And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said…
Earth is so full of sorrows, and its sorrows are so various, and its cry for their healing so piteous and so importunate, that no man who lives can always stop his ears, if he can even steel his heart, against the demand for his sympathy and his ministration. The world itself has its forms and its phrases of consolation; borrowed, no doubt, in name, from Christianity and the Bible, but divested, in the transfer, of their efficacy for healing, by being torn (as it were) from the context, and presented bare and solitary to the aching and thirsting heart. And the Church has its ministry of comfort; its ordained and consecrated representatives in things sacred, of whose profession it is one half, and not the least anxious and difficult half, to be at the beck and call of sorrow, whatever its kind or cause, for the express purpose of conveying to it, in Christ's behalf, the consolations of the Gospel. Nevertheless, how many are they who, whether the world speaks or the Church, yet, like the patriarch in the text, "refuse to be comforted." How small a part of the suffering of mankind as a whole, even in Christendom, is healed, or sensibly mitigated, by the comfort professedly offered it. Let us ask why. Let us take a few specimens of consolation, as the word is commonly understood, and see where and why they fail, and must fail, in doing the thing attempted. We need not, for our present purpose, distinguish accurately between different kinds of distress. Pain is pain, whether it has to do with mind or body, with circumstances or affections, with conscience or the soul. And as the malady is, in this sense, one in all cases, so the idea and principle of consolation, may be the same in very various applications.
1. Thus there is one kind of consolation, the least adroit, it may be, but not the least common, which practically consists in a disparagement of the suffering. This sort of comfort fails in both the essentials. First, it is unsympathizing; and secondly, it is unreal. A man could not thus speak who felt with you. This man is just getting rid of an irksome duty. He does not enter into your ease. Thus the comfort lacks sympathy, and must be refused. But it lacks reality too. It is not true that you exaggerate. Your pain is painful.
2. There is another kind of consolation, of which the characteristic is that it deals largely in false promises. The physician, conjured to be true, looks the patient in the face, and says she thing that is not. "He sees nothing to make him anxious. You may live for years." He tells the next person he meets that you are a doomed man. You are anxious — you have cause to be so — about professional success. You confide your misgiving, your apprehension, your mortification, to your friend. To save himself, or to save you, a moment's pain, he assures you that you are mistaken. "The next turn of fortune's wheel will be in your favour. He has reason to hope, he almost knows, that your name stands next for an appointment." To a third person he says plainly that you are a failure, that you have not a chance. Worse still is it, when the soul is the subject.
3. There is a still larger class of consolations which have this for their feature, that they use true words but apply them falsely. In mere carelessness, in worse than carelessness, in headlong headstrong presumption, a man has incurred a terrible, perhaps fatal, accident. There is instantly a chorus of comforters, it is the will of God. Worse than this: a son has been the plague of his home, the scourge of mother and sister, the ill example, the guide into all mischief, of brothers and schoolfellows! no change, save from worse to worse, comes over his youth; all manner of sin and wickedness is his sport and his occupation; at last he commits a crime, brings shame upon his name, reduces his family to misery and destitution — who cannot anticipate, even then, a view of the terrible history, which shall lightly and confidently bring into it, if not for the sinner yet for the sufferers, the hand and counsel of God; bidding them believe that the whole aspect of it, for them at least, is one of blessing and hope and fatherly love? And so, when at last the grave closes over one whose whole life has been a denial and defiance of the Bible, whose last breath may have been the repudiation, not only of clergyman or sacrament, but of prayer, and of Christ, and of immortality itself; there are those who can see in all this nothing more than an idiosyncrasy or a misfortune, and who, not contented (as all ought to be) with silence and sorrow, with refraining from cruel judgments and ill-omened words, are ready to offer to the survivors the most cheerful and confident of consolations, as if over a deathbed of sweet hope, crowning a life of consistent, of Christ-like devotion. Brethren, the sight and the touch of suffering is keen and sensitive; and it must revolt against all this as an offensive obstrusion of an unreal and impertinent consolation. That which we could not say without cruelty in the individual instance, or in the house darkened by the calamity itself, we can say and we ought to say in general terms, while it may yet be for the admonition of men whose day of grace is not ended. Truth is not always comfort. We cannot always with propriety say in the moment of sorrow the word which nevertheless may be the true one, about the healing power of time, or the reparative processes of reviving interests and affections. But this has no exception; comfort cannot be without truth. Sympathy itself is dead, being alone. Let us who would be "sons of consolation," take good heed to our truthfulness. This estimate of life and the Bible will alter the language of our consolations. It will make them entirely real, and in the same degree strongly supporting. We shall ask no man to call evil good, or to write sweet for bitter. When some terrible thing happens, and we are called to minister, we shall say, "Alas, my brother!" Let us sit and weep together over the mighty power of evil. Oh, how necessary was the Gospel! Oh, how intelligible has become the Cross! Oh, how desirable that last revelation — death and hell cast into the lake of fire — the tabernacle of God come down to earth, and tears wiped from off all faces! And then, although we cannot offer the false consolation, which confounds light and darkness, receives with an impartial and indifferent complaisance alike the good and the evil, sees a God (so called) equally in both and in neither, and encourages an easy, trivial, light-hearted passage, through a world "neither clear nor dark," into another world, itself neither day nor night; yet we shall at least have realized God in His holiness, Christ in His necessity, life in its seriousness, heaven in its glory; we shall at least have renounced for ever that vile flattery which barters truth for a smile — that ignoble traggicing in great names, of which the Nemesis is the forfeiture of great realities. And the moral of it all is weighty and legible. If the battle is so sore around and within us; if good and evil are not words but things; if Christ and Satan are not phantoms but persons; if we must have a side, though we know it not, and he that is not with Christ must be against Him — let us be serious. The mere use of true words will help us.
I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. —
Parallel VersesKJV: And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.