The God of All Comfort
June 22nd, 1958 @ 10:50 AM
THE GOD OF ALL COMFORT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 1:1-11
6-22-58 10:50 a.m.
Now the sermon this morning in these few moments is a sermon entitled, The God of All Comfort.
In the second Corinthian letter and the first chapter, out of a great trial and affliction Paul wrote the first seven chapters of the second Corinthian letter. It is one of the most beautiful, one of the most moving, one of the most pathetic, one of the most consoling of all the pieces of literature in the world and in the Bible; 2 Corinthians 1:
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God at Corinth, and to all the saints 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.
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 – either way, to suffer or to be comforted, it’s for you –
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 without knowledge of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed above measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life:
We had the very sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who 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 in our behalf.
[2 Corinthians 1:1-11]
God’s Book is so oft times filled with a biographical sketch, an autobiographical sketch sometimes, in which the inner heart of one of God’s servants is revealed and it is so here in this little page out of the leaf of the story of the Apostle Paul. He speaks of his trouble in Asia, the Roman province of Asia. Persecuted, disowned by his own countrymen, outcast and cast out, he was also afflicted with some kind of a terrible ailment and illness. And he says, "You already know it that which came upon us in Asia. We were pressed out of measure," like a truck that had such a burden upon it, broke at the axles, "above strength," he couldn’t bear it, crushed him, "insomuch that we despaired even of life itself," he couldn’t live, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, "a certain prospect."
Why, that’s why he writes! You would think this man, from whose body handkerchiefs could be taken to heal the sick when his shadow fell upon people who were ill; they were made well, he had the gift of God’s Holy Spirit of healing in his hands. You would think this man would never be sick, this man would always be well and strong. He would heal himself. Isn’t it a strange thing when you read in the Bible that this apostle, who had so much of the power of God to heal is himself, so ill and so afflicted, he despairs of life; he has the sentence of death in himself. Why?
Paul had written in Romans 8:28, "For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God." And it’s a very complex sentence. That is it has complex ingredients in it. When you say that "all things work together for good to them that love God," if you mean all things, you mean dark things as well as light things. You mean tears as well as smiles. You mean illness as well as health. You mean disappointment and failure as well as glorious victory and achievement if you mean that that all things work together for good. So the Apostle Paul writes here that these things, these afflictions, these tribulations, these troubles and sorrows, these illnesses and invalidisms, he says that they come upon us. That – and he says four things that and each one of them he introduces with a "that," – that in the fourth verse we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
We are afflicted. We fall into illness. We are pressed without measure in order that we might be able to comfort others. And I think that is most apparent. There’s nobody that can speak words of encouragement to us like somebody who has been through the same disappointment and distress; they know. They have suffered and they understand. "That we may be able to comfort others also," therefore, these trials and illnesses come upon us.
We cannot all preach but we can all stand to testify that the grace of God was sufficient for us. And that ought to be our testimony always. We have tasted of the goodness of God. We have found strength in the Lord. Here is manna; eat, my hungry brother. Here is the water of life; drink, my thirsty friend. Here is healing and balm from Gilead.
I one time read of a man on a commuter train out of New York City and every evening he would walk through the length of that long commuter train saying this: "My friends, do you have someone who is blind, a family, a member of your family? Do you know someone who is blind? Tell them to see Dr. Carlson, he restored my sight!" What a blessed thing to point to the Lord, who is able to comfort us because we ourselves were comforted of God; the Lord help us that we might be able to help others.
Then in the seventh verse, he uses another that. "That as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolations." These trials come upon us that we may know the consolation of Christ. If all we knew of the Lord was in the days of health, and of strength, and of affluence, and of achievement I doubt whether we would ever really know the kind of a God and Savior that we have. If everything were just singing, and gladness, and light, and glory; if that were all. But these troubles come that we might know the great sympathetic heart of Christ, that we might also know the consolation of our Lord.
In that beautiful, most beautiful of all of our Lord’s invitations, in Matthew 11:28-30, "Come unto Me." Come unto Me all ye that are singing, and happy, and glad, and victorious? No! He didn’t say it that way. I guess He likes for us to come; I know He does when we are happy, and singing, and glad. But the most beautiful of all His invitations says, "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden." That would mean nothing to one who had never been burdened and had never labored under a task or a load under which he staggered, too great for him. God had to help him bear up underneath, put His strong arm down to help.
In the twenty-first chapter of the Revelation and the fourth verse, heaven is described as a place through which we enter gates of pearl, stones, gems of suffering, made in hurt and wound. And it’s described as a place where God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. There is no more sorrow, no more suffering, and no more pain, and no more crying, and no more death. But I suppose that would mean nothing to someone who had never cried, and never suffered, and never been in pain or illness, and never faced death.
All of these things are meaningful to us because of the tribulations and the sorrows that come to us in life. I one time heard described a father who had two wonderful sons. The older boy was tall and straight and strong, athletic, popular; just everything that a boy could be. The younger son was just like him except much smaller and younger; he was a handsome lad and strong, and gave every prospect of being athletic and popular like his older brother.
The younger son, on a bicycle – somehow nobody knows – boy and bicycle and truck got all tangled up together. And the doctor turned to the father and said, "The boy’s left limb is to be amputated and his right arm." And the father looked down into the face of the younger boy and later said, "For the first time in my life, I knew what the Scripture meant when it said, ‘Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that love Him for He knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust.’" [Psalm 103:14]
You never know God, really. You have never met Him, really. You will never know Him, really, until He comes to you in the hour of trial, and need, and illness, and disappointment, and death.
That as ye are partakers of the consolations of Christ,that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead and delivers us from so great a death.
[from 2 Corinthians 1:7-10]
These trials come "that we should not trust in ourselves but in God." For the Christian that means he learns to be humble in his trials. Paul himself said in this same Corinthian letter, "Because of the visions and the revelations given unto me, lest I should be exalted above measure, there was given unto me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me." [2 Corinthians 12:7]
Paul, in speaking of himself said, "I am the least of the apostles and am not meet to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of Christ. It is just by the grace of God that I am what I am." [1 Corinthians 15:9, 10]
Even a fine Christian can be proud, lifted up. Lucifer fell because of it. And it is easy for a Christian who is always successful, and always able, and always strong, and always full of achievement, and victory, and reward. It is easy for a Christian to be lifted up, to be proud. He can even get to the place where he looks with contumely and disdain upon people who are in sin, who are dirty, who are unclean, and who are filthy in mind, and mouth, and heart, as well as in life.
It’s easy for a Christian to pull himself away, and draw his skirts around him, and walk with a "holier and a better-than-thou" spirit. But somehow troubles and sorrows have a way of pulling you down to your knees. Somehow illnesses, and failures, and disappointments, thorns in the flesh have a way of humbling the Christian before God. It brings him down, and down, and down, and there in the dust. He gets a vision of the Almighty on his knees that otherwise he would never know.
That we should learn not to trust in ourselves, but in God! That is what many times happens to a lost man; here he is on his way, he is just getting along so fine, then an awful tragedy comes. And he looks back upon it and blesses God for it, "Had it not been for the hurt and the tragedy, I would never have found God."
Death is such a conclusive thing, such a final thing. It makes many a man pause in the onward rush of his life. I have a sentence left I can say for the last. "That," in the eleventh verse, "that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf." What he means there is this: in troubles and in trials people pray for us. People sympathize; people remember. And when God answers prayer, they all have opportunity to say, "I had a part in it. I prayed. I had a part in that, I remembered."
Why, I can just see how Paul could apply that. Down the aisle comes a man giving his life to Jesus. And there, and there, and there, somebody cannot keep back the tears. They have so prayed and so earnestly looked to God, when that somebody comes the cup overflows. They had a part in it; they could pray and did. That’s the part, dear people, of our extension division of our wonderful church. That’s a part that all of us can share in and especially you. Sometimes when you can’t sleep, can’t sleep, just pray. Just pray; and when you can’t come; pray. Sometimes when it looks as though life is so worthless and helpless you wonder why God doesn’t take you on, remember maybe He left you here to intercede and to pray. And every victory that comes, you have a part. "That for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many persons thanks may be given by many on our behalf." All of us rejoice in it, "Look what God did! He answered our prayers; we had a part, all of us together."
I tell you when you read that Book it surely does change an outlook upon the fortunes of life. And may the Lord help us in our illnesses, and in our trials, and in all of our disappointments. May the Lord help us to see through it, beyond tears, beyond night and dark, the face of our Savior who comes to mean the more to us because of these hurts and misfortunes, that we might be consoled in the God of all comfort.
Now we make our appeal and while we sing the song, somebody to give his heart to the Lord, would you come and stand by me? A family to put his life in the church would you come? At our early morning service we had four this morning, four to come by baptism. Ah, it was so fine!
Should you give your heart to the Lord? Should you place your life in our church? Does the Lord bid you? Then today, would you make it now? Would you come now? In the balcony around, down these stairwells – there are two at the front and two at the back – and on this lower floor, into that aisle and down here to the front, "Pastor, I give you my hand. I give my heart to God." Would you make it now while we stand and while we sing?