"Bereavement, The 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 done it"?
  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 bereavement.
  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 eternity!
  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!"