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J. R. Miller, 1912
"Comfort, comfort My people. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and announce to her that her time of servitude is over, her iniquity has been pardoned, and she has received from the Lords hand double for all her sins." Isaiah 40:2
There is need always for tender words. Always there is sorrow. Everywhere hearts are breaking. There is no one who is not made happier by gentle speech. Yet there is in the world, a dearth of tender words. Some people scarcely ever speak them. Their tones are harsh. There seems no kindness in their hearts. They are gruff, severe, faultfinding. Even in the presence of suffering and sorrow, they evince no tenderness. "Speak tenderly" is a divine exhortation. That is the way God wants us to speak to each other. That is the way God himself ever speaks to his children. The Bible is full of tender words. We would say that in view of the wickedness of men, their ingratitude, the base return they make for God's goodness, the way they stain the earth with sin—God would be angry with them every day. But instead of anger, only love is shown.
He is ever speaking in words of loving kindness. He makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends the rain on the just and the unjust. Every message he sends is love. All his thoughts toward his children are peace. The most wonderful expression of his heart toward the world, was in the giving of Christ. He was the Word, the revealer of the heart of God. He never spoke so tenderly to men—as when he sent his Son. Who can measure the comfort that was given to the world in Jesus Christ? Never an unkind word fell from his lips, never a frown was seen on his brow. Think of the tender words he spoke in his mother's home. He was a sinless child, never giving way to angry words or violent tempers. His youth and manhood were without a trace of unlovingness.
We also know what he was during his public ministry—having all power—but gentle as a woman; able to call legions of angels to defend himself—but without re-sentient, returning only gracious love for cruelty and bitter hate. Think of the tender words he spoke—to the sick who were brought to him for healing, to the mourners sitting beside their dead, to the weary ones who came to him to find the warmth of love in his presence. The ministry of his gracious words as they were uttered by his lips and fell into sad and discouraged hearts—was marvelous in its influence.
In his life, Christ set an example for us. He wants us ever to be speaking tender words. We shall not meet a man today in our going about, who will not need the tender word that we are able to speak. The gift of speech is marvelous in its possibilities. Man is the only one of God's creatures to whom this gift is given. This is one of the qualities that makes him Godlike. It is never meant to be perverted—it was intended always to be beautiful and pleasing. Dumbness is very sad—when one cannot speak. But would not one better be dumb—than use his divine gift of speech in anger to hurt others?
Yet how many are those who never speak—but to give pain? The hurt that is done any fairest day by words, is incalculable. War is terrible. Who can describe the ruin wrought by shot and shell rained upon a city of homes, leaving devastation everywhere. Words may not lacerate, mangle like the missiles of war—but they may be almost as deadly in the cruel work they do. God wants us to use our speech to speak only and ever tenderly. When this message was first given to the prophets, it had a definite meaning. The people were in sore straits. They were suffering. They were in sorrow because of the judgments visited upon the land and upon the holy city. Jerusalem lay in ruins, a city through whose breached walls all the winds of heaven blew mournfully across her forsaken floors. And the heart of Jerusalem, which was with her people in exile, was like the city—broken and defenseless. In that far-off, unsympathetic land it lay open to the alien; tyrants forced their idols upon it. The people tortured it with their jests." It was to these people in sorrow and distress, that God bade his heralds go with divine comfort.
The words were remarkable for their tenderness. The heralds were to go to carry comfort to these broken-hearted ones. The words, "Speak tenderly," have in them therefore a divine sobbing of love. God cares that men and women and children about us are sad. He knows their distress and pities them. He would have us go out to them in his name, carrying in our hearts and upon our lips the echo of his compassion and yearning. It is our privilege to represent God himself in our relations with people about us. How can the gentleness of God be passed to those who are being hurt by the world's cruelty and unkindness, if not through us, God's children? Who will carry God's sympathy and impart God's comfort to those who are sorrowing and broken-hearted, if we do not? God needs us to be his messengers, his interpreters. If we do not faithfully and truly represent him, how will people in their suffering and distress know his gracious interest in them and his compassionate feeling toward them? If we fail in showing kindness to those who are in need, if we treat them with coldness, withholding our hands from the ministries of love which we might have performed for them, we are not only robbing them of the blessing which we ought to have given them—but we are also failing to be true to God, are misrepresenting him, giving men false conceptions of his character and his disposition toward them.
Men learn what God is, and what his attitude toward them is—only when his own friends are faithful to all their duties and responsibilities. When one in trouble receives no kindness, no help; when one in sorrow receives no sympathy and comfort, it is not because God does not care—but because some child of God neglects his duty.
A story is told of a child sitting sadly one day on a door-step when a kindly man was passing by. "Are you God?" the child asked. The man was struck by the strange question. "No," he answered. "I am not God—but God sent me here, I think." "Weren't you a long time coming?" the boy asked. Then he told the passer-by that when his mother had died a little while ago, she told him that God would care for him. The boy had been watching for God to come. Too often not God—but those he sends, are long in coming to speak for God or to bring the relief or comfort God sends by them. People in distress, who have learned to believe that God will provide for them, are ofttimes compelled to wait long, until their hearts grow almost faint before the blessing comes. Sometimes they begin to wonder whether after all God really hears prayers and keeps his promises; while the delay is not with God—but with us who are so long coming.
"Speak tenderly." We need to train ourselves to remember that we are God's messengers, that it is ours to be intent to any bidding of our Master and to go quickly with any message of relief or cheer, or comfort, which he gives us to carry. We must not linger or loiter. The need may be urgent. The person may be near death. Or the distress may be so keen that it cannot be endured a moment longer. What if the sufferer should die before we reach him? We are sent to give comfort to one who is in the anguish of bereavement. We hesitate and shrink from carrying our message. Meanwhile the bereft one has come back from the grave to the desolated home and the emptiness and silence. God's heart is full of compassion and he has blessed comfort for his child—but there is no one to go with the message.
There are Bibles in the sad home—but there is no human messenger to speak the tender words. It needs a gentle heart to bring in tender and loving words and the warm touch of comfort which is needed. We fail God while we do not hasten on his errand to our friend who sits uncomforted in the shadows. We try to excuse ourselves by saying that we ought not to break in on our friend's sorrow, that we should make our condolences formal, that it would be crude and could only add to the pain if we were to try to speak of the sorrow. This may be true of the world of people in general—but there is always one to whom God gives the message, "Go and speak tenderly," one who will fail God if he does not carry the message, leaving the heart to break when God wanted it to be relieved and comforted.
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