I've been reading a wonderful book by James W. Bruce III called, From Grief to Glory. I highly recommend it. I read it once on the plane from OK to PA but I have been reading it again. It's a book about the sorrow of Godly men who are grieving their children. Some of them I relate to better than others, but it is a comfort to me nonetheless.
John Bunyan, who wrote so many wonderful things, grieved the loss of 2 children...the first, born prematurely after he was first arrested and the second, his sweet little daughter, Mary, who was blind. He grieved both losses, but the second caused him great suffering. It is said that he never entirely recovered from it. "It was a dark shadow all along his pathway until he, too, came to lie down peacefully in the silent tomb."
Martin Luther, who stood so strong and resolute in his faith and is known for his famous words, "Here I stand. I can do no other; God help me," grieved the loss of a beloved daughter. He said, "I love her very much; if my flesh is so strong, what can my spirit do? God has given no bishop so great a gift in a thousand years as He has given me in her. I am angry with myself that I cannot rejoice in heart and be thankful as I ought." She died in her father's arms. As they laid her in the coffin he said, "Darling Lena, you will rise and shine like a star, yea, like the sun. I am happy in spirit, but the flesh is sorrowful and will not be content, the parting grieves me beyond measure."
Perhaps the two men who struck me most were Robert L. Dabney and Samuel Rutherford.
Dabney suffered much, as he saw 3 sons before him to glory. After the death of the first, he wrote a letter to his brother where he described some of his grief. It is a long, heartbreaking letter which tells of the anguish of watching his young boy suffer from diphtheria. "This is...my first experience of any great sorrow. I have learned rapidly in the school of anguish this week, and am many years older than I was a few days ago." He goes on to describe the torment of watching his little darling suffer, which is almost too heartbreaking to read. Here is a small glimpse: "To see my dear little one ravaged, crushed and destroyed, turning his beautiful liquid eyes to me and his weeping mother for help, after his gentle voice could no longer be heard, and to feel myself as helpless to give any aid - this tears my heart with anguish." This boy died 2 weeks after his another son had died of the same disease. These deaths were hard on Dabney and on his seminary students, who were quite accustomed to having the boys around. A 3rd son died of the same disease when Dabney was serving under Stonewall Jackson in the War between the states.
Though Dabney suffered so much and his heart was repeatedly broken in grief, he is known to have lived well and he died well. His students said he "strove to be like his Master, who was meek and lowly in heart." The thing that strikes me the most about Dabney is not so much how he persevered, but the counsel he received. Maybe it's the kind of people he chose to surround himself with, I don't know. But the letters he received from friends are some of the most encouraging, Godly, heartfelt, and impassioned letters I have ever read. His friends encouraged him to grieve and to hold tight to God through that grief. I've read no letter where he was encouraged to "move on with life" as so many Christians are asked to do today.
Samuel Rutherford saw 7 children before him to glory. While working in London on the Westminster Confession, two of his children died. He is famous for his letters and for his comfort to mourners. One of the most powerful quotes that spoke to me was from a letter he wrote to a woman who had lost her daughter. While he speaks many words of comfort, he is by no means mealy. "Follow her, but do not envy her; for indeed it is self-love that makes us mourn for them that die in the Lord. Why? Because we cannot mourn for them since they are happy; therefore, we mourn on our own private account. Be careful then, that in showing your affection in mourning for your daughter that you are not, out of self-affection, mourning for yourself." Michael and I have discussed this many times. We know it is only ourselves for which we are mourning. Of course we miss his infectious laugh and sweetness, but he is not missing us. He is perfect and complete and happy.
Rutherford offers hope as well..."Should you faint in the day of adversity? Recall the days of old! The Lord still lives; trust in Him...The Lord has placed in the balance your submission to His will and your affection for your daughter. Which of the two will you choose? Be wise...Prepare yourself; you are nearer your daughter this day than you were yesterday."
Rutherford was a man of strong emotions who occasionally lost his temper and frequently suffered from depression. He wasn't always easy to get along with, although for the most part he was Godly and humble. But God used these things in his life to prepare him to comfort other suffering believers.
Grief changes people. I know I've changed. In some ways for the better...but in some ways for the worse. Relationship has become of great importance to me, where at one time in my life I did not necessarily feel the need for relationship. I have a more profound love for those close to me and a greater desire for their companionship. I also have even less of a tolerance for the petty. I've always disliked pettiness, but now I don't even pretend to brush it off. I'm more apt to call it like it is, which I know can make people uncomfortable. I've always been a no-nonesense kind of person, but it seems magnified now. I want flat out honesty, no games, no hidden agendas, no guessing.
Why is it that that kind of directness scares people? 😘