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 language—but 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
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
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
"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
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?