How to Help the Hurting with Hope
The Puritans not only preached to comfort the weary and wounded, but admonished those who had close relations with such saints in how to help them. So Timothy Rogers gave instructions to those who had to deal with those under a sense of God’s desertion:
Speak kindly and compassionately to those whom you perceive to be under the sense of God’s anger. Job complains in Job 19:2, “How long will ye vex my soul, and break me into pieces?” And as men who have been long used to poring over their troubles, he tells them how often they had vexed him in verse 3: “These ten times have ye reproached me; ye are not ashamed that ye make yourselves strange to me.” It is very likely that they did not vex him with their words purposely; for, being good men, they could not be so extremely barbarous. They made good sermons, but very sorry and mistaken application. It is easy to trample upon those with sharp and cutting speeches whom God and their sorrows have already thrown into the mire. It is easy for those who are in no trouble to silence and upbraid those who are. As Job says to Eliphaz, “Shall vain words have an end? I also could speak as you do, if your soul were in my soul’s stead. I could heap up words against you, and shake mine head at you. But I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the moving of my lips should assuage your griefs.”
When any of your friends are under spiritual trouble, you must carefully abstain from any passionate or sour word or action that may increase their grief; it will be some small help to them to see that you pity them, though you cannot give them relief. Use all the compassionate and kind words to them that you can, and seek to bind up their sores with a gentle hand. Beware of using any expression that savors of sharpness, reproach, or scorn, for these will, as they did to Job, vex their souls more, and they will be evil in you as well as unpleasant to them. Hence is that complain in Psalm 69:20: “Reproach hath broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness; and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. They gave me also gall for my meat, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” And Psalm 123:4: “Our soul is exceedingly filled with the scorning of those that are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud.”
But above all, abhor the thought of delighting in their miseries. Obadiah 12: “Thou shouldst not have looked on the day of thy brother, in the day that he became a stranger; neither shouldst thou have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; neither shouldst thou have spoken proudly in the day of distress.” And Job 19:28: “Ye should say, ‘Why persecute we him, seeing the root of the matter is in him?’” Roughness and severity are not the ways to help such as are troubled and cast down. He must be learned who speaks a word in season to the weary (Isaiah 50:4). The rarity of such a one is expressed in Job 33:23: “If there be an interpreter, one among a thousand, to show unto man his uprightness.”
Those who, under the character of being ambassadors of the gospel of peace, do nothing but thunder out the law to a wounded and troubled soul, show that they are unlike the Jesus whom they would seem to represent; and they show that they have, in such matters, very little skill and no experience at all. Neither do such do as they would have done to them in the like case. There is a sort of balsam in compassionate and gentle words; though they do not fully perform a cure upon our wounds, yet they make the pain and the smart less; whereas a rough and sour carriage exasperates and heightens them, and is but pouring oil onto the flame.
I beseech you to remember that the foundation of all our peace and comfort is Christ alone, and faith in Him. Mortification, self-denial, and other graces are the superstructure that is laid upon it, but truly all that we can do in great and deep affliction, and sore distresses of soul, is only to look up to Christ as a poor, wounded, bleeding man looks and cries to one who passes on the road for help. And our Savior and Physician is so compassionate that He will regard us, though we are able to say little more than, “Have mercy on us, Thou Son of David.”
Under the prospect of our great infirmities and the manifold imperfections of our duties, and under the sense of our own nothingness and unworthiness, let us humbly take ourselves to Christ. He will not disdain nor slight our approaches to Him, nor will He leave them unattended without some manifestations of reviving grace and mercy.
I have offered very little in this series in the way of personal observation. The writings of the Puritan preachers themselves is of such comfort that I would have merely gotten in the way. May God cause us all to look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and who has sent us the Comforter for our souls. AMEN.
Dr. Don Kistler, founder of the Northampton Press, is an ordained minister presently residing in Orlando. He is the author of, A Spectacle Unto God: The Life and Death of Christopher Love, and Why Read the Puritans Today? The editor of all the Soli Deo Gloria Puritan reprints, Kistler has edited over 150 books and is a contributing author for Justification by Faith ALONE!; Sola Scriptura; Trust and Obey: Obedience and the Christian; Onward, Christian Soldiers: Protestants Affirm the Church; and Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching. Visit donkistler.org.