The Widow Directed to the Widow's God

by John Angell James, 1841


A pattern for aged widows

"Anna, a prophetess, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, and was very old. She was a widow, for her husband had died when they had been married only seven years. She was now eighty-four years old. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer. She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about Jesus to everyone who had been waiting for the promised King to come and deliver Jerusalem." Luke 2:36-38

The Holy Spirit of God, while he passes over in silence the names of mighty kings and potentates, with all their civil and military achievements, their battles and their victories—writes the life, and pronounces the eulogy of a poor and godly aged widow, of whom the world knew little and cared less—to preserve her memory to the end of time, and to show how grateful to him such a kind of life is. Anna was one among the few who, in that dark degenerate age, preserved the light of true piety from being quite extinct, and who waited for the Messiah. Having lost her husband, after a short union of seven years, she continued a widow ever afterwards; and was eighty-four years of age, at the time of our Lord's birth. Gifted with the spirit of prophecy, she delivered the messages of God to the few who were disposed to receive them, and spoke of him that was to come—who would bring deliverance for his people.

Her abode was in one of the dwellings which surrounded the temple, and her sole employment was devotion. She had long been dead to the world, and the world to her; and, with her heart in heaven, she had neither interest nor hope upon earth. It was her privilege, as it was of good old Simeon, before she closed her eyes on earthly things, to see Him of whom the prophets spoke. Having uttered her gratitude that the light had not departed from her eyes, until she had seen the Lord, she confessed him before others, and commended him to their regards. Happy saint, to see this new-born Savior as the star of your evening—you have lived to good purpose, in thus having your existence prolonged, to welcome to our world, him who came to be its Redeemer—and now what can induce a wish to remain longer away from your Father's house? You may be willing to lay down your aged body, and your widowhood, and go to that world, where you shall flourish in the vigor of immortal youth!

And now, leaving Anna, I turn to the aged widow, who has little to do but to wait and watch for the coming of her Lord. Mother in Israel, I address you with sentiments of reverent respect, while I call upon you to indulge the reflections, and perform the duties, appropriate to your circumstances. Your age, connected with your widowhood, renders you an object of deep concern. You have outlived, not only the husband—but the friends of your youth. As regards those who started with you in life, you are alone in the world; and you sometimes feel a sadness come over you, because there are none who can talk with you of the scenes of your childhood and youth—which are as a tale written only in your own memory. Spend the evening of your days, in adoring the God that has kept you thus long, and in admiring the varied displays of his attributes, and the rich and seasonable communications of his grace, which it has been your privilege to enjoy. From what dangers he has rescued you—amid what temptations he has delivered you—through what difficulties he has conducted you—under what trials he has supported you—and what mercies he has showered upon you—during a widowhood of thirty, forty, or fifty years! How much of his power, wisdom, patience, faithfulness, and love—have you seen in all these varied scenes, through which you have been called to pass!

Let it be the employment and delight of your soul, in the long evening of your life, to retrace, with gratitude and admiration, the wondrous course and journey of your existence. When by infirmity of body, you are shut out from the public ordinances of true religion, and the communion of the saints; when through failing sight you can no longer read the Word of God, and you can only think upon its contents, dwell upon the past with thanksgiving and love. When you became a widow, perhaps early in life, you trembled, and asked, "How am I to be sustained?" and lo! there you are—a widow of seventy or eighty years, acknowledging to the glory of God, that he has never left you, nor forsaken you!

And now, during the remainder of your days, and of your widowhood, withdraw your attentions from this world, and prepare for that glory, on the verge of which you are now living! Almost every tie to earth is cut, or hangs very loose about your heart. Heaven has been accumulating its treasures, and multiplying its attractions for many years, and earth growing poorer and poorer, until one would suppose it has scarcely anything now left to make you, as you are about to leave it—cast one lingering longing look behind. Let it be seen that you are dwelling on the borderland, waiting and longing to pass over to your eternal home. Let it not distress you, if you cannot be so vigorous in the service of God, as you once were. Do not be cast down, if you cannot hear with the same attention—or pray with the same length, fixedness of thought, and fervor of emotion—or that you cannot remember with the same power and accuracy, as you once did. It is the decay of nature, rather than the decline of grace—and your divine Lord will make the same kind excuse for you, which he once did for his slumbering disciples, and say, "The spirit indeed is willing—but the flesh is weak!"

Be it your aim, in a peculiar sense—to live by faith. You must have been long since weaned, or ought to have been, from living upon frames and feelings. Your frames and feelings have far less of liveliness than they once had, and you must be brought to a simpler and firmer reliance upon the faithfulness and unchangeableness of God. You must rest upon the simple promise, and rely upon the pure and unmixed word. Aged saint, believe, believe—hold on to the end, by faith. By faith lay hold of God's strength, to support your faltering steps, and sustain you to the end.

Be as cheerful as you can—for the smiles of an aged Christian, happy in the Lord, are as beautiful as the rays of the setting sun, of a midsummer's day. Yes, though an aged widow, apparently forlorn and desolate—send forth notes of cheerful praise. Like good old Anna, who when she came in and saw the Lord, gave thanks, and spoke of Christ to those around—so you should likewise do. Encourage the younger widows to put their trust in God. Tell them how he has appeared to sustain you. Bear testimony for him, and remind them, that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Let it appear to all who come round you, that though God sees fit to detain you upon earth—your affections have gone on before you into heaven; that your heart is dead to the world—though your body lives in it; that though you are willing to wait all the days of your appointed time, until your change comes—that still the coming of the change will be a joyful moment. It is an unfitting sight, to behold an aged widow clinging to earth, even when its attractions, one would think, are gone; and loving the world, when its charms are all faded, and it is but the skeleton of what it was to her.

But, at the same time, let there be no impatience to be gone. Your husband is dead; perhaps your children also, and there be few in whom your heart takes a deep interest or concern. You can see no reason why you should linger and loiter another hour in the world, which is one vast sepulcher, where all that was dear to you lies buried—and why, therefore, should such a tomb as this world—be your dwelling place? Just because it is God's will to keep you here! Let there be no peevish wishes for death—no fretful complaints of life. It may be you are dependent, and are afraid you are a burden to your friends; and this adds to your impatience to be gone—but strive against it. God loves his children too well to keep them one moment longer from his house and home above—than is best for his glory—and their happiness!