As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you (Isaiah 66:13).
In these homely words we have one of the sweetest and tenderest pictures of the character of God. And that revelation is not in the New Testament, but in the Old! In the New Testament, Jesus teaches us to think of God as our Father. But here in the Old Testament, God is likened unto a comforting mother.
The Jews have a sweet saying to the effect that “God could not be everywhere, so He made mothers.” And this is true, for a loving mother is God’s tenderest image in humanity.
A mother is a mother still,
The holiest thing alive.
Mother love on earth, however, is but a pale reflection of the feeling within the heart of God, as with unfailing tenderness He comforts the weary, wounded spirit of His child.
God combines in Himself all the virtues of a perfect character. The best are usually lacking in one or more graces. God possesses them all. Manly virtues and womanly graces meet in Him. All that is best, holiest, sweetest, and most gracious in a noble man, and also in purehearted women, can be found in the Lord, who is the source of all. Male and female created He them, and the characteristic feature of both are resident in His loving heart. He fuses together in His own adorable Person the strong, protective love of the man, and the patient, tender, brooding, comforting, sacrificial love of the woman. John Oxenham expresses this beautifully in his The Father-Motherhood:
Father and mother, Thou
In Thy full being art—
Justice with mercy intertwined,
Judgment exact with love combined,
Neither complete apart.
And so we know that when
Our service is weak and vain,
The Father-justice would condemn,
The Mother-love Thy wrath will stem
And our reprieval gain.
It is the woman who suffers most and who can hide her feelings more effectively than a man. She it is who struggles against much heartache, bleeding sorrow, and even sin, and who in the hour of approaching death strives to arrest the inevitable doom creeping over some loved treasure. And how like God this is who created true motherhood! How silently He suffers, bearing the pain of rejection and desertion! How He strives in a thousand ways to avert the eternal doom facing souls and win them to Himself! Truly, His is a love that will not let us go. Later in this same prophecy, Isaiah again speaks of the manner in which the love of God transcends all human love: “Can a woman forget her sucking child? ... Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee” (Isaiah 49:15). Doubtless it was this tender verse Robert Burns had in mind as he closed his lament for James, Earl of Glencairn:
The bridegroom may forget his bride
Who made his wedded life yestreen;
The monarch may forget his crown
That on his head an hour has been;
The mother may forget the child
That smiles sae sweetly on her knee,
But I'll remember thee, Glencairn,
And a' that thou has done for me!
Mother is the queen of her home. The house is dull and cold when she is absent. Her presence therein means comfort, joy, help and love. It is worse still to have a heart and home without God. And yet this “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4) is not so very far away from any one of us. Ever near to soothe and to sympathize, He lifts His troubled child into His everlasting arms, and silently folds around him the deep sense of Himself, and so the heart is comforted.
Of course, this aspect of God’s character bids us remember that the very grace we seek from Him depends upon our thoughts of Him and of His care. So many treat Him as a kind of convenience. He is a tower they run to for safety when the storms of life appear. The tragedy is, however, that as soon as the storms blow by, many depart from the tower, and forget God until the storms break afresh.
How different in turning to God as our Mother! And mark, the prophet is not thinking of a little child, but of a grown man heartsore and broken, fleeing back for the comfort of his mother’s presence. “As a man whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.” Many a man weary and broken by a pitiless world, with things against him, and fortunes ruined, or with dear ones gone, or faith almost giving way, or entangled in the net of sin, has retreated in such dark, lone hours to the mother who gave him being. Many a man has crept back home like a wounded animal and has cast himself upon the mother love that warmed his heart in childhood days.
And here is God, the source of our being, the ancient home to which all belong, offering Himself to us as the divine, eternal Mother.
The watchful mother tarries nigh
Though sleep has closed her infant’s eye;
For should he wake, and find her gone,
She knows she could not bear his moan.
But I am weaker than a child,
And Thou art more than mother dear;
Without Thee, heaven were but a wild;
Without Thee, earth a desert drear.
The child’s first teacher is his mother. From her lips he receives his earliest and most sacred lessons of God and life and duty. When discouraged, mother’s words comfort and inspire. When disobedient, her remonstrance brings penitence. When in doubt, her counsel leads to firm resolve. Think of the young men who, amid the strong temptations of city life, have been encouraged to keep straight by the remembrance of prayers and words they learned at mother’s knee!
Yes, and is it not true that to a mother’s heart her child never seems to grow up? To her, he is always the child who nestled near to her side. He may pass out into the world and meet honor or disgrace, but in her imagination he is always the little form that clung to her knee and ran to her for comfort, and whose little aches and pains she soothed away.
The grown man, broken in the battle of life or by his own sin, may return to his mother, but it is not the grown man she sees, only her child! Thus it is with God. To Him, we can never be anything else but children—weak, foolish, inexperienced and erring. God comforts as a mother by His gracious words. He utters “comfortable words.” He exercises a mother’s pity over our sin and folly, makes every allowance for our circumstances, and then, with His own heart, pleads for us. What a pathetic scene that was when, as Jesus watched the retreating forms of those who were unwilling to face the cost of discipleship, He said to His own, “Will ye also go away?” How touching was the reply: “To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.”
When in trouble, the mother receives her child without asking many questions. A mother’s intuition tells her what is wrong. It is enough for her to know that her child is in distress. She may guess much, and fear more, but comfort is her first consideration. Explanations can wait.
How like the motherhood of God! God does not probe the wound when there is power to heal. How beautifully tender is the mother comfort of God! He asks no questions, utters no reproach, demands no explanation. He has not the scrutiny of a detective, but the sympathy of a devoted parent.
One phase of this silent comfort is what Dr. Carroll calls the mother’s “inarticulation.” When a child flees to his mother for consolation, with what or how does mother comfort her distressed one? Not with many words which often increase the child’s grief. Mother is wiser, and catching up the child bends over him and smothers him with kisses of love. And in the silence, his poignant pain is healed. Silent sympathy is a soothing balm. It was not anything mother said, but simply her own soothing touch and presence that brought relief.
Thus it is with God who with a strange, inarticulate comfort calms the troubled breast. He asks no question, strikes no wounds. We carry to Him our torturing doubt, worldly loss, stab of heart, deep gashes of disappointment, ruin of sin within the soul, and He comforts us with His forgiving presence. What we weep over may remain, yet, in carrying all to the mother-heart of God, we are comforted. We kneel before Him but we cannot see His radiant form; we speak to Him but receive no articulate answer. Yet we leave His presence calmed and consoled as a child folded within the breast in the silence of love.
A wise child speaks out all his joys, sorrows and burdens without reserve into that most sacred confessional box, his mother’s ear. And the need of a confidant is not only characteristic of childhood: it belongs to us all. This is why those heartbroken men came back from the grave and “went and told Jesus.”
But to return to the child. Think of him as he scampers home from school and places his books in mother’s hands, finding the chief award for his diligence in mother’s approving smile! And, further, it is because of her gift of sympathy that he turns to her in pain and sorrow.
And God offers us the same motherly tenderness and sympathy. He heals, gladdens, sympathizes, loves, cares as no mother could. Does He not give Himself the attractive name of Comforter? Yet is it not strange to think that men will seek for comfort almost anywhere else than in the love of God? Can we not detect the sob of unwanted love in the lament over Jerusalem, where the sympathizing Jesus uses the figure of the mother bird? “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, ... how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!”
Men try to escape from sorrow by drowning it in drink, in seeking a change of circumstances or surroundings, in harder work, in eager pursuits, in the distractions of sin and pleasure. And all the while God stands open to every sufferer. This truth regarding His motherhood means that He strives to soothe, relieve, cleanse, emancipate. What fools we are to cut ourselves adrift from the God who made all mothers, and who waits to do far more for us than the best and holiest mother is capable of doing!
When we come to manhood and womanhood, and, it may be, have children of our own, how often we have cause to remember what mother said to us: “But mother must punish you”! That surely is the sorest test of mother love. Above everything else, she wants her children to be good men and women when they grow up; and, though it causes her a sore heart, she will not shrink from correcting the willfulness and disobedience of those she loves so dearly. When Moses tried to interpret to the children of Israel the meaning of their trials and wanderings “through that great and terrible wilderness,” this is what he said: “Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee” (Deuteronomy 8:5).
This “chastisement” is not necessarily punishment; at least, it is, as we are learning to say today, “corrective punishment.” “My son,” says the writer to the Hebrews, in the language of the King James Version, “despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him, for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.... If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons” (Hebrews 12:5-7).
This makes sense of life, for character, life’s choicest gift, is not to be won any other way. “We glory in tribulations also,” says Paul the Apostle, “knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts” (Romans 5:3-5). That is Christian character.
In a troubled chapter in England’s checkered history, Samuel Rutherford learned that secret, and Mrs. Cousin captured it in her immortal hymn, The Sands of Time.
With mercy and with judgment
My web of time He wove,
And aye the dews of sorrow
Were lustered by His love;
I'll bless the hand that guided,
I'll bless the heart that planned,
When throned where glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.
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