Rev. Kleyn is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Edgerton, Minnesota.
God’s people are always in need of words of comfort. God knows that. For that reason He commands the church, and more specifically ministers of the gospel, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem!” (Is. 40:1, 2a.) God says: “Don’t speak harsh words to My people—words of wrath and judgment. Those are words for the ungodly and wicked. Speak instead words of love and mercy and compassion. Speak words that will lift My people up. Speak words that will dispel their fears and give them hope and joy and peace!”
God knows we need comfort on account of all the troubles of life. We need comfort because many are the afflictions of the righteous. As believers, we face countless struggles. We experience much sadness and heartache on account of sickness, pain, loneliness, aging, death, unrest in the world, evil in society, troubles in the church, and so on. The need for comfort is always there, and always great.
But God knows we need comfort especially on account of sin. He knows we are involved in a fierce spiritual battle. We fight against spiritual wickedness in high places. We are constantly attacked and oppressed by Satan and his allies. We are engaged in a daily warfare against great evils, powerful temptations, and every sin.
The reason why this spiritual war is so real is because of our sinful natures. That sinful nature in each of us wants us to give in. It makes all that Satan and the world offers attractive to us. And often we do give in. We fall into sin. We commit iniquity. We become guilty of hatred of and rebellion against God and our neighbors. We sin daily in thoughts and words and deeds.
Sin is the greatest misery we have. That is true especially because sin itself makes us miserable. Just think of the guilt and shame and heartache it causes. Think also of the terrible consequences sin has in the church, in marriages, in families, in friendships—and some of these consequences remain until we die.
But sin is also our greatest misery because it is the root cause of all the afflictions and troubles of life. If there were no sin, there would be no sickness, or aging, or pain, or death. If there were no sin, there would be no hatred, or fighting, or unkindness. If there were no sin, there would be no grief, or sadness, or tears. But sin exists. And because it does, so do all the miseries that are caused by sin.
Have you ever been miserable? Are you miserable now? And have you ever wondered why you are miserable? The reason is sin. You are miserable because of your sinful nature. You are miserable because of the actual sins you have committed. You are miserable because you are guilty before God on account of your sinfulness and sins, deserving to be eternally forsaken by Him. You are miserable because your sins bring all kinds of grief and shame into your life. You are miserable because you cannot rescue yourself from your sin and guilt. You are miserable because all the troubles in your life are caused by sin. Our misery in this life is great. And all that misery is on account of sin.
So great and terrible is this misery that at times the believer cries out, “O wretched man that I am as a miserable sinner! If only there were no sin! If only I didn’t sin! Then all would be well!” And that is the truth!
God comes to His people in their misery and proclaims comfort to them.
That comfort is not that sin and all its evil effects will be removed from our lives. The comfort is not that our earthly lives will go so smoothly and so well that we will always be able to smile and be happy. That will never happen this side of the grave. Our lives will always be characterized by afflictions. And our lives will always involve, until our dying day, the constant spiritual battle against the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. We are, after all, the church militant on earth!
What is the comfort that God proclaims? It is that your sins are forgiven. God proclaims to His troubled and sin-burdened saints: “Your iniquity is pardoned! Your transgressions are blotted out! You are freed from guilt! You are delivered from eternal damnation! I see no iniquity in Jacob, and no perverseness in Israel! All your sins are gone—cast behind My back, thrown into the depths of the sea, removed from Me as far as the east is from the west!”
Nothing else can compare to that. Nothing else can give comfort as that can. We can think, sometimes, that we would feel comforted if only the circumstances of our earthly lives were different. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we would feel comforted if we could have and enjoy health, earthly riches, and the pleasures of life. But these things will not comfort. They are merely earthly and temporal. The comfort we need is the forgiveness of sins.
Forgiveness comforts because it means that what causes us to be so miserable has been dealt with. When sin is forgiven, it is gone. And if sin is gone, there is no misery. There is no burden of guilt. There is no fear of punishment. There is no wrath of God before which we tremble, for God is merciful and gracious, loving and kind.
When our sins are forgiven, we also have comfort concerning all the afflictions of life. We have that comfort because we know God’s favor rests upon us. We know, therefore, that God is not punishing us for our sins through the troubles He sends. Why not? Because our Lord Jesus Christ was punished for us. Thus the troubles of life are sent by God in His love and for our eternal good. Our afflictions cannot destroy us. God turns them to our profit.
This is comfort that God proclaims to us.
God proclaims it through the gospel as that gospel is written on every page of Scripture. And God proclaims it to us in the gospel that is preached. God tells us, in clear and definite language, that He has forgiven our sins and that we are, in His eyes, spotlessly clean and pure.
In proclaiming this to us, God also proclaims the sure basis for our comfort. He tells us that His wrath against us for sin was placed on our Lord Jesus Christ. God’s own Son shed His blood for us and was punished in our stead. By His precious blood He has fully satisfied for our sins. We are, in God’s eyes, no longer guilty—not for our original sin, nor for our actual sins.
And then God also sees to it that we receive this comfort in our hearts and souls. He sends His Spirit to dwell in us and to work repentance and faith in our hearts. Thus, when God says, “I have forgiven all your sins in My Son,” we believe that Word of God. Believing it, we have comfort.
What blessed comfort! We sin, but we are not punished for those sins. There is no punishment left, for it has all been forever dealt with by the sacrifice of the Son of God in our flesh! God will never punish us. Because of Christ, He cannot.
Do you know your miseries? Do you sense your need for comfort? Then hear and believe what God proclaims. Believe! Be comforted! And rejoice!