The Widow Directed to the Widow's God

by John Angell James, 1841


Perhaps, as I have already supposed, in addition to the deep affliction of your being left a widow, you are left also in circumstances every way calculated to aggravate this already heavy woe. To lose your husband is of itself a cup of sorrow requiring nothing to fill it to overflowing, and embitter it with wormwood, except to have a young dependent family—and no provision for their support, or their settlement in the world. O! for that woman to be plunged into all the anxieties of business, all the fear of destitution, who never knew a care, or tasted of solicitude! For such a one, unskilled in trade, unused to labor—to have her own maintenance and that of her children to earn! To sit day after day, amid her little fatherless circle, and witness their consciousness of their loss; to hear them ask why she weeps; to have her heart lacerated by questions about their father; to sit in silent solitary grief when their voices are all hushed at night, except that cry which issues from the cradle; to be followed to a sleepless pillow, and be kept awake through the whole night, by recollections of departed joys—and fears of future destitution!! Ah my afflicted friend, I pity you. May God support and comfort you.

Permit me to whisper in your ear, and direct to your troubled spirit, the passage I have already quoted, "Let your widows trust in me. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling." Do consider who it is that says this. It is the omnipotent, all-sufficient God! It is he who has afflicted you—who says this. He authorizes, he invites, he enjoins your confidence. But what do I mean by confidence? An expectation that he will provide for you—an expectation, which if it does not bring you to strong consolation, is sufficient, at any rate, to control the intensity of your grief, to check the hopelessness of your sorrows, and save you from despair—an expectation which shall prevent all your energies from being paralyzed, and keep you from sitting down amid your little helpless family, and abandoning all for lost—an expectation which leads you to say, "I do not see how or where help is to come—but I believe it will come. I am utterly at a loss to conceive how I shall be able to work my way, or provide for these fatherless children—but God has encouraged me to confide in him—and he is omnipotent. I know not whence to look for friends—but the hearts of all men are in his hands, and he can turn some helper towards me in acts of kindness." This is confidence; this is trust in God. Is it necessary for me here to mention the grounds of trust? They are at hand in great number and force.

1. Dwell upon the innumerable exhortations to trust, as appertaining to all states of sorrow and difficulty, which are to be found in the Word of God. Scarcely one word occurs more frequently in the Old Testament than the word, "TRUST," nor one in the New, more frequently than "FAITH." They stand intimately related; for indeed, if not identical in meaning, they are nearly so. Trust in the God of providence means faith in him; and faith in Christ, means trust in him. How sweetly does one sacred writer after another catch up the word "TRUST," and roll it in innumerable echoes along the whole line of revelation. How repeatedly does the sound come from the lips of God himself, "Trust in me." How often do we hear the troubled and destitute saint reply, "In you do I put my trust." How often do the inspired penmen, after disclosing the glories of the divine character, and the infinite attributes of Jehovah, finish their description by such an admonition as this, "Put your trust in the Lord."

Dwell on the power of God! Can he not sustain you and your children? In casting yourselves on his boundless sufficiency, his infinite and inexhaustible resources—you do not intrude or presume upon him. He invites, yes, commands your confidence. You do not lay down your burden on his arm unauthorized; he stretches out his arm and says, "Here—put your burden here, and I will sustain it." He asks to take care of you. He promises to take care of you. Trust him then. But you have nothing, you think—but his bare promise. You man not have a friend to whom you can look; not an hint even to point out in what way his assistance is to come. Then you have the more need, and I was almost going to add, more warrant, to trust him. Then is the time for faith in God's word, when you have nothing to look for from man—then is the time to trust in the promise, when you have nothing else but the promise to trust to.

It is not possible to conceive of one act of the human mind that more honors God, or more pleases him—than that simple trust in the promises of his word, which is exercised in the absence of everything else. A widow, with a little circle of dependent children, with no present provision, and no assured prospect of provision, who yet exercises confidence in God, and believes she shall in some way or other be taken care of, is in a state of mind, certainly, as acceptable to God, as any in which a human being can be found—and perhaps even more so.

2. Meditate much upon the special promises and gracious intimations which are made to your own particular and afflictive case. Go over the passages which I have already quoted—read them repeatedly, until you are enabled to feel their full force. They are God's own words to widows—the language of the divine and infinite Comforter, to the most afflicted class in all the school of sorrow! And ought they not to be received as such, with all the faith and trust that are due to an infallible being? Can he have invited the widow's saddened heart to words of consolation, only to mock its sadness? Can he have attracted her confidence by language specially addressed to her, only to leave her forsaken and abandoned? This would not be human mercy, much less divine mercy.

Difficult, then, as it may be, and must be—amid broken cisterns, failing springs, exhausted resources, and with no prospect, or even the slightest indication of the coming blessing on the distant horizon, to trust in God—endeavor, dejected woman, to do so. Like Hagar in the wilderness, you may be near the deliverer—when you know it not. An invisible comforter is near, and the provider may be coming, though unseen. Trust, O trust—and be not afraid! Endeavor to hush your fears to rest, under the music and the charm of that one promise, "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

3. Another encouragement to trust, is the testimony of those who have observed the ways of Providence, and the care which it has exercised over widows. It has grown into a kind of current adage, "That whomever may seem to be overlooked by Providence, God takes especial care of widows and orphans." Who has not heard this expression, and who has not seen its verification in instances that have come under his own observation? Who could not mention the names of some whom he has seen extraordinarily provided for in their necessitous and seemingly helpless, hopeless widowhood? It has so often been my lot to see this gracious interposition of Providence, that I scarcely ever despond over the case of a widow. And the more necessitous and hopeless—so far as human support is concerned—the more confident do I feel of divine intervention. Thus true it is, that he who removes the arm of flesh which sustained the wife, lends his own arm of power to sustain the widow. "Your maker is your husband," says the prophet.

4. Perhaps your own experience may come in advantageously to encourage your confidence. You have been supported hitherto. You sustained the shock of separation, which, at one time, when anticipated, you thought must crush your heart. You have perhaps got through the first difficulties of your afflicted condition—you have not been allowed to sink thus far. Remember—God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He neither grows tired of helping—nor unwilling to help. He who has carried you through the first season of your widowhood, can with equal ease, sustain you through any succeeding one.

5. Direct your attention to the language of Christ. "Look at the birds. They don't need to plant or harvest or put food in barns because your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than they are." Matthew 6:26. And this is but a repetition of a similar sentiment in Psalm 147, "He feeds the wild animals, and the young ravens cry to him for food." Does he take care of ravens, and sparrows—and will he not take care of you? Will he feed his birds—and starve his babes? Think of the millions of millions in the animal world, which rise every morning dependent for their sustenance upon the omnipresent and all-sufficient Feeder of his creatures! This consideration may not, perhaps, have struck you before—but it is one which our Lord suggested for the comfort of his disciples, and one, therefore, which with great propriety and force, may be considered by you.

6. Consider how all creatures, rational and irrational, are under the direction and control of God. "He has prepared his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all." All orders of beings, from the highest seraph in glory, down to the lowest reptile which crawls in the dust—are his servants, and can be made to do his will, execute his plans, and fulfill the purposes of his benevolence towards his people. All hearts are at his disposal, and he can make even the covetous liberal, the hardhearted sympathetic, and the hostile friendly. In a thousand instances he has made men act contrary to their nature, and brought as it were, the 'waters of mercy' out of the 'rocky heart', to refresh the weary and faint. Help has often come from quarters, whence it was to be least expected—and instruments have been employed which, to the eye of reason, were of all the most unlikely.

The following fact, extracted from an American religious newspaper, is an illustration of this.

"It was a cold and bleak evening, in a most severe winter. The snow, driven by the furious north wind, was piled into broad and deep banks along our streets. Few dared or were willing to venture abroad.

"In a most miserable and shattered tenement, somewhat remote from any other habitation, there then resided an aged widow, all alone—and yet not alone. During the weary day, in her excessive weakness, she had been unable to step beyond her door stone, or to communicate her needs to any friend. Her last morsel of bread had been long since consumed, and none heeded her destitution. She sat at evening by her small fire, half famished with hunger—from exhaustion unable to sleep—preparing to meet the dreadful fate from which she knew not how she should be spared. She had prayed that morning, in full faith, 'Give me this day my daily bread,' but the shadows of evening had descended upon her, and her faithful prayer had not been answered. While such thoughts were passing through her weary mind, she heard the door suddenly open, and as suddenly shut again, and found deposited in her entry, by an unknown hand, a basket crowded with food, which had all the sweetness of manna to her. What were her feelings on that night, God only knows! but they were such as arise up to Him—the great deliverer and provider—from ten thousand hearts every day. Many days elapsed before the widow learned through what messenger God had sent to her that timely aid. It was at the impulse of a little child, who on that dismal night, seated at the cheerful fireside of her home, was led to express the generous wish, that that poor widow, whom she had sometimes visited, could have some of her numerous comforts and good cheer. The parents followed out the benevolent suggestion—and a servant was soon dispatched to her humble abode with a plentiful supply. "What a beautiful glimpse of the chain of causes, all fastened at the throne of God! An angel, with noiseless wing, came down and stirred the peaceful bosom of a pure-hearted child, and with no pomp or circumstance of the outward miracle, the widow's prayer was answered."

Of course when I recommend confidence in God, it is implied that all suitable exertions be made to obtain the means of support. If you allow grief, despondency, and indolence to paralyze your efforts, you have no encouragement to trust in God. His grace is to be exercised in connection with the employment of all those energies which yet remain—and every widow, instead of sitting down to indulge in hopeless sorrow, should, in humble dependence on divine grace, immediately apply herself in such way as her talents and her circumstances allow, to some occupation—for the support of herself and her children.