Letter to a bereaved widower

by Archibald Alexander

My Dear Afflicted Friend,
Since I heard of your bereavement, by which "the desire of your eyes" (Ezek 24:21) has been taken away from you by a sudden stroke, I have thought often of you, and resolved to write you a letter of condolence; but perhaps every effort to soothe your sorrow at present will prove ineffectual. It is not improbable that the only relief which I can afford you under the heavy calamity which a mysterious providence has laid upon you, will arise from the mere expression of my affectionate sympathy. I know that your loss is great, and that your heart is more rent and broken than I, who have never experienced a similar bereavement, can conceive. I admit that your loss is irreparable. The beloved wife of your youth, and the object of your earliest affection, whose chaste and reciprocal affection cemented a union which nothing but death could dissolve, and which made her as necessary to your comfort as your own heart, is gone. Her worth as an affectionate companion and most intimate friend could only be fully known to yourself. She was, indeed, like a guardian angel, who was ever present to aid you; and although she was careful never to leave her own proper sphere to obtrude her opinion in matters of which she was no competent judge, yet in innumerable cases, when your spirit was too much excited, or even exasperated, by the crude collisions with the world, she has gently and almost imperceptibly kept you back from rash expressions and precipitate acts, to which your disposition is, in such circumstances, somewhat inclined. Even when she did not speak a word, the example of her meekness and gentleness has been the means of restraining you, or recalling you to a sense of your Christian duty. If I should attempt to lessen your feeling of the greatness of your loss, I would but mock your sincere and deep-rooted grief. No, the chasm made in your earthly enjoyments can never, in any event, be completely filled.

That this is indeed the true state of the case, I cannot but feel when I think of your dear little motherless children. Their loss surely cannot be made up. They can never have a second mother. God has implanted the genuine maternal feeling in no heart but that of the real mother. I can imagine the desolate feeling of helplessness and wretchedness which spreads over your soul with an overwhelming weight, whenever you look on these beloved babes, who are too young to be fully sensible of the greatness of their bereavement; and especially when you gaze upon the little one, of whom it can scarcely be said that she ever saw her mother. No one feels more dependent and helpless in such circumstances than a father, much occupied with the important concerns of the public. And did not kind female friends come to his assistance, he would be almost ready to despair. But these are the occasions in which the interpositions of Providence are most remarkable. Help comes seasonably, when no helpers seem to be near; and it comes often from unexpected quarters. I have often wondered at the tenderness and assiduity of female nurses, and their cheerful performance of painful services, when their prospect of remuneration was small.

I have little doubt—but that already, although your affliction is so recent, you have had much cause to adore the kind workings of a benignant Providence in your behalf. Your cup is not one of unmixed misery. In the midst of judgment there is mercy. God hitherto has provided for your necessities, and will still provide. Let your trust in Him be constant and unwavering. Although the stroke which has laid you low, and clothed you, as it were, with sackcloth and ashes, must be attended, upon every reflection, with piercing anguish, yet let one idea be ever prominent in your mind, while thinking on this mournful subject: "It is my Father's hand which has inflicted this wound, and caused this pain; and He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men." (Lam 3:33)

The uninterrupted and uncommon prosperity which has hitherto attended you makes this stroke doubly distressing. From your youth you seem to have enjoyed the peculiar care of Providence. Though early deprived of the watchful care of an excellent father, you found friends who almost supplied the place of a father; who not only provided for you bodily needs—but took care of your education; and I do not know that your advantages could have been greater, had your good father continued to live. And since you have become a man, and entered into that course of life which you were permitted to choose for yourself, I know of no one, in the same line, who has been more successful in his pursuits, or who has been able to conciliate more effectually the public favor. Indeed, until this sad event in a moment dashed the cup of worldly prosperity, you might be said to have been like a favorite child, dandled on the knee, and exposed to no crude blasts of adversity.

But however pleasing such scenes of prosperity, and however ardently we cling to worldly comforts, it is a fact confirmed by general experience, that a long continuance of such a state is not favorable to the growth of piety. The heart hardens in this continual sunshine. Imperceptibly we lose the abiding, practical sense of our entire dependence and weakness, and are prone to say, like the royal psalmist, "My mountain stands strong, I shall never be moved." (Psalm 30:6-7)

In such a state we not only have a weak impression of our feebleness and dependence—but a greatly diminished sense of our own sinfulness. And we know that a deep feeling of our wretched depravity lies at the foundation of "repentance towards God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ", (Acts 20:21) and of every lively exercise of piety. It is then good—it is necessary—to have the blindness of our minds and the hardness of our hearts removed by some means. Our love of ease would have it done in some less painful manner.

We are willing to obtain the blessing—but not to endure the chastisement connected with it. We love health—but utterly dislike the medicine suited to restore it. But could not God carry on His people's sanctification without inflicting upon them wounds so deep and painful? What He can do is not the question. He is a sovereign, and does what He will, and requires submission on our part. "Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10) "Hear the rod, and him who has appointed it." (Mic 6:9) It is enough for us to be assured that this is God's usual and appointed method of leading His chosen people to the heavenly Canaan. They must first pass through the briers and thorns of the wilderness. Through much tribulation they must enter the kingdom. Although severe afflictions are sometimes sent principally as a trial of faith, patience and submission—as we learn from the example of Job—yet most men who know themselves will not be at a loss for reasons to consider their own afflictions as chastisements.

One of the first beneficial effects of the rod is to stir up to thorough self-examination. It leads to "great searchings of heart", (Judg 5:16) awakens the sleeping conscience, and dispels the illusion which worldly prosperity had imperceptibly spread over the mind. The wounded soul startles and trembles, and takes a retrospect of the course which has been pursued. If pride or avarice or luxury has been too much indulged, and has led to unchristian behavior, those indulgences and those actions (the turpitude of which was concealed) now stand forth in the view of the awakened mind—and the penitent backslider falls prostrate, confesses the enormity and ingratitude of his sins, and earnestly cries to God for mercy and for healing.

Alas! when we are at ease, and living in prosperity, how cold and careless are we in our devotional exercises! Engrossed with worldly business, and too well satisfied with creature comforts, we forget God, and lose sight of heaven. From this state of alienation we are seldom reclaimed by the Word alone. Indeed, in such a frame, the truth can scarcely be said to have access to our minds. But when the severe stroke of our Father's rod is experienced, we begin to feel with keen sensibility, and to pray with especial fervency and importunity. And the afflicted child of God thus arrested, convinced and humbled, cannot rest until he obtains some new evidence of reconciliation, some manifestation of the love and favor of his offended Father.

My dear sir, this affliction, severe as it is, may hereafter appear to have been in its consequences a most important blessing. In the view of it you may cry out, "It was good for me to be afflicted; for before I was afflicted, I went astray—but now I keep your statutes." (Psalm 119:71; Psalm 119:67) This dispensation may be not only useful but necessary. It is not extravagant, nor inconsistent with the unchangeableness of God's purpose of mercy to His people, to say that severe chastisements may be indispensably necessary to their salvation. His promise of eternal life to believers is not irrespective of the appropriate means. The apostle Peter speaks of a 'need be', that some should "be grieved by various trials"; (1 Pet 1:6) "that the trial of your faith," says he, "being much more precious than of gold which perishes, though it be tried by fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ." (1 Pet 1:7)

And Paul exalts the value and efficacy of afflictions above all comparison, when he says, "These light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." (2 Cor 4:17) But observe, he calls them all light and momentary—that is, in comparison with eternal blessedness. As he says in another place, "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." (Rom 8:18) Is not the fact that we are so cast down and overwhelmed with afflictions, an evidence of the weakness of our faith? If eternity was in full view—would we be so deeply affected with our bereavements, especially when we have good reason to hope that our departed friends are happy in heaven? They are only gone before to the place where we hope soon to follow them.

I would say then, "Gird up the loins of your mind." (1 Pet 1:13) You are in the vigor of life, and in the midst of your days, and your Lord has much work for you to do. The talents which he has committed to you should be most diligently improved. The best cure for grief is unceasing activity in the cause of the Redeemer. I seem to feel assured that this will be a new era in your life; and although you have not been idle, nor unconcerned for the glory of your Master, yet methinks the remainder of your days will be far more fruitful than the past. I do trust that your light will burn with a more bright and steady flame. Henceforth you will not be liable to look for a paradise on this side of heaven. And you will be more disposed than ever before to concentrate your affections on those things which are above. And as God's people are a poor and afflicted people, for the most part, He may be preparing you to be a comforter of the mourners in Zion; for none are qualified for this office—but such as, having tasted the bitter cup of sorrow, have been made partakers also of divine consolation—as Paul says to the Corinthians, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,

2Co 1:4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." (2 Cor 1:3-4)

It would be utterly superfluous to dissuade you from thinking soon of a second marriage. Your own feelings render every such idea abhorrent to your mind. Perhaps it is indelicate and unkind to mention the subject at all; but as human feelings undergo a great change in the lapse of a few months, and I may not have the opportunity of speaking to you again, I would say—Be not hasty in this matter. Consider long, and pray much over the subject, before you determine to place a stepmother over your children. I do not wish to lay any heavy burden on your shoulders.

I do not mean to say that it may not be a duty in due time to seek another companion; but I do say, proceed cautiously and conscientiously in this business. I do believe that many make a sad mistake, in entering a second time into the bonds of wedlock. As a prudent wife comes from the Lord—ask counsel of Him.