THE LIGHTS AND SHADOWS OF
SPIRITUAL LIFE by Octavius Winslow
Submission and Solace of Spiritual Life"
"Those who sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him....
Wherefore comfort one another with these words." -1 Thes. 4:14,18.
We approach in the present chapter- and with a tremulous
hand the delineation of a cloud shading for a moment the luster of spiritual
life, than which, perhaps, none falls upon the heart so darkly and coldly as
it- the shadow of bereaved grief. What believer has not experienced it? Our
blessed Lord Himself- the Lord of life and glory- was not exempt from this
cloud, veiling for the while the sunshine of His human soul. It was one of
the bitter ingredients of His cup of woe, as the "Man of sorrows, and
acquainted with grief." He tasted it, and WEPT!
"Friend after friend departs: Who has not lost a friend? There is no
union here of hearts That finds not here an end." We speak of death as
casting its cold shadow upon the brightness of spiritual life. Let us not be
misunderstood. That the life of God in the soul of man can be exposed to
anything beyond the passing shadow of death is an idea which no scripturally
informed mind will for a moment entertain. Intrinsically immortal, it cannot
possibly be endangered by a vicissitude so sad and destructive as this. It
may, indeed, as we have already shown be subjected to serious reverses, its
vigor may be impaired, its growth checked, its luster dimmed, but its
principle is as deathless as its Author; its existence as enduring as
eternity. "They shall never perish," is the assurance of Him in whom this
life is hid, and with whose eternity it is indissolubly entwined. Let this
be for the comfort of those who are of a "fearful heart," who are "ready to
halt," and often exclaim, "I shall one day perish by the enemy!"
With the shadow of bereavement, however, the believer is familiar. And in
devoting a chapter of this volume especially to its consideration, our
object is not heartlessly to re-open wounds partially healed; but rather to
illustrate the hallowed influence of this dark shadow, in evidencing the
actuality and in heightening the luster of spiritual life- as planets appear
more numerous, and shine more brilliantly, when the night grows more dark
and dense. These pages find you drowned in grief at the loss of one dearer
to you, it may be, than life itself; for willingly would you have sacrificed
your own to save that one life; and now that you have lost it, "life is less
sweet, and death less bitter." With what words- words that shall not
aggravate, but rather sooth; not wound, but rather heal- can we approach you
in this the hour when the shadow of death is upon your tabernacle, and the
'desire of your eyes' is removed as in a moment, and the music of your heart
is hushed in the stillness of the grave? Shall we endeavor to raise your
mind above this terrible calamity by reminding you that- "God Himself has
In the first stage of your anguish you are, perhaps, searching amid its
natural and proximate causes for some clue that will unravel the mystery,
and for some ray of light that will illumine the cloud. But you can find
none! The more exclusively you deal with the immediate circumstances of the
event, the more bewildered you are with its mystery, and the more profoundly
you are plunged in its grief. But, listen to the voice which says- "I have
done it. Be not afraid. It is Lord" Whose voice is this? It is the voice of
your God and Father- the voice of Jesus your Elder Brother- the voice of the
widow's God, and of the Father of the fatherless.
Thus you are led to look from the painful circumstances of your
bereavement, from its more immediate and distressing causes which, perhaps,
you are tempted to think you might by affection and skill have greatly
mitigated or, by more forethought and arrangement have prevented altogether-
and you are filled with self-accusation, and tortured with self-remorse. But
all this is dishonoring to God, and unjust to yourself; ungrateful to Him,
and distressing to you. But, listen to the voice which says- "I have done
it!" "Be still, and know that I am God." Thus you are invited to rise above
the second causes, to the First Great Cause of your bereavement; and view
this dark shadow, and interpret this inexplicable event, and seek soothing
in this crushing sorrow, by recognizing in it the Hand of your Father in
heaven, whose divine wisdom can do nothing wrong, and whose infinite love
can do nothing unkind. "God Himself has done it."
Another strong consolation in this hour of your grief is the truth that,
this event- so dark and crushing- was among the 'all things' of the
everlasting covenant, and that, therefore, it must be right. Not by accident
or chance- for there are no such terms in the Christian's vocabulary has
this bereavement transpired. Your mind, in its first transport of grief;
finds it difficult to grasp this anchor of your tempest-driven soul; and you
can see nothing but darkness and mystery in an event that veils- as with
scenery of your life. But, oh, heed the precious truth with which the King
of Israel- wading far deeper and darker waters than yours- controlled their
turbulence, and floated safely and serenely upon their topmost wave:
"Although my house be not so with God; yet has He made with me an
everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure: and this is all my
salvation, and all my desire, though He makes it not to grow." In this same
covenant is ordered your present shadow- ordered by the eternal purpose, the
infinite wisdom, and divine love of your covenant God. Allow this truth to
have its full weight with your bewildered mind, and anguished spirit, and
your broken heart will sob its sweet response- "IT IS WELL!"
Let us briefly trace the relation of this discipline of sorrow to the
spiritual life of the soul. The hallowed influence is most salutary.
Bereavement, when sanctified by the Spirit is a life-quickening Power.
Death, natural, thus becomes the secret of life spiritual. Oh, how many an
individual has traced his first pulse of spiritual life his first conviction
of sin- his first close, realizing view of eternity his first prayer to God-
to the hour of bereavement! Not the beginning of spiritual life only, but
its quickening and advance, we trace to the hallowed discipline of
It is often the season of revived spirituality. Eternity is more solemnly
realized- the mind is more withdrawn from the affairs of the present life-
the heart is disengaged from the shadows of earth; and the things that are
seen, and temporal, give place to the things that are unseen and eternal.
Oh, see that this is one hallowed fruit of your present sorrow! God has sent
it to revive His work in your soul to draw off your thoughts and affections
from those earth-born things which have too much absorbed the vitality and
impaired the vigor of your higher life your life for God- for heaven- for
Bereavement is a time of prayer. If ever the solace of prayer is felt,
the preciousness of the Mercy Seat is realized, it is now. Your heart,
stricken with grief, turns to God. The sad and startling discovery is made-
unsuspected while the light of God was upon your tabernacle- that too far
and too long your heart had roved from God- your communion had grown
distant, and your affections chilled- and, shyness of God and leanness of
soul have supervened, as the natural consequence of your remote and careless
walk. But now the shadow of death has darkened the sunshine of your life:
the destroyer has invaded the sanctuary of your home, and has plucked a
cherished flower from your bosom- or, has broken a 'strong and beautiful
staff' at your side- or, has laid low a venerable oak spreading its branches
beneath the roof-tree of your dwelling- and your heart, bowed with grief,
now bows itself in prayer to God, and the spiritual life of your soul throbs
with a newer and more quickened pulse. Oh hail that as a heaven-sent
blessing- robed though it be with the habiliment of mourning- which wakes
the slumbering spirit of prayer, and sets you upon the work of calling upon
God! The human idol is removed, but the Divine Savior takes its place!
Not the least blessing accruing from your bereavement is, the wholesome
discipline to which it subjects the will. There is, perhaps, no affliction
in which our will is brought into such collision with God's will as that of
bereaved sorrow- the attitude of our will being either that of stern
opposition to, or of sweet acquiescence with, the divine will. Before the
conflict terminates, long and painful has been the struggle. Oh, it is so
hard to yield what was most dear; to give back to God a loan, the possession
of which seemed intertwined with every fibre of the heart, and the existence
of which had become essential to life itself! But the issue of the conflict,
prolonged though it be, has proved most blessed: God's will has prevailed!
Tracing a Father's hand and a Father's heart-His all-wise and righteous
government appointing the event, and His infinite and unchanging love
sending it- your bewildered mind and bleeding heart bows in submission, with
the words of Christ breathing from your lips- "My Father, if this cup may
not pass from me, except I drink it, Your will be done."
Oh holy and blessed discipline! It is the highest attainment of grace
this side of heaven! Angels and glorified spirits, bending from their
thrones in glory, must view the struggle with the most intense interest, and
celebrate the victory with a new anthem of praise! And thus, in this
submission of your will to God, this terrible calamity has issued in such a
development and growth of your spiritual life as leaves its reality without
a doubt, and its luster without a cloud. And, as music sounds the sweetest
in the stilly night, and as flowers, when bruised, breathe their richest
perfume- so, your night of weeping and crushing grief has issued in the
sweetest song of your bruised spirit, and in the holiest fragrance of your
spiritual life. Oh, who can adequately portray the perfect calm- the
hallowed repose- the ecstatic joy, when the Divine will is supremely
enthroned in the soul, and the sad heart nestles itself- as a child weaned
of its mother- in the very bosom of God!
A more intimate acquaintance with the Lord Jesus Christ may be placed
high up in the list of blessings springing from the season of bereaved
sorrow. We had almost placed it at the very summit. To know Christ more
personally- more experimentally- more confidentially- must be the loftiest
and most blessed attainment to which the spiritual life can aspire. But how
is He truly to be known, except in the school of trial and suffering? In the
varied perplexities and afflictions of life, how naturally we turn for
counsel and sympathy to those who have trodden our path, have drank of our
cup, and thus have become our "companions in tribulation." How truly will
this apply to the Lord Jesus as to no other being in the universe! Do we
confront a mountain of difficulty- tread we a path of trial- quaff we a cup
of sorrow to which our Savior was an utter stranger?
How appropriate, then, your resort to Him in this special affliction
which has befallen you- this shadow that descends so sombrely and frigidly
upon your heart! What being in the universe ever came into such close
contact with Death as our adorable Lord? He "tasted death" that every man
that is, silently, quietly, calmly tasting its bitterness, might repair to
Him for succor, sympathy, and deliverance.
And now that the cup trembles in your hand composed either of the
bitterness of your own anticipated and approaching end, or, the, perhaps,
greater bitterness of parting by death from one so loved- to whom can you
turn with such confidence of faith, and with such assurance of sympathy, and
for such supplies of strength, as to Him who wept at the grave, died on the
cross, and is now alive, to gild with the bright sunlight of His love, the
dark shadow of your sorrow?
"Those who sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him." Does your departed
one 'sleep' in Him? Then, 'sorrow not as those who have no hope.' The body
sleeps, but the soul is awake, and has awakened perfected in the likeness of
God! They are done with toil and conflict, with sin and sorrow, with
sickness, suffering, and death, are in the immediate presence of, and are
forever with, the Lord. Would you beckon them back to earth? Oh, no! not for
myriads of worlds! They will not, nor would they, come again to you; but you
shall go to them when the 'little while' is past; and, reunited on the other
and sunnier side of the River, shall spend eternity together in love that
will know no chill- in light that will know no shadow- in fellowship that
will know no weariness- in song that will know no interruption- and in
service that will know no end!
"All is not lost that's passed beyond our keeping;
Light is not gone though sight be dim with weeping;
Sweet voices still are sounds of love repeating,
Though heavy ears scarce catch the tones retreating.
"Wave after wave, in endless circles flowing,
Breaks on the shore to which our barks are going;
Our parted treasures, wafted there before us,
Tomorrow's dawn may safely all restore us.
"The gales of heaven, their odorous freshness bringing,
With swifter speed our battered hull, are winging;
And clouds, that hide the sun from our discerning,
Quench not the distant beacon's steady burning.
"Brief is the space that from our loved divides us,
Thin is the mist that from their haven hides us,
Soft hands on high are beckoning signals holding,
White arms wait patient for our heart's enfolding.
"There, where from sight our blessed ones have vanished,
There, where our Father dear recalls His banished,
There lies the home that knows no removing,
There lives the love that never needs proving.
"There, dawns are pure, and purple lights unfading,
On happy brows dull sorrow casts no shading;
There gentle souls of coming ills are fearless,
And eyes once drooping, shining now, and tearless.
"There all, and always, dwell within His keeping,
Who sleeplessly cares while our care is sleeping;
How can we dare to falter in our praying,
Their perfect bliss against our sorrow weighing?
"Yet while we cease unwise and vain complaining,
We have but loaned- our title still retaining;
Love has a lien that time nor death can sever,
Our own are ours, forever and forever!"