The One Who Stands By
by J. R. Miller, 1912
Jesus spoke to his disciples of the Holy Spirit as the Comforter. We think of a comforter, as one who gives consolation in trouble. There is much sorrow in the world, and there is always need of those who understand the art of comforting. There is constant need for true comforters. Barnabas is called, a "son of consolation." No doubt he was a sunshiny man. No other one, can be a consoler. When Barnabas went into a sick room, we are quite sure his presence was a blessing. It is a great thing to be son of consolation. Christ himself was a wonderful comforter. The Holy Spirit is a comforter. He brings the gentleness and healing of divine love, to hurt hearts.
But the best scholars agree that "comforter" is not the word which most adequately gives the sense of the original word which our Lord used. It is Paraclete. It is used only a few times, and only by John. In his Gospel, it is translated Comforter. But, in John's First Epistle, it is translated Advocate. Advocate is perhaps the more accurate translation—not merely a comforter who consoles us in trouble, and makes us stronger to endure sorrow—but one who stands for us. The word Advocate means one who stands by; strictly, one who stands by the side of another.
The thought "one who stands by" is very suggestive. This is one of the best definitions of a friend. He must be one who always stands by. He may not always be close to you, always manifesting affection in some practical way, always speaking words of encouragement. He may be miles away in space—but you know that he is always true to you, your real friend, wherever he may be. He always stands by you. He may not be able to do many things for you. Indeed it is but little that a friend, even your best friend, really can do at any time for you. He cannot lift away your load. Each one must bear his own burden, meet his own life's questions, make his own decisions, endure his own troubles, fight his own battles, accept his own responsibilities. The office of a friend is not to make life easy for you. But he always stands by you. If ever you need him in any way and turn to him, he will not fail you nor disappoint you. If you do not see him for years, nor even hear from him, and if you then should go to him with some appeal—you will find him unchanged, the same strong, faithful friend as always. Though your circumstances have changed, from wealth to poverty, from popular favor to obscurity, from strength to weakness, still your friend is the same, stands by you as he did before, meets you with the old cordiality, the old kindness, the old helpfulness. Your friend is one who stands by you through everything.
Such a friend the Holy Spirit is. Jesus said the Father would give "another Comforter," that is, another one like himself. Jesus an advocate for his disciples, who always stood by them, their comrade, their defender, their shelter in danger. His friendship was unchanged through the years. His disciples failed him, grieved him, disappointed him—but when they came back to him they found him the same, waiting to receive them. Jesus said they would receive another comforter when he was gone. He was not really going away from them. They would not see any face, would not feel any hand—but he would be there, as he always had been—ever standing by. They would lose nothing by his going away. In the Paraclete, he would still be with them and would still be their Comforter, their Comrade.
Think what it was to them to have Jesus for a personal friend. There never was such another Friend. Think of his gentleness, his tenderness, his sympathy, his kindness, the inspiration of his love. Think of the shelter he was to them, the strength, the encouragement. Then remember what he said—that the Holy Spirit would be "another Comforter," one like himself, and that it would be more to them to have the Spirit for their Friend and Comforter—than if Jesus had stayed with them.
The Holy Spirit is everything to us—which Jesus was to his personal friends. He is our Advocate. He always stands by, and for us. We speak of the love of the Father. We are his children. He comforts us with his wonderful tenderness. We talk and sing of the love of Christ. We do not speak or sing so much of the love of the Spirit. Yet the Spirit's love is just as wonderful as the Father's or the Son's! For one thing, he loves us enough to come and live in our hearts. Does that seem a little thing? We speak a great deal, especially at Christmas time, of the condescension of the eternal Son of God in coming to earth, to be born in a stable and cradled in a manger. Is it a less wonderful condescension, for the Holy Spirit to make your heart his home—and to live there as your guest? Think what a place a human heart is! Think of the unholy thoughts and desires, the impure things, the unlovingness, the jealousy, the bitterness, the hate—all the sin of our hearts. Then think of the love of the Spirit—which makes him willing to live in such a place, in order to cleanse us and make us godly and holy! The love of the Spirit is shown in his wondrous patience with us in all our sinfulness, while he lives in us and deals with us in the culturing of our Christian life.
We speak of the patient love of Christ with his disciples the three years he was with them, having them in his family, at his table, enduring their ignorance, their dullness, their narrowness, their petty strifes, their unfaithfulnesses. It was a marvelous love—which never grew weary of them, which loved on in spite of all that so tried his love. We never can understand the depth of the love of Christ, in enduring all that he endured in saving the world. But think also of the love of the Holy Spirit in what he suffers in his work with us. A young Christian had a friend whom she had long loved deeply. She had regarded this friend as like an angel—in the truth and beauty of her life. She never had had a shadow of doubt concerning her. Then she learned that this girl had been leading a double life for years. The discovery appalled her! At first she refused to believe it—but the evidence was so unmistakable that she could not but believe it, and it almost killed her. She wrote: "I understand now a little of the bitter sorrow of my Savior in Gethsemane, as he drank the cup of his people's sins." If a human friend can be broken-hearted over the sin of a friend, how the Holy Spirit must suffer in his nourishing of us, in his wondrous brooding over us. How he must grieve when we fall into sin!