THE MINISTRY OF HOME  or "Brief Expository Lectures on Divine Truth"
by Octavius Winslow

The Bereaved Home

"Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." John 11:21

If ever home was honored and blest it was the home of Bethany. "Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus." There, sad and weary, He would often repair- gently lift the latch and enter. No guest more welcome; for none was the humble repast more cheerfully laid- for none was so loved as He. And, as He stepped across its lowly threshold we almost hear Him say, "No unkindness, no rebuke, no upbraiding here!" But the home of Bethany was bereaved. Death had entered its domestic circle: had disturbed its center, removed its head, and quenched its brightest light. Lazarus, the beloved brother, was dead- and Bethany was truly a house of mourning. But Jesus was there- and there too as the chief mourner. His friend Lazarus was dead. It was a common bereavement. The sisters had been bereaved of a brother, Jesus of a friend. The sorrow of one was the sorrow of each: towards one center their sad thoughts and their bereaved affections converged: theirs was a mutual grief.
  And yet we trace a dissimilarity. The sorrow of each partook of the different features of each character. The sorrow of Martha was impassioned and reasoning; that of Mary was shrinking and meditative; that of Jesus was profound and still. Martha gave vent to grief in words, Mary in retirement, Christ in sympathy. I have said that Jesus was the chief mourner in this bereaved home. He was so because his sensibility as man was of a deeper cast; more pure and therefore more intense. His human sympathies, free from all the taint of sin and selfishness, were more exquisitely keen and tender than throbbed in any other breast. And yet with the emotions of both- the grief of Martha which found expression in words, and with that of Mary which found vent in tears -Jesus sympathized. With the one sister He calmly discoursed, with the other He silently wept, burying His own grief in the deep, silent cloisters of His loving heart.
  We now turn now to the subject suggested by this touching narrative. Our homes are often BEREAVED HOMES! Where is there one exception? In the course of time it must be so. Our domestic circle cannot always remain unvisited, the family ties cannot always exist unbroken by death. At one time or another the pale messenger enters our roof, and, bowing to his inexorable summons, we are borne away to the house appointed for all living.
  Funerals must darken our doors. How hard often to believe that this will be so! We cannot force upon ourselves the thought that these precious links will ever be sundered. Separation from them seems the last reflection that we indulge, the last idea that crosses our minds. They seem too lovely and too loved ever to die! The home seems too bright ever to be draped with the shadow of death; the family circle too united ever to be sundered by the ruthless messenger; the dwelling too joyous and vocal with the loud and merry laugh ever to become a house of mourning!
  But, alas! what household, ever so bright or united or happy, but, sooner or later, is called to yield some loved member of its circle to the irresistible demand of the enemy? How often, too, in the all-wise providence of God, that the one chosen is the last we had thought would leave us! The one we felt we could the least spare -the one that seemed so essential to the unity of the family, who so knitted and bound together all the rest, our heavenly Father sees fit to call.
  Such must, necessarily, be the history of our families. And since no home is so strongly fortified by youth or manhood, by rank or wealth, by loveliness or piety, as effectually to resist the invasion of the last enemy, let us have wisdom to learn the lessons our God- the God of the families of the whole earth would teach us, and glean the consolations He would convey to us in the family bereavements, with which, in the righteous administration of His government, He sees fit to visit us.
  Is not the first and most obvious lesson that of submission? This is, perhaps, the most difficult one of all, we are such self-willed, wayward children. The moment the human will is crossed there is rebellion. Whether it be the will of a child under the restraint of parental authority, or the will of a people under the government of a sovereign, or the will of God's saints under the higher and diviner rule and discipline of their Heavenly Parent, there is a natural and powerful tendency to rebel. But the lesson which the bereaved child of God is to learn is that which David so beautifully and touchingly exemplified- "Surely I behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of its mother: my soul is even as a weaned child."
  Higher still is the example of our true spiritual David- David's Lord and Christ- "The cup which my Father path given me, shall I not drink it? O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from Me, except I drink it, Your will be done." The moment the will is thus brought into a perfect, and even cheerful, acquiescence with the Divine will, all rebellion ceases, and the bereaved heart lies passive in God's hands. And this is more than half the comfort we receive in our domestic calamities. There is no comfort, no peace, no quietness, so long as there is the slightest collision of our will with God's will. The least vibration of hostility jars the music that breathes from the holy blending. But, the moment we recognize the truth, "He Himself has done it," so fully convinced are we that He has done all things well-that His decision is the result of infinite wisdom, of parental love, of Divine faithfulness, of unimpeachable righteousness, we lay down our stricken hearts upon the heart of God, and all is peace.
  Mark that weaned infant enfolded within its mother's arms! How safely it lies, how softly it breathes, how sweetly it slumbers, reclining upon that gentle bosom! What a lovely image of innocence, confidence, and peace! So let our sad and bleeding hearts, smitten of God and afflicted, repose upon the bosom of Jesus. "And Aaron held his peace." "I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because You did it." "The beloved disciple who also leaned upon His breast."
  Where else can a weary child repose? To whom can we repair, with our weight of sin, and our burden of sorrow, and rebelliousness of spirit, but to Christ? He invites us to the repose of His loving heart, to the rest which His atoning work imparts, to the sympathy which flows from His compassionate nature.
 "I heard the voice of Jesus say,
Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, you weary one,
lay down Your head upon my breast.
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary, and worn, and sad;
I found in Him a resting place,
And He has made me glad."
  If submission to God in our domestic bereavements be the first lesson we should learn, love to one another should be the second. God often sends family afflictions, especially in the form of bereavement, in order to draw more closely together the family ties. There is, alas! in many homes, a great lack of family affection. The dissentions and broils that exist; the lack of real love, with all the sad results of alienated feeling- cold, unsympathizing address, selfishness, covetousness, unkindness, and wounding- are sad blots upon the family escutcheon of many homes. But God sends domestic adversity- sometimes in the form of a loss of temporal position- sometimes it is the inroad of sickness. At other times, the home ties are severed by distance of place; but, more stern and painful than all- is the form of bereavement.
  And what is a practical and holy lesson God would then teach us?- to "love as brethren." As tie after tie of the home-circle is severed: as one by one passes into eternity, God would have those who yet remain draw closer and closer to one another, and nearer and nearer to Himself. O how passing solemn are family afflictions, especially the visitation of death! To follow to the grave a venerated parent- a loved husband- a fond wife- an affectionate brother- a devoted sister- a promising child- O these are terrible wrenches, heart-crushing sorrows. How closely it brings us to eternity! Where are these loved ones gone? Their places at our hearths, and at our tables are vacant- significantly, impressively vacant- and know them no more. We enter their chambers- we search where we have been wont to meet them, but we see them not, we call, but they answer not- we wait the meal, as if they would appear - they come not! Where are they? Gone into eternity! Soon we shall follow. What tie will next be ruthlessly severed? Who will next be summoned! Seeing we know not which one, or how soon, let us love one another more fervently; let us cherish the relations that remain more fondly; and seek to promote each other's happiness and comfort and well-being more sincerely. This will save us many an aching pang when they are gone.
  Our own personal preparation for death surely is a lesson death itself most imperiously and solemnly enforces. We must soon follow. We are like sheep grazing in a field, waiting for the slaughter. Each day the messenger enters, and drives one and another away to the butchers, until gradually all are gone. And yet those which still remain for awhile graze on heedless of the fact that tomorrow their turn may come.
  So death enters our domestic enclosures, and marks one today and another tomorrow, gradually lessening the house-hold number, until there are no more to die. The great and momentous question is- Am I prepared to die? I wait my turn- am I ready? Am I converted? Have I felt myself a sinner? Have I fled to Christ? Am I safe in Him? Do I believe in Him with my whole heart? Is Jesus precious to my soul, is He all my salvation, and all my desire? Do I, in a word, love the Savior truly, devotedly, supremely? And am I living and laboring and hoping as a disciple and follower of Christ- as one whose treasure is in heaven, and whose heart, in sweet communion and longing desire and growing holiness, is where its treasure is?
  Our true, saving, sole preparation is alone in Christ. If we are washed in the blood of Christ, and are justified by the imputed righteousness of Christ, and are sanctified by the Spirit of Christ, and are living as the regenerate children of God, and as new creatures in Christ Jesus, then death will not be to us an unwelcome messenger. We may depart suddenly, but not unpreparedly. Death will find us in Christ, accepted in Him, hid in Him, saved in Him; and when we die, the blessedness will be ours of those "who die in the Lord."
  Admit the Savior to your bereaved home. The house of mourning had more attraction to Him when on earth than the house of feasting. It is so with Him now. He is by this very domestic bereavement, knocking at your door, asking to be admitted. He condescendingly stands and asks to enter. O admit Him to the home of woe. He comes to soothe and comfort and succor: He comes to bless, to sanctify, to save. He comes with hands laden with gifts, with a heart melting with compassion, with a nature overflowing with grace. Rise, and bid Him welcome. With Martha prepare Him good entertainment. With Mary sit humbly at His feet and hear His words.
  The season of bereaved sorrow is a most favorable time to become acquainted with Jesus, to form a friendship with the Son of God, to enter into an alliance with the Savior. O allow not these golden hours to pass unimproved. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock." Death has crossed your threshold, Jesus quickly follows! He comes to repair the ravage, to supply the void, to heal the wound, to soothe and sanctify the grief death has made. O if out of this "eater " there shall come forth "meat,"- if from this evil, good shall be evolved- if this dark cloud upon your household, this shadow of death upon your heart, should be gilded with the "hope of glory," will you not through time and eternity bless God for a bereaved home?
  Has it pleased God to remove from yours its head of power, its center of influence- its source of supply? Remember that He has not withdrawn Himself. He may have written you a widow, or fatherless, or an orphan; but He is the widow's God, and in Him the fatherless finds mercy. His precious promise is- "Leave your fatherless children, and let your widows trust in Me." What a legacy for a Christian man to bequeath to God- a helpless widow, a father less family! He will prove kind and faithful to the trust. Only believe in Him. He has never yet falsified Himself, has never violated His word of promise, and you shall not be the first to charge Him with having proved unfaithful to the confidence reposed in Him; reposed in Him by a poor and desolate widow, by a bereaved and helpless orphan.
  How appropriate and precious in the home bereavement is the sympathy of Jesus! Perhaps the most touching attitude of our Lord in the domestic grief of Bethany- or the most sublime spectacle of His life is His weeping at the grave of Lazarus. "Jesus wept." The Son of God, the Creator of heaven and earth, the Maker of all things, the upholder of all worlds, in tears! Marvellous spectacle! Such is the sympathy of Christ with our human race. It is a great boon for us to have- a precious truth for us to receive- a priceless blessing for us to experience. There is nothing that can possibly be its substitute. Human sympathy is inexpressibly sweet, and gratefully welcome; but the grief of bereavement is often too fathomless for its line of compassion to sound, the pain too deep for its tenderness to soothe.
  We must have Christ, and we do have Him! Yes; that very same Savior whose tears fell fast and warm upon the grave of His buried friend, who had tears for the mourning sisters, tears for the saddened disciples, tears for the unbelieving Jews, and tears for Himself- for, as I have said, He stood the Chief Mourner at that grave- even He has tears, bereaved one, for you. The sympathy of Christ with our sorrows is not a mere sentiment, a transient emotion, a passing tear quickly shed, and as quickly dried. O no! His are the tears of a love that once wept tears of blood for us. His is a compassion that sustains, as well as comforts, that sanctifies as well as soothes. The sympathy of Christ has a soul-transforming effect, a Divinely assimilating power, it makes us Godlike.
  And, oh! to be Godlike- to be changed into the same image from glory to glory! what though "friend after friend departs," -what though tie after tie of domestic love is broken- if this be but the hallowed, the blessed result! Cling to the sympathy of Christ. Nestle beneath His soft wing-it will enfold and shelter you until these calamities be overpast.
  Let us be comforted by reflecting upon the glory into which our departed ones who died in the faith of Jesus have entered; and let us strive to gain that heaven of glory where they are gone. They are not here, they are with the Lord. All their sins and sorrows and trials and infirmities and temptations are passed, and they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, nor battle more with sin, or Satan, or the world. They are with Christ the Lord. With Him they will come when He shall appear in the clouds of heaven with all the saints; for He will bring with Him all them who sleep in Him. Let us comfort one another with this glorious prospect.
  Until then, He who mourned with the loved ones in the home of Bethany, and wept over the grave of Lazarus, mourns and weeps with you. Turn from the gloom and mystery of your bereavement, and lose yourself and it in the loving, sympathizing Savior.
 "You! who are touched with feeling of our woes,
Let me on You my heavy burden cast,
My aching, anguished heart on You repose,
Leaving with You the sad mysterious past!
Let me submissive bow, and kiss the rod;
Let me 'be still, and know that You are God.'
 "Why should my harassed, agitated mind,
Go round and round this terrible event;
Striving in vain some brighter side to find
Some cause why all this anguish has been sent?
Do I indeed that sacred truth believe,
You do not willingly afflict and grieve?
 "Infinite wisdom! can it ever err?
Infinite love! can it to us work ill?
Good, only good, do You, my God, confer,
Though it to me, alas! seem evil still;
Oh! let not finite, frail, presumptuous man,
Your acts arraign- Your hidden purpose scan.
 "Oh! pity me, all crushed beneath the blow,
Thus weeping over this sad, mysterious blight;
My garden's richest, fairest plant laid low,
Gemmed with its dewy blossoms sparkling bright;
Just when its roseate blooms were set for fruit,
Stricken and shattered at the very root.
 "There are none like it left, and earth appears
So stripped, so desolate, without its charms,
A barren waste, a mournful vale of tears,
That, were I not supported by Your arms,
My pitying Savior! this poor heart would break!
Oh! shield-oh! comfort, for Your mercy's sake.
 "My lovely gourd is withered in an hour!
I droop, I faint, beneath the scorching sun
My Shepherd, lead me to some sheltering bower
There, where Your little flock 'lie down at noon;'
Though of my dearest earthly joy bereft,
You are my portion still-You, You, my God, are left!"