy love, and cast it into the fire. His cure for thy selfishness at once and thy suffering, is to make thee love more--and more truly; not with the love of love, but with the love of the person whose lost love thou bemoanest. For the love of love is the love of thyself. Begin to love as God loves, and thy grief will assuage; but for comfort wait his time. What he will do for thee, he only knows. It may be thou wilt never know what he will do, but only what he has done: it was too good for thee to know save by receiving it. The moment thou art capable of it, thine it will be.

      One thing is clear in regard to every trouble--that the natural way with it is straight to the Father's knee. The Father is father for his children, else why did he make himself their father? Wouldst thou not, mourner, be comforted rather after the one eternal fashion--the child by the father--than in such poor temporary way as would but leave thee the more exposed to thy worst enemy, thine own unreclaimed self?--an enemy who has but this one good thing in him--that he will always bring thee to sorrow!

      The Lord has come to wipe away our tears. He is doing it; he will have it done as soon as he can; and until he can, he would have them flow without bitterness; to which end he tells us it is a blessed thing to mourn, because of the comfort on its way. Accept his comfort now, and so prepare for the comfort at hand. He is getting you ready for it, but you must be a fellow worker with him, or he will never have done. He must have you pure in heart, eager after righteousness, a very child of his father in heaven.

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See Also:
   1 - Salvation From Sin
   2 - The Remission of Sins
   3 - Jesus in the World
   4 - Jesus and His Fellow Townsmen
   5 - The Heirs of Heaven and Earth
   6 - Sorrow the Pledge of Joy
   7 - God's Family
   8 - The Reward of Obedience
   9 - The Yoke of Jesus
   10 - The Salt and the Light of the World
   11 - The Right Hand and the Left
   12 - The Hope of the Universe


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