The Widow Directed to the Widow's God

by John Angell James, 1841


Addressed to widows who are
called to lose their children also.

Soon afterward Jesus went with his disciples to the village of Nain, with a great crowd following him. A funeral procession was coming out as he approached the village gate. The boy who had died was the only son of a widow, and many mourners from the village were with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion. "Don't cry!" he said. Then he walked over to the coffin and touched it, and the bearers stopped. "Young man," he said, "get up." Then the dead boy sat up and began to talk to those around him! And Jesus gave him back to his mother. Luke 7:11-15

The mercy of Christ—as it never lacked objects in this sorrowful world—so it was never wearied in relieving them. One day he healed the servant of the centurion, upon being earnestly solicited to do it, to show what efficacy there is in 'the prayer of faith'; the next day, he restored to life the son of a widow, without being asked, to demonstrate his 'sovereignty in the bestowment of his favors'. One act of beneficence seemed only to make him more ready and more willing to perform another; in this also he is an example to his people, who are not to satisfy themselves with any measure of good works.

But let us attend to the present instance of his miraculous kindness. As he drew near to a small town called Nain, a funeral procession was coming out at the gate, and was slowly moving towards the place of sepulcher, which, with the Jews, was always outside the walls of their cities. It was not 'accidental' that the Savior came up just at that time—but was 'ordained' for the glory of God. Here was a spectacle to move a harder heart than that of Christ. The victim of death was in this instance, a young man, cut off in the flower of his age, and on that account, a loss to society—but a still heavier loss to that venerable form, which, with the attire of a widow, as well as the moans of a bereaved mother, is following the corpse to its last home.

It is a short—but simply touching narrative, which the historian gives, "A funeral procession was coming out as he approached the village gate. The boy who had died was the only son of a widow." When the scripture would convey the most impressive idea of the depth of human sorrow, it uses this form of speech, "As one that is in bitterness for an only son." There it is before us, in that forlorn widow. It is afflictive to see a loving couple following an only child to the grave. But then, they consider, as with tearful eyes they look upon each other, that there might have been a grief still harder to be borne, than even this. "Thank God," they exclaim, "we are spared to each other," and thus they find, even at the opening grave of an only child, a supporting thought in the presence of each other. But here is a case in which there is no one to share the grief, and support the fainting heart of this sorrowful woman—her husband was already in the grave—and her son, her only son, is about to be laid on the coffin of his father. At this juncture the Son of God drew near–

"His heart is made of tenderness,
 His affections melt with love."

The widow's sorrows touched that heart! "When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion. 'Don't cry!' he said." Oh if she was not too much absorbed in grief to heed him, what must she have thought of such an injunction! "Who has cause to weep if it is not I. If tears are ever in season—they are now. Stranger, cease to taunt me with such an exhortation, unless you can restore to my widowed arms, the child that lies sleeping there in death." She knew not who it was that spoke to her—but she shall soon know to her unutterable joy. As the Lord of life and death, he approaches the coffin—and frees the prisoner! "Young man, I say unto you, arise."

That is the voice which shall one day burst every tomb, call up our vanished bodies, from those elements into which they are resolved, and raise them out of their beds of dust—to glory, honor, and immortality. The grave shall restore all it receives, whether that grave be in the sea, in the dry land, in the forest, the wilderness, or in the crowded cemetery. "Why should it be thought a thing incredible, that God shall raise the dead?" It is no harder for the Almighty word, which gave being unto all things, to say, "Let them be restored," than "let them be made." The sleeping youth obeyed the mandate, rose upon the coffin, cast off his grave clothes, and threw himself into the arms of his astonished, enraptured, and overwhelmed mother!

Blessed type of that wondrous scene just alluded to, when at the sound of the last trumpet, this mortal shall put on immortality, and this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and death shall be swallowed up in victory. I attempt not, for who could succeed in the effort, to portray the mother's joy, and her renewed communion with her lost child—perhaps all she could find composure enough to say, was "Rejoice with me, for this my son was dead, and is alive again!"

I now turn to those who are appointed to bear like sorrows, without the immediate expectation, or the hope of her relief. I mean those widows, and such there are, who have been called to part from an only child. Forlorn, indeed, is your situation—desolate your house—bereaved your heart of its last earthly hope. Not to sympathize with you, not to concede the greatness of your calamity, would be the most cruel insensibility, such as I pray God to preserve me from.

But stop, is all dead? Your husband is dead, your parents are dead, your children are dead! But is not God alive—is not Christ alive—is not the Bible alive? Has the tomb swallowed up all? No! Be this your exultation, "The Lord lives and blessed be my rock, and let the God of my salvation be exalted!" True, you cannot expect that the power of Christ will be exerted, at least, until the resurrection, to call your only child from the grave—but the same heart which pitied the widow of Nain, pities you. Jesus sees you as certainly, and compassionates you as tenderly as he did her—although his compassion may not be exerted in precisely the same manner.

Perhaps that only son was the last thing that stood between you and the Savior—to detain your heart from him. You had not been weaned from the world until he was taken. You still sought your happiness 'on earth'. Your whole soul was bound up in that child. Even for God and Christ, you had no supreme love, while he lived—and as there was a purpose of eternal mercy to be fulfilled, by the death of that child, it pleased God to remove him. You would not come to Christ while that obstacle was in the way, and therefore God displaced it—now, the way to the cross is all clear. The Savior has come to the widow, not indeed to raise her son—but to save her soul—not to say to him, "Arise young man;" but to say to you, "Arise, and be saved." If by the loss of your only son, you should gain the salvation of your immortal soul, you will find a present solace for your sorrows, and an eternal source of gratitude that they were sent.

But what are you to do without him? Let God answer that question; "I will never leave you, nor forsake you." Your child was your comforter. Be it so—but is there not a divine comforter, who frequently reserves his choicest consolations, for the most disconsolate seasons? Your son was your support. This, I admit, is trying to faith and confidence in God. A dependant widow, to lose the only child on whom she leaned for support, seems the last extremity of human destitution. It is in such extremities God loves to put forth his power. He often brings us into a very wilderness, to show us his own all-sufficiency! He strips us of the last comfort, and then says to us, "Now trust in me for everything." "But now, O Israel, the Lord who created you says—Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior!" Isaiah 43:1-3.

There are other considerations which should induce submission, even to your melancholy lot. Heavy trials are sometimes sent to prevent heavier ones still. There are calamities, worse than death; either our own death, or the death of our nearest friends. It is better to die in honor, than to live in sin and disgrace! How many widows are there whose only sons are breaking their mother's hearts by their misconduct? Is not many a mother at this moment exclaiming thus, in her solitude, O my child, would God the grave had covered you, while you were yet in good reputation, and comparative innocence! Alas! that you should have lived to disgrace yourself, and bring down your widowed mother's grey hairs in sorrow to the grave!"

I remember to have read, or heard somewhere, the following anecdote. A widowed mother had an only son, who while yet a youth, was seized with an alarming illness. Her heart was in the greatest tumult of grief at the prospect of his death. She sent for her minister to pray for her child's recovery. It was his 'preservation from death' that was to be the subject of the minister's petitions, rather than the mother's submission to the will of God. Like a faithful pastor, he begged her to control her excessive grief and solicitude, and resign her son to God's disposal—but to no avail—it seemed as if she neither could nor would give him up. Prayer was to pluck him from the borders of the grave, whether God were willing to spare him or not. Her son lived—the mother with ecstatic joy, received him back, as from the borders of the tomb. He grew to adult age. But it was to die in circumstances ten thousand times more afflictive to the mother's heart, than his earlier death would have been. As he came to manhood he turned out profligate, extravagant, dishonest. His crimes became atrocious—he was detected, tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged! And seven years from the day when that minister prayed for his life, he was visited in prison, by his wretched mother—on the day of his execution!

Oh! widow is there not a heavier calamity than the death, in ordinary circumstances, of an only son? I would not for a moment suggest that it is probable your son would have come to this—but it is possible! Or if not to this, yet to something that would have embittered all your future days. Would not this distressed woman, look with envy upon others whose children had died in honor and good reputation, and think their affliction not worthy of the name, compared with hers? Would she not look back with deep remorsefulness upon her own rebellious grief and unwillingness to give up her child at the will of God?

Before I close this chapter, I would suggest, that as the death of an only child removes from your widowed heart, the last hope or object of a terrestrial nature, which seemed to give interest to earth, or occupation upon it—you should look for objects of another kind—even such as are spiritual, heavenly, and divine! Seek, then, not only for a richer enjoyment of personal religion, as the chief source of consolation—but cherish a warmer zeal for its diffusion, as the best and happiest occupation that can employ your faculties, or your time. Now that God has taken from you your son, adopt the cause of his Son. Consecrate yourself afresh to the interests of evangelical piety. What have you now to do on earth—what is left for you to do—what can you find to do—but distribute by your property, if you possess much—and by your personal labors, if you are in health—distribute the benefits of the gospel, the blessings of salvation, to those who are destitute of them!

Live, now, wholly for God, and the salvation of the human race. Soften the weight of your cross—by making known the glory of the cross of Christ. Instead of retiring into seclusion—to nourish your woe—to leave your sorrow to prey upon your heart—or to let life fret itself away amid the indolence of grief—rouse your spirit for holy action! Let your loss be the gain of others, by your employing your time and resources for their benefit. Freed from every tie that bound your soul to personal or relative objects, feel at liberty for doing good to others. Active benevolence is the best balm for such wounds as yours! Allow yourself no leisure for dark and melancholy thoughts to collect, or for busy memory to torment you with distressing recollections. Your departed child does not need your property—give it to God. Your departed child does not need your time, nor your solicitude—give them to God. In pitying the sorrows of others, you will find a sweet solace for your own. Occupy your lonely heart, and hours as lonely as your heart—with projects of mercy, and purposes of beneficence. If your affliction shall lead to such a result, you may then say of active benevolence, that it is one of the best reliefs that mourners have, and makes their sorrows blessed!