Letter to a mourning, afflicted widow

by Archibald Alexander

My Dear Friend,
What a change in your circumstances and worldly prospects within a short time! A few months ago, you appeared to be carried along in the full tide of prosperity. Everything seemed to smile around you, and probably you had no anticipation of the sad reverse which has occurred. Blessed with health and abundance, happy in the possession and regard of an excellent husband, and in seeing around you lovely and promising children, who were the joy of your heart! But now, alas! you are a bereaved, desolate widow; you have experienced the greatest loss which you could experience of any earthly possession; and, to increase the calamity (for afflictions are apt to come in clusters), another stroke has fallen on you, so that you have sorrow upon sorrow. Under such afflicting circumstances, what can I say to alleviate your distress? I am afraid that I can do no more than to express my tender sympathy. Though far off from the scene of your suffering, I feel for you—I could weep with you. Meddlesome efforts to check the swelling torrent of grief on such occasions are injudicious, and rather tend to aggravate than relieve our misery. Nature must have its course. Tears, if deep-rooted grief does not prevent, furnish almost the only mitigation of which the mourner is susceptible: and what nature demands, God does not forbid. There is no sin in the feelings of lively sorrow which such bereavements produce.

The blessed Savior did indeed forbid the daughters of Jerusalem to weep for Him, because He had undertaken to bear the curse of God for us without alleviation—but He tells them to weep for themselves and their children. He did also exhort the bereaved widow of Nain not to weep; but the reason of this was that He intended immediately to restore to life her only son, then lying dead before her. When our blessed Lord came to Bethany and found the two sisters, Martha and Mary, in a state of deep distress on account of the recent death of their only brother (the support and protector of the family), does He forbid their tears? No! the compassionate Jesus weeps with them! How interesting, how amiable, does the kind of condescension and tender sympathy of the Son of God towards this afflicted family appear!

They had reason to be surprised at His conduct beforehand, because, when they sent for Him, He delayed coming until their brother was dead. His motive for this delay they understood not; but, when He came, they both remarked with sorrowful regret, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother had not died." (John 11:21,32) And when He answered, "Your brother shall rise again," (John 11:23) they still had no other apprehension of His meaning, than that he should arise at the last day. But His benevolent purpose was to restore to them their beloved brother, by raising him from the grave where he had lain four days. But so deeply was His compassionate heart affected by the sight of the tears and distress of His beloved friends, that He not only wept with them—but groaned in His spirit and was troubled, and said, "Where have you laid him?" (John 11:34) And before He would enter the house to rest Himself after his journey, He must visit the grave of His friend, that He might at once relieve the aching hearts of these pious women.

But no such relief can now be expected. Jesus, the almighty Savior, who is "the resurrection and the life", (John 11:25) no longer sojourns among men. But it should still be a consolation to mourners that, though exalted at the right hand of God, the compassionate Redeemer is accessible, and that His tender sympathy is still retained; "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses." (Heb 4:15) He knows as well what His disciples suffer, as if He were upon earth, and is as able to aid them and to comfort them in all their sorrows. I cannot, then, give you better advice, than to "look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb 12:2)

I know of no consideration which is more effectual to reconcile us to bear with submission our heaviest afflictions, than the contemplation of our divine Redeemer wading through floods of sorrow for our sake; yes, overwhelmed with a weight of distress which pressed Him to the ground in a bloody agony, and caused Him to cry out with an exceeding bitter cry, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death"; (Matt 26:38) and on the cross to exclaim, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34) "Did Jesus thus suffer, and shall I repine?" He was the Son of God: He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners; and yet for our sake, He bore this infinite pressure of grief. This suggests another consideration, which I have always found, when I could feel its force, to have a powerful effect in repressing a murmuring and repining disposition. It is, that we suffer less than we deserve. God afflicts us, it may be, severely; but His strokes are lighter than our sins. If it were not for His unmerited mercy, we should now be in hell.

Add to this, that God does not willingly afflict; He takes no pleasure in the sufferings of any of His creatures, much less in the sorrows of His children; but He chastises them for their real good. Why some are so much more afflicted than others, we do not know; but we do know, "that all things work together for good to those who love God"; (Rom 8:28) and that, although "no chastening for the present is joyous—but grievous, yet afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto those who are exercised thereby". (Heb 12:11) The afflicted mourner finds it hard to believe this promise, and cannot see how it is possible that such a calamity should be of any benefit. But God's Word is to be credited in opposition to our own feelings, and to all appearances. He has ways of working which we do not now understand—but shall know hereafter. He can make our bitterest anguish a beneficial medicine for our diseased souls. Our whole course through this world is intended to be a state of trial and discipline; and therefore it is ordained that "through much tribulation, we must enter the kingdom". (Acts 14:22) And all who are seen standing on Mount Zion, clothed in white robes and palms in their hands, had "come out of great tribulation". (Rev 7:14)

Another consideration of great weight in reconciling us to our lot is the shortness of time, and our nearness to the joys of heaven. When, by faith, we can form some just estimate of this matter, the keenest sufferings and most distressing bereavements sink into insignificance. Who in our times suffer as did the primitive Christians? and yet Paul calls their afflictions light and momentary. And well may we be satisfied to bear them, "for they work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory". (2 Cor 4:17) And again he says, "The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." (Rom 8:18) And it is reasonable to think that "the rest that remains for the people of God", (Heb 4:9) will be enjoyed with a higher zest by those who pass into heaven from a state of affliction, than by others.

I know, indeed, that by this visitation of God your worldly prospects are sadly clouded; and you may feel yourself to be in a deplorably helpless condition. Unaccustomed to manage or preside, you are thrown into distressing perplexity whenever you reflect upon your condition. But I entreat you not to indulge these gloomy forebodings. God has a way by which you and your little family can be supported. He will guide, protect, and bless you, if you confide in Him. You are, indeed, in an unfriendly world, and will frequently meet with selfish and unfeeling men, who will not scruple to take advantage of your ignorance of the affairs of the world; but a "judge of the fatherless and widow is God", and He invites you in a peculiar manner to make Him your refuge. "Leave", says He, "your fatherless children, and I will preserve them alive, and let your widows trust in me." (Jer 49:11) Take shelter under the covert of His wings, and commit yourself entirely into His hand, and He will never leave nor forsake you.

The more you get into the habit of seeing to your own affairs, and transacting your own business, the better it will be for you. Nothing will preserve you more effectually from melancholy and dejection than constant occupation. Females are often found to possess a talent for business which neither they nor others ever suspected. Accept the kind aid of friends—but do not depend upon it. If necessary, engage in some business that will help to support you. Teaching children is a peculiarly suitable employment for a widow who has children of her own to be educated. Widows who reside in towns and cities are often enabled to obtain the means of subsistence by taking genteel boarders. Know exactly what your income is, and be sure to keep within it in your expenses. Debt is ruinous to all, and especially to widows. Take counsel from judicious friends—but seek, in all cases, direction from the Lord.

Be strict in the government of your children. Make them obey you implicitly while they are young, and do not spoil them by indulgence. But I do not recommend severity. Of this, however, you will be in no danger. Inculcate religion upon their minds, and pray much for them. Teach them, when old enough, the loss they have sustained, and impress upon their minds the necessity of sobriety and frugality. "Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." (Eph 6:4)