The Widow Directed to the Widow's God

by John Angell James, 1841


God is the best and only infallible teacher! "None teaches like him." He delivers his lessons in various ways, and through different mediums. The Scriptures, of course, contain the fullest and clearest revelation of his will; but these are corroborated and illustrated by the works of nature, and the dispensations of Providence. All events are pregnant with instruction. "Hence," says the prophet, "the Lord's voice comes unto the city—hear the rod, and who has appointed it." Yes, every 'rod', as well as every 'word', has a voice—and it behooves us to listen to it. Afflicted woman, read the lessons which Providence has inscribed in dark characters on the tomb of your husband. It may be that God is saying to you, "I spoke unto you in your prosperity—but you would not hear; this has been your manner from youth, that you obeyed not my voice." Taken up with the enjoyment of the dear objects to be found in a quiet and comfortable home, you withheld your heart from God. You neither loved, served, enjoyed, nor glorified God as the end of your existence. Your husband was your idol—your support and prop—and now God, who is a jealous God, and will not endure a rival, has removed the object of that supreme attachment, which ought to have been placed on him; and in language which derives additional weight and solemnity from being uttered over the sepulcher, says "I am God, and there is none else. You shall have no other God besides me; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your mind, and heart, and soul, and strength." This is his demand now, and it always was. It is not only what he says, now in the wilderness into which he has driven you—but what he said when you walked in the Eden of your earthly delight, and felt that your husband was to you as the tree of life in the midst of the garden.

Now then, open your ear, and hear the voice of his Providence. Open your eye and read the lessons which, as I have said, are inscribed on that tomb, which contains all that was dearest to you on earth. Desire to learn; be willing to learn; and much is needed to be learned from the sorrowful scenes through which you have been, and still are called to pass. When God takes such methods to teach, surely you should be willing to learn; and it may be that it is his intention to make up to you by spiritual instruction and consolation, if you will receive it, the loss he has called you to sustain of temporal comfort.

1. Are you not most impressively reminded of the evil of sin?
What could more affectingly illustrate this, than the deep sorrow which has fallen upon you? If the magnitude of an evil may be ascertained by the magnitude of its effects. What must sin be, which has produced such consequences, as those you have witnessed. What agonies has sin inflicted, what ties it has rent asunder, what desolation it has made, what scenes it has produced—that widowed mother, those helpless, perhaps portionless babes, that gloomy house, those flowing tears too well proclaim! And what is the cause? Sin! "Sin entered into the world, and death by sin—so death has passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." Yes! death with all its consequences, are the bitter fruits of sin. Had the man not sinned, he would have been immortal. Every instance of death is the infliction of a penalty; for "the wages of sin is death."

Think of what sin has robbed you! Calculate the mischief which it has wrought in your desolate abode. What has made you a widow? Sin! What has made your children fatherless? Sin! And think of the millions who are at this moment, in similar sad and melancholy circumstances. God is benevolent, and does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men; and yet he is perpetually multiplying widows and orphans by the ravages of death. How evil must sin be in his sight, when he takes this method of showing his abhorrence of it; when he has fixed this penalty to it. And then this is only the first death, a mere type and symbol of that more painful "second death," which falls upon the wicked in another world.

Consider then the evil of sin. Take deep, large, views of it. Recollect you are a sinner—not vicious indeed, but virtuous; not profligate, but moral; but still a sinner in the sight of God. "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Oh have you thought of this? Have you been convinced of sin by the Spirit of God? Have you seen your sinfulness, as well as heard of it? Felt it, as well as known it? Many have thought of their sins, for the first time in their life, with any seriousness, in their afflictions; and have said with the poet–

Father! I bless your gentle hand;
How kind was your chastising rod,
That brought my conscience to a stand,
And brought my wandering soul to God.

Foolish and vain I went astray,
E're I had felt your scourges, Lord;
I lost my guide and lost my way
But now I love and keep your word.

'Tis good to me to wear the yoke,
For pride is apt to rise and swell;
'Tis good to bear my Father's stroke,
That I might learn his statutes well.

If you have thought but little of sin until now, may you begin to think upon it in your affliction. You have lost your husband—but how much greater a calamity would be the loss of your soul! And lost it must be, if you have no just sense of sin. There can be no salvation without pardon; and no pardon without repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; and no repentance and faith, without the knowledge of sin. Oh! what an unutterable blessing will it prove; what a cause for adoring wonder and gratitude through all time and eternity too—if such affliction should prove to be the means of your eternal salvation; and if the death of the dear companion of your life should be overruled for the salvation of your immortal soul. Happy will it be, if led by this event to think of the sinfulness of your heart and conduct in the sight of God, you should be brought—in the character of a true penitent, and real believer—to the foot of the cross! How will a sense of divine pardon sooth your sorrows! How will God's forgiving love comfort your soul! How sweetly will you sing even while the tear of widowhood is glittering in your eye, and its sable garment is spread over you, "It was good for me that I was afflicted!"

2. Another lesson to be learned by widowhood is the vanity of the world, and its insufficiency to make us happy.
"Vanity of vanity, said the preacher; all is vanity, and vexation of spirit." And you have found it to be so. You have proved that the world, if not an unsatisfying portion, is at any rate, an uncertain portion. How joyous, until lately, were your circumstances. The purest happiness of an earthly nature, is that which springs up in a comfortable home, where there is a loving union of hearts between man and wife. The tender sympathy, the delicate affection, the minute attentions, the watchful solicitude, the ceaseless offices of marital love—are the sweetest ingredient in the cup of life, and contribute a thousand times more to earthly enjoyment, than all the possessions of wealth, and all the blandishments of rank, station, and fashion.

"With the affection, and health, and company of my husband," exclaims the fond and devoted wife, "I feel nothing lacking to my comfort, and can easily dispense with many things that others consider essential to their enjoyment." Such, perhaps, my mourning reader, was once your happy lot, for you had such a sharer of your home. Little cause had you to envy the gay or the great; as little to sigh for their access to the festive party. To welcome at eventide, when the heat and burden of the day were over, the good man of the house, to his own fireside, and to your companionship; and to feel the honest satisfaction of a wife, that he needed no other friendship to make him happy—this was your nightly joy, for years that flew too fast. Perhaps you thought too much had been said about the vanity of the world, for it was a pleasant world to you, and you were ready to blame the preacher, and call him ascetic and harsh, and reproach him for disturbing the happiness of others by the wailings of his own disappointed heart. But, ah! you too, have at length returned an echo of that sad cry, and said in the bitterness of your spirit, "All is vanity!"

Yes, the lovely vision of your domestic bliss has vanished! Death has intruded, and changed the scene! No more returns at the accustomed hour, of the joy of your heart and the light of your eyes. His chair is vacant. His place at the fireside, which knew him once, knows him no more. He is not on a journey. No—he is in the grave, and with him died the world to you. Everything is now changed; and you too exclaim, "Oh, vain world, you have deceived me. Are all your flattering smiles, and ample promises, come to this? In one hour I have fallen from the heights of happiness, into all the depths of woe. And am I a widow? Yes, and a widow indeed!"

Such then is the world—such all it can do to make you happy. Hearken to the language of God, by the prophet, "My people have committed two evils, they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns, broken cisterns, which can hold no water." There are the fragments of the broken cisterns; there the spilled water; there the memorials of fragile comfort, and disappointed hope! And there, near by, let me add, the blessed contrast, the full and flowing fountain, sending out its never failing streams of pure and living waters. The world has deceived and forsaken you. Now turn to God. You cannot restore the broken cistern, nor gather up the spilled contents—now turn to the fountain! You have settled your heart upon the creature, and it has proved a quicksand; now settle it on God, "the rock of ages." You have leaned upon an arm of flesh, and it has failed you; now trust to the arms of the Omnipotent Spirit. How many, when the first shock of their disappointment was over, and their faculties have recovered from the stunning effects of their loss, have seen the folly, as well as the sin—of trusting for happiness to mortal man—and have turned their weeping, longing, and imploring eye to the eternal God!

And even those who have been convinced before, of the vanity of the world, at least by profession, and have been taught to set their hearts on God, have perhaps forgotten too much their principles and their profession—and trusted for a larger share of their happiness than they ought to have done, to the things that are seen and temporal. Yes, you who are called the people of God, and are such, we hope, even you have trusted far more to the world, to the life of your husband, and to your other possessions for your soul's portion—than was your duty. An earthly-mindedness has crept over you and damped the ardor of your pious affections. You have sought the daylight of your soul from the smile of a creature—instead of the light of God's countenance. And now the lesser luminary is extinguished, and you are in darkness. Still, however, the greater light remains; the Sun of Righteousness is shining in all his splendor and noontide glory! Go forth from your gloomy and disconsolate situation into the brightness and warmth of his heart-cheering radiance—and bask in the ardor of his beams!

3. What a lesson does widowhood teach of the power and value of true religion—and that in two ways.
First by the influence of it, where it is possessed, in supporting the mind and consoling it, amid sorrows which from any other source, knows not consolation's name. I appeal to devout and holy women, who have been enabled in the hour of their extremity to cast themselves by faith, and prayer, and submission upon God, and to still the tumult of their thoughts, and keep down the rising tide of their grief, by the potency of his grace—whether the value of piety ever rose so high in their esteem, as in that moment when they first answered to the name of widow, and they felt that they could do it without fainting at the sound. Friends gathered round them in all the tenderness of sympathy, and there was a balm in their words, and looks, and actions; but at the same time, each new visitor seemed in other respects to open their wounds afresh, and to be a new remembrancer of the loss sustained.

It was only when the mourner could get to her Bible, and to her God, in all the power of faith and prayer, that she felt she could be sustained—and then she did feel it! Astonished at her own calmness; at her tranquility amid such a wreck of earthly hopes—she at first questioned whether it was indifference, stupefaction, or true religion. It could not be the first, for she was as sure of her love to her husband, as she was sure of her existence; nor the second, for she reasoned, reflected, and anticipated. It must therefore, she said, be the last—it must be faith laying hold of the promise, and staying itself in this dark dispensation, upon the name of God. It must be the power of God perfecting its might in her weakness—the flowing in of grace into a soul, which grace has first made willing and able to receive it.

How wondrous must the faith of Abraham have appeared to himself, when he came to reflect on what he had done, or rather what the grace of God had wrought in him—in his willingness to offer up Isaac. Inferior to this, of course—but analogous to it—has been the surprise of many an afflicted widow at the submission and confidence with which she laid the ashes of her husband in the sepulcher. What else could have so sustained her, bereft as she was of what gave to earth its chief interest? Let that true religion still support you. What it has done—it can still do. It has proved to you its reality and its power—still trust it as the anchor of your soul, sure and steadfast. If it prevented you from sinking, when the shock came first upon you, it can do the same through every future stage of your solitary journeying, and every future scene of your now unshared sorrow.

But perhaps your present situation demonstrates the excellency of true religion, by another medium of proof—I mean by the lack of it. You have not true religion to support you—and you have therefore literally nothing. The storm has come, and you are without a shelter. The cup of wormwood and gall is put into your hand, and you have nothing with which to sweeten it. Well then now, when everything else fails, turn to this one and only refuge which remains. It opens to you now. You feel that nothing else is of any avail. It is not too late. God waits to be gracious. Oh let me now sound in your ears the music of our Lord's comfortable words, "Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." Oh mark that—the heavy-laden. No matter what may be the burden, whether of sin, or of care, or of sorrow—there is rest from it in Christ. If you look to him by faith to take away the burden of your sin, he will lighten every other load that presses upon your spirit.

Jesus Christ, the Savior of the lost—is the Comforter of the distressed. He meets the natural cry of misery, and goes out to wipe away the tears of sorrow, by the hand of his redeeming mercy. He came to bind up the broken-hearted, and to comfort those who mourn—but it is in his own way. Many have come to him, led as it seemed by the mere instinctive longing after happiness, and have tried faith in the gospel as a last and almost hopeless experiment, after the failure of every other attempt to obtain consolation. And oh! what an unlooked-for discovery have they made! They who had found no resting place in the world, and who had wandered through it in quest of some object however insignificant, that might divert them from their sorrows, and for a moment at least remove the sense of that hopeless grief which lay dead upon the heart—found now an object which the widest desires of their soul could not grasp, and of such irresistible power as to turn the current of their feelings—I mean the salvation which is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. They who had been ready to abandon life, as having no charm, and to embrace death as having no greater terror than their present affliction, now see that even in the absence of that which once threw over their existence its deepest interest, they can find something worth living for—in the pursuit of an eternal joy.

While in sorrow and in desolation they went to Jesus for comfort; the Spirit, whose secret, but unknown influence guided their steps, opened the eyes of their understanding to discern the path of life, and by the aid of a hope full of immortality—to rise above the ravages of death, and the spoliations of the grave. Thus while like Mary Magdalene—as they were lingering round the sepulcher, the Savior revealed himself to them, and they dried up their tears in the presence of their Lord. May it be so with those who read these pages. May you in your affliction turn to Jesus—who is the universal remedy, and panacea, for the sorrows of life. You do not know, even yet, how much you will need him, in the future stages of your sad and solitary journey.

The friends whom the freshness of your grief has gathered around you, will forget your loss much sooner than you will; and the force of their sympathy will have spent itself, long before the tide of your grief has ceased to flow. Few, very few, are the faithful friends whose tender interest is as long-lived and as deep, as our tribulation. Sympathy wears out long before that which calls it into existence—and then, what can comfort you but true religion? Venture not forward, without decided and fervent piety. Let your next step be from the tomb of a husband—to the cross of a Savior! Take the following instance as at once a direction and an encouragement–

In the course of my pastoral visits among my flock, I one day called upon a young widow, who had become a member of the church under my care since the death of her husband. I found her at her hard work, by which she earns a scanty and precarious support for herself and child. I found her somewhat indisposed, exhausted by labor, and depressed, though not desponding. I entered into conversation with her on her necessitous and afflictive circumstances, when she expressed her strong confidence in God, and her expectation she should be provided for. She soon reverted to her husband, who had been a consistent member of my flock. Her eulogy upon his memory was in strong and tender language. She described him as having been one of the kindest and most loving of husbands, and implied that she had of course been a happy wife. "But," said she, "I can thank the Lord for his death, for in consequence of that sad event, I now hope to be associated with him, in the presence of Christ in heaven!"

The fact is, the death of her husband was the painful means, in the hands of the Spirit, of her saving conversion to God. In this you see one instance among many in which widowhood has been the furnace of affliction, where God has chosen some of his people, and called them to pass through the fiery trial—to bring them to himself! The female whose case I am now narrating, by the piety she then obtained, and by the sweet hope of meeting her deceased husband in the land where there shall be no more death, endures with a sorrowful cheerfulness, the desolation of widowhood and the rigors of poverty.

What lessons does this little incident teach! What a potency and a heavenly balm are there in true religion! What present and what future advantages does it yield, when it can enable a poor widow, to bow with her fatherless child at the grave of her departed husband, or in the dreary abode once made happy by his presence and his love—and give God thanks for his removal, because of the eternal felicity that would result to both in heaven—from their early separation upon earth! What an admonition to those who like this poor woman have lost pious husbands, while they themselves are not yet partakers of true experimental piety!

Let them consider the reasoning which is implied in her gratitude—"Had my husband lived, I would have been content with my happiness as a wife, and have sought no happiness from a higher source—and perhaps have lived and died a stranger to true religion. Thus after enjoying his society a few years upon earth, I would have been banished not only from his company—but from the presence of the Lord forever! But now since his death was sanctified for my conversion to God, I have lost him for a season—to be with him forever in glory!"

O widow, whose husband has left you as did hers—in an unconverted state—let it be your desire, your prayer, your resolution to turn this deep affliction to your soul's advantage. You have lost his life; lose not also his death. He, as it were, bends to you from the skies, and with accents of faithful love, says to you, "Follow me to heaven! Let us not be separated forever. Let faith, prayer, and submission, heal the wound of separation. O let us meet in the blessed world of life and joy!" Comply with the admonition, and then you too will be able to comprehend the thanksgiving of this poor woman, for the decease of a loving husband.

And now take the testimony of another widow who related in the following language her sad—yet in another view of it, her happy experience—to a minister who visited her–

"My husband died, and then disease seized on my children, and they were taken one by one. In the course of a few years, I had lain those in whom my heart was bound up, in the grave. Oh! they were many, many bitter tears that I shed. The world was dark. The very voice of consolation from others, was a anguish. I could sit by the side of my friend—but could not hear him speak of my departed ones. My affliction was too deep to be shared. It seemed as if God himself had deserted me. I was alone. The places at the table and the fireside remained—but they who filled them were gone. Oh the loneliness—as it had been a tomb—of my chamber! How blessed were the dreams of sleep! For then the dead lived again. They were all around me. My youngest child and last, sat on my knee—she leaped up in my arms, she uttered my name with infant joyousness; and that sweet tone was as if an angel had spoken to my sad soul. But the dream vanished, and the dreary morning broke—and I waked, and prayed, and I sought forgiveness, even while I uttered it for my unholy prayer—that God would let me lie down in the grave, side by side with my children and husband.

"But better thoughts came. In my grief I remembered that though my loved ones were separated from me, the same Father—the same Infinite Love, watched over them as when they were by my fireside. We were divided—but only for a season. And by degrees, my grief grew calmer. Since then, my thoughts have been more in that eternal world, where they have gone, than in this earthly world. I do not remember less—but I look forward and upward more. I learned the worth of prayer and trust. Would that I could express to every mourner how the sting is taken away from the grief of one, who, with a true and full heart, puts her trust in God. I can never again go into the gay world. The pleasures of this world, are no longer pleasures to me. But I have trust, and hope, and confidence. I know that my Redeemer lives. I know that God ever watches over his children. And in my desolation, this faith in my heart has long enabled me to feel a different kind of pleasure indeed—but a far deeper, though more sober joy—than the pleasures of this world ever gave me even when youth, and health, and friends all conspired to give them their keenest relish. I have learned in my own heart—that all trials are not evils.

"It was with eyes upturned to heaven, and gushing over with tears—not tears of sorrow, but gratitude—and with a radiant countenance, that she said, in a tone so mild, so rapt, as if her heart were speaking to her God—'It has been good for me that I have been afflicted!'"

4. What an impressive view does your affliction give you of the solemnity of death, and the necessity of being prepared for it!
You have now, not only heard of the dreadful visitor, or read of him—but you have seen him. And though his icy hand has not been laid on you, it has taken from your side the companion of your life. It is not a book, a sermon, or a preacher—but death itself which has spoken to you—who as he bore away the dear object of your affection, looked back unpityingly, and sternly said, "And I will come for you soon!" He will! Listen also to the voice of one who with milder accents than those of the last enemy, says to you, "You also be ready—for at such an hour as you do not think, the Son of Man comes." Can you ever forget the scene? The dread reality? The harbingers, the attendants, the consequences of death? The pain, the sickness, the restlessness, the delirium, the torpor—and then the mortal stillness which ten thousand thunders could not disturb? Oh what a change is death!

Is that the proper time, that the proper scene, those the proper circumstances—to which it is wise and safe to defer the business of true religion, the concerns of your soul, the pursuit of your own salvation? You saw how all but insupportable were the last woes of expiring nature; or how sudden was the stroke; or how shattered was the reason; and how impossible it was then to meditate on matters which require the concentrated attention, the calm undisturbed possession of all the faculties of the soul. Learn then a lesson from that scene never to be forgotten, and instantly to be practiced—of yourself being prepared at once, and completely, for the great change!

You saw how valueless in death is everything but salvation, and how all but impossible it is to commence the momentous concern then. Be wise then, and consider your own latter end. Preparation for death is living work. A life of faith, holiness, and devotion is the only preparation for a deathbed. May this be one of the beneficial results of losing an object so dear. On his tomb, devote yourself to the pursuit of salvation—as the business of life, and the only suitable fitness for death.

It is said with equal power and beauty by a well-known and deservedly admired living writer, "I consider the scene of death, as being to the interested parties, who witness it, a kind of sacrament, inconceivably solemn, at which they are summoned by the voice of heaven to pledge themselves in vows of irreversible decision. Here then, as at the high altar of eternity, you have been called to pronounce, if I may so express it, the inviolable oath—to keep forever in view, the momentous value of life, and to aim at its worthiest use, its sublime end—to spurn, with lasting disdain, those foolish trifles, those frivolous vanities, which so generally wither in our sight, and consume life as the locusts did Egypt; and to devote yourself with the ardor of passion, to attain the most divine improvement of the human soul; and in short, to hold yourself in preparation to make that transition to your eternal existence."