The Widow Directed to the Widow's God

by John Angell James, 1841


"They all know that the the hand of the Lord has done this. In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind." Job 12:9-10

"Be still, and know that I am God." Such is the admonition which comes to you—and which comes from heaven. It is God himself who has bereaved you, through whatever second causes he has inflicted the blow. Not even a sparrow falls to the ground without his knowledge—much less a rational and immortal creature. He has the keys of death, and never for a moment entrusts them out of his hand—the door of the sepulcher is never unlocked but by himself. Though men die and drop as unheeded by many, as the fall of the autumnal leaf in the pathless desert—they die not by chance. Every instance of mortality, that for example, which has reduced you to your present sorrowful condition, is an individual decision of infinite wisdom. Whether therefore the death of your husband was slow or sudden; at home or abroad; by accident or disease—it was appointed, and all its circumstances arranged by God. "Be still, therefore, and know that he is God, who does his will among the armies of heaven, and the inhabitants of earth, nor allows any one to say unto him, What are you doing?" Bow down before him with unqualified submission—and find relief in acquiescence to His wise and sovereign will.

But what is submission to God? It is not a stoical apathy; a state of mind that scorns to feel any emotion; a proud refusal to pay the tribute of a tear to nature's God, when he demands it. No! Chastened grief is allowed—is called for! Sorrow is one of the natural affections of the soul—not to be uprooted, but cultivated. If we did not feel our losses, we would not be the better for them. Gentle and well-directed grief, softens our hard hearts, and prepares them for the impression of divine truth—just as showers in spring soften the ground, and fit it for the reception of the seed, and the process of germination.

But then you must repress inordinate grief. Submission to the will of God, while it allows reasonable sorrow, forbids that which is excessive. Do not give yourselves up to sorrow. All passionate distress—which shuts out consolation and refuses to be comforted—is high rebellion against the will of heaven. It is at once impious and unreasonable. It is more, it is destructive, for it is the "sorrow of the world that works death."

Your health is now doubly precious, and your life doubly desirable—for the sake of your children. You alone have now to care for them, perhaps, to provide for them; and it is immensely important not to waste that strength and energy, which is necessary for their welfare, in consuming sorrow. Excessive grief will not only unfit you for exertion, but it will incapacitate you from deriving any improvement from the sad stroke. The voice and lessons of God's providence will be unheeded, yes unheard, amid the noise of your tumultuous sorrows. Restrain your feelings. Call in reason, and especially true religion, to your assistance.

Submission forbids all passionate invective; all rebellious language; all bitter reflections on second causes; and all questionings about the wisdom, goodness, or equity of the God of Providence. "I was silent," said the Psalmist, "I opened not my mouth;" there is submission, "because you did it!" there is the ground of submission. It is said of Aaron, when both his sons were struck dead before the Lord, he "held his peace." It was not the silence of stupor, or of stubbornness—but of submission. How striking is the commendation passed upon Job, when it is said, in reference to his behavior under his complicated losses, "In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly." He said nothing irreverent, or rebellious against God. But it is equally incumbent upon you, in order to the performance of this duty, that you should not only suppress all murmuring, and complaining languagebut all thoughts and feelings of this kind.

If while the tongue is silent, the heart is full of rebellion—there is no acquiescence. Many who would be afraid, or ashamed to give utterance to their feelings of insubordination, still continue to indulge them. The abstinence from murmuring and repining words, then, is not submission—unless the heart is still. We must not contend with God, nor fight against his Providence within our heart, for "he searches the heart and tries the thoughts of the children of men."

Submission is that state of the soul under afflictive dispensations of Providence, which produces an acquiescence in the will of God—as just, and wise, and good. It expresses itself in some such manner as the following; "I feel and deeply feel the heavy loss I have sustained, and my nature mourns and weeps; but as I am persuaded it is the Lord's doing, who has a right to do as he pleases, and who is at the same time too wise to mistake, and too benevolent to put me to unnecessary pain—I endeavor to bow down to his will."

Such is submission; but how difficult! How hard the duty to acquiesce in an event, which has reduced you to such a state of desolation, that earth seems to have lost its principal charms. Difficult, my afflicted friend, it is—but not impossible. All things are possible with God, and what you cannot do in your own strength, you can in His strength. Multitudes have submitted, whose loss was as great, whose prospects were as gloomy as yours. I have heard the language; I have seen the conduct of submission in widows' houses—and have admired the grace of God, as manifested in such persons, and in such circumstances. That grace is sufficient for you. Do not make up your mind, that submission is impossible for you; on the contrary, be persuaded that it may, by God's help, become your privilege, as it unquestionably is your duty, to exercise it. Pray for it. Let this be the burden of your supplication to God, but let it be presented in faith–

O Lord my best desires fulfill,
And help me to resign,
Life, health, and husband, to Your will,
And make Your pleasure mine.

In bringing you and others to this state of mind, God employs motives. He places certain truths and sentiments before the mind of the afflicted, and enables them to contemplate these principles with such fixed attention, as to admit their reasonableness and force, and under their soothing and powerful influence, to suppress the murmur, and hush every complaint to silence. Some of these principles I now present to your notice.

1. Consider God's indubitable and SOVEREIGN RIGHT to take from you the dear companion of your life.

Are we not all his creatures, over whom he has an absolute, and sovereign control? Has he acted the part of a ruthless invader of your domicile, and committed an aggression, which he can as little justify, as you could resist? Is it an unauthorized theft? No! Painful as it is to you—it was not an unrighteous act in him. Shall he not do as he will with his own? You received your husband, if you received him with right views, rather as a 'loan', than an eternal gift; as a favor lent to be recalled at any time, when the donor thought proper to do so. And now he has demanded it back again. Hearken to his admonition; "Woman, I do you no wrong, in asking for what belongs to me. Have I deceived you? Did I ever renounce my right, or promise to forego my claim; or even intimate that I would not urge it, until you had arrived at extreme old age? Be still, and know that I am God." Do not then contend with God. Yield to his sovereign will. Submit to his disposal.

But this perhaps will be thought by some like vinegar to a festering wound; and it will be felt as a harsh and feeble motive to submission—to tell a mourning widow that God had a right to take from her the desire of her eyes. "Oh?" she is ready to exclaim, "Is this all you can say to me?" No—but it is the basis of everything else—and even this is said rather to awe the rebellious thoughts, to keep in check the turbulent feelings—in order that silence and calmness being obtained, softer and sweeter accents may be listened to.

2. Think also, of God's unerring WISDOM. He cannot mistake. He does nothing at random, nothing in haste, nothing in ignorance. He is wise in heart—and his understanding is infinite. He works all things after the counsel of his will. He fills everything with the product of his all-wise mind; yes, even your bitter cup of sorrow. "Truly he is a God who hides himself," but it is in the secret place of his infallible wisdom. "His judgments are a great deep," but it is a depth of unfathomable knowledge. There is some wise end to be answered; some object worthy of himself to be accomplished—in your bereavement. He may not, and will not, perhaps, reveal it to you now, for reasons which he can justify. But if it were proper or possible for you to know it, you would exclaim, "Oh the depth of the riches both of his wisdom and knowledge! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!"

If you could see the wisdom of his plans, and it were then left to your choice to take back your husband again from the grave, you would not dare to do it, on account of the disarrangement and disorder which you would see must ensue. Have you not sometimes required something from your children, without assigning any reason, or explaining to them what it would be improper for them to know, or impossible for them to comprehend—and required them to confide in your known prudence? Is it too much for God to expect this confidence from you? He is wise—trust in his wisdom. The moment your thoughts are rising into rebellion, or sinking into despondency, repeat the short, the simple, but the potent sentiment, "God has done it—and God is all-wise!"

3. Think also, of God's GOODNESS. His name is Love. His wisdom is employed to fulfill the 'purposes of benevolence'. He is concerned for the happiness of his creatures. "He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men." He takes no pleasure in the tears and groans of his offspring—any more than earthly parents do—but like them, he often sees it necessary to bring about their tears. Did you never exercise your kindness in taking from the hand of a child, that which the babe would not surrender without weeping? Divine goodness, when it is clearly understood in all its schemes and motives—will be as clearly demonstrated in what it takes, as in what it gives.

Add these two ideas together, infinite goodness—and infinite wisdom. Apply them both to God—believe that they really belong to him, and that they were both concerned in your affliction—and then murmur if you can. Did we really believe in the doctrine of Providence, and that he who superintends its administration, unites to an arm of omnipotence—a mind of infinite knowledge, and a heart of boundless love—submission would be easy. Is the sepulcher of a husband the only place where his wisdom and love may be doubted? Are these glorious attributes dead and buried in the grave of that beloved man whom you have lost? It is nothing that you cannot understand how your present melancholy circumstances can correspond with love?

Your children often found it as difficult to harmonize your conduct with love; but now they are arrived at adulthood, they clearly comprehend it, and admire the rich displays of judicious kindness with which your treatment of them was replete. The time of weeping and suffering, and with it the time of ignorance, has passed away, and now your paternal character stands justified before them. So shall it be with you, when you have reached your maturity in heaven. You will see the goodness of God which was contained even in these painful dispensations of providence, under which you now so bitterly suffer. Yes, God is good; do not doubt it. Every attribute of God's nature is a motive to submission. Every view we can take of his nature, and our relations to him—is a reason why we should acquiesce to what he does. It is only when we are out of sight of him—that we can indulge in a rebellious murmuring, and a refractory resistance of his will. The moment we come back into his tremendous presence, and realize him as near—we feel subdued.

4. But the foundation of this state of mind is laid, not only in considering what God is, but what WE are. Murmuring and complaining have their origin in ignorance or forgetfulness of our own sinful condition. None can truly submit to affliction, which they do not feel they have deserved. The heroine, a widow, of what has been called one of the purest of our tragedies, is made to say, in the bitterness and pressure of her griefs, "Gracious heaven, what have I done, to merit such afflictions?" As long as you have such an opinion of yourself, there is, there can be—no submission. The very idea that 'we do not deserve it'—is rebellion against the will of heaven, and will inevitably lead to the most unholy and unchastened sorrow. It is only when we enter into the words of the Psalmist that we shall give up our murmurings and repinings, "He has not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities." How meekly does the prophet submit to the chastening hand of God, under the subduing power of this one thought, "I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him." "Why should a living man complain—for the punishment of his sins."

Oh sufferer, take this view of your case, and consider yourself a sinner. Call to recollection what sin is—an infinite evil, and deserving of an infinite punishment—an evil that might have long since consigned you to the abodes of interminable misery! Dwell upon the number, the aggravations, and the repetitions of your sins! Among other sins, perhaps, you may mention your ingratitude for, and misimprovement of, the mercy you have lost. You made your husband your God, inasmuch as you loved him more than God—and can you wonder that he is removed? "It is of the Lord's mercies that you are not consumed, because his compassions fail not." Dare you murmur, since you have only the 'God's rod'—when you might have had 'God's curse'? Does the language of complaint befit those lips, which might have been pouring forth the petition for a drop of water to cool your parched tongue?

I deny not the reality or the weight of your affliction—I do not insult your griefs by affirming that there is no cause for them. I admit you may justly go mourning all your days; but then I contend it is a powerful motive to submit, to consider that you might have been tormented through all eternity—and that nothing has a more powerful tendency to check the excess of sorrow, than the consideration, that your sins have justly merited all you have suffered, ever will suffer, or ever can suffer on earth!

5. But I may also mention that one of the great ends of Providence in sending the affliction, is to bring you into a state of submission. Perhaps you have never yielded your heart to God. God spoke to you in your prosperity—and you would not hear. You have tried to be independent of God. You have lived for yourself—and not for God. You have never yet taken his yoke upon you. In the days of your 'fullness' you yielded not your heart to him—and now he is calling you to yield to him in the time of your straits. As you would not submit to him amid the joys of the married state—he has placed you in widowhood, and calls for submission there. "Surely she will resign herself to me now," is perhaps his declaration and expectation. How much is he set on producing this state of mind in you, when he takes such drastic methods to accomplish it. Shall his end be defeated? Will you resist now? Will you carry on the conflict in your widow's garments? What, not yield now—broken, disappointed, forlorn—as you are? Will you be rebellious, not only in sight of the flowing fountain, but amid the wreck and fragments of the broken cisterns; and contend against God, like Jonah, not only beneath the shade of the green and flourishing gourd, but before the naked stem of the blighted and withered one? Oh woman, submit to God! It is for this he has driven you into the wilderness, like Hagar of old, and may you, like her, cease the conflict there, and say "You are the God who sees me—I have now seen the One who sees me!" Genesis 16:13

6. Among the motives to submission, should be placed, a due regard to your own comfort. It has been beautifully said, that the wild bird, yet untamed and unaccustomed to confinement, beats itself almost to death against the wires of its cage—while the tame prisoner, quietly acquiesces, and relieves its solitude by a song. An apt illustration of the soothing influence of submission. No possible relief, but a certain and immense addition to the calamity, is gained by excessive mourning and repining. It is a vain and useless thing—as well as a sinful one. It is of itself a deep affliction, a sad discomposure of spirit, a fever of the heart, a delirium of the soul—and is so much added to the weight of the original trouble.

But resignation to the dispensations of God's Providence—what a blessed remedy is this to the soul! What a rest from all those sinful disturbances which discompose our spirits—it is a lower heaven—a green and sunny spot in a region of gloom, and desolation! For as in the state of glory there is an unchangeable agreement between the will of the Creator and of the creature—so according to the same measure wherein we conform our wills to God's now, we proportionately enjoy the holiness and blessedness of that state.

Daughter of sorrow, since you can no longer enjoy the 'pleasure of possession'—seek the 'comfort of submission'! Extract by resignation, the few drops of divine cordial, which even your wormwood and gall contain. Forbidden any longer to enjoy the sweetness of gratitude for the retention of your temporary blessing—open your heart to the tranquilizing comfort of surrendering it to God. Soothe the wounds of your lacerated heart with the balm of acquiescence—and do not inflame them with the uncontrolled grief of a rebellious spirit. Try the effect of those few sweet words, "Father! not my will—but your be done!" They will be like the voice of Christ, to the winds and waves of the stormy lake, "Peace! Be still!" Or like heavenly music to the troubled mind. There is no relief but in unqualified submission, and there is relief only in that.

7. If you are a professor of true religion, you ought to find in that another and a powerful motive to this frame of mind. Christian mourner, consider God as the author of all your trials--as well as of all your comforts! View him as your Father! Be assured that He loves you too well to do you any harm! Be confident that He is making all things work together for your good! Now then let us see the blessed influence of your faith. Let us behold in you the tranquilizing power of your principles. Should you sorrow as do others? Should you appear as uncontrollable in your grief as those who know not God?

A couple of days ago, I visited a widow, whose husband had just been suddenly killed by the overthrow of a carriage. I found her as might be expected, deeply afflicted. But it was grief kept within due bounds by the controlling power of eminent piety, as dignified as it was deep; and there were circumstances too, eminently calculated to produce a complicated sorrow. Her calm, though affecting distress attracted the attention of a lady whose brother had died very suddenly. "Ah," she exclaimed, to my bereaved friend, "how differently did my sister-in-law act, to what you have done. But your composure is the effect of true religion. I see now the power of true religion." Be it your study to exhibit the same power, and to draw forth the same testimony.

Glorify God in the fires! Let it be your prayer that your true religion may shine forth in all its luster, and manifest itself in all its glory. Let it be one of your consolations to be enabled to do honor to the truth and grace of God, as manifested in supporting you during this sorrowful time. Think what an effect an unsubmissive spirit will have upon those who observe it. How many widows making a profession of religion, have by the vehemence of their grief, astonished the observer of their conduct. It was not a scene or a season in which to utter the language of reproach, but who could help saying to themselves, though delicacy kept them from saying to the sufferer, "Where in all this tumult of soul, and excessive grief—is their piety? Is there no help for them in God? We expected a calmer sorrow, from a Christian. She does not much commend true religion to us."

8. Some of you may contrast your circumstances with those of others around you. Do not wrap your widow's garments upon you, and say, "Is there any sorrow like unto my sorrow?" Is there? Yes—and far greater! You have lost a good husband—yet perhaps you still have a comfortable support for yourself and your children. But there are other poor widows who have lost their support—as well as their husband! You are left with fatherless children—yet they are kind and dutiful towards you. But there is a widow whose heart bruised by her loss—is well near broken by the unkindness of an undutiful son. Your children are all in health. But there is a widow who pours her daily tears over a crippled son—or a dying daughter. You are surrounded by a wide circle of sympathizing friends. But there is a widow, forlorn, alone, and a stranger in this busy world. Oh, it is well sometimes to compare our sorrows with those of others. What widow that shall read these pages can speak of grief like the following?

"A poor woman, from the north of England, went with her family to seek employment in London. The husband, through fatigue, was attacked with a raging fever; the disorder soon assumed a very malignant, putrid character, of which he died. Two of the children caught the infection, and died also. The widow was reduced, with her surviving children, to the most deplorable poverty, and seemed on the point of starving. In this situation she was visited by a Christian, who observed an old Bible, with a large print, lying on her table. He said, 'I perceive you can read, and have got the best of books by you.' She replied, 'Oh, sir, what would I have done without it? It is not my own. My eyes are, with illness, anxiety, and tears, too weak for a small print—I borrowed this Bible of a neighbor. It has been food to my body as well as to my soul. I have often passed many hours without any nourishment, but I have read this blessed book, until I have forgotten my hunger.' Sometime after this the poor woman died, literally worn down and exhausted with poverty and anxiety. But the night before she expired, the consolations of the holy Scriptures shone in her countenance. She spoke of her death with a smile of sacred triumph; enumerated her pious ancestors and friends, with whom she trusted shortly to unite in joy and felicity; and seemed, as it were, to feel the saying brought to pass, which is written, Death is swallowed up in victory!"

Read this, and be still. Read this, and learn that there is no weight of sorrow under which genuine faith in God's word, cannot sustain you!

9. Make another comparison, I mean between your losses and trials, as a woman—and your mercies and gains as a Christian. Here, say you, is the grave of my dear husband—there, I say, is the cross, the grave, the throne of your Redeemer! Here, say you, is his vacant seat at my table, his vacant place at my side, his vacant chair at my hearth—there is God, with his smiling countenance, his heart of love, his covenant of grace, his all-sufficient resources, to fill the vacuum! Here, say you, is the weight of woe and care pressing upon my heart, like a huge unsupportable load—but there is not the burden of unpardoned sin, sinking down your soul to the bottomless pit! Here, say you, is my now gloomy house—there is the house of your God, always inhabited by his gracious presence! Here, say you, I am a forlorn creature upon earth, having lost all that rendered the world delightful—there is heaven glowing like a brilliant sky over your head, into which your departed Christian husband has entered, and where you will soon join him in glory everlasting!

Think how many widows there are, who have no covenant God to go to; no consolations of the Spirit to sustain them; no pleasure in the bible or in prayer to soothe them. You, even you, ought to rejoice in a present Savior—and a future heaven! All the attributes of God, all the offices of Christ, all the consolations of the Spirit, all the promises of scripture, all the blessings of grace, all the prospects of glory remain to be set over against your loss—and is not this enough?