The God of All Comfort
February 26th, 1956 @ 7:30 PM
2 Corinthians 1:1-11
THE GOD OF ALL COMFORT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 1:1-11
2-26-56 7:30 p.m.
Now turn in your Bible, and we will read my text together. As you know, all of you who were here this morning, we are starting now in the second Corinthian letter, and my text will be the first eleven verses, and we will preach through it. The eleven verses of the first chapter of the second Corinthian letter, let us all read it together. Do you have it everybody? Second Corinthians, the first chapter, and the first eleven verses. Are you ready? Second Corinthians, the first chapter, and the first eleven verses, all right, now together:
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in Achaia:
Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;
Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.
And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.
And our hope of you is steadfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.
For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:
But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead:
Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us;
Ye also helping together by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf.
[2 Corinthians 1:1-11]
Now this is what had happened. Paul, who hardly knew anything else but affliction, trouble, trial, disappointment, not only did he have those things upon him in his ministry in Asia, in Ephesus, the capital of Asia, but on top of all, weighted, weighted still, he was terribly and grievously sick. And he describes that time of trial that he went through in those days in Asia: "Brethren, I want you to know of my trouble in Asia: that we were pressed out of measure" [2 Corinthians 1:8].
If I could translate the Greek imagery of that into our modern speech, it’d be like this: did you ever see a truck so loaded down that the axle broke, and the heavy weighted vehicle is flat on the ground? That’s what the imagery is here: a man that’s had more than he can bear, and he’s crushed underneath the load; "that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, a thing I could not cope with, insomuch that we despaired even of life, did not think we could live, thought we were to die; for we had the sentence of death in ourselves" [2 Corinthians 1:8-9]. Paul thought he was dying; he thought, "This is the final and certain end." Like a man with a black cap over his head, noose around his neck, and standing on the trap door, and the sheriff there just ready to spring the trap, just ready to die, that’s Paul here. Of all of the things that he was suffering in his heart and in his life, on top of that he was so sick, so terribly ill that he thought that he was dying; he despaired even of life, "We had the sentence of death in ourselves" [2 Corinthians 1:8-9].
Do you sometimes wonder at troubles, at illness, at pain, at sorrow, do you? If you haven’t, you will; it will come. All of us go through that valley. "Why?" Some of the most heartbreaking and heart-rending cries, "Why?" going through those terrible days. I wonder why? Here’s a man. Look at this man in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Acts and the twelfth verse it says of this man I’m preaching about tonight, of the apostle Paul, it says that he so powerfully wrought in the name of Christ – in Ephesus now, where he says he’s "sick unto death" [2 Corinthians 1:8-9] – in that same city, the capital of Asia, he so powerfully wrought for God that from his body were brought, unto the sick, handkerchiefs, and diseases departed from them when they were touched by the handkerchiefs that had been blessed by the apostle Paul [Acts 19:11-12]. Well then, why didn’t he heal himself? Why? Why? Here’s a man that can heal the sick just by touching a handkerchief, then taking the handkerchief and touch the one who’s not well. Why doesn’t he heal himself? There is an answer, and it is in this text that you’ve just read. There is a reason for human suffering. There is a reason why in the apostle Paul the Lord sent these afflictions; and he names them here, and we’re going to look at them.
When he wrote in Romans 8:28 that, "All things work together for good to them that love God, to those called according to His purpose," that thing is a compound; it isn’t just that the light things, and the glorious things, and the happy things, and the fortunate things, and the wonderful things – that those things work together for good to those that love God. No, sir: along with the happy, and the light, and the brilliant things, the dark things, and the unhappy things, and the heartbreaking things, and the days of terrible illness and sorrow and disappointment; and sometimes and finally, death – they also work together for good to them that love God.
Now, he says here, and there are five "that’s." There is one in the fourth verse, there is one in the seventh verse, there is one in the ninth verse, and there is one in the eleventh verse, and he is going to say here what comes of those terrible sufferings that he went through in Asia. All right, here’s the first one, in the fourth verse: "Blessed be God, blessed be Jesus, the Father of mercies, the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in our sorrows and our tribulations, that" – now there’s your first one – "that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God" [2 Corinthians 1:3-4]. When a man comes to comfort one in sorrow and distress, and he’s never been heartbroken, he’s never been sick, he’s never had any deep valley to go through, he doesn’t know how to comfort anybody; he hasn’t been there. He’s never cried. He’s never bowed underneath an intolerable and indescribable burden. But you let that man go through those valleys himself; somehow he can just say the word, "I’ve been there, I know. I understand." These things come, says Paul, that we may be able to comfort others who are in trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. There’s not any sympathy like that created in a man’s heart when he’s experienced the sorrows, and then he looks upon somebody else that is going through those same deep valleys. "I’ve been there, I know. I know, I understand. I understand. I bowed my head at a time like that and wept bitter tears, just like you are crushed. I understand, I know." That’s one of the reasons God sends those afflictions upon us.
We’re not all preachers, we can’t be all preachers; but all of us have a witness, we have a testimony, all of us do. And that’s what God wants us to do. If we have found manna, then let’s tell those who are hungry in heart. If we have found a well of everlasting life, let’s tell those who are thirsting in their souls. If we found a balm in Gilead and a healing from heaven, let’s tell others that we found the great Physician. In my reading sometime, I came across a blind man, a blind man who was on a commuter train out of one of our great cities, worked in the city, lived outside and commuted on a train, and he was blind. And upon a day, a physician healed him, and he could see. And thereafter, thereafter on those commuter trains, that blind man would go through the coaches of the train, and as he’d walk through he’d say, "Do you have any friend that is blind? Are any members of your family blind? Tell them to see Dr. Carlson; he opened my eyes. Tell them to see Dr. Carlson; he healed me, and I can see. Any friend blind? Any member of your family blind? Tell them to see Dr. Carlson; he opened my eyes and I can see." That’s it. That’s it, and we all can do that who have ever had any trouble. That’s the first reason he says why troubles come: that we may be able to sympathize with and to comfort others who are in any trouble.
All right, a second one, that’s in the seventh verse: "And our hope of you," oh, "Our hope of you, knowing, that," there’s your second one, "that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be of the consolation which is in Christ" [2 Corinthians 1:7]. What he says is it’s by reason of our burdens and our troubles and our heartaches that we find Christ is a God of all mercies and a Savior of great comfort. That’s our introduction to Him, that’s our acquaintance with Him, otherwise we’d never, never know Him as such. He may be a great God, and He is, created the world; may be all powerful, He wrought miracles; all those things you say about the omnipotence of God and of Christ, yes. But you don’t know Him as a deep and intimate and personal friend who is a yokefellow and who bears with you underneath the burden of a sorrow and a trial until you go through the experience. "That if you are partakers of that suffering, you will be also of that consolation in Christ Jesus" [2 Corinthians 1:7].
One of the most beautiful things our Lord ever said is in Matthew 11:28-30, "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you will find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light." Look, look: "Come unto Me, all ye that labor, and are heavy laden." If you were never in trial, and if you were never burdened, how could you ever know Him who can help us in the day of our deepest and sorest need? You know Christ as the God of comfort and the Savior of all of our troubles, and the consolation that is in Him – we know it because we go through those dark valleys. In the twenty-first chapter of the Book of the Revelation, heaven is described like this:
And then he saw heaven come down, adorned as a bride for her husband. And he heard a great voice out of heaven, saying, Behold, look, look, the dwelling place of God is with men; and there will be no more tears, neither sorrow nor crying, neither will there be any more pain, for the former things are all passed away.
What would that mean to anybody who’d never cried? "And there are no more tears, and there are no more tears" [Revelation 21:4]. But if you’d never cried, if you never knew what it was when bitter salty tears came unbidden into your eyes, rolled down your cheeks and on the floor or on the pillow, crying in the loneliness of the night; or in a great tragic disappointment in life, or over the loss of somebody whom you loved, if you never went through an experience like that, what would it mean to say that up there we don’t cry anymore, we don’t have any of those sorrows anymore, we don’t have any of those tragic heartaches anymore? That’s heaven. As we enter into the heaven through the pearly gates, gates of solid pearl [Revelation 21:21] – wonder what that means? A pearl is made when a little sea animal is wounded, and it covers the wound with a pearl; that’s what makes a pearl. In other words, we enter heaven, the gates of glory, by suffering, by trial, by tribulation, by burden, and by sorrow! We don’t go in any other way; for outside it’s not heaven. That’s it. That, that’s the second reason, I say, why our sufferings are coming: "That as we are partakers of the suffering, so we may be partakers also of the consolation that is in Jesus" [2 Corinthians 1:7], to share with our Lord. He knew what it was to cry [Luke 19:41; John 11:35; Hebrews 5:7-8], to be in pain, in agony [Luke 22:44], to be crucified, and to die [Matthew 27:27-50].
All right, the third one, that’s in the ninth verse: "We had all this," he says, "pressed out of measure, above strength, despairing even of life, yea we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that" [2 Corinthians 1:8], now look at the third one here, "that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead" [2 Corinthians 1:9]. These sufferings come that, in order that we could learn not to trust in ourselves, but to trust in God. And that applies to both of us: it applies to us who are saved, and it applies to us who are not saved, who are lost. Sufferings come that we should not trust in ourselves but in God. These sufferings come that we might remember to be humble before the Lord God. The easiest thing in the world is for a man to be proud, to be lifted up, even for Paul. Can you think of that? Can you think of that? These sufferings came even in the life of Paul that Paul might not be overly proud, that he might be humble, that he might be crushed before God. Why, look at him as he says in this same book, in the twelfth chapter, speaking of the great revelations that God had given him, he said:
And lest I should be exalted above measure, lest I should be proud and lifted up, lest I should through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me and humble me and hurt me, lest I should be exalted above measure. And for this thing I besought the Lord thrice, O God, I cannot stand it, I cannot live with it. This thing, O God, crushes me; please God, take it away, take it away.
[2 Corinthians 12:7-8]
But the Lord said, "No, no, Paul, no, no; lest you be exalted above measure, lest you be proud in your soul, lest you forget from whom all these gifts come, Paul, you are going to have to suffer. I am not going to take the burden away, I will just give you strength to bear it." "For He said to me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness! [2 Corinthians 12:9]. Paul, people might think you did these marvelous things in your own power! Paul, I am going to put that stake in your flesh." It is not a thorn, the Greek word there is skolops, it’s a stake, great sharp, pointed stake, and it was jammed into the heart, life, body of the apostle – "given me a stake in the flesh to keep me humble, to keep me humble, lest I be exalted above measure" [2 Corinthians 12:7]. Sufferings sure do that; they sure do that.
Man, we can just be so strong, and so self-sufficient, and so able, and so mighty, and so proud! Maybe you’ll let a tremendous, terrible hurt and disappointment and sorrow come; and we’re not up there anymore, we’re not up there. We’re down there in the dust. We cry before God, we plead for help from God, "That we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead" [2 Corinthians 1:9]. And that is the second part of that: that’s our salvation. To the lost man troubles come, trials come; they do come, they will come, they are coming. Why? Because God wants us to know that we can’t save ourselves! "We should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead!" [2 Corinthians 1:9]. These afflictions come, the sentence of death, in order that we might see that I can’t save myself.
I tell you, when a man is in the presence of death, that’s a solemn and sacred and searching experience. He looks to himself, and there’s no strength to help. And he looks to those around him, and there’s nothing in this earth that can help; nobody, no thing! The pressing of death above strength, despairing to live, and this earth is full of death; its handiwork is everywhere. This earth is a very, veritable charnel house; it’s nothing but a cemetery. It’s just to be buried in, that’s all it is. And all of us share in that everlasting wrath and judgment of God: we are a dying people. "And those things come that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead" [2 Corinthians 1:9]. We can’t help ourselves, can’t save ourselves. O God, remember me, remember me. Help me, Lord, save me, deliver me.
As long as a man thinks he can save himself, God will never have an opportunity. As long as a man is struggling, he’s going to do it himself; he’ll never know the grace of the gift of God in Christ Jesus [Ephesians 2:8-9]. But when he comes to the end of the way, "Lord I can’t, I’m not able, I’m undone," then God has an opportunity: He reaches down with His love and His grace and lifts a man up, and sets his feet on a rock. They tell me – I’ve never had the experience – that if there’s a great big strong man who’s drowning, he’s a big, husky fellow, if you go out there and try to save him while he’s trying to flounder in the water and save himself, they tell me that he’ll grasp you and drag you under, and both of you will drown, a big strong man who’s still got strength. But they tell me that if you let him struggle, and he goes down one time, let him struggle and he goes down the second time, let him struggle, and he begins going down the third time, he’s helpless, and then all you have to do is just reach out there and bring him safely to the land. And that’s this in God: as long as we’re struggling, as long as we think we can do it ourselves, as long as there’s strength in us, then God can’t save us. But when we give up, "Lord, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I’m helpless, Lord," when we give up, then God who raiseth the dead can deliver us and save us [2 Corinthians 1:9-10].
And then that last, and I haste: why all of these things, the trial and the heartache and the suffering? And the last, "That," eleventh verse, "That for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf" [2 Corinthians 1:11]. God gives us an opportunity to rejoice in His great goodness and answered prayer when we share with others in their need. Here’s a man who’s afflicted, and we pray, "God, Lord, bless Paul, bless Paul, nigh unto death, here with all of his burdens on top of that, grievously ill; bless Paul, remember him, raise him up." And when God hears the prayers of His people, and Paul is raised up and we hear of it, we just thank God. See, many people praying, many people thanking the Lord, "Thank You, Lord, bless Thy name. We’re so happy, we’re so glad, we’re so thankful." And that’s through all of life. When people are in need, to remember them in prayer and then God gives of His abundant overflowing grace, then all of us with one accord thank God together. This one who has been blessed, he thanks God, he thanks God; and all of us who prayed for him, we thank God too, all of us together praising the Lord.
And that’s the way it is when a man is saved. Here’s a fellow that’s lost, and we pray for him; but he’s obdurate, and we pray the harder. But he says, "No," and his heart is adamantine. And we pray still and wait. And upon a day he comes to God, he comes to the Lord. And oh! he’s so glad, and we’re so glad. We had a part in it, too. We prayed for him, we loved him, we waited upon the Lord, we interceded, and we’re all happy in it together. Why, a fellow came down the aisle in a meeting I had one time, and gave his heart to Jesus. And a fellow came down, just a little while after, while the song was still going on, and he said something to the pastor, and when the time came to introduce the people, why, this is what the pastor said: "This glorious man here has been saved" – he was a big oil man – "this man here has been saved, he’s taken Jesus as his Savior. And this deacon here is his partner, been praying for him for years. And he just wanted to come and stand there by his side, just so happy he couldn’t keep his seat."
Well, you say, that’s kind of foolish, isn’t it? That’s kind of foolish. Well, it’s something of the soul that you can’t describe. When somebody who is outside of Christ and needs God, and you pray for them and love them and wait, and that moment comes when they turn to Jesus, why, I’ve seen you out there in the congregation, somebody you prayed for and waited for, and they come, and I look into your face, and there you stand while the invitation song’s being sung, just cry like a little child, just the tears unbidden out of your eyes. Why? You couldn’t help it, just glad in the Lord, happy in Jesus. You had a part, you prayed. And when the Lord answered prayer, you were with others and him, giving thanks unto God. That’s why, somehow or the other, the Lord puts us all together like that: a great community, praying, loving one another, encouraging one another, and thanksgiving unto God, offering it for one another. I tell you, these things sure keep us before the Lord, humble in His presence, offering helping hands of love and tenderness to these who need us.
Now we sing our song of appeal. And while we sing it, has somebody prayed for you? Do you have a mother somewhere that, if she heard you gave your heart to Jesus tonight, she’d be so thankful to God, like my text says, offer thanksgiving to God [2 Corinthians 1:11]; have you? Tonight, would you let God answer prayer, and you come and give your heart to Jesus, would you? Does the Lord whisper an appeal into your heart? Are there those who are interested? If you came down this aisle tonight and gave your life to Jesus, or put your life here in this church, are there those whom you know, when they heard of it they’d be so glad, they’d be so glad?
Would you let God answer their prayers and ours tonight in your coming? Into the aisle, down to the front, "Preacher, I give you my hand; my heart I’ve given to God." Would you do it now? As the Lord shall make appeal, while our people sing and pray, would you come? Would you come? While we stand and while we sing.
THE GOD OF ALL COMFORT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 1:1-11
A. Paul’s trials in Asia (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
1. "Pressed out of measure" – a man that’s had more than he can bear
2. "Above strength" – unable to cope with it
3. "Despaired even of life" – no escape; gave himself up for a dead man
4. "Sentence of death" – ready to die
B. Why should such afflictions come upon Paul?
1. He healed others, why not himself? (Acts 19:12)
2. There is a reason for human suffering – his famous word: "All things work together for goodâ€¦" (Romans 8:28)
II. That we may be able to comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-6)
A. Having gone through the sorrow and found God’s grace sufficient, we can comfort others, pointing them to God
B. Our witness – not all can preach, but all can testify to the grace of God
1. Healed blind man on commuter train
III. That we might know the consolation of Christ (2 Corinthians 1:5, 7)
A. Matthew 11:28-30 meaningless to one without a burden
B. The gates of pearl – through suffering enter in (Revelation 21:1-4, 22:21)
1. Meaningless to one who had never suffered
IV. That we not trust in ourselves, but in God (2 Corinthians 1:9)
A. For the Christian, humility in trials (2 Corinthians 12:7-9, 1 Corinthians 15:9-10)
1. It is easy to become proud
B. For the lost man, salvation (Ephesians 2:8)
V. That thanks may be given by many (2 Corinthians 1:11)
A. We all had a part, and now rejoice together
B. In troubles and trials people pray for us