By J.R. Miller
"Blessed are those who mourn--for they shall be comforted." Matthew 5:4
The house of sorrow is a strange place to look for joy! Mourners are the last people, that the world would call blessed or happy. Men in their quest for happiness, would not think of looking for it in the shadows of grief. Yet Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn."
There are many who mourn. Few are the homes in which there is not some grief. Not all sorrows hang the death-crape on the door, or wear a badge of grief. There are secret troubles, and tears are shed where no eye sees them fall.
Does Jesus mean that all who mourn are blessed? No! there are sorrows which yield no peaceable fruits of righteousness. There are those who suffer--and are not blessed. He means that the state of mourning is one in which divine blessing may be received--rather than in a state of tearlessness. The deepest happiness is not that which has never suffered--but that which has passed through the experience of sorrow--and has been comforted. The happiest home is not one which has never known grief--but one whose songs of gladness have in them a minor strain.
There is a story of a German baron who made a great Aeolian harp by stretching wires from tower to tower of his castle. When the harp was ready, he listened for the music. But it was in the calm of summer--and in the still air, the wires hung silent. Autumn came with its gentle breezes--and there were faint whispers of song. At length the winter winds swept over the castle--and now the harp answered in majestic music.
Such a harp is the human heart. It does not yield its noblest music in the summer days of joy--but in the winter of trial. The sweetest songs of earth, have been sung in sorrow. The richest things in character, have been reached through pain. Even of Jesus we read that He was made perfect through suffering. This does not mean that there were evils in His nature which had to be expelled by the heat of trial, that there was dross in the gold of His being which only the fire could remove. The meaning is that there were elements even in His sinless humanity, which could be brought to full ripeness only through pain.
There is given us in the book of 'Revelation', a glimpse of the heavenly life, in which this same truth is revealed. It was in a vision of the redeemed, singing their praises to God. Among them were some who appeared to have special glory--a great multitude which no man could number, gathered out of all nations, standing in the place of honor before the throne, wearing white robes and carrying palms in their hands. When the question was asked, "Who are these highly favored ones--and where did they come from?" the answer was, "These are those who came out of great tribulation." This joyous multitude came from homes of sorrow. They were the suffering ones on earth who had passed through a baptism of tears. In heaven they wear the white robes, stand nearest to the throne, and bear the emblems of the most complete victoriousness.
How strikingly this vision interprets the beatitude: "Blessed are those who mourn"! Earth regards suffering as a misfortune. The world pities those who are called to endure sorrow. The condition of mourning, is one from which men shrink. But in the kingdom of heaven those are the favored ones who are called to suffer. Instead of being the unfortunate, they are the blessed.
The same teaching runs through all the New Testament. Affliction is not a mark of the divine disfavor--but a token of the divine love. "Whom the Lord loves--He chastens." Instead of being hurtful to the life, working harm and marring--trial promotes the cleansing of the heart and the enrichment of the character. "No chastening for the present seems to be joyous--but grievous; nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness."
The secret of this strange teaching is revealed in the second part of the beatitude. Why are those who mourn, blessed? It is because they shall be comforted. It is not in the mourning that the blessedness lies--but in the comfort which comes to those who mourn. Sorrow in itself is not a blessing. Sickness, pain, affliction, trial--are not favors in themselves. These experiences can be nothing else but hard and bitter. It is only in their fruits--that the blessing comes.
The divine comfort is such a revealing of love and good, that it is worth while to mourn in order to receive it. It is a blessing too which we never can have--until we have entered the experience of sorrow. We would never know of the glory of the stars--if the sun did not go down; but it would be a sore loss to us if we were to live our three score and ten years in this world without ever seeing the wonder of the starry skies. It is a blessing to have the night come--that we may see the splendor of the heavens. We would never know God's marvelous comfort--if we never had sorrow.
"Blessed are those who mourn--for they shall be comforted," means that it is well worth our while to be a mourner, with sad heart--in order to have such revealing. So rich a blessing is there in this heavenly comfort, that it were nothing less than a misfortune to go through life without receiving it.
There is an old fable which tells of the experience of our first parent at the setting of the sun, on the day of his creation. As Adam watched the glorious orb sink toward the horizon, it seemed to him that only calamity could come to the earth, and the canopy of light and blue, when the sun had disappeared. With dread and terror he waited for the coming of the darkness. But lo! Not distress and desolation--but new and marvelous revealing followed.
Just so do we dread sorrow. As we see it coming, for example, as we watch the approach of death to some dearly loved one, whose life has been the very sun of our existence; it seems to us that the darkness coming upon us, can bring only utter desolation and unrelieved gloom; that nothing of joy and beauty will be left to us, when the light of human love has departed. But when at last our friend has passed away and we find ourselves wrapped in the night of sorrow, alas! a glory of divine comfort stands forth revealed in the darkness!
What Christian mourner has not been amazed in the experiences of his grief--at finding such wonderful new things in the Word of God? He had read the precious words over and over, a thousand times, during his days of happiness--but he had never seen these wonderful divine comforts in them before! The truth is, he could not see them--while human joy flooded his life. They lay concealed within the brightness of earthly light--and could be revealed only in darkness. Blessed are those who mourn--for thus and thus alone, could they ever know God's special grace of comfort.
What is this comfort which it is so blessed a thing to know? Few words are more generally misunderstood than this word 'comfort'. Many of us think we are comforting people when we go and sit down beside them in the time of their trouble, and in our own measure enter with them into their experiences, going over the sad details of their grief--yet saying not one uplifting word. But that is not God's way of comforting His sorrowing children. The word comfort means to give strength. When Jesus was passing through the agony of Gethsemane, the Father comforted Him by sending an angel to strengthen Him. The cup of deep sorrow could not pass away--but the Sufferer's heart was cheered by the angel's ministry, so that He was enabled to drink it even gladly.
That is the way God would comfort all His children in their sorrow. He may not spare them the grief, because there is blessing in it, either for themselves or for others--but if they must drink the cup, He would strengthen them for it.
In Psalm 55:22, there is a word which is full of rich suggestion. "Cast your burden upon the Lord--and He shall sustain you." In the margin, however, is the word gift--"Cast your gift upon the Lord." So our burden is God's gift to us! This is true whatever the burden may be--duty, sorrow, pain, loss, care. Being God's gift--there must be a blessing in it, something good, and something we could not miss without sore loss. It may be a blessing for ourselves, or it may be for others. In the garden of Gethsemane, it was the blessing of redemption which was in the bitter cup that was pressed to the lips of the holy Sufferer. In every case, our burden is God's gift--and it would not be a kindness to us--if He were to lift it away.
But there is more of the promise. We are to "cast our burden upon the Lord--and He will sustain us." That is, He will give us strength to carry our load, to endure our suffering. The story of Paul's thorn in the flesh illustrates this. The torturing burden was not removed--but instead there came sufficient grace--the strength of Christ to balance the human weakness, so that Paul was enabled to rejoice in his infirmities, because of the blessing which came to him through them.
This, then, is part of the blessing, which comes to those who mourn--they receive the strength of God to sustain them in their sorrow. The burden may not be lightened--but it is really an answer to the heart's cry for help--if new strength is imparted. Then the sufferer is enabled to sing--and the sorrow is changed into joy.
There is blessing also in the fruits of sorrow, in the life of those who abide in Christ. There is no doubt that suffering waits at the gateway to all the higher and better things of spiritual experience and attainment. "We must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of heaven." There is a baptism of fire--a baptism of pain that is necessary in connection with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Even Jesus Christ received this twofold baptism. Though He was a Son--yet "He learned obedience by the things which He suffered." Much more is it necessary for us, if we would reach the uplands of God--to go through the way of pain. There must be a purifying in the fire--if we would be cleansed of our sinfulness; and we must burn--the oil of our life must be consumed--if we would shine!
There are blessings, therefore, which we cannot obtain--if we cannot accept and endure suffering. There are joys which can come to us--only through sorrow. There are revealings of divine truth which we can get--only when earth's lights have gone out. There are harvests which can grow only--after the plough has done its rough work.
"Blessed are those who mourn--for they shall be comforted." Not to be willing to endure pain and suffering, is not to be able to get the best things of grace!