By J.R. Miller
Next to the little twenty third Psalm, the fourteenth chapter of John's Gospel is, no doubt, the best known and best loved portion of the Bible. It is a chapter of comfort. The sick love it, for there is a music in it which soothes pain and suffering. The dying love it, for it has its revealing of the life into which they are passing. The bereft love it, for it opens windows into heaven, and gives them glimpses of the blessed life of those who have gone to be at home in the Father's house.
Christ's friends were in great sorrow--sorrow which seemed inconsolable. Yet their Master's first word to them was, "Let not your heart be troubled." This seemed a strange word to say to them that night. How could they help being troubled in such experiences as theirs? Think of all Jesus had grown to be to them. For three years they had been members of his personal family, enjoying the most intimate relations with him. How much a friend can be to us in our life, depends on the friend. If he has a rich nature, a noble personality, power to love deeply, capacity for friendship, the spirit of unselfish helpfulness; if he is able to inspire us to heroism and to worthy living--what he can be to us, is simply immeasurable. Think of what the best, strongest, richest hearted human friend is to you in the way of cheer, inspiration, guidance, courage, and uplifting. Think what Jesus, with his marvelous personality, must have been as a friend to his disciples. Then you can understand something of what his going from them, meant to them.
Then he was more than a friend to them. They had believed in him as their Messiah, who was to redeem their nation and to lead them to honor and power. Great hopes rested in him. His death, as it seemed to them, would be the failure of all these hopes. The announcement swept away, as they now thought, all that made life worth while to them. There are human friends whose death seems to leave only desolation in the hearts and lives of those who have loved them and leaned on them. But the death of Christ was to his personal friends and followers--the blotting out of every star of hope and promise. Their sorrow was overwhelming. Yet Jesus looked into their faces and said, "Let not your heart be troubled." Jesus is always an encourager, a minister of cheer. Some people come to us in trial, thinking to comfort us--but their words fail to give any strength. They weep with us, they sympathize with us--but they do not make us any braver, any more able to endure. If we would be comforters like our Master, we must inspire others to endurance. We must bring them something which will make them stronger. Mere condolence will not do it. We must have something to give, which will impart strength and courage.
What is there in the gospel of Christ, which gives us authority to say, "Let not your heart be troubled"? The first thing Jesus bade his disciples do was to believe, "Believe in God, believe also in me." Thus far they had believed. Jesus had taught them a new name for God. They were to call him Father. He used almost no other name for God. The word "father" is a great treasure-house of love thoughts. It told the disciples of the minute thought and care of God, which extended to the smallest events of their lives. It told them of goodness, which never failed. It was a great lesson they had been learning--to think of God as their Father. In the shock of the last terrible days, however, there was danger that they would lose their faith. Yet Jesus said that dark hour: "Believe in God. Let nothing take away from you your faith in God as your Father."
Then he said further, "Believe also in me." They had accepted Jesus as their Messiah. They believed that he had come to be the world's Redeemer. Now at the announcement that he was to die at the hands of his enemies, there was danger that they should lose their faith in him. If he died in defeat, what would become of his claim and their hope that he would redeem his people? To save them from their loss of faith, he exhorted them to continue to believe. "Believe in God, believe also in me."
We are always in danger of losing our faith, in times of trouble. Many people are heard asking such questions as "How can God be a God of love, and allow me to be so bereft, so stripped of all that is good? Where now are the promises of blessing which are made so constantly in the Scriptures? Has God forgotten to be gracious?" To such questions the answer is, "Believe in God, believe also in me." Let nothing disturb your faith. Though it seems that love has failed, that God has forgotten you, that Christ is no longer your friend--still believe; believe in God, believe also in Jesus Christ.
Sorrow is full of mystery. Every way we turn we hear people ask, "Why?" "This is not love," we say. "This is not goodness. This is not divine care." We cannot understand. But how could we, with our narrow vision and our partial knowledge, understand the infinite purposes of God?
Remember--God does not want to give us an easy life--he wants to make something of us, and ofttimes the only way to do this is to give us pain, loss, or suffering. A writer tells of keeping for nearly a year the finely shaped cocoon of an emperor moth. A narrow opening is left in the neck of the cocoon, through which the insect slowly forces its way. The opening is so small, that it seems impossible for the moth to pass through it. This writer watched the efforts of the imprisoned moth to escape. It did not appear to make any progress. At last he grew impatient. He pitied the little creature and resolved to assist it. Taking his scissors, he snipped the confining threads to make the struggle easier. In a moment the moth was free, dragging out a great swollen body and little shriveled wings. He watched to see the beauty unfold--but he watched in vain. It never was anything but a stunted abortion, crawling painfully about, instead of flying through the air on rainbow wings. Nature's way, God's way with moths, is the only true way, although it is a way of pain, struggle, and suffering. Human pity may make it easier--but the end will be destruction.
Divine love never makes this mistake, either in nature or in dealing with human lives. God lets us suffer, for by suffering we shall best grow into perfect beauty. When the mystery of pain or hardness comes into our life--let us not doubt. The disciples thought all their hopes had perished--but in the end they learned that every hope was fulfilled. Good came out of what seemed irretrievable disaster. "Believe in God, believe also in me," is always the word of faith and comfort. We cannot understand--but our Master understands, and that is enough.
Jesus told his disciples that he was going to his Father's house. The words give us a beautiful revealing of heaven. Heaven is home. On this earth--there is no place so sweet, so sacred, so heart satisfying, as a true home. It is a place of love--the truest, gentlest, most unselfish love. It is a place of confidence. We are always sure of being loved at home. We do not have to be on our guard when we enter our home doors. We do not have to wear masks there, hiding or disguising our real selves. Home is a refuge to which we flee from the danger, the enmity, the unkindness, the injustice of the world. Home is the place where hungry hearts feed on love's bread. Mrs. Craik, in one of her books, has this fine picture:
"Oh, conceive the happiness to know someone person dearer to you than your own self--some heart into which you can pour ever thought, every grief, every joy; one person, who, if all the rest of the world were to calumniate or forsake you--would never wrong you by a harsh thought or an unjust word; who would cling to you the closer in sickness, in poverty, in troublous times; who would sacrifice all; from whom, except by death, night or day, you never can be divided; whose smile is ever at your hearth; who has no tears while you are well and happy--and your love the same."
This is a glimpse of what a true home is. The picture is sometimes realized on the earth--there are homes here which are well near perfect. But it will be fully realized in heaven. No other description of heaven, given in the Bible, means so much to our hearts as that which our Master gives in these three words, "My Father's house"--Home.
Jesus told his disciples further, that he was going to prepare a place for them. He was going away--for their sakes. They thought they could not spare him--but he said he was going to continue his work on their behalf. Then he added, "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you unto myself." There was no accident, therefore, in the dying of Jesus. His going away was part of God's plan and purpose for his life.
The comfort for us in all our sorrows--is that nothing has gone wrong, that God's purpose is going on even in what seems the wrecking of our human hopes. Your Christian friend passed away the other night. You thought he would have been with you for many years to come. You had plans covering a long future of happiness. You were appalled when the doctor said that he could not live until morning. Life to you would be most dreary, lonely, and empty, without this one who had become so dear to you. Is there any comfort to you in this experience? Christ says, "Let not you heart be troubled." There is no reason why you should be troubled. If you could see all things as God sees them--you would not be dismayed. If the disciples had known just what the death of their Master would mean--to him, to them, to the divine glory, to the world--they would not have been troubled. Death to your friend, was the completion of the earthly portion of his life; the passing of the spirit to the heavenly home, to enter anew into the service of the Master. Is there no comfort in this? Is there no comfort in the truth of immortality, that he who lives and believes on Christ--shall never die? Is there no comfort in knowing that your friend who has passed from the earthly home--is safe in the Father's house?
We need not be anxious about the beloved one we have sent out of our home--and into the Father's house. You say, "Yes--but my friend stayed so brief a time! I could almost wish that I had not let my heart fasten its tendrils about him, since so soon he was torn away from me." Say it not. It is worth while to love, and to let the heart pour out all its sweetness in loving, though it be but for a day, and then to have the bliss give way to grief. Richard Watson Gilder in a little poem touches this element of human grief.
"Because the rose must fade
Shall I not love the rose?"
It is sweet to have your friend, if only for one day. You will really have him always after that. For two people to love each other at all--actually, deeply, worthily--is to have their lives knit together into one, indissoluble, two souls blended in one, inseparable. Death will not tear them apart. It is blessed to love--though we stay together but the briefest while. A baby comes and looks into the young mother's eyes, and in an hour is gone. Was that brief stay in vain? No; the mother always has a baby after that. The love for that sweet life will never die in her heart. She will always have on her soul, the impression made by that short stay.